Barack Obama: The Black Candidate?
All this time, I'd been thinking of Obama as representing more of a postracial America.
But -- if I may slip into my Arkansawyer dialect for a moment -- I reckon some folks are electioneering to change that.
I suppose that this next tidbit, from columnist Alan R. Hunt, falls into the category of hearsay evidence, but it conforms to my impression of what lengths the two Clintons running again for president are willing to go to win:
Bill Clinton, his denials notwithstanding, has played the race card. On Saturday, commenting on Obama's South Carolina victory, he likened it to the primary victories by Jesse Jackson two decades ago; there are few parallels. Ron Fournier, the chief political reporter for the Associated Press, describes a top Clinton adviser as bragging that they'd made Obama "the black candidate.'' (Albert R. Hunt, "Clinton Paying a Price for Duplicity on Obama," Bloomberg News, January 27, 2008)The hearsay comes from Fournier's anecdote, which you can get more directly from Fournier himself:
Hillary Rodham Clinton has won in South Carolina . . . . What she has won in South Carolina is the larger campaign to polarize voters around race and marginalize Obama (in the insidious words of one of her top advisers) as "The Black Candidate." (Ron Fournier, "On Deadline: Hillary wins race on race," Associated Press, January 25, 2008)I'd like to know more about the details on this "top advisor" to Hillary Clinton who reportedly spoke about marginalizing Obama as "The Black Candidate," but since he's not being identified, then he must have been speaking off the record.
Actually, I don't think that the Clintons have succeeded in portraying Obama as the black candidate. Race is doubtless an issue, just as ethnic identity is an issue everywhere in the world, but Obama the candidate -- like Obama the person -- is more complex than that, as are his supporters.
Roger Cohen, who always has something intelligent and interesting to say, has written a recent column, "Obama's youth-driven movement," for the International Herald Tribune (January 27, 2008) and picked up on Obama's own words to argue that the Obama "is not about black versus white but about the past versus the future." Cohen writes of the many young white supporters who find Obama enormously appealing and who have made the campaign into a movement, which means that it is not so much directed from above as driven from below. Cohen thinks that Obama's ability to draw this kind of support means that his campaign is "beyond race."
I think that Cohen is largely correct, but the Clintons seem to believe that Obama is vulnerable on the racial issue. Like Hunt above, Cohen has noted Bill Clinton's remark about Jesse Jackson's earlier victories in South Carolina back when he campaigned for the Democratic nomination:
Certainly, Bill Clinton lost no opportunity to inject race, alluding to Jesse Jackson's victories here in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic primaries, as if to minimize the significance of Obama's win and clothe him in Jackson's marginal mantle. Candidates, he said earlier, were getting votes "because of their race or gender," suggesting black-versus-white might be his wife's undoing [in South Carolina]. (Cohen, "Obama's youth-driven movement")Bill is nothing if not astute, and Hillary did pick up gender support in New Hampshire when she revealed a softer side. She even impressed me by that, especially because she didn't break down but maintained an ability to speak articulately despite her emotions.
But her campaign in South Carolina has returned our attention to her hard face, the face that not many people, women included, seem to like. I think that Hillary's gender support is weak, and unlike Obama's campaign, her own campaign is more narrowly based and directed entirely top-down. It's no movement.
Here's my opinion on what has happened. By trying to 'blacken' Obama, the Clinton have not merely increased his support among black voters without damaging his support among non-black voters, they've made themselves look cynical and calculating about the one issue that most of us had thought that they truly cared about, their civil rights legacy.
Barack Obama recently spoke in Martin Luther King's old Atlanta church, and an African-American friend of mine sent me a link to the video, which she had seen on the plezWorld blog. At the time, I was inundated by other responsibilities and so put off watching the video, which I knew would take some 20 minutes of my time, but I finally clicked the link two days ago to watch Obama give his speech:
I finally had some time to check the link and watch Obama give his speech (though the video froze halfway through, so I had to read the more emotive part near the end).The upshot of all this is not that I'm planning to vote for Obama. I don't yet know who I'd be willing to cast my vote for. To be frank, I'll likely never announce that on this blog -- and I usually regret my vote later, anyway. I'll only say that foreign policy plays a big role in my political thinking, probably because I live overseas.
It was interesting to listen and compare him to King, whose rhetorical voice I can still hear from my childhood after all these years.
Where King was hot, Obama is cool, and his appeal is more to our minds than to our hearts, which is not to say that he does not stir, for he can, but more to note the contrast.
I like Obama even though I suspect that his politics is a bit more to the left than I'm comfortable with, and I've come to like him more lately as I like the Clintons less. Being from Arkansas, I'd always had an instinctive comfort with [Bill] Clinton even while I recognized him as a slippery rascal. A rascal, certainly, but our Arkansan rascal.
But the Clintons are so intent on getting elected that they've turned their identity politics of division against their own civil-rights legacy! The one thing that Bill Clinton seemed truly to care about, that legacy, he's been willing to jeopardize in the hopes of casting Barack Obama as unelectable due to the color of his skin. And in recognizing that Obama would win and probably win big in South Carolina, Bill Clinton pushed the line that Obama would only do so because blacks were going to be voting overwhelmingly for Obama as a black candidate . . . implying that whites would not support him.
I don't think that it worked because young white voters ignored the Clinton-speak as irrelevant.
I had considered blogging about this issue, but the Clintons are slippery enough in their political statements to maintain plausible deniability, and I hate to play j'accuse unless I've got the smoking gun.
I think that Obama will get the Democratic nomination and may very well win the election, depending upon whom the Republicans nominate. John McCain would be a strong contender, but the other Republicans don't look good next to Obama.
But a campaign can wither like a whim, and there's still a lot of time...
The upshot, rather, is that the Clintons have weakened their campaign and strengthened Obama's, doubtless much to their chagrin.
Not that I would entirely write off Bill Clinton when he's campaigning, but he's no longer the 'comeback kid,' for he's lost a lot of his innocent rogue's charm and reminds me less of the Kennedy that he always wanted to be and more of Faubus that he once rejected...