Obama's Speech, And One (singular) Advantage Of Being Black

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THE PLANK MARCH 18, 2008

Obama's Speech, And One (singular) Advantage Of Being Black

My first reaction is that the speech was extremely smart and intellectually subtle. It's very unusual for a politician to give a speech that works at such a high intellectual level. At every turn he resisted simplifications and added nuance.

This in turn reminds me of one of the things I like about Obama's candidacy. He may be liberated to operate at a high intellectual level in public because he's black. I'm not trying to be Gerry Ferraro here; let me explain. Candidates like John Kerry and (even moreso) Al Gore were also very smart, but constantly forced to dumb it down lest they be tagged as out-of-touch elitists. Since the egghead image is so at odds with the prevailing stereotypes about African-Americans, he has much less to fear by speaking at a high intellectual level.

Of course, Obama is extremely intelligent -- as smart as, or smarter than, any presidential candidate I can ever remember. Yet I don't think a brilliant white Constitutional law professor could pull it off. Being black obviously disadvantages Obama in all sorts of ways. But this is one way where it helps.

--Jonathan Chait

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