November 10, 2011

Henry Louis Gates

Henry Louis Gates

So here’s the proposition: The kinds of gifts a politician needs are particularly widespread in black culture. Those are mostly skills in the presentation of selforatory, mimicry, empathy, charm, and salesmanship. Like everyone else, I’ve interacted a lot with salespeople; and though I strive to be impartial in one-on-one encounters, I always seem to find the black salesmen especially persuasive.

It helps that black Americans face a majority population whose wits have been addled by racial guilt. Seth Forman’s book shows, and we all knew anyway, that no white politician with Barack Obama’s wafer-thin résumé and shady associations could possibly have gotten elected president in 2008. Obama was wafted upward, as he had been all his life, on thermals of white guilt and patronage.

Sure, it helps. I believe, however, that blacks would be successful in politics anyway. It’s an occupational niche, and the skills you need to wriggle into that niche are typically black skills. Not that other races don’t have them, but proportionally more blacks have them, just as proportionally more East Asians are really good at math.

Suppose I’m right about this. Is this a thing we should, as we nowadays say, “celebrate”?

We’ve all heard the quip—it has innumerable variants—that “Heaven is an English policeman, a French cook, a German engineer, an Italian lover, and everything organized by the Swiss. Hell is an English cook, a French engineer, a German policeman, a Swiss lover, and everything organized by the Italians.” It expresses the common (and correct) belief that certain ethnies are generally good at certain things and bad at other things.

Politics isn’t quite like cooking, loving, or policing, though. We all know what it means to be good at those things, but what does it mean to be good at politics? Good at getting elected? OK, and then…? Are there orthogonal sub-skills here—getting elected versus getting things done? To put it slightly differently: If blacks are good at politics, are blacks good for politics?

There are some negative indicators. There seems, for example, to be an ethical gap. At one point two years ago, all seven US House of Representatives members under investigation by the House Ethics Committee were black. It’s the same at the local level: Every one of the six New York pols mentioned in this story about corruption via bogus charities is black.

A minority of blacks—the ones who don’t just squeal, “Racism!” when you bring up this sub-topic—point out that every rising ethnic group in US history goes through a spell of public corruption. Didn’t the Irish give us Tammany Hall? On the other side of the nature/nurture divide, some of the bolder kinds of evolutionary psychologists have speculated about evolved racial differences in morality.

I suppose we shall learn more about these things as history and science inch their way forward. If I’m right about a black aptitude for politics, a 2012 Cain-Obama contest (I’m not betting on it, but you never know) would be a clash of titans.



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!