Listen to the radio-essay here.
As the race for presidential primaries and caucuses gains in speed and tempo, this current campaign has taught me at least one important lesson:
"You can't rely on polls!"
Talking heads are sounding sillier by the day trying to explain how the junior senator from Illinois went from a double digit lead a day before the New Hampshire primaries, to losing by 2 percentage points by night's end.
I wrote a piece, but just like those talking heads, I got it wrong, and wrote as much. If I'm lucky, you'll never get to hear it.
I, too, was shocked by Sen. Hillary Clinton's win over Barack Obama (I bet you so was she!), but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. In my view, it had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary's tears, nor any such nonsense.
It had everything to do with people walking into the booth, pulling a curtain, and having second thoughts.
It had everything to do with what, to some, is still unimaginable: a Black president of the United States of America.
I don't think people consciously lied to pollsters. I think they really believed what they said; but belief and action are two separate things.
Blacks have dreamed of the idea for more than 1/2 a century (if not longer), and past nominees, more often than not ran on third parties, or were 'favorite sons' of certain regions; yet, almost always, they were protest votes, safe alternatives, votes meant to show support, but not to elect.
Some of the names will doubtless ring a bell, but many won't elicit a bare ripple of recognition.
Rev. Channing Phillips of Washington, D.C., was nominated for President at the raucous Chicago Democratic National Convention on August 28, 1968, and received 67 1/2 votes from delegates.
Throughout that year, two other Black men, Eldridge Cleaver (then Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party), and comedian turned civil rights activist, Dick Gregory, shared the presidential nominations of the Peace & Freedom Party. Cleaver was on the ballot in at least 5 states, while Gregory polled in at least 9 states. When the votes were tallied, Cleaver took roughly 10,000 votes, while Gregory garnered nearly 50,000.
In July , 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (N.Y.-Dem) received 151.95 votes on her presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Miami, out of 2,000 delegates' votes.
By 1988, Independent (New Alliance Party) Dr. Lenora Fulani, on the ballot in at least 35 states (and Washington, D.C.) netted over 218,159 votes. While seemingly impressive, it pales when one considers that 91.5 million people voted in the 1988 presidential elections (her share of the vote was thus 0.24%). Four years later (1992), with new laws in place restricting ballot access, she would pull perhaps a fourth of that number, as she had considerably fewer states (about 20) in which to find her party represented on the ballot.
It's virtually forgotten now that Rev. Jesse Jackson got over 7 million votes, won 13 primaries and caucuses, and controlled almost a third (29%) of the party delegates in his second run in 1988. Though Rev. Al Sharpton would try his hand in the 2000 and 2004 races, his campaign was widely regarded (at least by the corporate media, and through them, the predominantly white electorate), as a symbolic run, in the long tradition of protest candidacies.
Indeed, one observer, law professor Kimerle W. Crenshaw has opined that Sharpton's July 2004 Democratic convention speech "electrified" the place, with his critique of the Bush administration's penchant for appointing right wing judges to the U.S. Supreme Court would whittle away rights won over long, hard struggles.
Not only did journalists such as Wolf Blitzer and others perform a questionable disciplinary role in denouncing Sharpton as being "off message" -- CNN's Jeff Greenfield went further to declare that Sharpton delivered the most incendiary comment of the entire convention. [Fr.: Crenshaw, K.W., "Sharpton Sharpens the Challenge with an Overtime Victory," CommonDreams.org (July 30, 2004).]
In this context, the apparent fawning over Obama by many of these same media figures may owe more to his seeming nonracial presentation, than any real concern for Black political empowerment.
Politics is about more than strange bedfellows. It's ultimately about power, and that's why there are second thoughts.
--(c) '08 maj