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Obama Refuses Role of Black Man in Clinton Play…

March 15, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( BARACK Obama, it is commonly said, “transcends” race. This is a polite way of saying he is not Rev Jesse Jackson or Rev Al Sharpton. Like Nelson Mandela, he offers liberation from a shameful past. With Jackson and Sharpton, there is no getting off the hook so easily: there are still payments to be made.

The promise of unconditional redemption is very much part of Obama’s appeal. It lends his theme of change a power it might otherwise lack. America will indeed be a different, and better, place if it elects him. It is precisely because he is seen as a redeemer that his promise to change the way business is done in Washington — to be a bridge builder — has gained so much traction.

Her back against the wall, Hillary Clinton is determined to use Obama’s race against him. She has all but given up trying to court the black vote. Half the voters in Tuesday’s Mississippi primary were black. Nine in 10 backed Obama. He won decisively.

Clinton’s campaign is spinning, as it did with South Carolina, that the victory was tainted: she won seven of every 10 votes that matter. White votes, that is. So Obama was no more viable as a national candidate than Jackson was when the latter ran for the nomination in 1984 and 1988.

The jury is out on whether the Clintonites deliberately darkened Obama’s skin and tinkered with his nose in one of their recent television ads. More clear cut were remarks this week by Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1988, now a Clinton surrogate. “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she said. “And if he was a woman (of any colour) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Clinton called her friend’s remark “regrettable” because “it veered off into the personal“. What she did not immediately do was criticise Ferraro on the substance of her argument, essentially this: Obama’s electoral success was not legitimate, just luck, an artifact of affirmative action driven by mass hysteria.

This was no Freudian slip in the heat of the moment, but a message Clinton wanted out there. Ferraro, though she did ultimately resign from Clinton’s finance committee, was unrepentant. She posed as a misconstrued victim of reverse racism taking a racial bully’s bullet for her candidate.

Orlando Patterson, a highly regarded Harvard professor and author of The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s “Racial” Crisis, had a stark analysis of Clinton’s “It’s 3 am” TV spot in Tuesday’s New York Times.

“I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad, as I see it, is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.”

Clinton’s people are of course shocked that anyone might look at the ad that way. What they would really like is for Obama to come out with such an interpretation himself. They want him to become a Jackson or a Sharpton. They want him angry and offended. They want him to denounce their candidate as a racist, as Ferraro falsely alleged he had been doing all along. They yearn for him to invoke slavery and Jim Crow and centuries of injustice.

He’s not playing. Invited to go after Ferraro, he absolved her.

I’m always hesitant to throw around words like racist, because I don’t think she intended them that way.” Then came the stiletto rebuke to Clinton. “I don’t think identity politics have served the Democratic Party well.”

Written By Simon Barber

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