BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski posts the brief clip, with some context. It’s from 1991, at a time when Harvard was embroiled in a controversy over racial preferences in tenure. Obama, then editor of the Harvard Law Review, took the unsurprising position in favor of preferences.
Obama was a major figure on campus, the first black president of the Law Review. Some friends, in a prescient joke, just referred to him as “the first black president.” He had a reputation as a conciliatory figure, not a confrontational one like Bell.
“”How Obama would react to Derrick Bell’s protest was a matter of some interest,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in his exploration of Obama and race, The Bridge.
It was a situation in which clear lines had been drawn, and Obama sided with Bell. In a speech before the law school’s Harkness Commons — and sounding very much like his future presidential self — he described Bell as “the Rosa Parks of legal education.”
Obama’s stand provided a major boost to the protests, Keith Boykin, one of their organizers, later recalled.
Barack was always supportive and sympathetic to our campaign for faculty diversity. He spoke about it at one of our rallies. But he was not actively involved in the protest movement. Nor did he need to be. As I said, his presence alone made the case. And even if he agreed with the cause of the movement, he didn’t need to be involved in the more radical protests we launched because our tactics were controversial on campus.
That pattern, of siding with radical or hardline positions while positioning himself as the conciliatory figure, persists. Obama plays the good cop to Van Jones’ bad cop. Or Eric Holder’s bad top cop. But Obama pursues the same radical goals that Holder et al pursue. He’s the smiley face masking extreme aims.
The content of the speech itself isn’t all that interesting (this clip isn’t whatever Andrew Breitbart had drummed up). Obama exhibits the same pomposity that we see today, only without a teleprompter. His speech cadence hasn’t changed since his college days. His tendency to win audiences over with an easy joke, and sound like a preacher without the overt altar call, was already there too. It’s not hard to see what Rev. Jeremiah Wright et al saw in the man who came to them in Chicago a few years later. Obama was born with a natural and useful charm, and he knew it early, and he has cultivated it well. He’s a perfect demagogue.