Saturday, February 16, 2008

Johnny comes lately

Perhaps the most underreported development of the 2008 presidential campaign is the continued fracturing of the Democratic Party. To be sure, Republicans are still somewhat divided between those who want to be right (e.g., the Rush Limbaugh-Laura Ingraham-Michelle Malkin-Ann Coulter wing) and those who want to win the election. But that split pales in comparison to the fault line between the titular "leaders" of the black community and the African American masses.

That such rift exists within one of the Left's most staunch constituencies has only recently been observed at all in the MSM, with none of the reporting providing the insights gained elsewhere. Earlier in the week, the New York Times seemed to acknowledge that the black establishment was being carried along by the undercurrent (or more correctly, tidal wave) of black support for Sen. Barack Obama, as opposed to the candidate of much of the black elite, Hillary Clinton.

With a precious few exceptions, the greater part of the African American leadership class - to include
Reps. Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee and Charlie Rangel - began the primary season solidly in Ms. Clinton's corner. (The spitting irony of this is that while most of these lawmakers have their positions entirely because of naked appeals to racial "solidarity," they themselves have refused to display a similar unity in backing a viable black candidate.)

It appears now that since prominent white Democrats
(i.e., labor unions such as the SEIU and UFCW, and as of late, Bill Clinton's former campaign manager David Wilhelm) have given the O.K. to break from Ms. Clinton's camp, certain black lawmakers are reconsidering their desire to remain on the Clinton plantation, as reported in the NYT.

In a fresh sign of trouble for Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the former first lady's congressional black supporters intends to vote for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, and a second, more prominent lawmaker is openly discussing a possible switch.

Rep. David Scott's defection and Rep. John Lewis' remarks highlight one of the challenges confronting Clinton in a campaign that pits a black man against a woman for a nomination that historically has been the exclusive property of white men.

''You've got to represent the wishes of your constituency,'' Scott said in an interview Wednesday in the Capitol. ''My proper position would be to vote the wishes of my constituents.'' The third-term lawmaker represents a district that gave more than 80 percent of its vote to Obama in the Feb. 5 Georgia primary.
Representing "the wishes of your constituency" seems to be the central dilemma for many African American Clinton supporters lately. Rep. Lewis' Georgia district went for Obama 3-1, and while Lewis has not yet provided any formal endorsement, it appears that the only issue is the timing of such an announcement.

In a manner reminiscent of Chris Rock, some black politicians are strong-arming their colleagues to support Obama. The NYT story goes on to cite a conversation between Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Democrat superdelegate Emanuel Cleaver in which Jackson asks Cleaver, "
if it comes down to the last day and you're the only superdelegate? ... Do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a black from winning the White House?" In confirming the conversation, Jackson went on to add, "[m]any of these guys have offered their support to Mrs. Clinton, but Obama has won their districts. So you wake up without the carpet under your feet. You might find some young primary challenger placing you in a difficult position.''

While we can make much of these developments, two things stick out for me as an African American. First, it is comforting to note that black voters are less likely to be swayed by black politicians (or black preachers, many of whom also fell under Hillary's thrall.) This suggests that blacks are becoming just a bit more judicious as to whom they lend their support. And while African Americans are likely to vote for Democrats in their usual lopsided numbers in 2008, this provides a small opening in the future for a GOP message that speaks to the hopes and aspirations of black Americans.

Secondly, the entire dialectic among black leaders over the appropriate role of race vis-a-vis supporting a presidential candidate speaks to the tribalized politics of progressives. It is clear that liberals see themselves as only members of "communities" and not part of a cohesive whole. (Such a political ethic is exactly what was wrong with the blind support Iowa evangelicals provided Gov. Mike Huckabee, as discussed elsewhere.)

Of course, this amalgamation of balkanized constituencies does not seem to include white males. Imagine if the conversation between Reps. Jackson and Cleaver played out in converse, with two white politicians discussing not
going "down in history" as the one to prevent a white from winning a closely-contested race against a black. It remains unclear how such a deeply divided party can unite and lead an equally divided country to face the challenges of our time.

Apropos of nothing, the fact
that the biggest newspapers in both Wisconsin and Texas are endorsing Obama probably means that we can put a fork in Clintonism.

Four More Years!

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