Shelby Steele on Obama, “A Bound Man”

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.

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Obama: Ambition Should Be Made of Sterner Stuff

Remember that Obama flap–no, not Rev. Wright, not Bill Ayres, not BitterClingGate, not LapelPinGate,  not Michelle Be Not Proud–no, way back even further, when the Clinton campaign unearthed evidence that Obama did  have early ambitions to be Pres, as they found in a grade-school essay he had written?

I don’t know when Obama first had the idea, which he may now regret,  to run for President. But as these shoes from his past have dropped one by one, I’ve come to this conclusion: Obama has long lacked the Ultra Caution Gene that’s part of almost every successful  politician’s makeup.

    I’ve known and befriended a  number of people who served at the city council, state rep/ state Senate and  House level, in addition to several unsuccessful candidates for office and a number of bold talkers who threatened to run for office but never got in the ring. And almost all these winners, losers, and wannabes had one thing in common: They were pathologically cautious. Everything they did  was passed through this filter: Will this Person /Event/Contribution/Statement  hurt me or help me in reaching my goal?

These were people straight out of the Clintonian mold, forever “preserving their options” against the day they would run for office. At fundraisers or staff parties, they would never be photographed holding a beer or glass of wine. If they knew a journalist was nearby, even someone who covered sports or real estate, they would constantly interrupt the most innocuous chatter to say, “Now, this is off the record, but…” And so on.

One anecdote will suffice. Several years ago  I was a semi-regular panelist on a local PBS public affairs TV show. Four of us would get together a few times a month and argue about local, state, and national politics. The shows would air Friday nights and Sunday mornings, so you can imagine the underwhelming size of the audience.  One woman panelist, whom I’ll call Marissa, was generally known to have political ambitions, and those dreams acted as a governor on everything she did and said. Her every comment was balanced and nuanced until the life was squeezed out of it; she  never entertained a single thought that didn’t come from the party’s marching orders of that month or year.

Pal around with firebrand preachers? Ex bomb-throwers? Are you kidding? This woman would have run screaming from a Unitarian, much less a militant.

Just before we’d go on the air each week, an assistant producer would bring out a payroll sheet for us to initial so that we could receive what the station called an “honorarium,” which is PBS-speak for “enough to buy a six-pack and some Doritos on the way home.” One day the AP was sick, so we didn’t see the payroll sheet that day. After the show, another staffer told me that she had just initialed them for us and had already taken the sheet to the business office.

Marissa, who was taking off some of her camera makeup, spun around in her chair. “What?” she asked, her eyes wide. “You did what?”

The staffer, nervous now, repeated what she had done. Marissa jumped from her chair, whipping off the makeup gown, and said something like, “We need to fix that. Now!” And she demanded that the frightened young minion accompany her to the business office, where, I later learned, she accosted the accounting head and demanded that he give her the payroll sheet so that she could erase the offending initials and insert her own.

A few weeks later I ran into a mutual friend who told me how horrified Marissa had been over the incident. What if she ran for office a year or five years later, and some opposition research weasel found out somebody had forged her initials on a financial document? Yikes!

Not five but ten years later, Marissa did run for Congress. Her opponent, the incumbent, trounced her without breaking a sweat, portraying her as a conventional, programmatic politician who was simply out of step with the district’s needs. But at least he never plumbed the dark secrets of  InitialGate.

 

 

 

 

Here’s What Rev. Wright Meant to Say

Some weeks ago I pleaded  for media outfits to supply some context for Obama’s controversial former minister, Rev. Wright. I suggested that they might actually leave the newsroom and go talk to a few dozen people who have attended the church over the years–“interview” them, as newshounds like to say–and, y’know, give readers/viewers some idea of Wright’s thinking, to let us curious millions know whether his “GD America” comments were an outrageous exception or typical Sunday fare.

Well, here’s a shot at context from Bill Moyers, the transcript of his interview with Wright. Get a somewhat bigger picture of the Rev here.