Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama’s individuality and ours

Shelby Steele writes about Obama the man and citizen, the masks available to him, and advises him to drop all masks, all obsessions with identity, and tell us what he truly believes as an individual. A lovely and well-purposed essay.

Discussions - 12 Comments

But all that Hussein Obama has to offer are the masks, the veils, the studied non-committal, the calculated non-answer, all he offers is this little political opera that so titillates viewers of Oprah. Obama is a microcosm of all that's gone wrong with the Democrat party since 1968. He's a cautionary to all who would embark down the path of "the politics of meaning." Obama was NEVER about substance, it was all the optics, the packaging, the wrapping paper. Steele is effectively asking Obama to discard everything that got him where he is today.

That ain't gonna' happen.

And his many followers would be deeply disappointed were he to actually share with us who and what he truly is. Obama's followers would be where pop tart Brittany Spear's followers are today, embarrassed, mortified, in a word, confused.

Steele's article is more subtle and interesting than you imply, Dan, or than is defined by Peter Schramm's quote above. This touches on the issue of identity politics in the black community more than the packaging of a political candidate.

I edited a book written by a friend of mine who, in adulthood, found that she was the biracial product of a rape. I was fascinated by the issue of racial identity as she struggled with the fact of the confusion in her own. The simplification - she is black, or Obama is black, or Steele is black - is as unreal as saying the sky is blue. Once we have demanded that simplification of racial identity, the classification into the black political identity of choice, or maybe temperament - isn't that interesting? The man might be a sham, as you say. I am not sure, because I have found him interesting on these grounds that Shelby defines for me in this interesting way. I find it hard to believe that someone with as complicated a life as this man has had can be all shadow and no substance. His being a "born bargainer" as Steele puts it, might make him seem an easier read than is the truth.

Before someone jumps on me for this, I still do not embrace his politics, which means that just because I find him interesting does not mean I am defecting to the Democrats.

I think what Steele is saying is that Obama is a kind of tragic figure--almost on a Shakespearean level but of a uniquely American variety. Were Shakespeare alive, he might write a magnificent play about him. The fact that Obama is a "bound" man--as Steele aptly puts it--is a most depressing irony. That is the tragedy. I think Steele sees that Obama is not likely to come out of this with a comic ending. I think the "bargainer" and "challenger" discussion of Steele's is most helpful as a heuristic device. He is most apt in describing the bargain between the bargainer and many white Americans. And that is a problem. When blacks and whites discuss America's racist past openly and with detached frankness, there is no need for bargaining or challenging. Sadly, this is a rare event.

I thought this was an excellent article, especially her explanation of "masks," which isn't a new term in the world Black scholarship, but here it's used in a way that anyone can understand. I also agree that Obama should "drop all masks, all obsessions with identity, all his fears of being called a sell-out, and very carefully come to reveal what he truly believes as an individual."


But her statement, "This is what America really expects from Barack Obama," bothers me. Is this really what Americans want? Do they want to be faced with addressing this question after evading it for 40 years? It becomes a question of comfort for voters, I think. And anyway, white Americans hide behind similar masks... Hillary Clinton's an expert at this very task. Why not ask her the same question?

1: Yeah. What Dan said. Obama is neither interesting nor tragic. He's a down-the-line liberal ideologue with almost no experience in national office. There's no "there" there. He looks a little different. He's younger. He gets automatic, knee-jerk extra points with large numbers of voters (by why with some conservatives too?) for being black. Unlike Hillary and Edwards, Howard Dean and Al Gore, Obama isn't insufferably self-righteous or an obvious hater of Republicans. Whoop-de-do.

Gotta go with Dan on this one.
"Ain't gonna happen"!

Do you guys endorse Dan's snide and insinuating "Hussein Obama" as well? This is Steele at his best, and it merits more than your ideological slogans - as Kate and Julie ably demonstrate.

It's his name, ain't it? He could've changed it if he wanted to but he'd rather have that Arab sounding name than some good American one. If it's fair to go after Romney for wearing funny underwear why isn't his name fair game too?

You use Hussein like you're doing something clever; it's not - it's silly.

Steve, I noticed and did not necessarily approve the reference. However, I will say that it adds doubly to his status as a tragic figure . . . It is so ironic that this perfect "bargainer" is saddled with a name like that. I doubt that even Shakespeare could have invented a name like that! He certainly would have noted it . . . though probably for different purposes than those Dan seems to employ.

How would Holst have fared in 1917?

Hal Holst apparently has some list of American names. The best one, I'd suggest, is the list of all who have fallen in America's wars.

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