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Honolulu, Harvard, and Hyde Park
Barack Obama's appeal has always been something of a paradox. On the one hand, Obama's election as the United States' first African American president can be seen as a triumph for "identity politics" and a blow to the near hammerlock that white Protestant males have had on the presidency since George Washington. On the other hand, it moves the country closer to an era of nonracial or postracial politics, in which racial identity will matter less and less.
Obama is a clear break from past generations of black politicians. In the parlance of the civil rights movement, he is a member of "the Joshua generation" -- a term drawn from the Bible that refers to the generation of Jews who did not remember the Exodus but lived to enter the Promised Land. And he has embraced a very different political style from those of other black politicians, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. With a white mother and a Kenyan father who lived in the United States only briefly, Obama had little personal connection to the forces and history that shape African American identity. Growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, two places where black-white relations were a marginal and distant force, young Barry Obama's life was touched only tangentially by race. From this start, Obama emerged as the most commanding figure in African American politics ever and was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Who is Obama? What does he really believe? How has his quest to find and understand his place in American life shaped him and his vision for the United States? These are the questions that David Remnick, the author of Lenin's Tomb and the editor of The New Yorker, sets out to investigate in The Bridge, an intelligent and searching biography of Obama. Although he covers ground that has already been examined by other writers (most notably, Obama himself), Remnick nevertheless manages to frame important questions about the current occupant of the Oval Office. The Bridge is a significant accomplishment and a compelling read. At its best, it illuminates some very dark corners.