“One Cool Fighter”

The Joshua Generation
Race and the campaign of Barack Obama.
by David Remnick
November 17, 2008
The New Yorker

Just noticed that November 17th issue of the New Yorker is all about this election! “The Joshua Generation” is the featured article. It is a profile of Obama and his political life combined into one, waved between Obama’s first book “Dreams From My Father”, and defining incidents throughout the campaign.

I like the following couple of paragraphs the best:

Just as important as the message was the tone of the messenger. Obama’s distinctively cool personality continued to serve him and his candidacy. The civil-rights-era activist Bob Moses told me, “His confidence in himself—and his peacefulness with himself—came through in a way that can’t be faked. You are under too much pressure to actually adopt a persona. You can’t do it under that pressure and not have it blown away. People said he couldn’t afford to be the angry black candidate, but the point is that he is not angry. If he were angry, it would have come out.” Indeed, in the sixties, Moses, as he led voter-registration drives in Mississippi, was himself known for those same qualities—his intelligence and even temper.

“The speech helped stanch a real frenzy,” Axelrod said. “Barack turned a moment of great vulnerability into a moment of triumph. He said, ‘I may lose, but I will have done something valuable.’ He was utterly calm while everyone was freaking out. He said, ‘Either they will accept it or they won’t and I won’t be President.’ It was probably the most important moment of the whole campaign.”

Studs Terkel, who compiled oral histories about race and the Depression and was, at ninety-six, a Chicago institution, spoke to me a week before his death. Terkel said that Obama’s political guile under pressure reminded him of Gene Tunney, the heavyweight champion of the mid-nineteen-twenties, who used craft, more than brawn, to defeat Jack Dempsey twice. “The guys on the street, the mechanics and shoe clerks, saw Tunney as an intellectual, but he won,” Terkel said. “Obama is like that. He’s one cool fighter.”