The upshot is that while using reductive reasoning and waxing every story about the Obama campaign with greasy obviousness, media voices tend to narrow the significance of this new moment in U.S. politics to race. Why? Because anyone can see that Obama is not a white man and does not represent what we have come to think of as white in its most provincial terms.
The inability to see Barack Obama clearly makes it nearly impossible to see Michelle Obama at all, even though she might have had as much to do with her husband's victory in Iowa as anything else and might have reversed the numbers in New Hampshire had the women of that state had long enough to see, listen and think about what she was saying. She might have been able to move even the most recalcitrant women from Hillary Clinton's base to Sweet Home Obama.
Had she done it, the pundits would probably still have missed it. The reason, it seems to me, is that they don't see the importance of this woman beyond race. All that is written or said about her role in the upcoming battle for South Carolina is how much she might be able to do with black women voters. Some have even misinterpreted an interview she did on MSNBC about black voters eventually "getting it" as a strict call to racial allegiance. What a shallow thought.
Look at it for yourself at: youtube.com/watch?v=cun7UpxHWRI.
It's now part of our digital version of the permanent record, once found only in books. Now we have the "moving and talking picture book," which can be replayed and studied over and over like one would scrutinize written passages that are forever the same.
What comes through is that Michelle Obama is able to talk about ethnic specifics as though certain responses can be understood as part of what we can all deduce about human behavior. Yes, she is talking about black Americans being wary of the possibility of success, which is a theme we have seen quite frequently addressed in material about any Americans who have become reluctant to hope because they have been so often defeated or held down or forcibly stopped just short of prizes considered beyond them.
This is so central a theme in U.S. life that we have seen it used in many Western and gangster films in which the townspeople or the urban dwellers have become cowed by the ruthless violence of anarchic cowboys and outlaws or equally vicious gangsters and thugs. In all of those cases, the hero must persuade the people that they do not have to accept disappointment as a normal condition. They do not have to wave the flag of apathy when presented with a serious challenge. They can put up their dukes and might find out that their arms are not too short to box with the gods of disappointment.
Barack Obama is trying to become that sort of hero in the context of American politics and has startled many who have become so cynical and so certain that nothing can be done about our messes that they do not know what to actually make of him. But I think Americans will not be able to resist him and his extraordinary wife.
Michelle Obama contradicts most entertainment images because she is so unpretentiously down-home, so classy, so inarguably American and so much of a woman as well as so mentally acute. She is able to communicate IDEAS in the way you would expect of an experienced lawyer who does not sacrifice complexity for clarity. I do not see how the country cannot be drawn to the Obamas or the realization of family values that they so palpably embody.
What a shift for all women, but obviously for those women and girls at the bottom, who can look at these two people and see flesh-and-blood proof of the fact that dreaming is not a waste of time, that working hard to prepare for the arenas of the big time is not fruitless self-torture, that assuming that you can finally be seen as a human being is not some cliché overgrown with sticky cotton-candy irrelevance.