As a result of reading Coates tonight I happened upon a blog called Postbourgie, and from there I found myself reading this 2004 New Yorker piece about Barack Obama, the candidate for the United States Senate for Illinois. This was before the Democratic National Convention vaulted him to widespread fame.
It’s illuminating. Read it if you can. But what is coincidental is author William Finnegan’s discussion of Obama’s chats with supporters in Hyde Park:
Every few minutes, our conversation was interrupted by passersby congratulating Obama on his primary victory. The people who stopped to shake his hand were black and white, old and young, professors and car mechanics. Some Obama obviously knew. Others seemed to be strangers. He was affable with everyone, smiling warmly, but in exchanges that lasted more than a few seconds it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor—the blushing, polysyllabic grad student, the hefty black church-pillar lady, the hip-hop autoshop guy. Black activists sometimes say that African-American kids need to become “bi-dialectic”—to speak both black English and standard English—to succeed. Obama, the biracial kid from Hawaii, speaks a full range of American vernaculars.
Bold mine. How odd that I had just written about that. But the article goes on to essentially describe Obama’s “drink the kool aid” appeal, which was evident in 2004 and is now kind of a national joke after the presidential election.
We hear again and again that folks who met Obama during his rise to fame were pretty attuned to the idea that he would hit it big one day. That he was going somewhere. And yet he hit some rough patches (notably his failed attempt in 2000 to gain entry into the DNC and his loss in the congressional race). Obviously his charisma and his appeal had particular resonance in this particular age, amidst the horrors of the Bush years. Life must be a mixture of fate and coincidence.