New Era in Black Political Power

Article excerpt


The success of Barack Obama has exposed the nation to the next generation of black leaders, many of whom have a different worldview from their predecessors. As we embark on the age of Obama, it's helpful to have a field guide to some of the key figures that also gives some historical and sociological context to the topic.

That's exactly what Gwen Ifill has given us in The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, a well-reported analysis of an important component of the country's political landscape.

Ms. Ifill, the moderator of Washington Week and senior correspondent of The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, has done extensive interviewing and numbers-crunching (more of the former) and her book likely will have wide appeal to general and academic audiences.

The generational tensions - which stem mostly from different life experiences - are at the center of much of this book. The older black leaders often preferred to take a more cautious approach, which caused many of them to endorse the candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over Mr. Obama. It also caused many older black politicians and activists, such as Vernon Jordan and Andrew Young, to advise Mr. Obama to wait his turn and get some more seasoning before running for president.

Ms. Ifill spoke to some of the older leaders but devotes far more space to the younger ones. She has chapter-length profiles of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory A. Booker; Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat; and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and shorter profiles of several others. Her take on most of them is positive, but she does include some of their shortcomings (such as Mr. Patrick's arrogant demeanor) to round out the portraits.

Though she writes of the pride she felt watching Mr. Obama accept the Democratic nomination last summer and how thrilled she was that Americans elected him president, she contends that the country still has a long way to go to heal the racial divide. Ms. Ifill strongly disagrees with the idea that the nation has entered a postracial period, a view posited by some younger black leaders, though not Mr. Obama.

My well-reported suspicion is that it is the type of code language that conveniently means different things to different people. …