Thanks to the book Game Change, which captured the behind-the-scenes drama of the 2008 presidential campaign, authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are now as feared among those keeping political secrets as Karinne “Superhead” Steffans is feared among the rappers and athletes worried about being name-checked in her next tell-all.
The most recent revelation to leak from their latest book, Double Down, is a good reminder of why Halperin and Heilemann cause such nervousness among the political elite. According to the Daily Beast’s overview, the book claims President Obama and his advisors were irritated by what his aides dubbed the “professional left” and “professional blacks.” Not black professionals, but those who professionally highlight or exploit racial politics. The book goes on to say that the president considers New York Rep. Charles Rangel “a hack” and that the Rev. Jesse Jackson essentially had been banned from the White House. The Washington Times also reported that according to the book, Rep. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn were the only two members of the CBC whom President Obama respects, writing, “Apart from Georgia congressman John Lewis and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Obama had nearly as much contempt for the CBC as he did for the Tea Party Caucus.”
But the most eye-opening revelation to come from this section of the book is the allegation that the president is still hung up on an allegation that has haunted him since early in his career, that he is not “black enough” and that he actually asked aides during the 2012 campaign, “Am I still not black enough?”
While these anecdotes are not exactly explosive, they are revealing. For one, the president’s tight relationship with rapper Jay Z (birth name Shawn Carter) has been puzzling for many, particularly in light of the fact that Jay Z is a former drug dealer who has proved politically embarrassing to the president. (See the Cuba kerfuffle.) But in private conversations, some African Americans have speculated that having been raised by white Americans, the president has been on a lifetime journey to affirm the authenticity of his black experience, and that for better or worse he gravitates to men he feels can help him do that no matter how toxic they seem. (See the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Jay Z.) The fact that he was still raising the “Am I still not black enough?” issue after winning the presidency indicates that he still cared whether others thought he was black enough, and makes it likely he would be willing to do something (even if it meant hitching his wagon to a rapper) to prove that he is (in the eyes of those who define “blackness” in such terms).
His public closeness with the likes of Jay Z makes his so-called “contempt for” members of the Congressional Black Caucus even more bizarre.
As I have written consistently since President Obama took office, I understand, as all Americans should, that he was elected to be the president of the United States of America, not of black America. But if the president could point to a significant list of accomplishments from his administration that have benefited the black community, then perhaps he would be in position to dismiss the Congressional Black Caucus as an unnecessary irritant.
But considering that the first black president has made few strides on issues like unemployment within the African-American community, it seems a bit rich for him to refer to any members of the Congressional Black Caucus striving to hold him accountable as hacks. If anything, perhaps he, and black Americans, would be better served if President Obama spent more time with African-American members of Congress and less time with black celebrities like his buddy Jay Z.
Then perhaps he would have more firsthand, on-the-ground intel regarding what an authentic black experience is like for those of us not imbued with the power and status of being called Mr. President.
Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.