All Easter weekend long, we heard radio voices weighing in on Obama. How do white people feel about his blackness, how do black people feel about his whiteness? Absent from the discussion is any awareness of what he’s actually done. Where has he landed his punches? During Obama’s brief political career thus far, what issues has he acted on? Much has been made of his pastor’s disparaging comments about America and 9/11. So has Mr. Obama spent his young senate days hanging with the fringe wing of the Democratic party that pushes 9/11 conspiracy theories? Has he lent his voice to the view that 9/11 was Americas just comeuppance? No. If anything, Mr. Obama was a bit timid as a young senator, watching in dismay as his idealistic bits of legislation got watered down over time.
Obama himself is a bit of a Rorschach Test, in that commentators superimpose on him what they think should be there. For this reason, Obama is often linked to Black Liberation Theology. This is silly, because he was never a radical. In his youth, he never went through a Chicago Seven phase, all fist-pumping, Bobby Seal haircuts and incendiary speeches. If anything, Obama was an eager but cautious Harvard law student with an eye on social justice issues, but apt to keep his options open. Not “options open” in a cynical sense, not soft-pedaling his views, but rather, living according to a belief that brash, extreme opinions only alienate those who might otherwise be your allies. Like many young black leaders, Obama saw the limitations of racially-charged politics, the futility of replacing one racial stereotype with another. Thus, he would find ways to discuss inflammatory issues in reasonable, nuanced tones.
It looks like this year, America has a candidate that prefers to shed light, rather than heat. Are we up for it? If Obama loses, it won’t be because he’s black. It’ll be because America’s not ready for a President that talks to you as if you have a brain.