‘A curious relationship’: Barack Obama, the 1960s and the election of 2008

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Ward explores the diverse ways in which memories, understandings and misunderstandings of the 1960s were mobilized during the 2008 election cycle. At the time, Barack Obama's campaign and triumph were hailed by many as marking a series of a decisive breaks with the past, notably with the culture wars and fiercely ideological political partisanship unleashed in the late 1960s. Others suggested that Obama represented a new kind of candidate who somehow transcended, or might even heal, the racial divisions in the United States, in a fanciful vogue for ‘post-racialism’ that Ward argues was also connected to popular conceptions of the 1960s and, in particular, to a misreading of the social philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. While some commentators stressed rupture and discontinuity with the past in interpreting Obama's victory, others—friend and foe alike—were keen to stress continuities with the past, often explicitly with a 1960s routinely, if simplistically, parsed into ‘good’ early and ‘bad’ later periods. ThusWard considers Obama's connections to the civil rights and black power movements, as well as to other 1960s organizing traditions, charismatic leaders and conceptions of federal government, arguing that the decade continues to offer an important, if ambiguous touchstone in contemporary American politics and social memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-42
JournalPatterns of Prejudice
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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