THE SPINE JANUARY 16, 2008
I was in "the promised land" when the two opposing camps in the Democratic race began accusing each other of insensitivity and oversensitivity to race. But I must say that the stench from the pissing match was still pungent when I arrived back home in Cambridge. Here's an especially egregious example: Speaking after Hillary's New Hampshire victory, her avid supporter, New York attorney-general Andrew Cuomo, suggested that Barack Obama's strategy to "shuck and jive" was responsible for his loss. This is a little much, and it reflects something loose and ugly about the generation of family-legacy politicians who've done nothing else but schnorr for votes in their lifetimes.
One of Obama's attractions is that he has actually lived and worked outside politics. First, as a community organizer, a trade about which, as it happens, I do have some tough questions. But still ... And he was, after all, a professor at one of the most distinguished law schools in the country (the University of Chicago), holding his own, like Cass Sunstein, against those conservative giants Richard Posner and Richard Epstein. This vocation takes more brain work than anything Senator Clinton has ever done, which is mostly to conspire and maneuver to advance herself.
In any case, there is no longer one black constituency but two ... and probably more. At least among African-American politicians and public figures to whom the black citizenry looks for leadership. The fact is, however, that the older generation has exhausted both rhetoric and strategy. Rhetorically it has been strident but strategically pliant. Charlie Rangel is the prototype, voice and figure orotund, willing to deal as long as his empire remains, a little bit out of it. When I read that Hazel Dukes of the New York NAACP had endorsed Clinton I was dragged back a decade. Wasn't she ousted from the organization's national board for embezzling money from an old and sick friend? Yes, of course. And hadn't she pleaded guilty to a New York grand larceny charge? And hadn't she been thrown off the board of trustees of the State University of New York because of same? What kind of endorsement is this? Does Hillary really covet it?
It is as if there had been no change in black reality. Except that there is no longer anyone screaming about "black power."
Obama's support among blacks comes from the younger stratum which expects to be equal players with whites. This is a paradigmatic change. Obama may be extremely sensitive to racial issues. How can he not be! He is an African-American candidate, quite literally. But what's new is that he just happens to be an African-American candidate. He is not Jesse Jackson. One of the little joys of watching Obama on TV was the absence of Jackson from the screen. A type of emancipation proclamation for all of us.
Perhaps the most disgusting tactic in the Clinton pursuit of black voters was deploying the first African-American billionaire, Robert Johnson, to trash Obama. I know that the Clintons like millionaires, adore billionaires. But really. Johnson, who made his money deploying pelvic power at Black Entertainment Television, is an economic reactionary. He is a cultural reactionary, as well. The fact is that there are very few Americans in Obama's age group who haven't tried cocaine. It was a rite of passage.
No big deal.
P.S. Turns out Cuomo's comments had been taken out of context, and his remarks should be read in full. I was unaware of this discrepancy until it was brought to my attention and I regret the error.