I am a bit late into this particular fray. But the race trope will
appear and reappear many times before this election is done.
The truth is that I couldn't make out the subliminal code of blackness
in the matter of Barack Obama's skinniness. In
any case, why should it be good for his campaign or, for that matter,
bad for it? When I am on a subway (or, more frequently, to tell the
real truth, on an airplane) there doesn't seems to be an inordinate or
even simple difference between black people and white people in their
But, yes, race is with us in this campaign and, I believe, for the
good. Let me explain.
Rare among long-time Obama supporters, I actually like John McCain.
We are, in that remote D.C. way, friends, well, friends, kind of. We
are on the same side of several issues, but not enough certainly for
me to want him for president. Moreover, on some of these matters,
there is little distance between Obama and McCain. No, I do not think
McCain is a fascist or even a reactionary. Nor, for that matter, do I
think thoughtful people will leave the country if he is elected. Not
even those who threaten to do so, like Susan Sarandon who, in any
case, is not thoughtful but dumb.
Still, I believe this is an historic moment, and Barack Obama is the
carrier of its spirit. John McCain is too much a Republican -- but
neither a Lincoln nor a TR Republican -- even to grasp the heights to
which a President Obama might, just might, lead us.
1. Obama understands that the social contract of American democracy
and democratic capitalism, its very promise, has now been broken.
More people are being left behind when a callous class of the very
rich drip themselves in luxury and indifference. The latest instance
of this is the way in which the bankers' insistence on heaping debt on
the insecure middle class and the poor left these two strata in pain
and in fear. To this there is an answer: "choose equality and flee
greed," as Matthew Arnold instructed the people of England in the mid-
nineteenth century. This does not mean a turn towards socialism, the
brutalities of which and the inanities of which we learned all too well
(and without exception) throughout the twentieth century. The
collapse of the social contract, a contract initiated by Franklin
Roosevelt and his Democratic Party, mandates the restoration to all
Americans of the reasonability of personal aspirations and of communal
ambitions. This last includes what many Democrats fear: American
leadership of the kinder and more gentle ideals of civilization. If
not us, the other English-speaking nations and our largely Western
allies (including India and Japan) who else will define the future of
the planet? Russia? China? Iran? Good luck.
2. The Republican Party and, through it, John McCain are bonded to
ignorance as a social force. George Bush was in his dopey manner the
emblem of official anti-intellectualism. But he commanded not a posse
but an army hostile to science and to the light that learning sheds on
social and economic matters. I suppose that Barack Obama's deftness
in brain work makes his sheer smarts an issue in this campaign, too.
So let it be. Rest assured: he is smarter than his party which, not
quite as much as the Republicans, would govern more by sentiment than
3. And so we come back to race. Barack Obama's victory in the
elections would begin a new book on race in America, not setting aside
the grim memories but proclaiming the second Emancipation
Proclamation. The promise of a black president languished in
Lincoln's first, was smothered by Republican Reconstruction and
Democratic Jim Crow. The burdens of slavery mutilated minds and
spirits from one generation to the next, as the slowly eroding
memories of white supremacy maintained the law and lore of dominance.
Obama's campaign brings this to a close, even if in some small circles
it may linger, even fester on. This is already a grand
accomplishment. His victory would consummate the long delayed pledge:
a black president. Free at last from our past. Free at last.