Heed These Words

Obama is at heart a centrist Democrat.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s July 29th column


Hutchinson’s column is probably the most even-tempered, sobering piece about what an Obama presidency would look like that I’ve ever read. 

I think its worth reading because rather than attack Black people for their (at times) frustrating, but understandable overzealous love of Obama, Hutchinson merely explains why Obama may not be exactly what we think and hope he is. 

Obama is at heart a centrist Democrat. During his stint in the Illinois state legislature at times he voted as a liberal Democrat on abortion rights, some criminal justice, civil liberties and environmental issues. At other times, there were nuances, compromises and caution in his position on these same issues. This drew raves from Republican legislators as a flexible politician and consensus builder who listened to the views of his Republican opponents. On the presidential campaign trail, Obama has been lambasted for flip flops on the Iraq War, tax cuts, FISA, abortion, gun control, and the death penalty. These are not so much flip flops as his repositioning as the centrist Democrat that he has always been.

He also doesn’t disparage Obama, but instead lays out an argument for why Black people should pay more attention to the details of Obama’s campaign and who Obama is as a politician. 

Most notably, the piece actually puts Obama into historical context by succinctly showing the challenges and weaknesses of the Democratic Party and how it has bred a certain kind of candidate, of which Obama is just the next darker version, in order to remain competitive against the Republican Party.

I think this is important to remember because the first step in racial progress in the post-civil rights era is often just skin deep.  Meaning that having a Black face in the mix doesn’t necessarily — and often doesn’t — mean that the concerns of Black folks are taken into account in any meaningful way.

We’ve seen, and probably will continue to see, that it is still political suicide to be seen as caring too much about Black people.  While I think it’s possible to care about the issues that affect Black people and still govern “the whole country,” I don’t think Obama has yet shown the political courage to tell all people that the “race problem” remains fundamentally the most important issue this country continues to face.  His Philadelphia speech on “race” was a political masterstroke, but also ahistorical and intellectually dishonest. This alone should raise concerns for Black America.

To be fair, no one has ever tried to do what he’s doing the way he’s doing it, so he’s flying blind. Not getting complicated issues like race quite right is to be expected.  But considering his political courage in other areas, his lack of courage on the nation’s most central question is disappointing, to say the least.

That said, let us not forget that it is stupid hard to be the first Black anything.  White people generally see “black interests” as attacks on them, whether they are or not.  And it is convenient for them to think this way, because well that is how white supremacy works.

Black people have high hopes for those of us lucky to reach the top of any given field. 

And we are all socialized to think the mere presence of Black faces ameliorates past wrongs and represents sufficient progress.

Obama’s presidency will be markedly different from the past eight years. There’s pretty much no way that can’t be the truth.

But it remains to be seen whether or not Obama’s presidency will mean substantive attention and change to the plight of Black Americans.

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About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.

One Response to Heed These Words

  1. Cheryl Contee says:

    This is a great post btw. I also like the wood trim at the top. Well done. keep on it.
    btw, we’d love it if you linked to Jack and Jill Politics from your blog when you have time. send the other JJP bloggers and myself links to posts like this from time to time and we’ll try to get you some linklove and traffic.

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