Why I Got Angry After New Hampshire:
The White Curtain and the Possibility of Hope
I have not been an Obama supporter. On the issues, I have felt that Kucinich and Edwards are clearer and more on point.
They have been talking about some real changes in domestic and foreign policy, and I applaud that. I have been disappointed that they have not grasped race far more than they have, but they tend to lean in the right direction.
But that is not why I am writing this piece.
I got angry after the New Hampshire primary. Going into the primary, Senator Obama had a 13-point lead over Senator Clinton. Senator Clinton had virtually issued her concession speech. Yet, Senator Clinton came out on top.
There have been a number of reasons offered by pundits as to what happened:
* Some have suggested that Senator Clinton became more
humane through the misting of her eyes during a candid
moment (captured on camera).
* Some have suggested that
the perception of Senator Clinton being "attacked" by
both former Senator Edwards and Senator Obama led to a
* Others have suggested that Senator
Obama became cocky and stopped reaching out for
* Still others believe that the "white
curtain" (a term used by writer Bob Wing) came into
play and that white voters said one thing to the
pollsters and did another thing behind the curtain.
I do not think there was any one factor, although I am inclined to believe that the "white curtain" was far more in play than the media let on. And this failure on the part of the established media to give more credence to the "white curtain," or what in other circles is called the 'Bradley Factor' (after the reversal in fortune by former LA Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the election for California governor in the 1980s after all of the polls indicated that he was a shoe-in) has my back up.
In a Washington Post column from January 11th, African American commentator Eugene Robinson suggested that what often happens when Black candidates run is not so much that whites change their minds, but that the numbers of white undecided voters enter into the picture and they cast their ballots for the white candidate. I have great respect for Robinson, however, this seems like a distinction without a difference. It begs the question of what inspires these white undecided voters to turn out in high numbers to vote AGAINST a Black candidate. In that sense, it may be that we have to look at this question of the "white curtain"' a bit differently, i.e., that it may not be so much a matter of white voters indicating - to pollsters - that they will support a Black candidate and then voting otherwise, but rather that large numbers of white voters use the category of "undecided" in order to shield their true preference.
The second source of my anger has to do with the Clintons, and I use the plural here. If another Black person calls former President Bill Clinton the alleged 'first Black President,' I think I will personally take their head off, followed by their arms and legs. Rather than treating Senator Obama's candidacy as a serious one with which they have significant differences (which they actually do not), there has been the use, by the Clintons, of codes as a way of attacking Obama's character. The emphasis on 'experience' is one such code. The denigration of the idea of 'hope' is another code. Instead of forcing Senator Obama to clarify his positions on the issues, which is in fact his key weakness, the Clintons have engaged in attacks on the candidate as a person, something of which Senator Obama is undeserving.
Former President, Bill Clinton, was unsettled by the way some of his recent comments were interpreted as suggesting that he believed Senator Obama's candidacy to be a fantasy. Instead, Bill Clinton was, in my opinion, quite correctly - but for the wrong reason - suggesting that the media is turning the Obama candidacy into a fantasy. Yet what is important here has been the reaction within Black America. Bill Clinton's remarks were HEARD as part of a character assassination against Senator Obama. African Americans, for a host of reasons, have been and continue to be slow to warm to the Obama campaign, but when Obama is personally attacked, the Clintons can be guaranteed they will encounter genuine anger that they may not be able to overcome.
Ok, now I am a bit calmer. But here is my other point:
Senator Obama is going to need a strategic "rethink." The Obama campaign has gone a long way on motivation and good feeling, but with little content. Obama has fostered the illusion that we can all join together and that he will oversee the construction of an historically unprecedented united front of Democrats, Republicans and Independents to bring us into a new age. He has studiously avoided any tough issues, yet is prepared to make reckless foreign policy suggestions, e.g., unilateral US military action against Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan and the need to take action against Iran (without defining why Iran is an alleged problem).
Contrary to his competitor in the change category, former Senator Edwards, he has largely shied away - until quite recently - from discussing the fact that the US is polarizing along wealth and income lines, as well as the fact that labor unions are key to economic justice.
The Obama Campaign may have believed that they could use 'hope' and 'bi-partisanship' as their tickets to the White House, but that route seems to be fraught with problems. The New Hampshire loss makes it imperative that the Obama campaign redefines itself as it approaches Super Tuesday. As both Clinton and Edwards press him, the former on his character, the latter on his views, Obama will be compelled to define himself as an independent political figure with a clearer vision as to what sort of country, indeed world, he wishes to construct. If he does not, he will be condemned to be viewed as a motivational speaker rather than a champion of a new path.
Having walked the fence for so long, I am not sure that Senator Obama is prepared to be the practitioner of a new political direction. There is an important place for both hope and fine language, but if the vote is in his favor, the question will be: what happens after Inauguration, Senator?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.