I have not been an Obama supporter. On the
issues, I have felt that Kucinich and Edwards are clearer
and more on point. They have been talking about some real
changes in domestic and foreign policy, and I applaud that.
I have been disappointed that they have not grasped race far
more than they have, but they tend to lean in the right direction.
But that is not why I am writing this piece.
I got angry after the New Hampshire primary.
Going into the primary, Senator Obama had a 13-point lead
over Senator Clinton. Senator Clinton had virtually issued
her concession speech. Yet, Senator Clinton came out on top.
There have been a number of reasons offered
by pundits as to what happened:
I do not think there was any one factor, although
I am inclined to believe that the "white curtain"
was far more in play than the media let on. And this failure
on the part of the established media to give more credence
to the "white curtain," or what in other circles
is called the “Bradley Factor” (after the reversal in fortune
by former LA Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the election for
California governor in the 1980s after all of the polls indicated
that he was a shoe-in) has my back up.
In a Washington Post column
from January 11th, African American commentator Eugene
Robinson suggested that what often happens when Black
candidates run is not so much that whites change their minds,
but that the numbers of white undecided voters enter into
the picture and they cast their ballots for the white candidate.
I have great respect for Robinson, however, this seems like
a distinction without a difference. It begs the question
of what inspires these white undecided voters to turn out
in high numbers to vote AGAINST a Black candidate. In that
sense, it may be that we have to look at this question of
the "white curtain"’ a bit differently, i.e., that
it may not be so much a matter of white voters indicating
- to pollsters - that they will support a Black candidate
and then voting otherwise, but rather that large numbers of
white voters use the category of "undecided" in
order to shield their true preference.
second source of my anger has to do with the Clintons, and
I use the plural here. If another Black person calls former
President Bill Clinton the alleged “first Black President,”
I think I will personally take their head off, followed by
their arms and legs. Rather than treating Senator Obama’s
candidacy as a serious one with which they have significant
differences (which they actually do not), there has been the
use, by the Clintons, of codes as a way of attacking Obama’s
character. The emphasis on “experience” is one such code. The
denigration of the idea of “hope” is another code. Instead
of forcing Senator Obama to clarify his positions on the issues,
which is in fact his key weakness, the Clintons have engaged
in attacks on the candidate as a person, something of which
Senator Obama is undeserving.
Former President, Bill Clinton, was unsettled
by the way some of his recent comments were interpreted as
suggesting that he believed Senator Obama’s candidacy to be
a fantasy. Instead, Bill Clinton was, in my opinion, quite
correctly - but for the wrong reason - suggesting that the
media is turning the Obama candidacy into a fantasy. Yet what
is important here has been the reaction within Black America. Bill
Clinton’s remarks were HEARD as part of a character assassination
against Senator Obama. African Americans, for a host of reasons,
have been and continue to be slow to warm to the Obama campaign,
but when Obama is personally attacked, the Clintons can be
guaranteed they will encounter genuine anger that they may
not be able to overcome.
Ok, now I am a bit calmer. But here is my other
point: Senator Obama is going to need a strategic "rethink."
The Obama campaign has gone a long way on motivation and good
feeling, but with little content. Obama has fostered the illusion
that we can all join together and that he will oversee the
construction of an historically unprecedented united front
of Democrats, Republicans and Independents to bring us into
a new age. He has studiously avoided any tough issues, yet
is prepared to make reckless foreign policy suggestions, e.g.,
unilateral US military action against Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan
and the need to take action against Iran (without defining
why Iran is an alleged problem). Contrary to his competitor
in the change category, former Senator Edwards, he has largely
shied away - until quite recently - from discussing the fact
that the US is polarizing along wealth and income lines, as
well as the fact that labor unions are key to economic justice.
Obama Campaign may have believed that they could use “hope”
and “bi-partisanship” as their tickets to the White House,
but that route seems to be fraught with problems. The New
Hampshire loss makes it imperative that the Obama campaign
redefines itself as it approaches Super Tuesday. As both Clinton
and Edwards press him, the former on his character, the latter
on his views, Obama will be compelled to define himself as
an independent political figure with a clearer vision as to
what sort of country, indeed world, he wishes to construct. If
he does not, he will be condemned to be viewed as a motivational
speaker rather than a champion of a new path.
Having walked the fence for so long, I am not
sure that Senator Obama is prepared to be the practitioner
of a new political direction. There is an important place
for both hope and fine language, but if the vote is in his
favor, the question will be: what happens after Inauguration,
Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The
Black Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with
the Institute for Policy Studies
and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.