Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Whither an Obama presidency

Yeah, nobody uses "whither" these days but it's a concise word and gets quickly to the point, which in this post involves two questions, 1) does a black man have any chance of winning the presidency and 2) can he be effective if elected?

The obvious answer is yes to both, but stipulations await, as usual.

Some of those stipulations were illuminated today by a black Congressman and active supporter of Hillary Clinton, Emanuel Cleaver from Kansas City. His points are worthy of discussion, starting with this one:
“I think whites would say, ‘How could anybody say we were racist, that we have any racist residue when you look what we just did (potentially electing Obama)?’ And African Americans would say, ‘Look at what we just did. So now we ought to have unblocked access to all of our dreams, all of our hopes,’” Cleaver said.
In other words, whites could say "racism is over--WE elected a black president", effectively wiping their hands of the shame of white guilt forever. Other whites might suggest an Obama presidency would ceremoniously end the age of big entitlements since the ultimate goal of affirmative action was reached.

On the other hand, some blacks might expect one of their own to be the single-handed savior of the race, reversing in four short years several centuries of deep-seated hostility fueled by the memories of slavery, Jim Crow and MLK. The reality is, even with a liberal Congress Obama would find it difficult to reverse much of anything once people realize the bite required from their wallets.

Meanwhile, everyone knows there would be rough seas for the most outspoken segment of black America, the race industry. Obama would be the new de facto leader (another problem, since former presidents have never been thought of in the inverse by whites) making it harder for them to propagate institutionalized discrimination with a black liberal sitting in the White House and a likely cadre of blacks in the cabinet. At the same time they couldn't call him a "token" since that would alienate the white voters who helped elect him. They might find it hard to survive, and desperate men do desperate things. Or fade off to rocking chairs.

And what about this...could an Obama presidency actually crush dissent? For instance, all those outspoken ideologues who made sport of bashing Bill Clinton and Bush 43 were mainly white people. Would they be frozen by racial fear with Barack, withholding their criticism when dissent was needed for fear of repercussion? Would the media? What about polls? Might they be skewed both by both black and white respondents refusing to be honest when asked? And will negative poll numbers, should they occur, be explained as quiet racism?

Perhaps it would be preferable if our first black president was a Republican. The dynamic would be different--Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice didn't seem to get a race break. So it's likely the dissent would not be crushed, which is good, but the person would never be credited fully for their achievements, which would lead to calls for a "real" black president at some point down the line to quell the "injustice".

One thing's for sure, it's uncharted territory. We can only hope the candidates and media have time to squeeze in a few minutes of discussion on the issues between extended manifestos on the meaning of slavery or how they weren't racists. In essence, it's a presidential distraction unlike any we've ever known. Perhaps it was inevitable.

Incidentally, former Congressman, 9/11 Commissioner and Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton endorsed Barack today, a huge boost to his candidacy no doubt. His reason:
"Barack Obama has the best opportunity to create a new sense of national unity and to transcend divisions within this country, not by ignoring them or smoothing them over, but by working together with candor and civility to meet our challenges,"
Flowery speech, but Barack's actions to date have shown sparse evidence he'll do any real healing between factions, either here or abroad. He does seem to provide more hope, though. But is it because he's black? Oy.

Ironically, Hamilton is still listed an advisory board member at Stonebridge International, the consulting firm of Clinton supporter Samuel L. "Sandy" Berger. Obama must have built some bridges over there, unless Berger is ready to pull a Richardson. Or maybe it doesn't matter at that level.

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