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It’s been interesting to watch the fuss over Rev. Jeremiah Wright after reading Shelby Steele’s book about Obama. On the one hand, we have the Obama who transcends race, (the “bargainer” in Steele’s terminology), a narrative pushed by the Obama campaign. On the other hand, we have Obama the black politician (Steele’s “challenger”), a narrative pushed by his opponents and supported by his own history.
I think the real Obama is a chameleon, who, as an ambitious young man, reinvented himself as a black politician in Chicago, and then, when he realized that he could step onto the national stage, reinvented himself again as the race-transcending Pope of Hope. The two narratives are mutually incompatible. If he repudiates the earlier narrative, he is an opportunist, a flip-flopper, just another politician. If his opponents can make the earlier narrative stick, he loses the white vote. If both narratives co-exist, the cognitive dissonance leads people to wonder whether there is any “there” there.
Dick Morris says:
Why did he stay in the church? Because he’s a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him.
Shelby Steele says:
The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?
What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn’t thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to “be black” despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity.
No matter his ultimate political fate, there is already enough pathos in Barack Obama to make him a cautionary tale. His public persona thrives on a manipulation of whites (bargaining), and his private sense of racial identity demands both self-betrayal and duplicity. His is the story of a man who flew so high, yet neglected to become himself.
By the way, I use “chameleon” as a term of admiration. Dubya, Hillary, Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain… weasels, all of them. And then there’s Barack Obama… he doesn’t even belong in the same category. He stands out like a normal person in the Special Olympics.
Tony Blankly says:
Make no mistake, this guy isn’t only good with inspirational rhetoric; when it comes to policy slipperiness, he makes Bill Clinton look slow-witted and honest.