Skip to comments.Historic Contest Verges On Knockdown-Dragout Racial Brawl
Posted on 03/17/2008 9:19:34 AM PDT by Incorrigible
By JONATHAN TILOVE
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (l), with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. (Courtesy Trinity United Church of Christ)
WASHINGTON In one corner we have Barack Obama, an African-American senator whose candidacy blossomed when white people saw him as capable of transcending America's divisions _ racial and otherwise. In the other corner is Hillary Clinton, senator and former first lady, who began the drive for the White House even more popular with black voters than Obama.
It was clear early on that the Democrats were destined to nominate either the first black or first woman for president. And if any two candidates seemed able to elude the snares of identity politics, these did.
But as it grinds its way into spring, the deadlocked campaign appears on the verge of becoming a bloody, knockdown-dragout racial brawl, pitting the likes of Geraldine Ferraro against Obama's preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Americans aren't good at talking about race under the best of circumstances. A presidential campaign may be the very worst, as partisans search not for truth, love or understanding, but for competitive advantage and the most sinister reading of each other's words and actions.
It all holds special peril for Obama. This is because, to the extent that we retreat to racial corners, there are a lot more white voters than black. And it's because the implicit appeal of Obama's groundbreaking candidacy was that he could carry America beyond the ugliness now engulfing the Democrats.
"Ideally, the theory goes that bad speech leads to good speech that when there is unproductive, damaging dialogue ... entities who care about productive healing dialogue step in and nurture that,'' said Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss.
Glisson, who is white, has worked to bring people together across racial lines under the most difficult conditions. But it is a long, painstaking process, conducted face to face in churches, classrooms and barbershops. She wouldn't know where to begin amid a presidential race grounded in the gotcha of competing sound bites.
"Where's the room for calm voices?'' she asked.
Certainly not on the campaign conference calls or cable coverage feasting on Ferraro's suggestions that, but for his black skin, Barack Obama would be a talented also-ran. Certainly not in bringing to the broader public the sermons of Jeremiah Wright, recently retired pastor of Obama's church in Chicago, in which Wright condemns America and places Hillary Clinton in its white oligarchy.
You don't have to be a diversity trainer to know such remarks are very differently received by black and white audiences. But Barry Cross Jr., who heads the Philadelphia diversity management firm founded by his mother, Elsie, knows better than most how easily this can spiral out of control.
"America is on the verge of rolling off that scary cliff,'' said Cross, who worked on President Clinton's race initiative. "We're right on the ledge. The chasm is deep and maybe we can't see the bottom.''
The truth about race in America, Cross said, is that people must accept that there is no single truth; there are only "multiple realities.'' On the other hand, "the political process is right and wrong, it's binary, there is no gray area.''
Consider that Cross, who is black, acknowledges that "part of what (Ferraro) was saying is true. Barack was in the right place and the time was right for a black man to captivate the country.''
But to many her words fit a predictable script the white backlash against affirmative action. Hillary Clinton, the better qualified white candidate, was being passed over because America felt somehow obliged to give the job to a less qualified black man. Obama, Ferraro memorably insisted, was "lucky'' to be black.
To some whites, she was telling it like it is. To some blacks, it was the same old insidious racism suggesting that no matter how talented a black person is, he owes his success to the color of his skin.
On Wednesday, Karol Collymore, a black woman blogging on BlueOregon, recalled how after working seven months on Al Gore's campaign in 2000 in New Mexico, "a colleague said to me that I did a good job but did I know I was only hired by the party chairman because I was black?''
Now, she said, Ferraro, a childhood heroine, "brought this nasty memory to me again these past few days. It has haunted me since I heard it and it won't go away. I'm going to tell you, it would have been less hurtful if the woman had just said the `n' word.''
Instead Ferraro was back on TV, day after day, portraying herself as the victim of cynical, hysterical charges of racism, which, said Cross, probably strikes a responsive chord with "every white person who feels they have been accused of being a racist, or every man accused of being a sexist, when they felt they were just struggling to get through a conversation.''
Then came the YouTube videos of sermons by Wright, the fiery pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side. In them, Wright likens those "hatin' on Barack Obama'' to the enemies of Jesus, "a poor black man who lived in a country and who lived in a culture controlled by rich white people.''
Ignoring the possibility that being a woman might have presented Clinton with challenges in her rise, Wright identifies her as just another product of white privilege.
The angry performance resonates in black communities familiar with its tone and substance and sympathetic with the notion that a black person in America who is not at some level angry isn't thinking hard enough. But it is the very antithesis of the Obama persona.
Obama has "put himself in a very tough position,'' said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, who is black.
By settling on the South Side, marrying his wife, Michelle, and joining a popular Afrocentric church, Obama, whose mother was white, helped establish his bona fides in the black community. But now, the words of Wright from whom Obama has distanced himself give second thoughts to whites.
