Since we're enduring an election, I'm giving a lot of attention to 538 Politics, the site where Nate Silver has landed his "data journalism" under ESPN auspices. Silver's choice of conglomerate overlord is appropriate; much of 538's coverage reads like ephemeral sports trivia. But occasionally they produce fascinating insights bringing to bear the sort of stats mojo in which they specialize.
In this vein, I want to recommend a podcast and documentary video looking back to the 2008 campaign, Inside The Five-Day Stretch When Obama Found His Voice On Race. This tells the story of the moment in that campaign when major media spotlighted some of Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons which were not complimentary about U.S. national pretensions to global moral preeminence. Obama responded with his More Perfect Union speech in Philadelphia and commentators declared that he'd managed to push the racial camel through eye of the public's needle about his potential presidency.
The 538 gang, assisted by senior writer Farai Chideya, have produced a fascinating look back at whether, in fact, that moment in the campaign really deserves to have been seen as the turning point many of us thought it was at the time. On simple data grounds, they suspect not.
So, outside the media, most people had either already formed their opinions of Obama, for good or ill, or weren't listening. Yet, they still find much to be learned from this episode:
My strictly anecdotal memories of these events are naturally very different; having long been exposed to the Black theology of liberation via Dr. James Cone, Wright's views were unsurprising. But I certainly was anxious -- would white people freak out? The smooth competence Obama displayed in defusing this moment convinced me of his political gifts -- and left me bemused and frustrated when he couldn't seem to summon such capacity at many later moments in his presidency.
This podcast is an early entry in a "Summing Up" genre that we're going to see a lot of as Barack Obama leaves office. What did the rise and incumbency of this extraordinary figure mean, if anything enduring? I expect to write many entries about these items here, some less approving than this one.