For some black operatives in the Clinton orbit — people who have functioned, going back to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in the 1980s, as Democratic Washington’s liaisons to black America — the fallout from an Obama victory would likely be profound. “Some of them will have to walk the plank,” an Obama adviser told me bluntly. In their place, an Obama administration would empower a cadre of younger black advisers who would instantly become people to see in Washington’s transactional culture. Chief among them is Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago real estate developer who is one of Barack and Michelle Obama’s closest friends. “She’s poised to be one of the most influential people in politics, and particularly among African-Americans in politics,” Belcher told me. “She may be the next Vernon Jordan.” In fact, the last time I saw Clyburn, he told me he had just spent two and a half hours at breakfast with Jarrett.Then there are operatives like Belcher himself; Michael Strautmanis, Obama’s former chief counsel and de facto younger brother, who first met Michelle Obama when he was working as a paralegal at her law firm; Matthew Nugen, a political aide who is Obama’s point man for the Democratic convention; and Paul Brathwaite, a 37-year-old lobbyist who used to be the executive director of the black caucus and who might act as a bridge between black congressmen and an Obama White House.
Should they win in November, Obama and these new advisers will confront an unfamiliar conundrum in American politics, which is how to be president of the United States and, by default, the most powerful voice in black America at the same time. Several black operatives and politicians with whom I spoke worried, eloquently, that an Obama presidency might actually leave black Americans less well represented in Washington rather than more so — that, in fact, the end of black politics, if that is what we are witnessing, might also mean the precipitous decline of black influence.