March 12th, 2008


Quick tiptoe through a minefield ;)


Senator Barack Obama lost Mississippi's white vote last night by like 70-30. He won 91% of the black vote, hence the primary itself. This has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with race, and only a KKK, stone-racist David Duke type would think otherwise.

Does that sound reasonable to you? Well, we're walking a minefield, so let's walk careful-like.

Of all the stupid things that can be said, the idea that (as Orrin Hatch has often suggested, in effect) black people have it too darned good in this country is perhaps the stupidest. Black skin is, even today, a serious disadvantage in this country, no question about it.

That said, at certain times and under certain circumstances and in certain company, blackness can in fact give one an edge: rare as hell, but it happens. To call such an observation "racist" is to rob the word of its meaning. Barack Obama was elected to the United States Senate straight out of the Illinois legislature -- but (as maxomai instructed me) this has everything to do with the divorce-scandal meltdowns of both his primary and general election opponents, so let's leave that one out of our equation. Before that had even happened, though, this unknown state legislator was given the stellar honor of delivering the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention -- traditionally a tryout spot for Presidential contenders of the future -- and after serving a mere two years in the Senate, announced his candidacy for President.

Obama is a politician of quite extraordinary gifts: oceans of charm, tons of charisma, wonderful public speaking skills, you name it; and his campaign has, to this point, been one of the most effective ever seen in American life. His chief opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, has by contrast run one of the worst campaigns in living memory, quite aside from her years of "high negatives," and her general failure to "present well" as likable, warm, human, and so forth. Obama is trouncing Clinton because he deserves to, in at least the political-campaigner sense: he's done so well, and she's done so poorly. Let's not lose sight of any of that.

Some folks -- former VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro, for example -- are really frustrated at this state of affairs, not least because (they argue) normally a state legislator who walked into the U.S. Senate and after serving two years there decided to run for President would be engaged in an impossible act of hubris: nobody (they argue) would give such a person a second thought as a serious candidate. Hence Ferraro's comments, now widely decried as racist, that Obama wouldn't be in this position were he not black. Finally, then, to the point of this post.

* Had Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro been Congressman Gerard Ferraro, he would never have been considered, much less nominated, for VP in 1984. That's simply a fact. (It's also a quote from Ferraro.)

* Had Hillary Clinton run for Senate from New York without having been First Lady to President Bill Clinton, she'd have been laughed out of town. That, too, is simply a fact.

Such are the accidents of politics, in given times, circumstances, and company. It takes nothing away from these gifted politicians to note that once upon a time, they got a "lucky" leg-up, a break not available without some accidental quality they possessed. That's how I, anyway, took Ferraro's statements about Barack Obama: "Normally a first-term Senator with two years' experience wouldn't have a prayer at reaching the White House, however gifted he might be; and in a lot of these races, the black vote is proving to be key. Hence, he's lucky (in this instance) to be black."

I'll take it one step further, and this one does involve real racism:

* For my money, if Barack Obama weren't half-white -- and in particular didn't "present" with so many of the mannerisms and speech patterns of elegant white privilege -- he wouldn't have a prayer at the White House, even this year. America isn't "post-racial," but it would like to believe that it is, and a Kenyan-American law professor who reads like the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy is just what the doctor ordered, on that score.

What Ferraro said was extraordinarily stupid, however frustrated she is, and whatever truth there is to what she said. The answer to "X wouldn't be winning elections if it weren't for accidental quality Y" is always gonna be, "Yeah? So what? He's lucky. Deal with it." (Try, "That JFK is just lucky he's so handsome and well-mannered," or even, to reduce it to the absurd, "That John McCain is just lucky he was tortured by the North Vietnamese" -- each stupid comments, whatever limited truth-value they possess in a political context.) But was Ferraro's underlying assertion untrue, or racist? For my money, no, it wasn't.

Finally, let me note my fear that this constant airing of Obama-supporters' cries of racism (as well as their general tone of contempt for those who disagree with them) could destroy much of the Obama magic, perhaps threaten his campaign itself. The Mississippi results cited above could just be, well, Mississippi...but if Obama transforms into the hypersensitive black candidate in the roiling mind of whitey, it won't serve any Democrat's interests at all -- least of all his own.*

93 93/93 -- AJ

* For the disturbing view that Obama's campaign has deliberately "played the race card" from the beginning, see:
I tend to doubt it, but if true, it's an extremely unwise tactic, IMO, and quite likely to backfire. Anyway, were I the Obama folks, I'd shut up about race, starting, well, weeks ago. :(