Shelby Steele:

"[T]he cultural and historical implications of [Barack] Obama's candidacy are clearly greater than its public policy implications...his candidacy itself asks the American democracy to complete itself...."

I vigorously recommend Steele's essay in last week's TIME Magazine (here), which proved tremendously useful as I continue to wrestle with my ongoing ambivalence concerning Obama and his unlikely campaign.

As I have admitted previously on several occasions, I am strangely attracted to the notion of Barack Obama.

Why is this odd?

The candidate and I are diametrically opposed on almost every substantive issue--several of which I see as absolutely crucial to the future of our nation.

But still...I grow frustratingly fonder.


What is it about this forty-six year-old freshman senator, who can point to absolutely no uniquely heroic deed that recommends him to the presidency? What else could there possibly be about Barack Obama that makes him special?

Indisputably, obviously, it is race; or, more precisely, the mesmerizing combination of race, charisma, and potential.

Shelby Steele again:

" an opportunity for whites to think well of themselves, to give themselves one of the most self-flattering feelings a modern white can have: that they are not racist."

An obvious point. But this plays much bigger than the personal. The election of Barack Obama will forcefully declare that America is not racist. Obama can prove the self evident truth that all men are created equal in this storied "land of opportunity," where, regardless of race, all persons are free to enjoy liberty and justice and for all.

Obama can be the person in our lifetimes who transcends (even redeems) our tortured past and accelerates a national healing process.

Moreover, I dream that Obama will be the ultimate role model for African Americans who will come to apprehend, finally, that the game is not rigged. For I believe that believing is half the battle. Obama can personify the notion of unlimited possibility, which will encourage children of color to work hard and expect success in an America where we all benefit from one another's successes.

But I also have my doubts. Will Obama be a "sellout"? Not in the traditional sense of betraying the black community for a place at the white man's table. No, I worry that Barack Obama will "sell out" the vision of racial transcendence, opting instead for the "tried and true" Democratic Party message of historic and continued oppression, benign paternalism, and quid pro quo.

Once again, I strongly recommend Steele's insightful essay, "The Identity Card," which suggests that Obama is unlikely to choose (perhaps incapable of choosing) a path that leads us beyond the toxic politics of black and white.

My mixed emotions continue to swirl...