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The Five Faces of Barack Obama

The Five Faces of Barack Obama



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Published by trolai
It’s the story of a man who reclaimed the American dream. At 47, Barack Obama, who was unknown to the public only a few years ago, became the first African-American citizen to be elected president of the United States. The man who promised that dreams could still come true, and that change could come, can now fully enjoy his victory.
It’s the story of a man who reclaimed the American dream. At 47, Barack Obama, who was unknown to the public only a few years ago, became the first African-American citizen to be elected president of the United States. The man who promised that dreams could still come true, and that change could come, can now fully enjoy his victory.

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Published by: trolai on Nov 07, 2008
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 The Five Faces of Barack Obama
If Barack Obama had not chosen a life in politics, he might have made a finepsychotherapist. He is a master at taking what you've told him and feeding it right back.What I hear you saying is ...Open his book The Audacity of Hope to almost any page and listen. On immigration, forexample, Obama first mirrors "the faces of this new America" he has met in the ethnicstew pot of Chicago: "in the Indian markets along Devon Avenue, in the sparkling newmosque in the southwestern suburbs, in an Armenian wedding and a Filipino ball." Thenhe pivots to give voice to the "anxieties" of "many blacks" and "as many whites about thewave of illegal immigration," adding: "Not all of these fears are irrational." He admitsthat he knows the "frustration" of needing an interpreter to speak to one's auto mechanicand in the next breath cherishes the innocent dreams of an immigrant child.In other words, he hears America singing — and griping, fretting, seething, conniving,hoping, despairing. He can deliver a pitch-perfect expression of the racial anger of manyAmerican blacks — as he did in his much discussed speech on race relations earlier this
year — and, just as smoothly, unpack the racial irritations gnawing at many whites. Towhat extent does he share any of those emotions? The doctor never exactly says.Consciously or unconsciously, Obama has been honing this technique for years. Duringhis time at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the student body was deeply divided. In oneheated debate, Obama so adroitly summarized the various positions without tipping hisown hand that by the end of the meeting, as Professor Charles Ogletree told onenewspaper, "everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me."He has been called a window into the American psyche. Or you might say he's a mirror— what you see depends on who you are and where you stand. Obama puts it this way: "Iserve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project theirown views." But those metaphors all suggest that he is some sort of passive instrument,when in fact his elusive quality is an active part of his personality. It's how you square thefact that Obama once wrote the most intimate memoir ever published by a future nomineeyet still manages to avoid definition. At his core, this is a deeply reserved andemotionally reticent man. Consider this anecdote from Dreams from My Father: as ayoung man in New York City, he lived next door to an elderly recluse "who seemed toshare my disposition." When he happened to meet his neighbor returning from the store,Obama would offer to carry the old man's groceries. Together, the two of them wouldslowly climb the stairs, never speaking, and at the top, the man would nod silently"before shuffling inside and closing the latch ... I thought him a kindred spirit," Obamaconcludes.Both his rhetorical style and his ingrained disposition tend to obscure rather than reveal.This is how Obama remains enigmatic no matter how much we see of him. As thecampaign enters its last chapter, it may not be enough for him to say, as he often does,"This election is not about me ... this campaign is about you." Supporters and opponentsalike want a clearer picture of Obama, and they are selecting elements of his words,policies, public record and biography to shape their clashing interpretations. Those piecesof Obama are also open to interpretation, because so few of them are stamped from anyfamiliar presidential mold: the polygamous father, the globe-traveling single mother, theweb of roots spreading from Kansas to Kenya, friends and relatives from African slumsto Washington and Wall Street, and intellectual influences ranging from AlexanderHamilton to Malcolm X. Four of the faces of Obama pose various threats to his hopes forvictory. The fifth is the one his campaign intends to drive home, from the convention inDenver right to Election Day.
1. The Black Man
Henry Louis Gates Jr. once wrote an essay on the life of writer Anatole Broyard, thelight-complexioned son of two black parents who lived his life passing as a white man."He wanted to be a writer," Gates explained, but "he did not want to be a Negro writer. Itis a crass disjunction, but it is not his crassness or his disjunction ... We give lip service tothe idea of the writer who happens to be black, but had anyone, in the postwar era, everseen such a thing?"
Obama tells a parallel story in his memoir, the journey of a man raised by his Caucasianmother and grandparents who seeks his identity as an African American. Along the path,he was drawn to a number of older black men who argued that America's racial divide isabsolute and unbridgeable. Obama recalls a visit as a teenager to the home of a black manhis white grandfather considered a friend. To his surprise, the man explained that it washopeless to think any white man could truly befriend someone black. "He can't knowme," the man said of Obama's grandfather. No matter how close they might seem, "I stillhave to watch myself."That is resolutely not the message communicated in Obama's campaign, however. "Ireject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientationor victimhood generally," he has declared. He enjoys nearly unanimous support fromAfrican Americans in polls; nevertheless, just as Broyard sought to avoid being labeled a"Negro writer," Obama resists efforts to define him as a "black candidate." And for someof the same reasons too. As soon as the race label is added, some of the audience tunesout, others are turned off and still others leap to conclusions about who you are and howyou think. Obama has written that race was his "obsession" growing up but that he longago left that burden behind. Now he lays claim to the whole spectrum: "the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas" with "brothers, sisters, nieces,nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across threecontinents."The question, to borrow from Gates, is whether enough people in 2008 are ready toimagine such a thing. There's an interesting scene in Dreams in which Obama meets forthe first time another of those influential elders — the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Earlier thisyear, Wright's comments about race led Obama to repudiate his former pastor. In anuncanny way, this conversation from more than 20 years ago goes directly to the heart of Obama's current dilemma. The eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson had publisheda book arguing that the role of race in shaping society was giving way to class. But forWright, the concept of a postracial politics simply didn't compute. "These miseducatedbrothers," the pastor fumed to the young Obama, "like that sociologist at the Universityof Chicago, talking about 'the declining significance of race.' Now, what country is heliving in?"If identity politics might gain some black votes for Obama, it can also cost him voteselsewhere. So how many Americans will agree with Wright that race is still front andcenter? The number is notoriously slippery, because voters don't always tell pollsters thetruth. At the Weekly Standard, a magazine with a neocon tilt, writer Stanley Kurtz rejectsObama's postracial message because he suspects it isn't sincere. Probing the coverage of Obama's career as an Illinois legislator in the black-oriented newspaper the ChicagoDefender, Kurtz concluded, "The politician chronicled here is profoundly race-conscious." Though Kurtz's message is aimed primarily at whites, it's not so differentfrom one angrily whispered by Jesse Jackson. "I want to cut his nuts off," Jackson fumed— because he believes that Obama's race ought to determine which issues the candidateraises and how he discusses them. Either way, whether an opponent claims that Obama

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