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A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win Hardcover – December 4, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Why we are excited: Obama is a talented, charismatic politician and living proof that whites have welcomed blacks into the mainstream. Why he can't win: He's still mired in an ideology of racial victimhood and separatism that Steele (White Guilt), a Hoover Institution fellow and, like Obama, the son of a black father and white mother, deplores in this stimulating, conservative critique. Obama's conflict over his mixed parentage and abandonment by his father, the author argues, engenders a need to prove his racial authenticity by accommodating a black identity politics that, while it energizes his African-American base, risks alienating white voters. Worse, as president Obama might reflexively support affirmative action and government initiatives to help African-Americans, instead of emphasizing the self-reliance, individual responsibility and avid assimilation that Steele contends are the only remedies for the black community's problems. The author's tendency to psychologize Obama's policy agenda sometimes overreaches. Still, the book is full of fresh insights into the cultural politics of race; Steele's analysis of Louis Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey as iconic Negroes granting moral absolution to whites, for example, is a tour de force. (Jan. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Full of fresh insights into the cultural politics of race" ---Publishers Weekly --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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But here is why I gave the book four stars: I think the book is very good IF it is approached as saying more about Steele's own biracial experience than about Obama's. And, as always, Steele is very good at articulating what he thinks the inner dynamics (and social dynamics) of race in America are. So, this book is really about being biracial as Steele perceives it. Obama, he says (and this was before his attainment of the presidency, which makes it all the more fascinating), has a dilemma: he can make race an issue in his candidacy and risk losing some support from his wider white audience, or he can keep race out of it and risk losing some support from the black community. He can be (as Steele thinks he mostly is) a "bargainer" who gains acceptance from a wider audience by being a 'non-threatening' black man (a black man who will not accuse whites of racism or hold America's past against them), or he can be an 'activist,' who focuses more on issues particularly affecting the black community.
I must stress that this book is not a political tract. By "can't win' in Steele's subtitle, Steele does not mean that he shouldn't win, but that in these two dilemmas, Barrack Obama cannot win because either way, he sacrifices some part of his identity and will risk alienation from either the white or black community. And while Steele is often called a 'conservative,' there is no hint in this book of disrespect for the President. (This is not an Ann Coulter book.) In fact, several times throughout the book, I paused with suspicion that, if the book didn't have Steele's name on it, readers would likely think that the author was of the left, maybe a critical race theorist; that is what the book is, an examination of the dilemmas one faces in American society being biracial.
In the end, I gave the book four stars, because I learned to read it as a book about Steele as much as or more than about President Obama. My suggestion, though, is that this book would be all the better if Steele wrote an update, appraising how the President has done in light of his now six or so years in the presidency (within which the President has commented on several racially charged incidents, such as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin). Otherwise, this book is made all the more interesting (if a bit dated) by its having been written before Obama became President.
His examples of Oprah Winfrey who has parleyed bargaining into billions of dollars, and Jesse Jackson, who has parleyed challenging into millions, are accurate. Obama has many of the characteristics he describes in bargainers. The book is a bit outdated as events have passed some of his theories. Obama slipped a bit in describng his grandmother who raised him as "a typical white person." The Reverend Wright has opened the door to the question of what Obama really thinks about whites. The mask has slipped, a least for a moment. Obama has been able to hold his movement of guilty whites together long enough to win the nomination. Whether it will last until November is unknown but this book has been helpful in trying to understand where Obama is coming from. It is not reassuring.
Most recent customer reviews
President Obama's approval is currently between 15 and 25 points higher than Reagan's was at this point...Read more
Oh Shelby Steele, you are so funny.