October 27, 2006

Barack Obama

Check out Charles Krauthammer's piece on Barack Obama at National Review Online. He writes:

Third, the country hungers for a black president. Not all the country, but enough that, on balance, race would be an asset. It is no accident that when, a decade ago, another attractive, articulate African American with no experience in electoral office went on a book tour, he was met not just with rock-star adulation but with a loud national chorus urging him to run for the presidency.

I think "hunger" is too weak a word - we need that milestone. Right now there are only two obvious candidates - Obama and Condi Rice. Michael Steele might possibly be a contender in 2012 if he wins the Maryland Senate race next month, and Newark mayor Cory Booker might grow into the role, out around 2020. As Krauthammer suggests, though, it would be a good thing to have a credible black candidate participating in the primary process for 2008, if only to get the ball rolling. And who knows? He or she might even win.

Posted by Sterling at 02:15 PM GMT

The question is, will people still like Obama when they have a better idea of what kind of policies he would promote?

Maybe. They voted for Georgie because he convinced them with his aw-shucks, anti-intellectual, freedom-lovin' everyman image that he'd stick up for them. Suckers.

Posted by: Jame on October 28, 2006 04:16 AM

I do like how Sterling made reference to the surge of Obamamamia by linking to the only article that definitely claims he would lose. Nice.

If you are interested in slightly more convincing analysis, try this.

Posted by: 99 on October 28, 2006 04:37 PM

Even Krauthammer allows that Obama might win. It's just not tremendously likely. And in 2012 or 2016? His chances go up significantly.

Posted by: Sterling on October 28, 2006 09:15 PM

Also, regarding Jame's mention of policies, the FIRST black president is going to have even less maneuvering room to take ideological positions than most presidents. He or she will be under enormous pressure, and I would expect for at least the first two years (and maybe the whole first term) would need to demonstrate an unusual degree of steadiness and fairness. There is, after all, a slice of people who will be extremely dismayed by the election of a black president. There is also a slice of the population that will use the election as an opportunity for gloating and malfeasance - "Giuliani Time" in reverse.

In a second term, he or she would have a free hand, but that first term would definitely fall under proof of concept. And once the concept was proved, I think the core problem in the American black community - cynicism about the intentions of whites and other non-blacks - would be substantially defeated.

Posted by: Sterling on October 29, 2006 07:01 PM

Not really, Sterling: If Obama turned out to be no more black than Clinton (which is quite probable) then the US black community could easily decide that he was some kind of oreo (see eg Condi Rice, Colin Powell, etc etc). It's worth remembering that neither of his parents is an African-American.

Posted by: Felix on October 29, 2006 09:38 PM

I think you mean that neither of his parents are the descendants of American slaves. Neither were Colin Powell's, to my recollection. The definition of "African-American" does not exclude people of African descent whose families arrived in the U.S. post-emancipation. (It's a broad term - also since most blacks in the U.S. have substantial European heritage.)

I think you're confusing hip-hop notions of black "authenticity" or sociological "blackness" with actual African descent. Bill Clinton is not black. Barak Obama, Condi Rice, Michael Steele, etc., are black, regardless of what music they listen to, what food they eat, how they speak English, their stance on welfare statism or what neighborhoods they live in.

The idea that somebody is a race-traitor because he speaks mainline American English, can afford to raise his kids in a decent neighborhood or has politically conservative views is a repulsive and destructive slander. The election of a black president might dispel a lot of these bogus notions of how black Americans are "supposed" to conduct themselves, and hopefully send the concept of "oreo" to the dustbin.

Posted by: Sterling on October 30, 2006 12:26 AM

Actually, Sterling, I meant something rather different. I'm happy to admit that Obama himself is an African-American. But his mother isn't (she's white) and his father isn't (he is not, and never has been, American).

Obama, clearly, has much more claim to "actual African descent" than most African-Americans, since his father is a real, honest-to-goodness African.

But you would have to admit that there's a world of difference between black politicians (think Al Sharpton, for instance) and politicians who happen to be black (like Obama, or, for that matter, Booker). Part of Obama's appeal, especially to whites, is that he is black, but in an incredibly non-threatening way. Perhaps that's because he's not descended from slaves and so therefore there's less guilt among the whites: I don't know.

America has long since proved itself capable of fully embracing non-threatening blacks: outside politics, the likes of Bill Cosby or Morgan Freeman spring to mind. I'm sure it's capable of embracing Obama, too. But if it does so, that proves relatively little about the state of race relations in the country.

Posted by: Felix on October 30, 2006 04:44 AM

I doubt most Americans would look at Obama and say his mom was white and his dad was from Africa so he's not really a black guy. I think most people will look at him and say he's an African-American and leave it at that. The only people who will mine that seam may be other blacks who for what ever reason decided that Obama doesn't represent their interests.

