May 29, 2008
Jennifer directed me to an article written by a Theodore Roosevelt scholar, Joshua Hawley, who noted the similarities between TR and Barack Obama.
Assuming Obama wins the presidency, like TR, he would be coming to power at a time of social and economic upheaval, calling for a "politics of transformation" to "transcend left and right," and challenging people to uplift their moral character.
Now, while I agree with the writer about these similarities, he misses the most important difference. When TR spoke about social/economic reforms, he was candid about who would share in such transformations: whites first, immigrants primarily from northern Europe who had divested themselves of all traces of their ideological and material origins, Native Americans who had enough of their “redness” burned away to be white, and those exemplary blacks (i.e., the few rather than the “seething mass of black atoms”) who should strive for the promise of equality with the knowledge that their skin color prevented the realization of true equity.
For Roosevelt, it was a lot easier to “preach” messages about economic change since the racial/social hierarchy was still going to remain intact at the end of the day. If Obama directly addresses the relationship between the economy/race/ethnicity in a substantive, sustained way as president, would his discussions have to challenge that hierarchy?