The personable, shirt-sleeved, loose-limbed fellow has morphed into the dark-suited, flag-lapel pinned polibot. In style and emphasis, Barack Obama has shifted to a less colorful (no pun intended) version of the woman he defeated for the Democratic nomination. Politically, it's probably necessary. To reassure Americans that he is neither Muslim terrorist, nor Black Panther nationalist, Obama has had to erase himself -- or at least the self he presented to primary voters.
In a country still plagued by racist, sexist attitudes, it's tricky for blacks and women to achieve high, national political office. In Hillary Clinton's case, male-centric societal norms and her adherence to, or distance from them color her every move. She is reviled for both showing emotion (too girly) and for unladylike strength (ball buster). Openly sexist commentary surrounds her.
Obama's every move is scrutinized for unpatriotic undertones. His lapel jewelry becomes front-page news. Conservatives pervert his wife's acknowledgment that she bears the cultural scars of her forebears as America-hatred. Racially tinged commentary surrounds him. On national television, Michelle Malkin casually, cattily referred to his wife as his "baby mama." The attacks on his patriotism are veiled references to a mindset in which blacks are not "real Americans."
Neither Clinton nor Obama follow mainstream Washington's model of black and female political success. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice exemplify those models. Unlike Clinton and Obama, neither Powell nor Rice endure open media snark and not-so-slightly veiled sexist/racist asides. Within the Washington press and political mainstream, both enjoy deference and respect that their performances do not merit.
Colin Powell is held in high esteem, yet he delivered the lies that led this nation to war. He did so with the knowledge that some of the information he had been fed was false -- and unless he is a fool, he had suspicions about the rest of it. He delivered it anyway, and hundreds of thousands died bloody deaths.
Condoleezza Rice leaves a trail of wreckage behind her worthy of Heath Ledger's Joker.
As Secretary of State, she was at the very least the spokesperson for the policy that caused Israel to lose a war to Hezbollah and shifted perceptions of power in the Middle East to the detriment of our ally.
As Secretary of State, she advocated free elections in the Palestinian Territories, and then, when the Bush administration didn't like the results, punished the Palestinians for exercising those voting rights.
She was a central enabler of one of the worst foreign policy blunders of the 20th century -- the Iraq war.
But neither Rice nor Powell raises the fears that Obama and Clinton do. That is because they take their orders from white men. They do not make their own decisions. They are servants--good soldiers--nothing more. They serve(d) white, conservative masters dedicated to the extension of economic and political status quo in which power remains and grows exactly where it is. That is their proper place.
Conversely, both Clinton and Obama want to wield the power themselves, and they make no bones about it. This is a radical shift in establishment Washington's racial/sexual dynamic. Hell, it's a radical shift in America's. It's why right wing hysteric Charles Krauthammer wrote a Washington Post column essentially sputtering, "How dare he!?" Note how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both face the "It's all about them" attack. As female and black respectively, they are not supposed to seek power. It is not their place.
Obama's transformation is designed to convince the Washington elites and the American public that he, too, understands the status quo, and even appreciates the benefits it has brought to certain segments of the population. His very skin is a challenge to it, so he must work all the harder to acknowledge its value. Meanwhile, Republicans are doing all they can to convince Americans that he will undermine it--that, as "unpatriotic," electing him will somehow undo America itself.
That's why I still wish Obama would choose Clinton as his running mate. Both have proven themselves adept at maneuvering America's racial and sexual landscape. With Obama's newly minted establishment persona hopefully doing its job to blunt attacks on his patriotism and politics, picking Clinton would--even as he pays deference to the status quo--stick a small shiv in its belly.
With the economy on a bubble/bust cycle, wages stagnating or falling, unemployment increasing, deregulation imploding, oil expensive, the planet warming, U.S. stature waning... the status quo isn't working any more. An Obama/Clinton ticket would help signal to his base that, despite his nods in its direction, his Presidency would be a necessary, steady, deliberative process of rewriting it.