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The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the…
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The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama

by Gwen Ifill

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Thoughtprovoking, I suppose. When it comes down to it, Ifill concludes that the election of Obama was ultimately about race, and she explores the 2008 election through that prism, as well as the rise and careers of other black politicians (male and female) at various levels of federal/state/local government. She terms the current generation of black politicians 'Breakthroughs' and characterizes them as keeping a respectful but arms-length distance from the previous civil rights generation.

I like that she interviewed so many people in depth. I felt that the generational divide is often overlooked, but is probably as important, if not more, than some of the other divides she explores - race, gender, party. For instance contrasting Jesse Jackson Jr. to Jesse Jackson Sr. was really enlightening. I also thought it was interesting to learn about what situations it helped or hurt to focus campaigns on race/gender. Also, I was interested in the chapter on Deval Patrick as well. I also liked the section on Cory Booker, recognizing him from an appearance on The Colbert Report. The ending though, with a series of vignettes about rising or minor political figures seemed fairly repetitive. The main message - that 'breakthroughs' are increasingly common, got lost in the shuffle.

I heard about this book from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and put it on my wishlist where it sat until mid 2011. But its interesting reading this book now (July 2011) and reflecting back on how focused the nation was on race/gender in 08 and how since then the national discourse has moved on to other things, mainly economic.

So, while I think some of the aspects covered are still relevant, especially since no magic wand has or will wave away racism/sexism and these will likely continue to be some factor in the political sphere into the future. But, because these issues are framed from the contemporaneous perspective of the 2008 election the book will have diminishing relevance and increasing nostalgia over time.

Of course, as 30rocketjk commented on another thread, the change in relevance of this book would be the case for anything written on a contemporaneous topic, but could increase in relevancy for historians as primary source materials.

Personally, I think what will be relevant as source material will more likely be what came out of the interviews rather than from Ifill herself. But, who knows. YMMV.

Quick read overall. 3.5 stars. ( )
  bfertig | Aug 2, 2011 |
As I began reading this book, I first had to get over my disappointment over what it was not. I'd seen Ifill, of course a well-known journalist for the PBS News Hour, interviewed on Jon Stewart's show about this book, and they made it seem as if it were an in-depth look at the Obama presidential campaign and how the in-place African American power brokers reacted to Obama's quest for the presidency. That subject certainly is covered, and in an important way is a centerpiece of the book, but much less time is spent with Obama's campaign than I supposed would be.

So much for what the book it not. What Ifill actually did set out to do was to portray the drama of a younger generation of American American leaders rising up and taking over the mantel of leadership from the older generation, those leaders who had actually lived through the Civil Rights Movement itself. And also, of course, the push-back from the older generation, not all of whom are willing to hand over the leadership role so easily. Ifill examines this question by looking at the reaction to the Obama phenomenon, certainly, but also provides a great deal of depth and dimension to the question by examining the careers of several other young African American leaders. Of particular interest to me was the chapter on Corey Booker, the mayor of Newark, as I am a native of that city myself.

By looking in relative depth at a wide range of politicians, on the national, state, city and local levels, Ifill is able to provide a well-rounded picture of what this new generation faces. The questions of "are you black enough" and "what are you going to do for your people" that white politicians certainly don't have to answer. The balancing act that female black politicians are expected to walk. The challenges confronted by upstart politicians who don't want to play by the rules or to look for patronage from the entrenched political machines in their states or cities, and the ways in which this sort of brashness can be both a strength and a weakness.

An interesting conflict is seen in the fact that many older black politicians at first scorned Obama and supported Hillary Clinton out of loyalty to the Democratic machine but also to the ways in which Bill and Hillary Clinton had both been strong supporters of African American achievement. The younger (usually) black politicians who immediately supported Obama were seen as being foolish and unrealistic. But as one woman told Ifill when describing her own decision to turn her back on the Clintons and their supposed claim on her loyalty, "I wanted off that plantation."

Ifill has a good, easy writing style and I liked the fact that she was matter-of-fact about her own identity. She doesn't insert herself into the narrative very often, but she's not coy about that fact that most of her readers will know who she is, and therefore doesn't hesitate to say things like, "as he told me." Very infrequently, she adds personal anecdotes, always very brief and always to the point.

So I started out being irritated that I wasn't getting the in-depth look at the Obama campaign I'd been expecting, but ended up quite happy with what I learned in this book. ( )
1 vote rocketjk | May 24, 2010 |
My knowledge of politics is limited mostly to headlines, so I found this book difficult to read. "knowing" references to stuff I don't get leave me baffled.
So far, I have not been able to finish it...
  bethlea | May 13, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038552501X, Hardcover)

In The Breakthrough, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential victory and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama (all interviewed for this book), and also covers numerous up-and-coming figures from across the nation. Drawing on exclusive interviews with power brokers such as President Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, his son Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict, the race/ gender clash, and the "black enough" conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.

The Breakthrough is a remarkable look at contemporary politics and an essential foundation for understanding the future of American democracy in the age of Obama.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Veteran journalist Ifill sheds new light on the impact of Barack Obama's presidential victory and introduces the emerging African American politicians forging a new path to political power. Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, as well as numerous up-and-coming figures. Drawing on exclusive interviews with power brokers such as President Obama, Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, his son Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and many others, as well as her own observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict, the race/gender clash, and the "black enough" conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in history.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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