What I’m Learning (Slowly) From Obama


It’s well known by now that Barack Obama learns from his mistakes and tries hard not to make them twice. So can those of us who supported him. Even here on what we fancy is the right side of history, we can look at our own mistakes candidly in order to learn from them, painful though that may be.

My use of “we” is rhetorical, if not imperial, of course, since my own performance as a commentator was so flawless. But, seriously, folks: Obama has a lot to teach at least a few of us about managing anger and about subordinating our righteous moralism to strategic generosity in order to win truly moral gains.

Right though I am to have insisted, from years of experience, that whites would vote in large numbers for blacks (See the “Voting Wrongs” chapter in Liberal Racism, or this 1996 article from The New Republic),-I was wrong to be churlish and self-righteous toward white-liberal and black activist defenders of racial-identity politics who built their careers and politics on the presumption of racial bloc voting – and, indeed, on the presumption that racial groupthink is the flywheel of politics and public policy.

Wrong though their own presumptions were, those people had plausible reasons for clinging to them. And the irony is that even as Obama – the candidate I could only dream of as I wrote Liberal Racism — vindicated my insistence that movements for justice have to transcend race in order to uproot racism and some of its structural supports, it was I who wavered in that faith as the test of Nov. 4 drew nigh.

Continue . . .

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