Ta-Nehisi Coates Gets It EXACTLY Right

In yesterday’s New York Times (how the heck did I miss this when it came out??). He starts out by pointing out that the reason Barack Obama is President today is that he beat Hillary Clinton in a very, VERY close primary election (remember that?), and the reason he beat her despite their similarity of views is that Obama was against the Iraq war when it mattered, when only the dirty hippies were taking such an unpopular stance, while Clinton was not. The reason Obama was able to refer back to having taken that stand so often and to such great effect while he was campaigning in 2007-8, is because a group of said lefty agitators organized that anti-war rally, and invited young Barack Obama (then a nearly-unknown Illinois state Senator) to speak at it.

Read the whole thing, because there’s much more, but here’s a taste:

In the fall of 2002, Chicago’s own professional left organized a rally to oppose the Iraq War and invited Mr. Obama to join them. He accepted, and the first unwitting steps to the White House were taken. It is considerably harder to imagine Mr. Obama’s path through the Democratic primary had he been just another pro-war Democrat insisting that the base activists stop whining.

Mr. Obama, of course, is not an activist but a politician held accountable by a broad national electorate. He is thus charged with the admittedly difficult task of nudging the country forward, even as he reflects it. That mission necessitates appreciating the art of compromise, but not fetishizing it. Mr. Obama need only look to his hero for an object lesson. Parcel to emancipation, Abraham Lincoln, against the howls of radicals and black leaders, pushed for the colonization of blacks in Africa or the Caribbean, as middle ground between full equality and slavery. The scheme ended in embarrassment; Lincoln’s point man was exposed as a con artist who attempted to effectively re-enslave the blacks he was charged with leading. A Congressional investigation soon followed. It was a fiasco — and it was a compromise.

Obama has been much praised for the magnanimity he shows his opposition. But such empathy, unburdened by actual expectations, comes easy. More challenging is the work of coping with those who have the disagreeable habit of taking the president, and his talk of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” seriously. In that business, Obama would do well to understand that while democracy depends on intelligent compromise, it also depends on the ill-tempered gripers and groaners out in the street.