While I was reading Howard Zinn over the past few days, I happened across Adolph Reed's take on Obama—from January of 1996:
In Chicago, we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program--the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics.
Reed quoted this himself (and probably does at every opportunity, annoying his mechanic, his dentist, and friends at faculty parties to no end), since he's apparently pleased with it. And justifiably so; that's some serious perspicacity.
I found this interesting because people whose opinions I respect have somehow waded through Obama's books and concluded that he used to be more than the grasping, soul-dead imperial roach he is now. I more or less took their word for it, in large part because I couldn't possibly care less about his past (and I only pay attention to his present unwillingly, because of the position he holds); I just assumed that his abandonment of this core humanity was a recent development, necessitated by his single-minded pursuit of power. But it did give his story a cut-rate tragic dimension. So it's reassuring to hear that no, he's actually been sucking the life essence out of every authentic movement he's been around—cynically co-opting their language while tossing aside their genuine concerns, in service to his own ambition—from the very beginning of his political career.
Unfortunately we're going to have to traverse "the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance" at least two more times, with our first female and first gay presidents. But on the bright side, if we play our cards right we can cut the pain in half by electing a neoliberal lesbian!