Readers respond to Gary Younge on The Obama Effect, exchange views with Henry Siegman on Israel and comment about the subprime mortgage meltdown.




Gary Younge’s “The Obama Effect” [Dec. 31] offers insight into the senator’s cross-racial appeal and that of others of the constructed “new generation of black leadership.” As Younge states, “race is…a performance,” and Barack Obama and his cohorts have mastered the act to become viable candidates–that is, to appeal to whites. Their race must be presented not as a source of contention but as a symbol of hope. Obama reminded us of this in his victory speech in Iowa, when he reiterated this feel-good theme: his biography, beginning with a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, is possible only in America.

As the locus of black politics continues to shift from the church and the community to the boardroom and the academy, new presentations of race will be the norm for African-American candidates. Why would we expect them to act in the same way as the civil rights-era black politicians when circumstances have changed?

Yet I do not think we are in a postracial society, as the elated mainstream pundits claimed in the wake of Obama’s success in Iowa. Rather than signaling the end of racial politics, Obama’s spin on race shows the savvy of the post-civil rights black candidates in marginalizing race.


Folly Beach, S.C.

Barack Obama may not have been raised in the black community and the black church, but he is shaped by them because of his adult choices. Organizing in Chicago is tough and gritty, and closer to the essential urban black experience than that of most of the black politicians Gary Younge mentions. The cadences of the black church Obama attends are in his speeches. And as he says, being passed up by New York taxis taught him quickly what it means to be black.

Perhaps the difference between the older generation of black leaders and the new is something else: that they are about more than the black experience and the needs of urban and rural black communities. These “new” politicians make the connection between black communities and other communities of need.

It is striking here in South Carolina to see how many moderate Republicans are investigating Obama. They are drawn to his vision of a different kind of politics. It’s the Democratic chattering classes that don’t seem to get past his skin. Those who see him “only” as black also believe he doesn’t have enough experience because they dismiss everything but his Senate career. It’s still a perilous journey for a politician who acknowledges his racial heritage.



Shaker Heights, Ohio

Henry Siegman has a way of co-opting conclusions by using them as major premises in his syllogisms. A good example is his “Post-Annapolis Pitfalls” [Dec. 31]: “no Palestinian leader could end violent resistance to the occupation in the face of Israel’s refusal to reveal how much Palestinian territory it intended to retain.” This cart is standing in front of a horse called “negotiation.” The comment reads as if the entire initiative for peace lies only in Israeli hands. If Israel would but indicate (it has on many occasions) what it would like to retain in exchange for territory going to Palestine, then all would be solved. Thus Palestinian violence has nothing to do with rights of return, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or the cessation of violence coming from Hamas and others who prefer firing their guns in the air when they are not launching rockets at Sderot.



Washington, D.C.

Harold Ticktin is quite right. One must not put the cart before the horse. For this sage advice to be useful, however, one must be able to recognize which is the cart and which is the horse, something Ticktin has some trouble doing.

Ticktin seems to believe that Israel’s occupation is entirely defensive and that Palestinian violence and terrorism–of course, unlike Jewish violence and terrorism at the time the Yishuv was fighting for its independence and statehood–have nothing to do with the occupation. Presumably, violence and terrorism are in the Palestinians’ genes. As Ticktin notes, these people fire into the air even when they are not fighting Israelis.

Contrast this sensibility with that of a former Israeli general, a former head of the IDF’s military intelligence and coordinator of Israeli government operations in the occupied territories from 1967 to 1974. In his book Thirty Years of Israeli Policy in the Territories, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit observes that when Israel came into the territories in 1967, it “could not withstand the temptation of believing that [the occupation] could go on forever…. That was the basis of the massive settlement drive in the Territories, and that is how Israel started its creeping annexation.”

“In the middle of the 1960s the world already looked ahead to the end of the colonial era, and here was Israel finding itself marching in the opposite direction and trying to set back the hands of the clock of history…. It is a wonder they missed the simple fact that the neighboring people were cultivating similar national aspirations, and that it would not be possible to repress the Palestinian national liberation movement for long.”




Please add Playgrounds for Palestine to Katha Pollitt’s holiday list of worthy but little-known causes. It was started by Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American, who buys play equipment from a US manufacturer, ships it to Israel, goes through endless paperwork to get Israel’s permission to transport it to Gaza and the West Bank, then hires villagers to assemble and maintain the playgrounds. Bringing a little joy to Palestinian kids is so easy for us, so meaningful to them. Susie tells me the people of Rafah in southern Gaza have planted gardens around their playground. They cherish it.



Bronx, N.Y.

I applaud your editorial “Subprime Politics” [Dec. 31] and your recommendation that the Glass-Steagall Act be restored. A call to action could begin by detailing how a mortgage and foreclosure crisis was the catalyst for the Great Depression and the passage of that act. I was astounded when Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999 and there was no public outcry.


Arlington, Va.

The key is your statement that “debtors have little sway in Washington.” But banks and other mortgage lenders do. They spend hundreds of millions ($242 million to be exact) on campaign contributions and lobbying. Common Cause has the goods (commoncause.org).



In Garrett Epps’s “The Voter ID Fraud” [Jan. 28] it’s Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh (not the Second) Circuit.

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