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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Obama of 'Dreams'

The promise of Barack Obama's presidential campaign was that it would transcend the old racial and ideological categories of American politics. Obama was sometimes described as "post-racial" or "the Tiger Woods of politics" -- someone who defied the usual dividing lines and, in that sense, could be a healer and a uniter.

The past week has illustrated that race is still a campaign issue. The flap about what the Clintons meant in their comments about Martin Luther King Jr. or an Obama "fairy tale" on Iraq is overdone, but the deeper question of Obama's racial identity is not. He is the first African American with a chance to win the presidency, and many blacks -- after initially holding him at a distance -- are now treating him as a symbol of racial pride and identity. Amid this heightened sensitivity, the jostling that's normal in a political campaign is taken as a sign of disrespect.

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