Back in January I wrote some about the intellectual origins of Derrick Bell's interest convergence theory, which located him in a tradition running back to James Madison and, to a lesser extent, W.E.B. DuBois. So I was excited to see that there's a new video making the rounds of President Obama speaking at a rally at Harvard Law School back in 1991 in support of Professor Bell. Pretty interesting to see Obama there; some of his speaking mannerisms are the same as now -- though (like all of us) he looked a heck of a lot younger then. But what I'm sort of surprised by is how much people are making out of this. The reference, for instance, to the "charged campus racial politics of the late 1980s and early 1990s" seems a little over-the-top. Whatever. This is about getting viewers for a television program.
The video that's been released so far is short and edited and very tame. Obama said of Bell that he had "opened up new vistas and horizons and changed what the standards of legal writing are about." Then he said, "Open up your hearts and minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell." Seems like this is similar to the "controversy" from a few years back about Obama's work as a research assistant for Laurence Tribe's article on "Curvatures of Constitutional Space." Or his "lost" article in the Harvard Law Review. Not much here to talk about. Perhaps there's something more to this story -- we'll see when the full tape is released this evening -- but I'm skeptical that this will change how we think about Obama or Bell.