One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Post-Founding Fathers

This week’s fantastic issue of The New Yorker (check out the cover if you have not seen it yet) features an equally fantastic essay by David Remnick on the role of race in this historic campaign.  Inevitably, he eventually turns to Colin Powell, who was once the odds-on favorite for becoming the first black president president who is black (the point is his) and who makes a number of insightful comments on the history and nature of racial politics in America.  Remnick gets right to the point:

I asked Powell if Obama’s election would signal the rise of a “post-racial” period in American history. “No!” he said. “It just means that we have moved farther along the continuum that the Founding Fathers laid out for us two hundred and thirty-odd years ago.

I’m encouraged, though not surprised, by Powell’s exclamatory rejection of the absurd thesis that America has somehow transcended its entire history of racism in just one election.  However, I don’t think the “Founding Fathers” would have any idea what “continuum” Powell is referring to.  These are the (white) men who explicitly enshrined in the country’s founding document the unfathomably odious notion that a man (no women, of course) with different pigmentation (as long as it wasn’t “red”) constituted only 3/5 of a person.  While some “Fathers” may have viewed this Faustian bargain as a compromise toward eventual abolition, certainly none envisioned a “continuum” stretching toward a black chief executive.

Rather than trumpet the dawn of “post-racial” politics in America, perhaps we can use Obama’s election to finally put to rest the myth of our Founding Fathers’ omniscience and ahistorical commitment to liberty.  It is not race that Obama’s election transcends, but the limitations that the very founders of this country set for millions and millions of Americans.


November 14, 2008 - Posted by | History, U.S. politics | ,


  1. I like your blog’s makeover! And the title is nice, too. Oh yeah, and your post….still haven’t read this week’s New Yorker, but planning on reading the Remnick article as soon as I get home from work this evening. An update to this superficial comment may be forthcoming.

    Comment by Mia | November 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. So I take it you don’t revere the Constitution as a document written by geniuses so it can be followed by idiots.

    In seriousness, Powell’s remark stands in stark contrast to the simplistic rhetoric, used by Sarah Palin, of all people, in her acceptance speech for the nomination to VP: that one electoral victory is enough to “shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!!!1!”

    Comment by Caleb | November 14, 2008 | Reply

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