Everything You Wanted to Know About Barack Obama

David Remnick's exhaustive -- and exhausting -- biography of the President is a textbook for the ages.

Posted:
 
(Continued from Page 1)

Just as holding hands and singing ‘We Shall Overcome' is not going to do it, exhorting youth to have pride in their race, give up drugs and crime, is not going to do it if we can't find jobs and futures for the 50 percent of black youth who are unemployed, underemployed, and full of bitterness and rage.... Any solution to our unemployment catastrophe must arise from working creatively within a multicultural, interdependent, and international economy. Any African Americans who are only talking about racism as a barrier to our success are seriously misled... We must deal with the forces that are depressing wages, lopping off people's benefits right and left, and creating an earnings gap between C.E.Os and the lowest-paid worker that has risen in the last 20 years from a ratio of 10 to 1 to one of better than 100 to 1.

It is easy to dismiss the 33-year-old's insight as a type of please-all-people populism that avoids the controversy of Farrakhan himself. But Obama's intuitive empathy for what he once called, in himself, "the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man," presaged his shrewd and striking explanation of white grievance in his landmark oration on race in Philadelphia in March 2008.

It is also as accurate a template as we have for the operating principles of Obama's first year as president. Since taking office, he has tackled the problems he outlined in 1995 with health care reform that benefits marginal workers, checks on executive compensation that aim to restore balance to the workforce, and a stimulus package that staunched the bleeding of the US economy and laid the seeds for better schools and jobs. While his administration has been critiqued, alternately, as socialist, overly cozy with Wall Street, radical and not radical enough, Obama's basic, centrist political instincts actually deserve the term "post-racial."

Remnick attributes this bridge-building instinct to both temperament and chronology: Obama has always been a natural mediator, a mixed-race olive branch to conservative and liberal ideologies, white and black culture. 2006's The Audacity of Hope is "cool, polite, insistent on refusing the mud and assaults of the cable shouters and Internet haters, intent on winning over everyone." But Obama was also "late"--born in 1961, come of age within a generation robbed of wars to fight, or rights to win. He had no choice but to take the best of history, and keep it moving. It turned out that history was black America's.

Rep. John Lewis, who crossed from the Clinton camp to become an Obama believer, states the obvious: "Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma." But he also notes that Obama's election is not the point. Walking around the mall on Inauguration day, 2009, greeting the crowds, he remembers: "I was beaten near to death at the Rock Hill Greyhound bus terminal during the Freedom Rides in 1961. Now the police chief is black."

Though it is exhaustive, Remnick's book is also exhausting--no less because the story of Obama is so well known. But The Bridge is written with a clear eye to history, indulging the sense that after 2012, 2016, or in 2061, there will be a need to know what happened, and how Obama came to be black, and why--and president at that. Students in our browning America will sit in rows and remember Obama's "improbable journey" to the White House, in part because they cannot remember a world without him. Thus in every sense it is a textbook study of a man whose personal ambitions and talismanic properties earned him the right to make history in our time.

Dayo Olopade is Washington reporter for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Become a fan of The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

 

Comments
The Root encourages respectful debate and dialogue in our commenting community. To improve the commenting experience for all our readers we will be experimenting with some new formats over the next few weeks. During this transition period the comments section will be unavailable to users.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your continued support of The Root.

While we are experimenting, please feel free to leave feedback below about your past experiences commenting at The Root.