Obama was supposed to be the racially transcendent candidate, the black candidate who didn't make them feel guilty for being white. How, Gillespie asked, does he break the news to them that his election "is not going to end the discussion of race in this country?''
Worse yet, Americans can't distinguish between useful and destructive talk about race; one person's race card is another person's simple truth.
For Obama supporters, the injection of race in the campaign has been almost entirely the work of the Clintons and their minions, determined to ghettoize Obama's candidacy and reap the reward in states like Pennsylvania, where Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, said some whites were not ready to vote for a black candidate. (Some in Obama's camp saw this as another play of the race card, but Cross thought Rendell ought to be congratulated for telling the truth.)
Meanwhile, on The New Republic's Web site, Princeton historian and Clinton partisan Sean Wilentz sees Obama and his campaign as the racial provocateurs. Wilentz, who is white, called their tactics "the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states' rights.''
Where does it go from here?
To Cross, Obama is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Even if Obama told America that it is going to take a lot more hard work than electing him to get past race, that would be seen as pandering to black people.''
Who knows? said Glisson. Perhaps Obama could try engaging America more directly on race. "He could say there's something even more important than who wins this election, and talk about the kind of country we want to have,'' she said.
But it's a very risky strategy, Glisson said; "It would take visionary cojones.''
(Jonathan Tilove can be contacted at jonathan.tilove(at)newhouse.com)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
Everyone who listens to Sean Hannity knew about Obama's Rev Wright for a year. It's only when the Clinton Media Industrial Complex wants the compliant media echo chamber to go into affect does the Rev's comments become an issue.
The Rev was 100% correct however when he said the Clintons do to blacks what Bill himself did to Monica.
All I can say for those with upcoming primaries, Rush the Vote!
If a first term Senator with only three years in the Senate and with only prior experience as a State Legislator had had a white, Norwegian graduate student rather than a black, Kenyan graduate student as a father, would anybody in America seriously consider blonde, blue-eyed Barry Olsen as remotely qualified to be President of the Unite States?
I feel like wearing a T-shirt with the words. “I’m not a Democrat.”
The one thing that really bothers me about Obama is that he is ashamed to be half White. Why? Why is it that he never will talk about his white heritage?
>> To Cross, Obama is “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t”
Heh heh... heh heh heh... just damn!
Your comment, “just damn!” reminded me of a poster here who used to end many of his posts with that comment. I think he was from either Georgia or Maryland.
Does anybody know if he is still posting?
I think a few folks ended posts that way... it became a sort of Free Republic-ism at some point.
But I think there was one guy who started it, maybe his name was King. I haven’t seen him posting for a while.
This is shaping up to be a colassal mess never seen before. I’m just glad I don’t live in Denver! It will be a madhouse!
Barack Obama either agreed with what was preached from the Trinity pulpit, or he tuned it out and stayed around pretending to for political reasons. To say he stayed for 20 years but doesn't agree with Wright's preaching is incredible denial. It'd be like a man buying White Sox season tickets for 20 years, attending the games, and saying he's not a fan.
Obamas supporters want us to ignore this story just push it under the rug. While theyll align Republicans with any obscure pastor who does or says something controversial, theyre trying to convince us that Obamas 20-year long close relationship with Wright, including his effective endorsement of him, his church and rhetoric with a $22,500 donation in 2006 is irrelevant.
When Obama decided against wearing an American flag pin, we may all have been a bit too quick to accept his rationale, too quick to find that issue unimportant. Now, that American flag pin has gotten a lot bigger for a lot of us, especially in light of what may have been and may still be Obamas deeper, and, perhaps, secret, less than patriotic beliefs about America.
Wright says that blacks cant be expected to sing God Bless America because of racism. Obama doesnt salute the flag during the National Anthem. That sure strikes me as an amazing coincidence since Obama swears he never heard Wright say anything against America.
>> I think there was one guy who started it
I’m sure you’re correct; unfortunately I can’t help you with the name.
Well, I do seem to recall a B-movie actor best known for his performance in "Bedtime For Bonzo" who had no legislative experience but was somehow elected Governor of kooky Kalifornia during the dawning of the Age of Aquarius on a platform that "taxes should HURT!" (later they found out he wasn't paying any)...
"It will light upon you," he continued. "You will experience an epiphany. And you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack. I have to do it."
Well guess what everyone, the Light has now come on and has illuminated the hateful Rev Wright who is the Mentor, Pastor and Spiritual Guide to Obama for 20 Years - notwithstanding Obama's denials that he's never every heard any such remarks.
This makes me wonder if 1. Obama was just a paper member or 2. he actually was a real regular at church or 3. Obama heard and believed every word of Rev Wright by is lying his a$$ off to get out of trouble.
I suspect that when comes election day the people will think "To Vote Barak? I cant bring myself to do it".
mhking - it was his signature and he maintained a ping list so named.
You could get away with it, Bender, you have no ears.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.