On the night of the Iowa Caucus, George F. Will, syndicated columnist, appeared on CNN, stating that AL Sharpton and Jessie Jackson were the biggest losers in Iowa. Will and others were remarking that the Obama campaign signals the end of purely race-based politics. I was shocked by the boldness of the statement. Will seemed to believe that the days of black candidates only receiving votes from other blacks is over. As a mainstream white, political commentator, his words seemed to confirm the hopes of many blacks - both liberal and conservative.
If this assertion is true, we may be partially realizing one political aspect of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. The New Hampshire Primary will undoubtedly give a similar message to Iowa’s. Therefore, we may be poised to transition into a deeper phase of racial reconciliation. Let’s hope so.
One of the questions I have asked myself is whether the Obama phenomenon has more to do with the uniqueness of the man rather than signaling a major social transition. The greatest power of Obama’s candidacy may be symbolic. He and his family look like the fictional Huckstable family that Bill Cosby created decades ago. They don’t have to win in order to change the nation. They simply have to run well.
To prove my point, let me cite a recent event in pop cultural history. The day after the Caucus, Al Sharpton appeared on Jay Leno, surprisingly extolling Obama’s virtue and wisdom. What a contrast the Leno interview was compared to his disparaging comments just a few months ago. He and Jesse Jackson had conducted a tag team assault on the Senator. Jesse even went so far as to rail on the Senator in a major press conference. As a result, the nation was awash with commentary about the “civil rights warhorse’s” declaration that Senator Barak Obama was “being too white” as it pertained to the Jena 6 problem in Louisiana.
Why was Jackson so upset with Obama? The answer is quite simple. It was an expression of a sophisticated turf war for the ideological leadership of the black community.
Perhaps the root of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton’s problems lie in their leadership concepts and philosophy. Shelby Steele, a conservative black writer, has postulated that whenever leading blacks seem too much like unifiers or “bargainers,” they are held suspect by the majority of the traditional black community. By contrast, “challengers” like Jackson and Sharpton have historically been deemed “true blue” by the black masses. Dr. Steele lays out his assessment of Obama in a thought provoking work titled A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.