It's unfortunate that Joe Biden is getting beat up over his remark that Barack Obama's appeal is that "you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," because he's got it exactly right. So far as is known — which is hardly at all — Obama's political views are waaaay left-of-center, and he's got hardly any experience of governance. What else is there, then, but the sense that he's ... "like us," somehow?
He has an education, that is, an engaging family that he seems to enjoy, and speaks in comprehensible sentences. He is reflective, frank about his uncertainties vis-a-vis the Big Questions, comes across as a regular, agreeable sort of guy.
He is, you know... like us.
The reason for the indignation, of course, is that so much of contemporary black leadership, and so much of black culture writ large, are at pains to not be "white," to display conspicuously their rejection of assimilation into the bourgeoisie values of the white middle class. Obama's popularity undercuts the very premise of Jesse Jackson's and Al Sharpton's race-hustling enterprises: they're not unpopular with the mainstream because they're black — they're unpopular because of their out-of-step values and behavior. Obama is decidedly in-step and, though black, enjoying the rewards denied to Jackson et. al.
Obama's popularity — like Tiger Woods', Colin Powell's, Condoleezza Rice's, Edward Brooke's, Ward Connerly's, Douglas Wilder's, to name just a handful — points toward the fact that the great divide in American life isn't race after all: it is culture, though the cultural divide tends to follow racial lines.
Consider this remark about black school students who "act white," from a study recently released by the Hoover Institution: "I can also be precise about what I mean by acting white: a set of social interactions in which minority adolescents who get good grades in school enjoy less social popularity than white students who do well academically." The pressure against assimilation into the American mainstream, in other words, commences early. Ironically, this places a lot of black America, including a great many of the so-called black leaders, in practical opposition to the affirmative action initiatives they so vigorously defend.