Recently, after Clinton advisor Geraldine Ferraro (now, inevitably, a former Clinton advisor) pointed out the obvious fact that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position", I asked one of her angry critics why he supported Obama. He responded: "You [presumably whites] have had 100 presidents, why can't we have one?"
He was completely oblivious of the paradox that his supporting Obama because of race only proved Ferraro's point.
And this seems true of many blacks. On this weekend's Saturday Night Live, black actor and comic Tracy Morgan went on a rant about how Obama's support has nothing to do with his race, summarizing the incident as follows: "It's a little complicated, but basically it goes like this: We are a racist country. The end.'" Morgan ended his monologue by saying "Black is the new president, bitch!"
So, once again, I'm in the uncomfortable position of having to defend Hillary Clinton. Not for the first time, Obama's people are implying the First Lady of America's "first black president" is a "racist".
Of course this comes at a time when the Main Stream Media is finally letting America know that Obama's mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a vehement anti-white race-baiter. Obama is slated to give a major speech to defuse this story tomorrow (March 18).
Obama struck back by asking: "You mean, somebody thinks being a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama" was a bigger advantage than being Hillary Clinton? (Answer: in a Democratic primary, yes.) Virtually every talking head and pundit called Ferraro somewhere between ignorant and racist. Incredibly, the Reverend Al Sharpton even accused Clinton of having a "strategy to appeal to voters on race" without anyone choking on his flagrant hypocrisy. In the Washington Post, the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, [Send her mail] president of the United Church of Christ's Chicago Theological Seminary, said that Ferraro's comments were a "sin" and that "We will continue to have attitudes like that of Geraldine Ferraro and others unless and until white America builds a Museum of Slavery and Its Consequences and educates itself and its children about what I believe is the original sin of this country that lies festering at the heart of our espoused core value of freedom.".
Needless to say, Clinton eventually apologized, calling Ferraro's statements "ridiculous" and "wrong headed" and saying that "I certainly do repudiate it and I regret deeply that it was said." And needless to say, that wasn't enough, and she's still being attacked for not repudiating Ferraro soon or strongly enough.
In fact, of course, Ferraro's statement lives up to Michael Kinsley's adage that "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth." Obama's career was jumpstarted by his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention—not a common honor. Nor has it been common for a Senate candidate to be touted for the presidency, as Obama was, before he even gets elected.
Obama's most obvious advantage is the support among his co-racials. Blacks make up 20% of Democratic primary voters, and they are voting overwhelmingly for him. In the recent Mississippi primary, where blacks made up 70% of primary voters, 91% voted for him.
But if Obama's appeal was solely to blacks, he would do no better than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Many whites also vote for Obama—because of his race. There are many reasons for this, but one significant factor is the notion that, by electing Obama, we prove something about ourselves as a country.
Thus before Obama's victory in the overwhelmingly white Iowa caucuses, many of his supporters told MSNBC that they "plan to support him in the Jan. 3 precinct caucuses partly to prove that America has overcome racism".
Thus writing in the liberal webzine Slate on February 14, well before the Ferraro furor, Jack Shafer, frankly admitted that white voters see Obama as "the fulfillment of the American ideal, and by casting their ballot for him, voters can participate in that transcendent moment". Shafer also noted that Obama will helps ease white guilt because he
"has a talent for extending forgiveness to the guilty and the anxious without requiring an apology from them first. Go forth and sin no more, he almost says, and never mind the reparations. No wonder they call him the brother from another planet. "[How Obama Does That Thing He Does, February 14, 2008]
By simply having a black man named Barack Hussein Obama in the White House, these whites believe, many problems will just disappear on their own.
Thus movie actor Matt Damon was quoted in 2007 claiming that "a lot of the problems in the world would be mitigated if he were the face of our country". Thus in December 2007, neoliberal pundit Andrew Sullivan wrote: "What does he offer? First and foremost: his face." Sullivan thought that the mere fact that a man with Obama's name and skin color would be the "most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology." [Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters, The Atlantic Monthly, December 2007]
These guilty whites believe that Obama will not only make foreigners love America—it will also help with African Americans at home. Thus Stuart Taylor wrote in The Atlantic on February 6 that an "Obama win in 2008 would be by far the best thing that has happened to African-Americans, and to race relations." Taylor went on: "Obama embodies and preaches the true and vital message that in today's America, the opportunities available to black people are unlimited if they work hard, play by the rules, and get a good education."
There is a flip side to every coin, and on the reverse face of the Obama dollar is a country still filled with racism. When Obama was defeated in New Hampshire, the Guardian asked "Did racist voters cost Obama the primary?"[January 9 2008] Chris Matthews said an "Archie Bunker voice" was heard. When asked about the discrepancy between Obama's popularity in the polls and the ballot box, Matthews responded "Methinks Paleface speak with forked tongue."
To her credit, Ferraro had more backbone than Clinton and even most Republicans. She stuck to her guns and went on the attack, telling the Daily Breeze: "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?" Ferraro was just as willing to admit that she was given the vice presidential nomination in large part because she was a woman: "If my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been the nominee for vice president."
As I've said previously, if Liberal Democrats get this treatment from the "anti-racist" Left, the Republicans will be in for an even worse ride.
Of course, it's possible that in the general election, many Republican and Independent voters will realize that an Obama presidency will mean four years of the politics of racial grievance—even if they don't come directly from the Oval Office.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.