Shelby Steele, conservative author and research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, has a book out entitled, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. The book hit the shelves in December of last year, and isn't available in paperback yet, but there appears to be need for a revision: as it turns out, Steele isn't nearly as certain on that whole "Obama Can't Win" premise anymore.
Steele admitted as much on a recent edition of Fox News' Hannity's America:
HANNITY: As the first African-American presidential nominee, Democrat Barack Obama is no doubt running an historic campaign. But will that distinction help or hurt his chances of making it all of the way to the White House? Joining us now, author of a brand new book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win, Shelby Steele. Shelby, good to see you, my friend. Thanks for being back with us.
STEELE: Good to be here.
HANNITY: All right, so he can't win?
STEELE: He can win. I regret that subtitle.
STEELE: It was an afterthought. And I don't argue that in the book. He can definitely win. There is a powerful desire in American society today to see someone like him move to the White House.
Okay. So, he "regrets that subtitle" at the very least. According to MediaMatters, Steele went on to say that the subtitle was "was an 'afterthought'...which he said did not represent the book's thesis."
But then, maybe the thesis itself is wrong! According to the publisher's product description:
Steele writes of how Obama is caught between the two classic postures that blacks have always used to make their way in the white American mainstream: bargaining and challenging. Bargainers strike a "bargain" with white America in which they say, I will not rub America's ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me. Challengers do the opposite of bargainers. They charge whites with inherent racism and then demand that they prove themselves innocent by supporting black-friendly policies like affirmative action and diversity.
Steele maintains that Senator Obama is too constrained by these elaborate politics to find his own true political voice.
This "thesis" seems to ring loud and clear to Publishers Weekly's reviewer, who writes (emphasis mine):
Obama's conflict over his mixed parentage and abandonment by his father, the author argues, engenders a need to prove his racial authenticity by accommodating a black identity politics that, while it energizes his African-American base, risks alienating white voters. Worse, as president Obama might reflexively support affirmative action and government initiatives to help African-Americans, instead of emphasizing the self-reliance, individual responsibility and avid assimilation that Steele contends are the only remedies for the black community's problems.
As it turns out, it is Obama's own actions that have more or less torpedoed Steele's thesis. Far from "reflexively supporting affirmative action," Obama has actually discussed affirmative action in much broader terms, and has specifically noted that affirmative action has engendered a justifiable resentment in white Americans. From Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech:
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Additionally, Obama has proven to be far from "conflicted" when it comes to "emphasizing the self-reliance, individual responsibility and avid assimilation that Steele contends are the only remedies for the black community's problems." As recently as Father's Day, Obama was publicly emphasizing those very things, and giving them a pre-eminent importance above government programs:
Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.
But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child - it's the courage to raise one.
So, it's easy to see why Steele might be backing away from the premise of his book, even if he's not willing to admit much fault beyond the title. Wouldn't you, if you had gotten it this wrong?