My article last week emphasized the historic dimension of Barak Obama’s candidacy and how it marked the end of a stranglehold that the ideology of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson has had upon the American political scene. I celebrated how far upwardly mobile white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have come. I even asserted that “a political aspect of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream may actually be partially realized.” Unfortunately, while the ink was still drying on my column and the Clintons were celebrating their victory in New Hampshire, the dying carcass of race-based politics reared its ugly head again. Like the villain in an action movie who refuses to die, racially biased political thinking did not stop at simply asserting himself. He called on his closest friends to help him fight a battle against all forward thinking Americans.
White pundits like Dick Morris predicted that the Clintons would play the race card. These comments left many holding their breath, waiting to see what the Clintons would do. “No trick is too dirty for them” was the declaration of many media personalities. The pundits created a false spotlight on Bill and Hillary. So when they made their next campaign statements, many hypersensitive Democrats began to speak out that they were offended by the Clintons’ statements. First, I received a call before the New Hampshire primary, asking me to comment on the “lack of spade work” comment that Hillary had made concerning Obama’s experience. The interviewer was convinced that this was a subtle, but incendiary racial comment. Thankfully, he allowed me to give my own comments.
Next, I heard the media clamor that the height of playing the race card came when Bill Clinton commented that some of Obama’s campaign criticisms about Hillary were “fairy tales.” I took the time to actually listen to Clinton’s remarks on UTUBE. There was not one shred of racial prejudice in Bill’s comment. Late last week, I heard that Congressman Clyburn of South Carolina was upset by the “fairy tale” comment. He also claimed that he was not taking sides but he had to speak out about the “racist overtones” of the Clinton comments. In my thinking, Clyburn slipped back into the unfair practices of race-based politics. Some old school politicians read racial prejudice into every comment made about an African American. In these folks’ minds, it’s okay for them to be hypersensitive. The net result is that no one can attack Obama’s record or lack of it without being attacked on some trumped up racial prejudice. There is something inherently un-American about that.
Here’s the Catch 22 of last week. If the Clintons say anything politically incorrect about Obama, their liberal friends may label them as closet racists. If they allow themselves to be muzzled by fear, Obama will continue to ride the moment of fluff and flowery words. In essence, they would give him a free pass. What Hillary needs to do is simply campaign in a clear, above-board fashion. She has to attack the flaws in Obama’s narrative about change, despite cries from reverse racists in her party. Fear of a black backlash will shipwreck her campaign. She cannot win without black support; on the other hand she will not maintain the respect of American women if she lets him box her in.
The unfairness of this situation is that Obama can put down Hillary’s experience and allude to dishonesty and insincerity, but any response from her can be seen as race baiting. This is certainly not Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream. This is a form of subtle race based, cultural manipulation.
Obama himself could stop this race baiting, if he spoke up. Such an act would give him the upper hand in the ultimate political exchange. He would truly be the candidate of change. However, if he stands back and says nothing; he allows the kind of divisiveness that he speaks out against to flourish.
The polls say that Americans are willing to elect a black man or a white woman as the president of the U.S. These statistics are encouraging in terms of social change. The ultimate question is whether our citizens will actually elect a black man, a white woman, or one of the other candidates. In the utopian America of the future, race and gender will never be deciding factors in an election. In the meantime, “How much change do we really want? “
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.