Barack Obama, A Promised Land, Viking, 2020 (Kindle edition, 159-60, 163-164)
I wanted to be neither a supplicant, always on the periphery of power and seeking favor from liberal benefactors, nor a permanent protester, full of righteous anger as we waited for white America to expiate its guilt. Both paths were well trodden; both, at some fundamental level, were born of despair.
No, the point was to win. I wanted to prove to Blacks, to whites — to Americans of all colors — that we could transcend the old logic, that we could rally a working majority around a progressive agenda, that we could place issues like inequality or lack of educational opportunity at the very center of the national debate and then actually deliver the goods.
I knew that in order to accomplish that, I needed to use language that spoke to all Americans and propose policies that touched everyone — a topflight education for every child, quality healthcare for every American. I needed to embrace white people as allies rather than impediments to change, and to couch the African American struggle in terms of a broader struggle for a fair, just, and generous society.
I understood the risks. I heard the muted criticisms that came my way from not just rivals but friends. How an emphasis on universal programs often meant benefits were less directly targeted to those most in need. How appealing to common interests discounted the continuing effects of discrimination and allowed whites to avoid taking the full measure of the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and their own racial attitudes. How this left Black people with a psychic burden, expected as they were to constantly swallow legitimate anger and frustration in the name of some far-off ideal.
It was a lot to ask of Black folks, requiring a mixture of optimism and strategic patience. As I tried to lead voters and my own campaign through this uncharted territory, I was constantly reminded that this wasn’t an abstract exercise. I was bound to specific communities of flesh and blood, filled with men and women who had their own imperatives and their own personal histories — including a pastor [Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright] who seemed to embody all the contradictory impulses I was attempting to corral. […]
For me the episode churned up all the doubts I still had about running for the highest office in the land. It was one thing to have integrated my own life — to learn over time how to move seamlessly between Black and white circles, to serve as translator and bridge among family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, making connections across an ever-expanding orbit, until I felt I could finally know the world of my grandparents and the world of a Reverend Wright as a single, unified whole. But to explain those connections to millions of strangers? To imagine that a presidential campaign, with all its noise and distortions and simplifications, could somehow cut through hurt and fear and suspicion that had been four hundred years in the making? The reality of American race relations was too complicated to reduce to a sound bite. Hell, I myself was too complicated, the contours of my life too messy and unfamiliar to the average American, for me to honestly expect I could pull this thing off.