Myrtle Beach, South Carolina -- I waited, listening, but there was nothing. Not a single journalist asked the question that I wanted asked. Not a single journalist, probably, even thought to ask the question. At this week's center stage of the campaign trail, the CNN Presidential Debate in South Carolina, after three grueling weeks starting at the first caucus in Iowa, again the question has not been asked. Every question has been thrown at all the candidates, yet not this one.- "Still photographers!" a woman yells walking up and down the aisles. "Still photographers to the lobby, shuttle bus ready to take you to the debate hall." A motley crew, hair tussled, eyes glazed, faces twisted, about fifty "shooters" shuffle past saddled heavy with microphone poles and giant lenses and camera bodies hanging and sprouting every which way. Writers have a natural revulsion for those who blabber incessantly about images and prefer a nasty crouch rash to discussing an issue. I fight the impulse to slide my foot into the aisle. Their departure leaves the hall swarming with the cream of the communication crop. "A Team" newspaper and magazine journalists, radio gadflies who will take on any and every subject, television stars strutting in front of their cameras, Internet bloggers who are the rough riders of American politics. Each group is seated separately in assigned sections, yet all are pumped to pounce on the truth -- except truth from this one question. And the debate roared: economy crashing, oil prices rocketing ... "The rich are getting richer, and the poor are...." Bad trade deals and good tax cuts ... But these issues were soon swiped away, by the heat of the competition: "While you were sitting on the board of Wal-Mart, I was a community organizer" -- "I was resisting the policies of Ronald Reagan while you were representing the interests of a slum lord in inner Chicago." The debate degenerated into a catfight, until boos and catcalls rose from the audience. "This sounds like a marriage," sneers a female photojournalist over my shoulder, having just returned from the debate hall. With journalists not allowed into the debate hall -- the still photographers had only a quick photo shoot there -- we're camped out in an ad hoc media center located in Phillips Seafood Restaurant across the road from the hall; writing articles, filming interviews with politicians, thinking, thinking harder, running thoughts and impressions by fellow journalists. There are nearly 400 journalists here at the debate. Many are seasoned political warriors of the campaign trail, some are armed with an abundance of corporate resources, others have an invaluable wealth of experience. There are the unorthodox journalists and those who are hard edged without much experience. And then there are the simple stenographers on the short chain of bullying editors, mindless without backbone, they are always the worse. All of these journalists, however, seem clueless about the question not asked, has never been asked.
Yes, there is an elephant on this campaign trail, walking from state to state, from debate to rally to fundraiser, never publicly acknowledged, never even seen. The silence is driving me nuts. Starting in Iowa, traveling to New Hampshire, now in South Carolina, I have waited for someone, anyone, to say, "Hey, how about that elephant?" But it doesn't happen.
Hilary Clinton came roaring out of the debate box and Barak Obama immediately responded with force. John Edwards was left on the sidelines, as usual. Yet, catcalls have a powerful effect on catfights. So the discussion whipped back to issues of substance, although not always discussed with enough substance: homeless veterans increasing, taxes that must be lowered, the history of racial discrimination and the future of foreign trade deals and.... There was, interestingly, the question "Is Bill Clinton the first Black President?" which Obama handled mostly with humor. That question came somewhat close to the unspoken elephant on this campaign trail. What question am I talking about? Simple: Why does Barak Obama call himself "a Black man?" Why doesn't he call himself a Black and White man?
A man of mixed race, he needs to stand up and embrace both races with equal respect. That would be a powerful message for America. Adolf Hitler defined who was a Jew, as many horrible people have defined others, as American slave owners defined who was a Black, but the president of the United States must not be defined by others. No American should be defined by others. Obama needs to define himself according to the new America he seems dawning in America. So he needs to speak the truth that he is not "a Black man," not only a Black man, but a product of American Black culture and American White culture. And this influences his thinking as it guides his actions.
As the first candidate in this campaign emphasizing the theme of change, as the candidate most consistent and sincere when speaking about uniting Americans, as the candidate most attractive to a new generation of voters, emphasizing his mother was White and his father was Black would concretize what many Americans already intuit: that Obama is somehow a post-race person. Obama speaks the words we need to transcend race, he should use his life as a model for that trascending.
I am not advocating the old, stale discussion on race relations, a rehashing of our ugly history, whining and guilt-making and deal-making.... But for Obama to step forward as a new symbol, one grounded upon his own reality, one that says America is moving forward and needs to continue moving forward as one nation with not only separate races but also mixed races. That is our future, where we need to go. On Martin Luther King's birthday at the debates in South Carolina, deep in the American South, Barak Obama had a prime opportunity to take a step forward by embracing publicly his personal truth. He had an excellent opportunity to begin nudging America further along in the post-King era. Sure America knows his truth, but not until he speaks this truth at public forums, only then will his mixed-race reality have the power to move us closer to the post-race America Dream. Obama can symbolize that our ugly past is really passing, while we need to continue the fight for the new America. If Obama doesn't step forward, maybe a journalist will nudge him along with a question. Maybe I will get the opportunity.