I like Senator Barack Obama and I think that he continues to mature into a formidable politician. But I’m not ready yet to jump on the “Obama bandwagon” as some Black folks have. His stunning win in the Iowa Democratic Caucus ignited in Black America a sense of pride and hope that is the result of a people so disillusioned with a paucity of Black leadership that they acted as if the Presidential elections were next week. The fact that he put a decisive licking on a bunch of white establishment politicians also helped the downtrodden to conclude that at long last here was a true leader who “looked like us.”
Lost in all the hullabaloo over his Iowa win was the fact that his “Political Coming of Age” had absolutely nothing to do with Black people whatsoever since his “political vindication and anointing” was done in a state where 94% of the population is white. The conclusion therefore is that Barack Obama is a candidate who just happens to be Black – a mulatto in reality – gave Blacks new pride and hope after winning the approval and endorsement of white people. Sanitized and white-washed by white Iowans Obama was now “acceptable” to Black people. Indeed, he appeals more to white voters than Blacks as both the Iowa and New Hampshire (with its 1% Black population) events demonstrated.
For a race of people longing for a strong leader and a replacement to the lack luster Civil Rights Era jaded Black leadership Obama is a refreshing ray of hope and promise. Black people are tired of marching and burning shoe leather and achieving little from a group of middle class leaders who have embraced the politics of accommodation. Like Rodney King they all just want to get along. And for those who still have a modicum of integrity their biggest weakness is that their method of struggle has not changed since the Civil Rights Era. They continue to use the same old, out of place, worn out techniques over and over again.
And it is this utter lack of creativity in political struggle that has turned off millions of Black voters whose interests and problems have not been addressed either by the Democrats or the Republicans. In fact, it is this political alienation and the dithering of our Black elected officials that continues to turn off Black voters and the population at large. In Barack Obama Black Americans have dared to dream again.
While Barack Obamna is no messiah the symbolism of his candidacy has rekindled the hope in Black people that maybe, just maybe, things will get better. His appeal is that he is young, does not carry the excess baggage of the present set of Black pretenders to leadership, and his middle-of-the-road approach and message does not spook white people.
You see, he waxes eloquent on Israel’s right to self-defense, makes the right kind of right wing noises on Iran and Pakistan, plays the Iraq card adroitly and carefully, while saying absolutely nothing on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the looming genocide in Somalia and state of unrest in his father’s homeland, Kenya, for fear of angering the “red-necks” in the south who now see him as a “good boy.” Cognizant of the fact that he needs the southern vote to win the presidency Obama is playing it safe. Its good politics but it makes him look like a coward.
So without reaching out to the Black community – except to preach his version of “tough love” – Obama has achieved his national position by deliberately distancing himself from Black America and promising little or nothing. His policy positions on Black America can be boiled down to a careful, academic criticism of Black behavior. In that he’s in good company since none of the presidential wannabes – Republican and Democrat alike – have bothered to address Black issues perhaps the sole exception being Democrat John Edwards.
These issues range from the Third World levels of poverty that plague the Black community, high unemployment rates (48% in places like New York City), the continued destruction of the Black family, and the high rates of incarceration of Black males. The political reality of the 2008 United States Presidential elections is that the Republicans don’t want the Black vote – and don’t need it – and the Democrats offer Black people nothing ands ignore Black America because they assume that they already have the Black vote.
Case in point: Obama, Clinton et al have gone out of their way to woo the Jewish, mainstream white and religious vote. Yet during the recent Jena 6 problem and the unjust incarceration of a young Black boy, Obama said nothing leaving Hillary Clinton and John Edwards – two white candidates – to speak on behalf of Black people. Blacks must be wary of “Obamania” not because he’s not a good candidate or has not done very well considering the treacherous nature of American politics but because this early euphoria can dissipate in a matter of seconds dashing all the puffed up hopes of a people long denied upward mobility and a place at the table of the American Establishment.
There is a phenomenon in politics called “the Bradley Effect” that might have had a hand in Obama’s loss in New Hampshire – one that offers an object lesson on this presidential campaign. This is a practice of white voters lying to pollsters by saying that they will vote for a Black candidate but do the opposite when they get into the privacy of the election booth. The inaccurate poll reading, as was the case in New Hampshire, that had Obama leading Hillary Clinton by over 10 percentage points is to my mind a classic Bradley Effect” result.
In a now indispensable poll-driven election campaigns that can with the scientific tools available predict the outcome of elections with near certainty, the Obama loss in New Hampshire, no matter how it’s spun, reeks of the Bradley Effect. Thus, one must be very careful and wary of a repeat performance in states where the vast majority of voters are white that see a Black-skinned Obama as a threat to the US status quo.
The Bradley Effect caused pollsters to reach inaccurate and misleading conclusions because whites do not want to appear racially biased or prejudiced against a Black candidate and thus lie to these pollsters by saying that they will be voting for the Black candidate and then doing the opposite. When such cases occur the poll results mislead political campaigns that either end up losing (Tom Bradley, Los Angeles Gubernatorial elections 1982) or winning by a razor-thin majority (David Dinkins, Mayoral elections, New York 1989).
While I recognize that Barack Obama is not a Black candidate and that he has to appeal to white voters I find his silence on the fact that Blacks have been disproportionately affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the fact that Blacks have only half of the good things that white Americans have and double the bad things, the fact that Blacks suffer twice the level of unemployment and twice the level of the United Nations World Health Organization’s yardstick for measuring poverty, infant mortality, and the fact that Blacks continue to be brutalized by two separate and unequal systems of justice very troubling. Nor am I suggesting that he focus exclusively on Black issues to the detriment of his campaign.
Flashy smile and nice-sounding speeches is no reason to ignore the Black community. It is my view that regardless of race, class, social standing and religious beliefs ALL of the United States presidential candidates should earn their votes. But it is the Black community and its political leaders who are to blame for selling the Black vote cheap without demanding commitments or concrete, tangible programs and services in return.
The idea that the Black community should support this or that candidate now for a promise to help the community after being elected does not work. We should demand of our leaders concrete guarantees for the Black vote or stay home on Election Day.