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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Roger Answers Your Questions, Nik and Scott

Nik, the expat in New Zealand asks: I'll go all deep -- so has the coverage/reaction to the Obama campaign so far made you MORE hopeful about race in America or LESS hopeful?

Scott asks: Clinton aide Ferraro makes a racist-type remark about Obama, and the Clinton campaign barely has to say anything to be excused. The pastor of the church Obama attends (who is not working for Obama) makes racist-type remarks, and Obama has to continually distance himself from them. It seems obvious to me that racism is even present in this scenario. How do you feel about these events?

OK. Let me try to answer this in a coherent way, because I've found the last week rather mind-boggling. First, I've long thought that Barack Obama's attempt to run a campaign for President of the United States without race being a major issue was incredibly naive and/or disingenuous. I didn't think that country is/was "post-racial" enough for that. I figured that, sooner or later, race would come to the fore. And it did, in subtle ways with Bill Clinton comparing Obama's South Carolina win to Jesse Jackson's; hey, they're both black. But here's the thing: as much as Barack has tried to downplay it, pssst, he is partly black.
And notice how well Obama's done among the different constituent over time. He wowed 'em in Iowa, a largely white state, which made some black Americans nervous. But once it appeared the Hillary Clinton campaign was trying to paint Barack as black, playing, if you will, the "race card", he became the "black" candidate. The Mississippi primary is instructive, as Obama got about 90% of the black vote and less than 30% of the white vote.
The Jeremiah Wright situation was problematic not just for the reverend's rhetoric but because it reminded people once again: he goes to a black church; he must!
Geraldine Ferraro was clumsy in her wording. She could have said something like "the black community must be very proud how well Barack is doing" and gotten across the same message - that he's a black man - and still be on the Hillary team.
So, Nik, in answer to your specific question - am I MORE hopeful about race in America or LESS hopeful? - the answer is yes. I thought it was a GREAT speech that Obama gave last week, one that made me MORE sure of Obama than before, but as I noted here, it's been misinterpreted or heard merely in soundbites.
Scott, I don't know that the coverage is racist as much as it's "If it bleeds, it leads" inflammatory. The perception I'm getting that, OK, he's the Obama pastor for 20 years; let's say he was sitting in the pews for 50 weeks a year. This means that Barack and his wife heard this "God Damn AmeriKKKa" rhetoric 1000 times AND subjected their daughters to it dozens of times as well. The assumption seems to be that's the sermon topic EVERY week, which is clearly not the case by all informed reports. So Barack, a state senator in Springfield, 200 miles and over 3 hours away from Chicago for a number of years before being in Washington, DC, probably hadn't heard hundreds of examples of vitriol, as the case seemed to be painted.

Finally, slightly off the topic, I started attending a (predominantly white) church in Albany in June 1982, started attending regularly in January 1983, became a member in December 1984, and took on leadership roles in the church. Stuff happened often - I won't get into it here, but it involved the pastor - but it wasn't until February 2000 that I largely stopped attending, and I was still going to meetings at my old church as late as August 2000. It wasn't until 2002 that I ended my membership with my old church and joined my new one. So I sympathize greatly with the notion that one just doesn't abandon one's church lightly, for the people are the church, not the pastor.



GayProf said...

Obama's speech on race really impressed me (given that I wasn't really on board with either Clinton or Obama).

What bothered me about the pastor stuff is that Obama was being held responsible for somebody else's words.

RAB said...

If you haven't read this already, you might be interested:

Scott said...

I agree with gayprof's views. I too am bothered by that. And now Hillary is saying how if it was her, she would have left that church. This is going to bite Obama, and it really shouldn't. Maybe Obama needs to say that he wouldn't have let Ferraro resign her position in his campaign, he would have fired her.

I think you have brought up some very good points Roger. Especially the argument that Obama should leave the church. It is the people that make up the church, not just the pastor.