A smoking gun? Really? To check that, I pulled out my trusty paperback copy of David Remnick's Obama biography The Bridge, and flipped to the index under Derrick Bell. Lo and behold, there are several pages on the guy, including, on page 214, a description of exactly what can be seen on the supposed "smoking gun" tape, including that the young Obama hugged Bell in front of a cheering crowd.
I'm not surprised if whomever had custody of this tape did not want it released during the 2008 campaign, since any tape showing a youthful Obama appearing at any sort of campus rally would feed into the image the right has been trying to create for years, that Obama is in reality some kind of fearsome student radical type. But the truth is, as people Remnick interviewed for his book tell it, Obama never really fit that image:
Everyone remembers Obama in much the same way: that he held generally progressive views on the political and racial controversies on campus, but never took the lead. He always used language of reconciliation rather than of insistence.The Bridge, p. 214. Think about it. Harvard is a notoriously political campus, known for its ongoing strife among the faculty and administration over diversity and other issues. Derrick Bell was the first black professor on the Harvard Law School faculty, and got into frequent spats with the administration over the pace of hiring additional black law professors. And Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, which was a very big deal at the time. How would Barack Obama not speak up in support of Derrick Bell at that time and place? Not that there was anything particularly radical about standing up for Bell, but in doing so, what seems most notable about Obama's speech is its lack of militancy, its attempt to ingratiate himself and Professor Bell with all sides in the controversy, as well as early signs of the eloquent speaking qualities we have come to know so well. What we can be most thankful for is that Obama has since learned to keep his hands out of his pockets when he speaks.
Smoking gun? Yes, this is proof positive that even back in law school, Barack Obama was showing all the signs of becoming exactly the kind of leader that we see in him every day.