The Battle Hymn

I’m not sure why, but this part of the Battle Hymn of the Republic came to me as I was beginning to reflect on this night.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;

“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,

Since God is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

This was a great victory for this particular black man, and for all those who invested their sweat and tears into him, but we should not go overboard. This does not mean that America’s scar of race has healed. The life chances of young African-Americans are still starkly different from those of whites. What this shows is that America has effectively incorporated a considerable segment of African-Americans into its elite, and that a large majority of whites are willing to judge a black man on his (very considerable) merits. But truly getting putting the Civil War and segregation behind us will require that we eliminate their residue, which we can find in every American prison. We can find it in every pathetic inner-city school. We can find it in the number of African-American children who grow up without two parents.

To truly transcend our racial history, the victory of Obama is one very important step. But the “serpent” is still, sadly, very much with us.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.