What Barack Obama Owes Michael Jackson

They were born three years and 24 days apart. And a more than an ocean separated the only child of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother and the Gary, Indiana kid who was the seventh of nine children. It would be wrong to read too much political meaning into the career of Michael Jackson and that of Barack Obama. (No one is thinking tonite that Hillary Clinton owes a debt of gratitude to Farrah Fawcett.) But it would be myopic to say that Jackson had a huge cultural impact and no political impact, either.

 After all, as much as the oft mentioned Huxtables of "The Cosby Show" fame or any number of crossover African-American politicians, Jackson broke down walls between races with music that sent suburban whites and inner-city blacks to say, "I want my MTV!", the fledgling cry of the music cable network when it was still trying to get pickup. 

In his androgyny and overall weirdness, Jackson was never really a role model in the sense that you could try and be like him. His talents were too otherworldly and so were his oddities. But he was entertaining and by bringing people together, especially in the 80s when race relations seemed more strained--remember Howard Beach or "Do the Right Thing?" or the Giuliani-Dinkins race--that meant something. 

I don't have my copy of "Dreams From My Father" at hand to know if the 44th president mentions Jackson but it's hard to imagine that he didn't have a disc to take with him to Occidental or Columbia. And if he didn't own one, he surely knew the words which made him like everyone else. Barack Obama lived a life of accomplishment, an upward trajectory from Punahou to Harvard, Springfield to the White House that seems incredibly void of demons whereas Jackson was all demons. They're no more alike personally than  

Presented by

Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Dravet Syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that affects children. Could marijuana oils alleviate their seizures?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy

Video

A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.

Video

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

More in Politics

Just In