Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barack Obama: The Black Candidate?

Barack Obama
Conway, South Carolina
August 23, 2007
(Image from Wikipedia)

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).

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 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.

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...

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At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I especially note and think your last paragraph appropriate. But a perspective, mine of course.

It seems from here (the States)that from the beginning, the Clinton "campaign" staff was unusually large (in numbers)and the numbers of staff designated to strap swords on their hips likewise.

Quite a few of them have made "unfortunate and unintentional" statements and have unsheathed their swords only to lie down on them (the swords). Notice I do not use the regular phrase, "fall on their swords."

So far Billary's demographics tend to show that in the over 45 age group she has the female vote handily. Those younger? Decidedly Obama.

Peggy Noonan on MTP recently called attention to Bill when she remarked along the lines, "Bill's the guard dog who sits on the porch and barks at the neighbors. It's not Hillary's fault she can't keep her attack dog quiet. However it is unseemly."

If this weren't so serious, Kapok would be laughing his rear end off. As it is, these four-year campaigns have become cruel and unusual punishment for the electorate. The de facto repeal of the 4th amendment required for passage of the Patriot Act has had unintended consequences.


At 8:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK, I thought that you might appreciate the references iin my last paragraph.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you, I am undecided. At least the Democrats are fielding two powerful, colorful choices, a refreshing change from the dullness of Gore and Kerry.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, the two leading Democrats certainly are colorful -- as is the Republican McCain . . . and even Huckabee.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


From where you sit, do you see a liklihood that the "youth vote" will, no matter the eventual nominates, will stay involved?

As I have grown in years it has been my hope that the youth of America would somehow get re-engaged in this process. For some years I have grown ever more disheartened with my general age group's grip on what we will hand off to my grandchildren.

My children seem to be finally "getting it" but alas they're in their 30's now. Is this a widespread thing? I should not like the thought of dying and leaving an untidy legacy. I can't bring myself to trust entertainers like Rush or the now defunct 4th Estate.

The one thing I would hope when I leave to go to the "big liquor store in the sky" is the chance that our grandchildren will have the opportunity to buy a winning lottery ticket.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Liquor store?! JK, you've gotten overly civilized.

I was thinking of an isolated, still cave in the Sylamore Hills as more of a typical Hillbilly Heaven. It was certainly a haven for many a hillbilly.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Jeff,

There are many versions of what each would consider that ethereal mansion.

"an isolated, still cave in the Sylamore Hills as more of a typical Hillbilly Heaven. It was certainly a haven for many a hillbilly."

Oh, that does seem so very rewarded, and I suppose if one were to attain such a lofty outcome that would certainly be worth it. But unlike the forty or so virgins, which I think might be complicated, I would prefer and hope for a liquor store.

It may be that each attainee could turn water into wine but I prefer beer. And so I consider any Heavenly Reward must therefore require a liquor store. I intend to, should I acquire that Reward abstain from attending weddings. That seemed requisite to the water to wine thing. And since my attendance at weddings seemed to entail Hell? See where I'm going?

Yes, I could live in a quiet cave. But I'd prefer a liquor store within walking distance. And always keep in mind, any cave thus located would be in a dry county. God Himself does not intervene in the process in such locations. There are others who know better.

I've considered any Reward quite carefully. No virgins, no internet, no phones. No Republicans, no Democrats.

But a liquor store? Yes.

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weren't we talking about the Clintons and Obama?


At 4:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, we were talking politics, but I believe that brings us to an occasion for an "If-By-Whiskey Speech."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately you've managed to catch JK on one of those mismanaged evenings. Snow/sleet is forecast and radar (NOAA) shows it in the immediate vicinity.

In this very rare case, you've caught JK without his usual comfort. He shall be silent from this point forward.

But, sonagi's observations would be to JK worthy of consideration.


At 4:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I hope that this continental weather clears up by next Thursday next week.

Meanwhile, Sonagi has the floor...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:42 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

When Jesse Jackson ran he had a lot of white support, did Clinton forget that. In 1988 Jackson had over a third of the delegates. I guess everyone forgets and only remembers Jackson as he is perceived now.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're right, Hathor. Jackson did have white supporters.

In those days, I was a bit more to the left, and I even voted for Jackson once. I was standing in the booth . . . and made a split-second decision.

I've grown less spontaneous, and more conservative, with age . . . and also more rational, so I wouldn't vote for Jackson these days.

Ah, the days of youth...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm honored to have the floor, but since I'm over forty, I don't think I'm qualified to speak about the youth vote.

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, it's simple -- just speak like Ali G.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:39 PM, Blogger John B said...

As a "youth vote", I would like to point out that the '04 election was crushing to the liberal youth. After the incredible conservatism of 2000-2004, a re-election seemed impossible. For the kids who cast their first presidential vote in 2004, it was profoundly disillusioning.

It did revitalize the conservative youth, though. I attended the UW, from Clinton days to the Bush re-election, and watching the Young Republicans emerge into a very visible, influential faction on campus.

I can't over emphasize the change that was. Young Republicans, when I matriculated at the university, were dwarfed by the campus branch of the International Socialist Organization. It was a public university in a very progressive city (the city that repeatedly votes in Jim McDermott). If young conservatives are getting a foothold there, it must be many times larger in normal universities.

So, basically, the Democrats can't count the "youth vote" as being an ace-in-the-hole, when it comes to the national election. This ain't the 60s anymore.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, thanks for the analysis.

I've read, by the way, that some of Obama's appeal crosses party lines to include Republicans and that even conservative Republicans say nice things about him.

Now, that could be just politics, with Republicans preferring to run against Obama rather than Clinton (though I'd expect their druthers to be vice-versa), but I suspect that many voters appreciate Obama's decency and emphasis upon responsibility.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John B.

I used to live in a little town in Kansas called Towanda, there was a tavern called John B's... Interestingly just 8 miles up the road from there was a town called Eldorado. Last night on the news I saw that Obama addressed an audience at a junior college I attended before you were born.

The reason Obama was at Butler County Community College was because his Grandfather was from there. The mother of my children was from there and my eldest was born there. Eldorado I mean. Jeff did a blog on "loops" or something once. Very strange.

My point is, I lean more to the Republican side of the fence however I style myself a Patrick Buchanan Republican. I do not consider mr bush a Republican in a strict sense. However I can see myself pulling a lever for Mr. Obama. Oh, I hope Daddio doesn't read this.

I wonder if Barack made the short trip to John B's? John B, as Tavis Smiley always ends his show, "Keep the Faith."


At 5:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That would be this blog post: Strange, overlapping loops....

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, filling in the letters the second time the turned off overhead fan in my living room clicked. Then when I hit "Publish Your Comment" if all came flooding back.


At 7:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, those must have been incantory letters if they could overpower the occult force of a fan!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd you should mention it. Seems everytime I somehow miss one of the letters on the first try, I usually say them aloud on the second try.

This internet thingy has done saved my life! Where might one apply for a grant to study this amazing property?


At 7:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There are no such grants, JK. Fans control everything. Use the incantations privately, and keep your head down . . . particularly under ceiling fans.

Jeffery Hodges

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