Gates wonders how more combative politicians, like Lyndon Johnson, would have responded to the slights Obama has received from Congress. (“He would have grabbed these people by the balls and said, ‘I am the president of the goddamned United States!’ ”)I remember when Richard Nixon had a thing of saying "I am the President." It didn't work too well.
But that isn’t Obama’s, or Gates’s own, style, he says: “What people forget is that the most radical thing about Obama is that he was the first black man in history to imagine that he could become president, who was able to make other Americans believe it as well. Other than that, he is a centrist, just like I try to be. He’s been bridging divisions his whole life.”I hear Al Sharpton screaming. And Jesse Jackson. I think they imagined that they could become President.
That's my photo, by the way, of my button, acquired, with serious intentions, in 1988. But Gates didn't mean "Obama is... the first black man in history to imagine that he could become president." It was a qualified statement. The next clause is inextricably linked: "who was able to make other Americans believe it as well." I think Jesse Jackson would still be steamed. And you know what Jackson says when he's steamed. Speaking of balls.
Looking for that old photograph got me to a post from January 2007, which linked to this old conversation in which I talk about the button and talk about how various black leaders reacted to Obama's initial announcement that he was running for President. And here's the January 14, 2007 post that the conversation is based on. It's got an Al Sharpton quote about Obama:
"Right now we’re hearing a lot of media razzle-dazzle. I’m not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we’ll find out if it’s just fat, or if there’s some real meat there."And I said:
In a political culture in which the media have long consulted [Sharpton and other black leaders] and preserved a place for them in the debate, now it seems that Obama will be given that place, and Obama is likely to say things that are far more mellow and conciliatory to the majority of Americans. They have to be asking -- and we should ask too -- whether that is why Americans like Obama so much. Looking at the problem from this angle, we should see that it's not simply a matter of personal jealousy, it is a real fear that their message is being effectively excised from the national debate.And it was excised, wasn't it? As I said in the conversation linked above, Obama was bland. That's what people liked at the time.
I say "Obama is bland," and Bob Wright blurts it out: "That's the reason you can imagine him becoming President."