Friday, November 21, 2008

Campaign Finale

The election is finally over, and no matter who your candidate was you will have to agree that history has been made. I have been somewhat of a political junkie for the past few months, reading blogs and watching news channels, but I'm relieved to be able now to take a deep breath and let go of my obsession. I found a good finale to this chapter of my life in the November 17th issue of The New Yorker. This issue, with its stirring cover picture of the Lincoln Memorial, contains several excellent articles about the campaign. Ryan Lizza's “Battle Plans” analyzes Obama's campaign strategy and David Grann's “The Fall” is a fascinating look at the choices John McCain made in his run for the presidency. I was touched by Roger Angell's reminiscence about a black Harvard college classmate born too soon to have the opportunities that Obama's generation did.

But I was especially interested in David Remnick's thoughtful piece “The Joshua Generation”. The title refers to a line in a speech Barack Obama made at the funeral of Rosa Parks in March of 2007 in Selma, Alabama. He had just recently announced his candidacy, and the church was full of older civil-rights leaders who had walked in voting rights marches before he was born. Obama refers to them respectfully as the “Moses generation” and characterizes himself as a member of the “Joshua generation”. “I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said.

Remnick uses this moment as the starting point for his thoughtful study of the role of race in the shaping of the candidate and his campaign. Much of his information about Obama's early life comes from his two autobiographies (“Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope”), but Remnick also talked to many of his friends and associates both inside and outside the campaign itself. What emerges is the portrait of a man shaped both by his unique identity as the child of a mixed race couple living in Hawaii and by his calm temperament. Oddly, the fact that he often felt like an outsider in both black and white worlds seemed to make him able to relate to both groups. Remnick discusses the early times in the campaign, when many blacks were reluctant to support a candidate who seemed to have little chance of beating Clinton and who was perhaps “not black enough”, and how the Obama team changed that dynamic by his early primary victories. Remnick spoke to many African-American figures – Colin Powell, Al Sharpton, Charlayne Hunter-Gault – about their own experiences and how they have shaped their opinions of the Obama candidacy. In the end he concludes that Obama's success came from his ability to lead the Joshua generation of his race – he had “simultaneously celebrated identity and pushed it into the background”.

To view this issue online go to The New Yorker website at It's easy and free to become a digital subscriber.

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