Shelby Steele of the conservative Hoover Institution argues in a new book that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has generated excitement not because he's the first black person to run for president but rather because he's the first black "bargainer" to do so.
The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, in Steele's view, are "challengers" -- they make whites feel guilty. Obama, in Steele's view, plays the "bargainer" -- he agrees not to shame Americans with the history of slavery and segregation and whites respond with enormous gratitude.
But despite the novelty of a "bargainer" running for president, Steele argues in "A Bound Man: Why We're Excited About Barack Obama and Why He Can't Win" that the Democratic presidential front-runner is in a bind.
Even though he is, in Steele's estimation, "quite good" at "articulating black responsibility," his long struggle to "prove his blackness" requires him to see blacks as "society's children."
"Obama doesn't get it," said Steele in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. "He wants to make black responsibility contingent on what whites do, on what the government does, and on what school systems do and so forth."
"Good luck," he added. "You keep advocating that and blacks will be on the bottom forever."
Steele thinks Obama's alleged insecurity about his racial identity explains not only his 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright but also his continued support for affirmative action and refusal to say whether he would have signed the welfare overhaul approved by former President Clinton in 1996.
It also explains, in Steele's view, why Obama said during a recent "Nightline" interview that blacks do not have the "luxury" of being "selective" when it comes to other blacks.
Steele accuses Obama in his book of making personal responsibility contingent on the government delivering school reform and other systemic changes. He makes this accusation even though Obama has talked about responsibility as long as he has been on the national stage.
"Children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white," said Obama in the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that catapulted him to national prominence.
Before this year's New Hampshire primary, Obama included the theme of parental responsibility in a television ad. "We need parents to turn off the television and instill in our children a sense of excellence."
Despite his repeated references to responsibility, Steele believes that power is diluted because Obama is bound to what Steele calls "the anti-responsibility political left" where the focus is on "white responsibility for black difficulty."
This incenses Steele, who is half-black and half-white, because he thinks Obama's life teaches the necessity of self-help.
In his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama recounts how, when he was living in Indonesia, his mother rose at 4:30 a.m. to work with him on a lesson plan that was more advanced than the one offered at his school.
Steele points to his mother's efforts, and nothing the system did for him, as the reason why he became the editor of The Harvard Law Review.
"For his own mother," writes Steele, "apparently, responsibility was a rigid creed. He says of her, 'The idea that my survival depended on luck remained a heresy to her; she insisted on assigning responsibility. . .'"