Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity
Hard cover, 270 pages, $29.95
This study locates Obama's ideas within a broader and often contentious debate, more than two centuries old, over our self-understanding as a country and a people. Exactly who is considered worthy of full and equal membership in the American community has evolved over time; non-whites, Catholics, non-Christians, women, gays, and others were marginalized for centuries.Basic premise: Full acceptance into the American mosaic for many has proven elusive and difficult over the years since the country was founded. What Obama represents can be challenged and divided from what Sarah Palin famously called "real America." America's melting pot ideal fits in with the idea of shared citizenship and runs counter to the current Republican efforts at voter suppression, and encouragement of white working class resentment and charges of Obama not being a "real American" or "understanding America" or being a Kenyan by birth and a socialist by nature. This effort to characterize Obama as "other" is different than Obama's message of diversity as strength, and serves as a counterpoint to Obama's vision of a diversified yet united America.
Author: Ian Reifowitz is a historian and associate professor of History at Empire State College, SUNY. He has published opinion pieces at Daily Kos, Newsday and The New Republic.
Readability/quality: This is a good read without graphs and tables, and lends itself to a chapter a day read.
Who should read it: Political junkies (especially relevant because of the dark tone of the two campaigns against Obama), progressives, those interested in multiculturalism and nationalism, and those who want to look at this current election battle through a different lens.
Interview with Prof. Reifowitz (who will be available for comments this morning for a few hours):
Daily Kos: In your first chapter, you take us on a tour of national identity from the revolution through the 60s. Why is pre-1960s history important to understanding where we are now? Have the post-60s changes overwhelmed the past?
First and foremost, it?s because I?m a historian. In order to understand the context of Barack Obama?s conception of American national identity and the narrative of American history he presents, we have to look at multicultural thought, of which there are various forms. But multiculturalism didn?t come out of nowhere, it grew out of the Civil Rights movement and was a reaction against the then dominant concept of our identity, one that emphasized Anglo-conformism and centered on a historical narrative dominated by white, straight, male Protestants.
But even the concept of Americanness that stood essentially unopposed in the 1950s was different from what came before. I wanted to briefly sketch the changes by which groups earlier excluded from full membership the American community (Catholics, Irish, Jews, Italians, Slavs) won broad, if not universal, acceptance by the mid-20th century, so long as they publicly adopted an American-only identity (as opposed to a hyphenated one) and generally tried to ?fit in? in cultural terms. So, like I said, I?m a historian. But it?s a brief tour. I wanted to get to the 1960s so I could get to the 1990s so I could get to Obama.
(Continue reading below the fold.)