I have still been mulling over the Shirley Sherrod incident in the back of my mind, and in doing so have come to a new theory of how Obama wants to be remembered as President. To get there, I have to repeat a story I have related here at least once before (I believe during the campaign) and probably other places as well.
When Obama was Prez of the Harvard Law Review, at least one conservative professor relates the story that when he submitted an article to the Law Review, Obama gave him not only grammatical edits (as Law Review Prez's are supposed to do) but also suggestions on how to strengthen his conservative arguments. I have come to believe that Obama did that because, as the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review, Obama decided he did *not* want to make waves, rather Obama wanted to be remembered as a competent but conventional LR Prez. After all, if Obama made radical changes as LR Prez, the next African American candidate would be viewed not as just any other candidate, but as a candidate that might make radical changes.
So, back to the present, I was confused when the Obama administration fired Shirley Sherrod so quickly. I wondered why they didn't seem to consider the source of the video, but that's not important to the rest of my argument. Did the administration think that by firing her so fast (and asking so quickly for the resignation of Van Jones last fall) they would score points with conservatives? Perhaps (although they didn't), but I now think the idea that was uppermost in Obama's mind is that he wants to be seen as so even handed that if he finds an African American employee who is racist towards whites (or holds political views outside the mainstream) then Obama will ask immediately for the resignation of that employee. That is so the the next time an African American runs for President, if people say "Do we want another Barack Obama?" it will be a positive question, not a negative one. I think the passage of a health care reform bill shows Obama wants to stand out (in history), but the passage of the most conservative HCR model possible shows that Obama does not want to stand out (in history) as particularly radical.
What does this mean for our future? Well, I think we will see Obama trying conventional approaches to most problems before trying anything more radical. So for example, I don't know if Obama will pull many troops out of Afghanistan next summer, or if he will leave Afghanistan altogether by 2012. I think, though, that we can expect to see Obama to work hard but follow the advice of his generals in Afghanistan, so that if we do just walk away, no one will be able to say we didn't try (even if they do ask why we bothered).
In fact, I want to say something about Afghanistan as our *new Vietnam*, but I leave that for my next post.