My reading of Barack Obama’s political biography is pretty simple: He’s not so much a liberal radical as a member of the liberal mainstream of whatever community he inhabits. In that video, he was doing no more and no less than what most politically engaged leftist law students were doing — supporting the radical race and gender politics that dominated campus. When he went to Chicago and met Bill Ayers, he was fitting within a second, and slightly different, liberal culture. He shifted again in Washington and then again in the White House. But radical, “conviction” politicians don’t decry Gitmo then keep it open, promise to end the wars then reinforce the troops, express outrage at Bush war tactics then maintain rendition and triple the number of drone strikes.
Two points. If Obama could just close Gitmo, he would have by now. Congress has stopped him. He didn't promise to end the war in Afghanistan; he promised to end the war in Iraq, which he did on schedule. His anti-Iraq war credentials came from a speech in which he specifically shocked the crowd by saying he did not oppose all wars, just dumb ones. His Nobel speech was a defense of Niebuhrian realism in a fallen world. It was arguably one of the most pro-war speeches ever given accepting a Nobel Peace prize.
Nonetheless, I am in the same generation as Obama and at Harvard at roughly the same time. Derrick Bell was a passionate racial leftist. As president of Harvard Law Review, Obama had no choice but to enter this debate, but that he did so emphatically in defense of Bell and his rigid approach to affirmative action does suggest a more leftist past than his conservative brethren at the Law Review recall. But his calm rhetoric and appeal to an open mind in his little speech was not an endorsement of everything Bell stood for, just an endorsement of his place within the conversation, and a personal admiration for the man himself. And people can change. Obama opposed welfare reform; he now says that was a mistake. Changing doesn't necessarily mean you have some secret radical agenda you've been hiding all your life that is not apparent in any of the decisions he has made as president.
It can mean two things: you're infinitely flexible like Romney, or you have a political disposition and an open mind. I've never doubted Obama was a liberal. But he has evolved into a much more interesting blend in his subsequent years. I regard that as a plus not a minus.