Wish I hadn’t waited so long to read the always-valuable Shelby Steele’s A Bound Man: Why We’re Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. I hadn’t know until now that Steele, like Obama, was the product of a mixed-race marriage, a background that lends him additional insight into Obama.
As he has shown in his other work, Steele is our most incisive critic of race hustlers; unlike Obama, he “distanced himself” from the likes of Rev. Wright, Al Sharpton and the rest decades ago. This short book is full of clear-headed thinking about race and its place in current American society, and Steele demonstrates vividly how so many people are deeply invested in portraying the country as if it’s Birmingham, Alabama in 1948. Steele has built a career on pointing out what Obama slowly and painfully had to admit of the Rev. Wright in his life: That they are simply behind the times now, stuck in the past.
Steele is especially useful in pointing out the contradictory elements of Obama, whom he greatly admires. Obama joins a church led by a black nationalist pastor, yet his own books (Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope) are filled with examples of the love and sacrifice shown him by his white mother, white grandparents, and various white mentors along the way. Steele asks:
“What evidence suggests that this [black] nationalism can lift blacks from the blight of the South Side to the level of, say, Barack Obama himself–a superbly educated man with unlimited opportunities in the American mainstream? . . . And did he lift himself up by following the strictures of black nationalism, by embracing his race as an agent of change? Or was it precisely his upbringing within the mainstream–and far away from race ideologies–that stood him so well?”
Even with Steele’s spot-on criticisms of Obama, the book reminds us why he is one of the most interesting politicians–most interesting people–to come along in the past twenty years.
I’ve blogged about Steele’s work before. Check it out if you like.