Never has America been more assimilated, integrated, and intermarried — as is evident in everything from politics to popular culture, from statistics to anecdotes. Yet from late 2007 to 2012, Barack Obama has been establishing new rules of racial referencing. In general, his utterances follow a disheartening pattern. When he is ahead in the polls, has won an election, and is not campaigning, then he emphasizes the unity of the country. But when he is running for president, or campaigning for others, or sinking in the polls, he and his closest associates predictably revert to charges of racial bigotry, albeit usually coded and subtle. America is redeemed when it champions the Obamas, but retrograde when it does not.
Obama’s race-based strategy is predicated on some unspoken assumptions: Any short-term damage incurred by engaging in racial tribalism can easily be later erased by soaring teleprompted speeches on racial harmony; the media will either not widely report his emphases on race or generally support his charges; a person of color can hardly be culpable of racial polarization himself given the history of racial discrimination in this country.