America's Foremost Black Intellectual

Adam tackles Shelby Steele:

There was the time he said "Obama can't win," based on a binary understanding of black identity, a petty analysis he is still cribbing from even as the first black president is rounding out his first six months in office. There was the day-after election analysis that claimed white people flocked to Obama out of white guilt or the promise of a racial utopia--a fortune cookie argument that ignored any concrete demographic analysis of what happened to the electorate in 2008. Then there was the time he tried to convince conservatives that their problems with race had nothing to do with the Republican Party's shameful history of opposing black rights. But the coup de grace, the saddest moment of Shelby Steele's career, had to be the time George Will damned him with what must have sounded to him like the faintest of praise, by calling him America's "foremost black intellectual." After years of condemning affirmative action, Steele found himself trapped in a checked box of his own divising: Even those who think he is great think so only in relation to his peers as defined by skin color.

I think claiming we were losing the Iraq War because of "white guilt" belongs in there. That said I think Adam is being unsympathetic. He has no idea what it's like to write a polemic which predicts that Obama will lose, and still try to be a respectable writer in an era when Obama has done just that. Steele's answer is to repeatedly roll out the failed tropes from a failed book:

I have called Mr. Obama a bound man because he cannot win white support without bargaining and he cannot maintain minority support without playing the very identity politics that injure him with whites.

This sentence, of course, makes no sense, given that Barack Obama just did exactly what Steele says he can't do. But I think if you read Steele's book (I had to) you'll see that it makes sense as a kind of unintentional memoir. I deeply suspect that this "bound man" notion says a lot more about Steele, than it does about Obama.