It does and it doesn't.
It matters that a partly African-American man is being taken seriously as a candidate for president. I am not being facetious when I say it would be uplifting for the American public to elect someone for the content of his character. Mr. Obama's character seems at least as good as any president I've seen in action.
I'm not sure how much it would really matter geopolitically, but it would seem advantageous if the US were represented on the world stage by someone with whom people in other nations could identify. It would surely entitle America to some claim of authentic moral high ground -- of real fidelity to our stated principles of fairness -- at a time when our national credibility is in a slough.
I'm satisfied that Mr. Obama is comfortable with his own persona. he doesn't appear to be either hung up on his racial background or disregardful of its subtler meanings. Of course in a better world, where the old "one drop rule" didn't apply (the mentality that one drop of black blood makes someone "black"), Mr. Obama would would be justified in calling himself black or white. In any case, his own apparent comfort has allowed other Americans to feel comfortable with him, and about the better angels of our nature as a people.
Lately, I have been reading Niall Ferguson's history of World War Two (War of the World). Though I have heard, seen, and read other versions of the story a zillion times, Ferguson freshly emphasizes the importance of the racialist ideas that motivated both the German Nazis and the Japanese in launching the war. These ideas appear in hindsight to be utterly insane, and the cruelty and carnage that grew out of them was so exorbitant that it comes close to negating any claim the human race ever might have made previously, through twenty-five-hundred years of history, to a moral standing above the dogs and crocodiles. The behavior of the Nazis themselves was bad enough, but they somehow managed to inspire nearly every other European nation, or ethnic group, or pseudo ethnic group to behavior so grotesque that one truly wonders how these groups recovered their bearings later on in the 20th century. Their demoralization should have been complete. Instead of just Herman Goring committing suicide in his jail cell at Nuremberg in 1945, one concludes after reading Ferguson, all German survivors of the Third Reich should have just marched off a cliff somewhere. The Japanese treatment of the Chinese, Malays, and every other Asian sub-group wasn't any better.
The world can't afford to repeat that kind of thing again. But the world is heading into a stressful situation that could provoke another wave of worldwide conflict -- not to mention the kind of internal conflicts that induce ethnic cleansings and genocides within nations. So, from my point of view, the further America removes itself explicitly from a collective racialist mentality, the better off we would be. But there is a catch: if perhaps Mr. Obama wins the Democratic Party's nomination, and goes on to win the White House, and the nation enters the socioeconomic convulsions I call The Long Emergency, and Mr. Obama is overwhelmed by its overwhelming problems... would he be singled out for blame? Surely there will be a lot of finger-pointing and scapegoating. Would Barack Obama become a tragic figure? The answer may be that anyone who occupies that office during the next term could end up a tragic figure.
Anyway, Hillary was back out on the stump yesterday, in the pulpit of a black Baptist church in Memphis, sounding as phony as the day is long, and it was just gratifying to know that she had just been soundly beaten. She sounded and looked discouraged, her voice lingering in that lower-register monotone that makes her come off like a regional director of the State Department of Motor Vehicles. Mr. Edwards, who I have supported and continue to support, could not shake the look of a whipped dog, too, after losing badly in his birth state. But he swore to continue on further through the primaries, and his pluck seemed genuine enough.
The night before, when the returns in South Carolina were final, Mr. Obama made a speech before his supporters, who were chanting "race doesn't matter! race doesn't matter!" as if to convince themselves as much as the TV viewing audience. The higher truth might be that it would matter if it didn't matter. But it does in many ways.
The winning candidate concluded his remarks that night by invoking the slogan "Yes we can!" It was stirring to hear, and of course it projected the simple message that his campaign would remain "positive," in the current popular therapeutic sense. But at some point, Mr. Obama will have to rise above the platitudes and generalities and answer some questions as to yes we can... do... what....? The candidates all yammer about "change," but I suspect they don't quite know how much change this nation is really in for.