Great White Hope
Having observed the ascent of Illinois State Senator Barack Obama within the ranks of the National Democratic Party over the course of the past 18 months (or so -- the Republican incumbent serving in the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Peter Fitzgerald, having announced as far back as April, 2003, that he would not seek re-election when his seat came up for contest this November), culminating in Obama's delivery of the Keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in what one commentator among a depressingly clone-like sect of commentators referred to as a case of "Obamania" (Wasn't there an MTV-type group back in the late 1980s or early 1990s bearing a name close to this?), the whole spectacle sort of makes me feel compelled to ask White America a simple, straightforward, and non-partisan, indeed, strictly a-partisan, question: How do you prefer your Black Man?
But, in particular, how do you prefer your Prominent Black Man? Do you prefer to eat him raw? Or cooked? (That is to say: Well-done?)
Nor can I help but ask this question of White America. Because what I recall about Barack Obama's ascent within South Side Chicago politics -- white as well as black -- is that Obama et al. (and here I say et al., since these days, these things never happen spontaneously, but represent genuine expressions of the popular will about as much as the menu at a McDonald's represents the kind of nourishment the human body craves) was able to propel himself into the National Democratic Party spotlight, and to build his base (i.e., what the late Steve Neal at the Chicago Sun-Times would refer to as "South Side independents," but what I took to mean very well-heeled white people whose real interests lie anywhere but in Chicago's South Side neighborhoods and the real lives of the people indigenous to the State of Illinois' 1st Congressional District), by trying to climb up and over the body of the old Black Panther Party member, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.
As described by an Associated Press report on the 1st Congressional District's March 2000 primary was to open (Jennifer Loven, "Panther-turned-congressman faces tough re-election battle," March 15, 2000):
The main threads of black political history in
Note that this was during 1999-2000. (Obama has served in the Illinois State Senate since 1997.) But Rush convincingly defeated Obama in the March 2000 Democratic primary, by roughly a two-to-one margin. Ultimately, redistricting moved Obama and Rush into different voting districts, and mooted Obama's earlier strategy.
Anyway. I don't care about the decrepit biographical refrain that tells us Obama was the Harvard Law Review's "first black president in more than 100 years of publication," that he's been a "civil rights lawyer," a "senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School," "touted by South Side independents as a new-generation politician," and is now the Democratic Party's new "symbol for diversity." Etc. Etc. Etc.
Forget everything here but the rapid ascent of Obama's star these past four-and-one-half years, and how his newfound political celebritihood -- or symbolic uses -- work on the national political scene.
So, four-and-one-half years ago, Obama tried to climb over the body of the "former Black Panther defense minister who turned from urban warfare to elective politics" -- and failed.
Barack Obama took the dais as the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention here on Tuesday and told a classic American story of immigration, hope, striving and opportunity. He did not speak of race or civil rights or a struggle for equality. He did not speak, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson did so passionately in 1996, of the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a black
Today, Barack Obama is the No. One Black Star in the Democratic Party's Firmament.
As Jennifer Loven wrote in an earlier version of the aforementioned story for AP, "Former Black Panther Bobby Rush's 1992 election to Congress from
If in the symbolic field at work here, Bobby Rush went from "gun-toting urban guerrilla to graying, soft-spoken mainstream politician," what trajectory do you suppose Barack Obama's political career followed? The hints of Great White Hope rhetoric became unmistakable the closer we got to the July 27 date of Obama's Keynote address at the Democratic Convention. And don't let the fact that the Illinois Republican Party has brought in the ridiculous, bathos-ridden, out-of-stater Alan Keyes to make a last-ditch showing for the Party fool you into thinking there's something fundamentally progressive at work here on the Democratic side. Not only is Obama not a gun-toting urban guerrilla become a graying, soft- (or forcefully-) spoken mainstream politician. But the Obama brand's ascent has its roots within the brand's usefulness as the symbol of the highly cultivated and indeed tamed Black Man who is willing to drive the gun-toting urban guerrillas away from the national political consciousness, once and for all.
What this leaves us with are the civilized Americans of all races, creeds, and offshore investment accounts ("E pluribus unum"), tending to their vast domains. A star is born.