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White Men Talk Barack

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Joel Wendland
In her article, "Black Women Talk Barack," (The Nation), journalist Amy Alexander cuts through big media misrepresentations and distortions of who supports Barack Obama and why, distortions which often result from poor thinking and bad reporting and others simply are racist provocations (e.g. Wall Street Journal, "Obama's Bid Turns Focus On Class Split Among Blacks," Jonathan Kaufman, January 22, 2008.)

Alexander's article shows another side to what is happening in the movement for change mobilizing around the Obama campaign that just isn't being talked about in the big media. It opens a new discussion about race that won't break out in CNN debates or MSNBC punditry.

Alexander reflects on the fact that African American women see their male children as the most vulnerable in our country and want a president who can identify with them and will fight for them.

And I don't want to downplay or minimize the deeply personal and historical significance of Alexander description of the enduring role if race, especially as it impacts our children, in choosing presidential candidates. I do want to talk about why I – white, union member, male – support Barack Obama, and suggest a small but real affinity with what she talks about.

I live in a town (more than 40% people of color) on the brink of bankruptcy. Because of a war in Iraq that has cost our country more than $1 trillion, Bush/Republican tax cuts that have drained our treasury, and Bush/Republican trade and tax policies that have helped or pushed companies to move jobs out of the country, there is no tax base to finance town services. The police department is closing. Small businesses closing. Auto plants are shipping out. Public funding for this program and that is drying up. Every other house on every other street is for sale and has been for sale for months. Schools are being boarded up.

Barack Obama is pledged to revitalizing our economy and our communities by bringing jobs back, by financing our schools, by lifting the burden of health care costs with an affordable universal health care plan, by bringing the troops home from Iraq, by supporting our right to join and organize labor unions to boost our pay and benefits.

Aside from the fact that with an Obama presidency I might see this community return from the brink and thus my own quality of life improve, those things don't in and of themselves get down to the nitty-gritty of why I support Obama.

More closely to home, my support for Obama, like what Alexander describes, has to do with my children. Though the children in the Head Start in my county are mostly adorable and energetic Black and Latino, the overworked, but dedicated teachers at that facility, which Barack Obama has pledged to help increase funding for, are also teaching my youngest boy his ABC's as well as to talk correctly after a birth defect in his mouth limited his speech abilities. My son's life has improved over the last few months in dramatic ways, despite the hostility of the Bush administration and its attempts to cut the program's funding.

The students and teachers at the public school my oldest boy goes to are mostly African American. But when my oldest learned to read and now spends hours a day reading deep into the night, I can't help but be grateful to the under-appreciated men and women at that school, and others like it, that care for and teach our children everyday. I can't help but worry and rail against the budget cuts – fueled by disastrous Bush/ Republican policies – in the district that took away art and music classes and forced other schools to close. And again Barack Obama has pledged himself to making our schools work for every child.

When I listen to him, I feel hope for my kids, too.

I could add more: my retired parents forced to return to work to stay afloat; my grandmother worried about Medicaid covering her ailments or Medicare covering her Rx needs; my sister worried about daycare for her pre-school aged daughter.

Oh yes, Sen. Clinton has pledged to support these causes too – and if she manages to win the nomination, I am sure I will find a way to close ranks behind her. But, when she had the chance to fight for unity of our collective peoples to win our collective interests, she fell down. And don't blame it on Bill or overzealous staffers, because she is trying to be the commander-in-chief after all.

She had the chance to talk about our common interests the way Obama does: that Black mothers and white fathers could want and deserve the same things: a safe community, a fair system, equal access to quality public services, affordable health care, good-paying jobs that provide a real future, and so on.

Clinton lost her chance to convince me that she was the best candidate when her campaign implied that it was ridiculous for me to believe in these things or to struggle along side others who look different than I do or to believe that I could trust in a man who talks about them as if they were all of ours by right.

Instead of talking about how the table could be made bigger to include us all, Clinton tried to play on our fears that voting one way or another would put the seat we have at risk.

And that is just plain wrong.
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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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