Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I haven't read a word of Gwen Ifill's forthcoming book, and, as far as I know, not one of the Fox News-ites, veteran online right-wing attack dogs, and grandstanding bloggers who've declared it "pro-Obama" claims to have read any of it either.

But it's obvious, based on the publisher's description of the book and its promotional video, that this is a fairly wonky book, the primary purpose of which is not to tell you how wonderful Obama and his fellow new-style African-American politicians are. Instead, it's clearly a work of history, its purpose being to explain what the old style of black politics was, how things have changed, and why the change occurred.

The publisher's description:

In THE BREAKTHROUGH, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, and also covers up-and-coming figures from across the nation. Drawing on interviews with power brokers like Senator Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict and the "black enough" conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.

THE BREAKTHROUGH is a remarkable look at contemporary politics and an essential foundation for understanding the future of American democracy.

And here's the video -- same message:

Ifill, in the video:

The title of the book is The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. It's taking the story of Barack Obama and extending it to talk about a whole new generation of black politicians who are doing very similar things in very different ways. They're younger, they're more likely to get to power not by marching in marches, the way their parents did, or by leading protests -- they have decided to do it by getting educations, basically walking through the doors that their parents opened and choosing public service in a different way.

This isn't hero-worship -- it's analysis.

Is Ifill going to make a truckload more money on this book if Obama wins? No way. This book isn't going to be a bestseller -- it's just too poli-sci. Yes, if Obama wins, it (and a dozen or so other books) will be on bookstore display tables next to Obama's own books and possibly a quickie book or two on the campaign, just in time for the inauguration -- but Ifill's book is about societal trends, not big dramas or big personalities. An Obama win will give only a small boost to sales that won't be huge in any case.

And what about the title? Doesn't Ifill need an Obama win to validate it? Well, titles can change -- remember how often Jonah Goldberg's did. (Just FYI, Goldberg and Ifill share a publisher.) But there should be no need for a title change -- win or lose in November, Barack Obama is unquestionably the most successful African-American politician of this age. And that would be true even if he'd fallen just short of Hillary Clinton in the primaries and she'd picked Bill Richardson as a running mate -- no black office-seeker ever ran up as many victories, in lily-white states and racially mixed states, as Obama has.

There's just one sentence in the Ifill video that gives me the slightest pause: Ifill says of the four politicians she's profiling,

They all chose to get into politics for the most upstanding of reasons.

On the other hand, what mainstream journalist hasn't said something like that about John McCain? You'd have to turn to Perez Hilton if you wanted a debate moderator who hasn't lavished that kind of praise on the GOP nominee at one time or another.

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