Obama Unbound: The Man Behind the Myth
Obama's past is key to understanding the fervor surrounding his campaign, writes Bernard Chapin -- and the way to figure out what we can expect from him if elected.
February 21, 2008 - 1:00 am
Who is Barack Obama? At the present time he clearly is more than the sum of his parts. He’s not your average political tsunami. Despite only being on the national scene for three and a half years, the junior senator from Illinois is perfectly positioned to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. After that, only John McCain stands between Obama and the title of commander-in-chief.
Those of us on the right are rather confounded by the Obama-o-rama. Our televisions deliver imagery of percolating crowds and throngs of fainting women, yet we cannot help but wonder how a vague and airy candidate produces such hysterical levels of devotion. Indeed, Stevie Wonder wrote a song about him which sums up his superficial stances perfectly. Its lyrics are nothing more than variations on the candidate’s first and last name.
Clearly there’s more to the Obama monomania than vapid rhetoric. Blatant deception is integral to his appeal. He speaks of unity and there being no hyphenated Americans, but his Senate votes clash with his message. The man promising change in our time is anything but a moderate. This particular “rock star,” like so many others, is a left-wing, partisan member of the Democratic Party. His votes in 2006 earned him an American Conservative Union rating of 8. The only way he will bring us together is if half the country moves to the left of John Kerry and his ACU rating of 12.
His campaign mantra is “Change You Can Believe In,” but his inauguration will ring in copious quantities of the same statism that currently debilitates us. He rails against corporate lobbyists yet reflexively supports the expansion of the government. The bureaucrats and functionaries of the leviathan are the true wielders of undemocratic power and influence in our nation.
All of his “solutions” to “problems” are contingent upon Washington “helping” people. Based on past experience, this is a tenuous proposition. His imaginative plan to fix Social Security involves the raising of taxes. His economic agenda, “Keeping America’s Promise,” will add $200 billion in new spending to a federal budget that now gambles away over three trillion dollars a year. Change and Barack Obama do not belong together in the same sentence. The man is nothing more than Jimmy Carter with a pleasant disposition.
Shelby Steele, author of the impeccable White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, has recently released A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, a concise work which fully elucidates the nature of Obama’s personality. It outlines the dynamics of his racial identity and how it affects his political views.
Steele and Obama have much in common and the author’s sympathy for his subject is readily evident. Both men were a product of interracial unions involving a white mother and a black father. Steele’s rewarding examination of Obama was made possible by the one-man-social-movement’s penning of a partial autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, over a decade ago.
Steele regards Obama’s memoir as “almost naïve in its degree of self-disclosure.” We discover that – while he is equal parts white and black – the senator has always identified more with his father’s race than that of his mother, even though his mother, along with his maternal grandmother and grandfather, raised him.
Despite its brevity, A Bound Man beams with insight. Race is depicted as a brutal reality that pushes aside human experience while erecting barriers between individuals. Steele illuminates the vicissitudes of a man inheriting the legacy of two races. A mixed child reared by white relatives can sometimes possess a mindset wherein he feels as if life is a lengthy process of collaboration with the enemy.
The moral authority bestowed upon blacks causes many mixed youths to instinctively gravitate towards the race of goodness. Upon maturity they may reject the “white world” in the hopes of becoming authentically black. The repudiation of half of their relations can produce considerable angst. In Obama’s case, the search for a black identity became “a lifelong preoccupation.” Steele believes that the senator views his blackness more as “an achievement than a birthright.”
All the internal jousting fueled his ambition, but it also produced suffering. Obama’s memoir records him meeting a young woman in college who made a lasting impression. She rejected membership in the Black Student Association as she considered herself multiracial and was contemptuous of the popular “one drop” thinking which mandated her being black.
She informed Obama that racialism was the province of blacks as they were the ones who forced mixed children to pick sides. Adding to her heresy was her view of whites. She claimed they treated her like a person and didn’t care about her heritage. The young lady displayed an “audacity of hope,” but, to America’s regret, her perspective was not internalized by the candidate.
A Bound Man describes in detail the longing white Americans have for a champion like Obama. Certainly citizens of all persuasions yearn for an end to the “corrosive racial politics” of the present era. They badly want to purchase the hope he sells and probably don’t care if they find out later it was a well-enunciated bag of air.
Another incident in which race became an independent character in the plotline of his life occurred after college when Obama fell in love with a rich white girl. Her background ultimately caused him to reject her. He understood that their future bond would result in his marrying mainstream America as well.
The relationship’s nadir came when the couple attended a radical theatrical performance. Obama’s ex-lover inquired of him why blacks – who were the focus of the drama – were so angry all of the time. This did not sit well with him and a quarrel arose. It ended with her apologizing for being white and expressing a desire to be black. He later admitted to feeling shame over her words.
How rare it is for a book to retain value despite its central premise being proven false two months after its publication. We know from the results of the primaries that Senator Obama is anything but bound by America’s social dynamics. Our land is his Xanadu. Indeed, our racial anxieties and fears are what make him uniquely viable. The smart money is riding on him to win both the Democratic nomination along with the presidency. (Steele conceded that the public’s reaction to him was not what he had expected in an excellent interview he gave to National Review.)
Steele’s argues convincingly, however, that Obama – even if elected – is not capable of offering voters legitimate change. While not bound per se, his ideological movements are restricted. He cannot criticize affirmative action or highlight the importance of blacks maintaining personal responsibility. Should he, he will lose the support of blacks. To retain their favor, he must sanction the idea of collective victimization and do nothing to assuage white guilt.
Conversely, he also cannot become what Steele terms a “challenger.” Instead, he must remain a “bargainer.” Should he parrot the positions of the Congressional Black Caucus he would become just another separatist icon. White independents and moderates, who mistake his extreme ambition for divine inspiration, would walk away from him. Obama must take the form of an invisible man who believes in “us” but refrains from taking clear positions. If he makes known his true beliefs, our Sherpa will lose his magic.
Obama well could win, as he makes the confused and directionless feel good about themselves while providing hope for every member of the federal bureaucracy. We may awaken on November 5 to discover that a leftist is our new commander-in-chief. Such an outcome is a tragedy, but his administration will bring about more than our decreased military preparedness. There will be an increase in the numbers of leftist judges and coat-and-tie radicals who infest the corridors of power. From state-funded redoubts, they will spew forth pernicious regulations and further destabilize a highly fragile economy.
There is one significant upside to his victory, however, as an ambrosial fragrance will accompany the scent of napalm surrounding his coronation. Every time President Obama enters a room to the sounds of “Hail to the Chief,” it will indelibly confirm a truth now only acknowledged by conservatives – that America is one of the least racist nations on earth. And such realizations are the finest dreams of our founding fathers.