Felix says part of Obama's appeal to whites is his skin color, which is probably true, but then says only because it's non threatening. But this is a bit unfair. White people may not be comfortable with Al Sharpton but Sharpton is a demagogue who panders to the fringe; the same white people would be equally uncomfortable with a "really white" David Duke; look how Trent Lott lost all his support when his racist Dixiecrat ways came to light.

This doens't mean that racism doesn't exist; it says that many black politicians position themselves on the far left, catering to a narrow clientele, while Obama (and there are plenty of other black politicians like him, like many big city mayors) play for the entire electorate.

Obama's may be a long shot but it's plausible. If he won the Democratic nomination I think it would be a very good thing for race relations. My guess is he won't be divisive, at least not in terms of race. But young, charismatic presidents don't have a great track record - JFK and GBW. If he runs I hope he does so on an actual platform of policies, not just star power.

Lastly, things look good for November 2008. McCain, Clinton and Obama would all be a change for the better. I'd be less sanguine if Frist or Edwards get their parties' nods.

Posted by: Jame on October 30, 2006 05:29 AM

Al Sharpton is ridiculous character - a throwback. I've never understood why white liberals put him on television as if he were in any way a serious person. When they do put him on TV, white bigots delight because Sharpton is a loudmouth con-artist who affirms their prejudices. They might as well put Amos n' Andy on TV as Al Sharpton.

Jesse Jackson is only marginally better - and unlike Sharpton, Jesse Jackson has no excuse. Jackson is a man of stunning presence and ability, but instead of striving to live up to that potential he took the easy route and became a shakedown artist.

And when you compare those two clowns to people like Condi Rice or Barack Obama - who have both accomplished things through honest effort and by aiming for the highest rather than the lowest - the difference could hardly be clearer. It's not about who's "threatening", it's about being respectable.

Posted by: Sterling on October 30, 2006 01:33 PM

Actually, wouldn't 2008 be the best bet for Obama? I thought the Lexington column in the Economist hit the nail on the head with this:

The 2008 race is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—with the nominations open on both sides and the country desperate for a fresh face and a new direction. If he waits until 2012, he will have to take on an incumbent president; by 2016 he could well be yesterday's news. And a Senate record is a wasting asset. At best, you accumulate hostages to fortune in the form of controversial votes; at worst, you contract senators' disease, droning on about mark-up, earmarks, filibusters and cloture.

Posted by: mike d on October 30, 2006 08:16 PM

Well, 2008 is definitely the best time in a generation or more for a challenger, but that doesn't mean that Obama is the most likely Democrat to win the primaries or the best choice to beat the GOP nominee.

As described by Krauthammer, it may be the best time for Obama to demonstrate his chops.

Also, the Senate is not a lousy place to launch a campaign from - it's just not the best or second-best place, which are the vice-presidency or a governorship (or sometimes a prominent war role). The Senate is number three in normal circumstances. But with (ex-VA Gov) Warner out of contention and HRC permanently unelectable, who knows?

Posted by: Sterling on October 31, 2006 12:20 AM

Wouldn't it be great (or ironic, I don't know which anymore) if both the democrats and the repulicans decide that they are hostages to the forces of history and put forward a black candidate? It'd be Condi vs. Obama, and let the South agonize over which is less black. I for one would relish watching the squirming among the less progressive Americans.

Posted by: Stefan on October 31, 2006 12:39 AM

Well, the Democrats are more vulnerable on that front than the GOP. If the GOP puts forward a black candidate, the Democrats would have to, as well. Because 90% of blacks vote Democrat, regardless of anything, the Democrats tend to take blacks for granted. Blacks know this, but thus far it hasn't caused a schism. A black GOP candidate for president, however, might precipitate such a schism if not reciprocated.

So a black candidate for president might be good for the GOP either way - if it's a GOP candidate it precipitates a problem for the Democrats and may cause them to make a "forced error". If it's a Democrat it elevates the political status of blacks in the Democratic Party. A shake-up like that would have unpredictable consquences - it might actually damage Democrat strength in the black vote, or it might push Latinos (who are political rivals to blacks) authoritatively over to the GOP. See, if blacks feel like they've reached a level of political equality, why should they all vote the same way? And if Latinos feel like blacks are running the Democratic Party, why should they stay there?

Basically, any shake-up of ethnic politics benefits Republicans immediately, but Democrats over the long term. See, being able to take roughly 15% of the vote for granted has made the Democrats uncompetitive, weak, and politically perverse. If blacks were to go 60/40 Democrat versus 90/10, it would force the Democrats to pursue the GOP base, which would be good for everyone.

That's only a piece of why I think a black president would be good for the country. The rest has to do with reducing black notions of social inferiority and white hostility.

Posted by: Sterling on October 31, 2006 01:18 AM

How about Barack Obama for President and Colin Powell as his VP running mate?

Posted by: Lopaka La'aunui on November 7, 2006 04:10 AM

What about Halle Berry?

Posted by: Jame on November 7, 2006 09:38 AM

Is Saddam definable as "black"? Couldn't the Dems ask him to be their candidate and have done with it?

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on November 7, 2006 12:53 PM