The First Jewish President

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Toni Morrison famously referred to Bill Clinton as the “first black president,” writing that he displayed “almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”

Well, a recent NYTimes op-ed by David Brooks got me thinking: Can Barack Obama be the first Jewish president?

Though surely it wasn’t his intention, Brooks seemed to describe Obama using tropes commonly associated with the exilic/diasporic Jew.

Obama has been a sojourner…

There is a sense that because of his unique background and temperament, Obama lives apart. He put one foot in the institutions he rose through on his journey but never fully engaged. As a result, voters have trouble placing him in his context, understanding the roots and values in which he is ineluctably embedded…

He was in the law school, but not of it…

It was this last line that clued me into this idea, as Rabbi Yitz Greenberg has written that one of the dimensions of exile is “to be fully in the world, yet not totally of it. ”

And while I am not advocating for this description, can’t you imagine someone using the following words to describe Jews?

“This ability to stand apart accounts for his fantastic powers of observation, and his skills as a writer and thinker. ”

Such is Brooks’ depiction of Obama.

Interestingly, the Jewish Brooks uses these descriptions of Obama to account for America’s wariness of him. But he does write for the NYTimes, so maybe he’s a self-hater.

(That’s a joke.)

Posted on August 7, 2008

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2 thoughts on “The First Jewish President

  1. NMK

    We all seem to be ignoring the fact that the US was the only nation to stand up for Israel this week in the UN by vetoing the resolution.

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