You are indeed right regarding Cornel West. He is a an articulate, well-read, pseudo-intellectual who plays the part of the black Yoda well, but is ironically very provincial. His world is literally black and white which limits his analytic powers and makes him ineffective as a true intellectual and impotent as a true force for change. Contrast this with Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama, is what we call, a TCK—A Third Culture Kid. TCK’s grow up as the children of missionaries, or as military brats, or as the children of businessmen. It means that you grew up during your early developmental years in a culture outside of your parents’ home culture...
TCK’s are usually unable to view the world in a simplistic dualistic way. On the contrary, they are usually over-achievers, get advanced degrees, and are infinitely curious about the world. They can accentuate different facets of their personality and experiences based on who they are talking to—and it’s not fake. This is the reason Obama really could connect and appreciate rural farmers in Illinois, fit in with the Harvard crowd, and work as an effective community organizer in Chicago’s South Side. Obama is the classic TCK. This is why he represents the new America so well—he is post-racial, globalized, and a great example of America’s own Third Cultural nature. It also helps to explain why he is so loathed by provincial Middle America.
Yet, you notice that Obama seems to deeply understand them better than they seem to understand themselves. He can be Kansan, Chicagoan, Bostonian, and fittingly really enjoys Hawaii. His key speeches including the Philadelphia race speech, his famous 2004 Democratic Convention speech, and his Cairo speech show that propensity to truly get all sides. This also helps to explain why he’s not a closet Muslim terrorist. He is the anti-thesis of Osama Bin Laden with his provincial, dualistic, desire to homogenize the world by creating a Muslim Caliphate. This is the exact opposite of who Obama is at his core. Osama looked for his father figure in the provincial world of 7th Century and 20th Century Arabia. Obama looked to go beyond his father’s provincial, naïve aspirations and became a little bit of everything.
The liberal label doesn’t fit Obama either. As you have pointed out, like Reagan or Thatcher, at his heart he is a pragmatist. Like a true TCK, he doesn’t romanticize any one culture or ideology. He understands that there is good or bad in everything. Yet another reason why he can also be called the anti-Bush who along with Cheney is trapped in a juvenile Manichaeism.
There is a lot of wisdom in all of that. It reminded me of a training we participated in at work a few years ago on Milton Bennett's Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Bennet identifies six stages of development.
Each of the six phases of Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity are described in more detail below:
Denial: When in this first stage, individuals refuse all interaction with other cultures and show no interest in discovering cultural differences. They may also act agressively during cross cultural situations.
Defense: In this stage, individuals consider all other cultures to be inferior to their own culture and will constantly criticise behaviour or thoughts by someone from another culture.
Minimisation: When this stage is reached, individuals will start believing that all cultures share commom values. They will also minise any cultural dfferences by correcting people to match their expectations.
Acceptance: At this stage, individuals may still judge other cultures negatively but they will tend to recognise that cultures are different and they may become curious about cultural differences
Adaptation: During this stage individuals gain the ability to adapt their behaviour more easily and effectively by intentionally changing their own behaviour or communication style.
Integration: This stage tends to only be achieved by long term expatriates living and working abroad or Global Nomads. In this stage, individuals instinctively change their behaviour and communication style when interacting with other cultures.
Bennet postulated that the 6th stage of integration is seldom reached and usually requires the experience of living in other countries. Sullivan's reader might not have been familiar with Bennett's work, but his description of "Third Culture Kids" fits quite nicely. Given that so few people have that experience, its no wonder that so many struggle to understand President Obama.
UPDATE: With that as the context, its interesting to re-read the story Janny Scott told in her book about Stanley Ann Dunham.
After lunch, the group took a walk, with Barry running ahead. A flock of Indonesian children began lobbing rocks in his direction. They ducked behind a wall and shouted racial epithets. He seemed unfazed, dancing around as though playing dodge ball “with unseen players,” Bryant said. Ann did not react. Assuming she must not have understood the words, Bryant offered to intervene. “No, he’s O.K.,” Ann said. “He’s used to it.”
“We were floored that she’d bring a half-black child to Indonesia, knowing the disrespect they have for blacks,” Bryant said. At the same time, she admired Ann for teaching her boy to be fearless. A child in Indonesia needed to be raised that way — for self-preservation, Bryant decided. Ann also seemed to be teaching Barry respect. He had all the politeness that Indonesian children displayed toward their parents. He seemed to be learning Indonesian ways.
“I think this is one reason he’s so halus,” Bryant said of the pres ident, using the Indonesian adjective that means “polite, refined, or courteous,” referring to qualities some see as distinctively Javanese. “He has the manners of Asians and the ways of Americans — being halus, being patient, calm, a good listener. If you’re not a good listener in Indonesia, you’d better leave.”