The real Hero of the Week to emerge from the Democratic Convention last month was the fabled Barack Obama, the Democrats’ keynote speaker and candidate for the Senate from Illinois, where he currently serves as a state senator.
It was not just that Mr. Obama, a half-black and half-white icon of multiracialism, was the star of the convention in the press in the following days.
He has been a star ever since and is likely to remain one.
By pure coincidence, I’m sure, he was also the star of a full-length article in the Atlantic Monthly that appeared at virtually the same time as his speech to the convention, [ The Natural, September 2004, by Ryan Lizza] and not long afterwards, Illinois Republicans helped catapult their opponent to even greater heights by recruiting yet another black, Alan Keyes from Maryland, to import himself into Illinois simply to run against Mr. Obama.
That really is all that needs to be said about this repeatedly failed professional candidate until his cronies drag him out once again to run for some other office in the future.
As for Mr. Obama, his greatest virtue appears to be not what the party spokesman suggested were his “moderate views” (in fact, they are predictably left-wing) but his race or purported lack thereof.
The keenest insight into him has so far been written by Newhouse News Service reporter Jonathan Tilove, whose July 28 piece on Mr. Obama offers an interesting observation.
Mr. Obama, as the world knows, splashed into fame and fortune on the same evening that the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the Democrats. But while few people paid much attention to the oafish racial demagogue, the world curled up at the feet of Mr. Obama.
Why is that?
The reason, Mr. Tilove suggests, is that black political style in this country is changing. Mr. Sharpton’s overt and in-your-face attack style is vanishing and Mr. Obama’s smooth moves are crystallizing.
“I think this is really the end of an era of race and politics,”history professor Angela Dillard told Mr. Tilove. ["Boston Events May Be Changing of the Guard in Black Politics."] “Something’s shifting and changing and people like Sharpton can’t change with it, and something new and different is being created and it is about people like Obama.”
What kind of people are “people like Obama” exactly?
One reason for Mr. Obama’s smoothness and fashionableness is his Harvard degree (Mr. Keyes has one too), but more to the point is his racial ambiguity, a trait that as Mr. Tilove notes cuts both ways.
Mr. Obama, you see, had a father who was a black native of Kenya and a white American mother. “People like Obama” are multiracial people.
His racial identity or supposed lack of it enables him to be both black and non-racial, white and multiracial, at the same time.
When he wants to be black, he can be and is. He calls himself black and the media routinely identify him as a “black” or “African-American.”
But he can also be white or not racial at all, which is useful when he’s presenting himself as “above” race and appealing to the white voters he’ll need if he’s going to be elected or when he’s denouncing his critics and opponents for playing race cards as he himself of course would never do.
Moreover, while openly racial candidates like Mr. Sharpton or Jesse Jackson helped instigate white racial consciousness—if they can be black, why can’t whites be white?—Mr. Obama works against it: If he’s neither white nor black, why should you be white?
Mr. Obama in other words is both a living testament to the power of black racial consciousness and identity and at the very same time a living renunciation of white racial identity.
As Mr. Tilove notes, Mr. Obama “can argue for policies virtually indistinguishable from Sharpton’s in cooler, non-racial terms, while still affirming a message of racial identity and uplift implicit in his very being.”
“I think he is talking about race when he’s not,” Professor Dillard says. “Something about the way he pitches things is perfect for this moment.”
And what is “this moment” exactly? It’s the moment when America ceases to be a nation defined and characterized by the white racial identity of its founders and historic population and is transformed into the non-white multiracial empire symbolized and led by “people like Obama.”