Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nothing Is Wrong With A Radical Critique of Racism and Racial Inequality in American Society; Well…, Unless You Are Running For President

I was down-right giddy as I sat in front of my television set waiting to hear Senator Obama give what was billed as “a MAJOR address on race in America.”

I was overwhelmed with joy by the idea that a black man would be talking about race (and though it was NOT billed that way, racism), that white Americans were eagerly waiting to hear what he had to say, and that it would be broadcasted, discussed and analyzed for days by all of the major (and world) television, radio and print media.

Yet, because I’ve been very skeptical of the Senator’s presidential campaign from the start, I was really worried. Would he do a good job? The truth of the matter, I thought to myself, is that he has been soft-shoeing it on race, avoiding the issue like the bubonic plague.

I dropped to my knees, betraying the fact that I am an agnostic secular humanist, and did what everyone does when faced with a crisis: I prayed.

I prayed that the Senator would not squander this opportunity.

I prayed that he would be willing to even risk his presidential aspirations to TELL AMERICA THE TRUTH about race (and racism) in America.

I also prayed that a generous friend was holding the winning ticket for the $275 million Powerball jackpot.

I then said, “Amen.”

The speech did nothing to change my suspicion that Senator Obama’s campaign is full of possibility but deeply flawed.

While the Senator told some truths, he did not SPEAK THE WHOLE TRUTH about race and racism in post-Civil Rights Movement America.

Let me be clear, Senator Obama’s speech was moving, full of hope and the possibility of change. Smart and articulate, without a doubt, he is one of the most gifted politicians of not just this, but any era.

I nonetheless found myself disagreeing with some of his key points.

The most disturbing part of Senator Obama’s speech for me was his contention that those who offer a radical critique of racism in America – what he described as “a view that sees white racism as endemic” – are relics, that they are stuck in a pre-Civil Rights Movement America.

Clearly, Senator Obama believes that historical racism (which I am happy that he recognizes) and what he described as current black "culpability" is much more important than contemporary racism (i.e., the ideology of white supremacy and systemic racism) in shaping the life chances and opportunities of black people.

I think that the Senator’s big-picture view, not the views of those who voice rage about the weight they carry because of centuries of continuous racial oppression, is just plain wrong.

While I think that Senator Obama’s address moves the conversation on race and racism in the right direction, instead of condemning those who argue, like Rev. Wright, that racism is endemic, I wish he had said the following:

"Let me be clear, as a nation we've come a long way, but in the post-civil rights era, racism has become much more covert and systemic but no less pernicious. Let me explain…”

Imagine the national (and international) conversation on race and racism a statement like that would have launched. Admittedly, however, it might have cost him the White House.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Win the Battle only to Lose the War

Senator Hillary Clinton has moved closer to winning the battle for the Democratic nomination - and perhaps forever etching her name in the history books as the first women and the first spouse to win the Presidency. But by fighting so aggressively against Senator Barack Obama, she is perhaps setting herself up to lose the “war” for the ultimate prize, the White House, to John McCain.

In spite of her stunning victories in the Presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio, there does not appear to be any way that Hillary Clinton can catch up to Barack Obama in the pledged delegate count.

Obama has 1340 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 1206. Thanks to the Democratic Party’s convoluted process for selecting delegates across the states, the most likely scenario is that neither candidate will make it to the Democratic convention with enough pledged delegates to win the nomination outright.

So, how can Hillary Clinton win the battle for the Party’s nomination? One way that she can do it is with the help of the Party’s superdelegates. Free to support any candidate they deem electable for the nomination - a majority of whom have vowed to support Obama - superdelegates are seated automatically, based exclusively on their standing as current or former elected and party officials. They will make up approximately one-fifth of the convention delegates.

The surest way that she can position herself to win the support of superdelegates is to damage Obama so much that she will be viewed as the only electable candidate.

The Clinton machine has been in “attack mode” ever since the South Carolina primary. They have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Obama.

Here are a few examples:

  • Billy Shaheen, the co-chairman of Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire, in an interview with the Washington Post referred to Obama’s admitted dalliance with drugs and encouraged the media to ask the Illinois Senator if he had ever given drugs to anyone (i.e., been a drug dealer).
  • In an effort to plant anti-Obama thoughts in the minds of Hispanic voters, Clinton poll advisor, Sergio Bendixen replied when asked about the strength of Clinton in the Hispanic community: "The Hispanic voter – and I want to say this very carefully – has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates."
  • Former President Bill Clinton drew the ire of black leaders when he described Obama’s run for the Presidency as “the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen.”
  • Playing on the Obama is a scary black Muslim theme, someone working inside the Clinton campaign sent a picture of Obama in traditional African clothing to the conservative blogger Matt Drudge.
  • Senator Clinton claimed recently in a speech that McCain was more qualified to be President than Obama.
  • The Senator from New York also questioned Obama’s ethics, repeatedly raising questions about his relationship with a disgraced supporter who is the target of a federal corruption trial in Chicago.

The recent attacks paid off in Ohio and Texas, helping her to win back some of her old supporters. She won the support of women, white men and lower-income voters in Ohio, and she won women, whites and Latinos in Texas.

However, she did not win much support from black voters. In Texas, Obama won 83 percent of black votes; in Ohio, he won 87 percent.

If dirty politics (and even playing the race card) creates the context for a backroom deal with the superdelegates that hands Clinton the nomination, all hell will break out at the Democratic convention. If the Democrats want to win in November, a backroom deal is the last thing that Party Chairman Howard Dean and other Party bigwigs want to see.

Perhaps most significantly, for every wound Clinton inflicts on Obama, she damages her relationship with the black community. No candidate for the Democrat Party can win the Presidency without the enthusiastic support of Black voters.