Paul Greenberg

A specter is facing Barack Obama's once bright-as-hope presidential campaign. Instead of the new hope of his party, and maybe of the country, he may be pigeonholed as the Black Candidate, his appeal effectively limited to just one segment of the electorate.

It didn't seem much of a danger at first, certainly not after he swept the caucuses in snow-white Iowa. He was the all-American candidate for a happy while there.

But a not-so-funny thing happened when the race issue, which used to be the bane only of Southern politics, began to weigh down both major contenders for the Democratic presidential campaign. As if they'd been swept up by an historical, sociological and just plain ornery wave over which they had no control.

Soon both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, or at least their more rabid partisans, including Senator Clinton's spouse and surrogate, found themselves caught up in a catfight with no clear end or purpose, except to expose the country's always bad temper whenever race enters and quickly mars the picture.

Just how we all got into this pretty mess once again, and just who was responsible for first playing the race card, if anyone was, and how this always volatile issue will affect future primaries and the general election, and so pointlessly on Š can be safely left to the usual pack of second-guessers, political buffs and kibitzers in general that follows each presidential campaign. (Only now they're called analysts/experts/talking heads, and seem to enjoy a certain ersatz respectability.)

The race issue does have this way of interjecting itself into American politics all by itself, as pervasive and volatile as race has been and still can be in American politics, not to mention American society. For we're still a long way from having formed what Martin Luther King called The Beloved Community.

All of which presents Barack Obama with his latest challenge of many: How does he get his bright young charm back, his appeal to all? Answer: By rising above the race issue. By campaigning now the way he started out, not as the black candidate but as an American one. By invoking the spirit of Martin Luther King.

Which is just what he did in his tribute to King at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Once again those old halls resounded with an appeal for unity. And the candid confession that we are all sinners.

Dr. King himself might have been proud of the young senator as he ascended the pulpit to state some old truths anew. For his words seemed very much in the spirit of the Martin Luther King that some of us remember. To quote a few of the things that Barack Obama said, and that needed saying:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.