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2008 presidential race

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Excerpts from Books by and about 2008 candidates
Sen. John McCain (R, AZ)
Why Courage Matters
Sen. Barack Obama(D, IL)
Dreams From My Father
Sen. Joe Biden (D, DE)
Promises to Keep
Gov. Sarah Palin (R, AK)
New Energy for Alaska
Rep. Bob Barr (L)
The Meaning of IS
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (G)
Green Party Debate
Ralph Nader (I)
The Good Fight
Alan Keyes (NAIP)
Our Character, Our Future

Sen. Hillary Clinton
It Takes A Village
Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Gov. Mike Huckabee
Character Makes A Difference
Amb. Alan Keyes
Our Character, Our Future
Rep. Ron Paul
Freedom Under Siege
Gov. Mitt Romney

(click a book cover for excerpts and a review or other books by or about the presidency from

A Bound Man
Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
, by Shelby Steele

(Click for Amazon book review)


This book is about Obama's mixed race and how it affects his outlook on life and society. It contains very little about Obama's policy stances -- focusing almost exclusively on the aspects of how race -- and mixed-race -- affects Obama's candidacy for the presidency. Readers interested in Obama's policies should read excerpts from the several other books linked at the bottom of this page.

The author, Shelby Steele, is in a unique position to explore this subject, because he too is a child of a racially-mixed marriage, and he too is in the world of politics. Like Sen. Obama, Mr. Steele has a black father and a white mother. Mr. Steele is a researcher at the Hoover Institution, which is generally considered a conservative think-tank. Hence Mr. Steele identifies with Sen. Obama in terms of their common background, but does not identify in terms of political outlook. Nevertheless, the clause in the title "Why He Can't Win" is not much explored -- and I don't conclude after reading this book that Mr. Steele believes that Sen. Obama cannot win.

This book was written after Obama made his intentions clear that he would enter the presidential race. Hence its intended audience is either Obama supporters who wish to understand how race defines the Senator's character, or Obama detractors who wish to find reasons to vote against the Senator. Both groups will find this book interesting. Mr. Steele digs deep enough to explore Obama's college relationships (some black women, some white women, and one multiracial woman) -- from which he interprets Obama's struggle to determine his own racial identity. Mr. Steele similarly explores Obama's choice of jobs, church, and political manner from a racial perspective. Mostly, Mr. Steele analyzes Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father," in psychological, racial, and political analyses.

Because this book is really about how blacks deal with white society, there is a lot of material that is not actually ABOUT Obama, but of course is RELEVANT to Obama. I suspect that Mr. Steele had written much of this material prior to deciding on a book about Obama, and Obama provided a strong focal point (a "news hook", as journalists say). Since the purpose of the book is to understand Obama, that material is certainly interesting -- but it's not excerpted here because has no place for explanatory background information like that. In summary, Mr. Steele's treatise on black America includes chapters contrasting the following black personalities:

  • Chapter 7: Louis Armstrong vs. Miles Davis, on dealing with white society
  • Chapter 8: Bill Cosby vs. Don Imus, on "challenging" black society
  • Chapter 9: Sidney Poitier vs. Oprah Winfrey, on the "iconic Negro"

      Mr. Steele also include substantial autobiography -- which also can be interpreted as valid analysis of Obama's outlook and situation. Normally, I very much dislike self-references by the author, but in this case, they make sense, and were relevant (but again, are not excerpted for OnTheIssues). There is also substantial literary and psychiatric analysis -- which, although complicated, is made relevant by Steele's application to himself and to Obama. The book is short enough that the complicated material does not get tedious (which I suppose means I think Steele is a very good writer!)

      The overall political theme of the book is that, in Mr. Steele's view, black Americans can either be "challengers" to white society, or "bargainers" with white society. Previous black candidates, specifically Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, were "challengers", whose role was to point out the shortcomings of American society with regards to African-Americans. In contrast, Obama is a "bargainer", who is actually attempting to win the presidency.

      Because of the dominance of race in American thinking, Steele concludes, Obama is "bound" by several factors: (1) He must use his race as a means for white America to feel "redemption" that white society can vote for a black man (that's Steele's view of the "bargain"); and (2) He must balance how authentically "black" he presents himself -- not too black to be threatening to whites, but not too white to turn off black voters.

      -- Jesse Gordon,, Jan. 2008

      Click here for 14 full quotes from Barack Obama in the book A Bound Man, by Shelby Steele.
      OR click on an issue category below for a subset.
      Civil Rights
         Benefited from affirmative action but overcame via merit.
         2004 DNC speech merged “heritage” with “diversity”.
      Principles & Values
         Rooted in African-American community but also more than that.
         Embodies smothering racial power in individual democracy.
         More influenced by his race than public perceives.
         “Dreams From My Father” is an archetypal search.
         Intertwined search for father and racial identity.
         A Bound Man: inner turmoil of 1960s black nationalism.
         In college, rejected multiracialism for black identity.
         Joined church that emphasized a “Black Value System”.
         Whites sense that Barack grants them “benefit of the doubt”.
         Fans see Obama as opportunity to vote for redemption.
         Balancing “challenger” for blacks & “bargainer” for whites.
         Obama REPRESENTS something; doesn’t have to DO anything.

      The above quotations are from A Bound Man
      Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
      , by Shelby Steele.

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