Saturday, March 31, 2007

Obama: the right choice

Obama is the right candidate.

Mike Ghouse

Expect the most complaisant attitude when you are not the norm. Norm here meaning some one people are not acclimated with.

Biden’s remarks that Obama is “ articulate and clean” can be viewed from that attitude that hits you when you are not the norm. Being an Indian American, I have heard comments from both Black and White folks “Where did you learn your English, you are so articulate.” Likewise, if you are a woman; black, white or otherwise, you hear similar comments if you bring a project to fruition. If you are a Kid running a big corporation, you do get your share of cordialities.

Senator Obama’s response is worth exploring here. “ Obama, however, spoiled the promise of that fight by never seeming to take offense.” Don’t we need a person in the white house who thinks and whose aptitude is molded do act right, rather than react from the seat of his pants?

He did not want to pick a fight, neither did he want to spend his time on trivial things. He knew there is a room for making the mistake, chance of slip of the tongue, and as long as that comment did not turn America upside down, he did not see the need to make a big deal out of it. That is the kind of person we need running our nation.

Victoria Brownworth wrote in the Journal –Register “If you want to succeed in high level politics in the U.S. as an African American, then you had better look and sound and act as white as possible.” I wanted to understand this statement in depth and started imagining a predominantly black neighborhood homeowners association’s meeting, where the homeowners got together to discuss the improvements they want to make in the neighborhood. There are a few who are adamant and wanted the funds to be spent on certain improvement; where as the other group had their own vested interests. When things were not going anywhere, there comes a woman (or man) who speaks about the need for doing things that benefit most people without compromising the basic needs of any group. The chances of that resolution passing are far higher than the other. Is that betrayal of one group over the other? If Senator Obama is that woman who propagated this workable solution, then should either group accuse him of acting as white as possible?

Should a white candidate represent only the interest of white people? Should the candidate be accused because he or she is representing the interests of majority of the Americans? The African Americans have a reason to take pride and support Obama, he is one of their own, who for the first time in history has a real chance to represent the interests of all Americans.

You have heard this too many times that the President of India is a Muslim, the Prime Minister is a Sikh and the head of the ruling party is a Christian in a Hindu majority nation. Since, all Indians are of the same race and same DNA, religion is used as a discerning factor. All the three have national interest in their hearts, they are proud of their community and will always be loyal to them, but they will not compromise on national interest. Is each one of them is sold out? Absolutely not! A week ago President Kalam attended the Muslim congregational Friday prayers and the Imam wanted to present gifts to him, he declined. He demonstrated an outstanding sense of integrity.

Victoria Brownworth further writes “he has a centrist message that is barely distinguishable between white and black.” Thanks God he does have a centrist message. He is an all inclusive candidate, White or Black is secondary to him. Thank God he is not on the extreme either, he opposed the un-wanted war, his clarity was crystal clear. He spoke against it while most others did not have the guts to speak up. He did his patriotic act of speaking up and saving America , this the kind of candidate we need to lead America in to the future and earn the respect from among the community of nations.

He is the beneficiary of the civil rights act and is a perfect example of the dream of Martin Luther King. Obama would be a dream come true.

Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer. His articles can be found at , , and and he can be reached at

by Victoria A. Brownworth

copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

When Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) kicked off his presidential campaign by plunging his foot into his mouth with his comments about fellow candidates Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards, the media focused its attention solely on his comments about Obama.

The reasons for this were political: racism trumps sexism in America (and everywhere else) and one white guy going after another white guy looks like an equal playing field. So only the Obama insults got noticed by the mainstream media.

Why? Because it’s politically incorrect to even mention race in America , it’s a quagmire far deeper and messier than Iraq .

Biden said, in the course of an interview with a reporter from a conservative New York newspaper (perhaps Biden’s first mistake), that Obama was something new to politics, a “first” as a presidential candidate, an articulate and clean African American.

This is encapsulating what Biden said, which might not be completely fair, but that’s politics for you. The fact is the only words that mattered in what he said were those two: articulate and clean.

Some, like myself, think that should have been when Biden dropped back out of the race, but he sallied on, with a series of apologies to Obama and the country, each more convoluted than the last.

Conservatives were salivating over the incident, just waiting for the Democrats to eat their own, as they are known to do. Obama, however, spoiled the promise of that fight by never seeming to take offense. Obama accepted Biden’s apology and said he wasn’t offended and that there were more important things to address than Biden’s gaffe.

Obama’s response would have appeared saintly, if it hadn’t been followed with the surprising agreement of two former African American candidates for president (Biden apparently also forgot that Obama was hardly the first).

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton also waved off Biden’s comments as a verbal misstep, nothing to be outraged about. Jackson was particularly conciliatory. Although Sharpton noted that he thought he was pretty clean, both men said it was a mistake to be forgiven and forgotten.

Polls were taken and African Americans were interviewed on the street. A good 80 percent didn’t care what Biden said.

Does this mean that racism is over in America ? Or just that blacks are used to white politicians making racist comments and when compared with Trent Lott saying the nation should have stuck with segregation, it didn’t seem so egregious?

Regardless of whether Obama, Jackson and Sharpton are willing to shrug off what Biden said, what the Senator declared does matter–not merely because he is a presidential candidate, but because he said what many Americans actually think about Obama–that he’s anomalous. That he simply isn’t like any other black candidate they remember.

He isn’t. Obama is a fresh face in politics, and as such has gotten a lot of buzz. Fresh faces always get buzz. Until they have been around for a while. Tabula rasa goes far in American politics while experience and baggage are interchangeable terms, politically. Since the fresh face will only last so long, let’s look at Obama in the context of the American racial divide.

Eight years ago people were talking about Colin Powell the same way they talk about Obama today: fresh, new, and let’s face it–in the context of the American black/white racial divide–not scary to white people.

This is what Biden really meant by what he said. It was subtextual, of course–he used his own euphemisms and he may not have realized what he was articulating either overtly or subconsciously. But it was clear: Obama attracts voters of all races because he never raises his voice, he has a centrist message that is barely distinguishable between white and black.

The course of American politics–national and local–supports the subtext of Biden’s comments, however. Consider the Philadelphia Mayor’s race. The best candidate is State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Phila.), currently in last place in the polls. Why is Evans–the most visionary and accomplished of the candidates–in last place in a field with two other African American candidates and two white candidates?

Because he is the *blackest* candidate in the race. He’s dark skinned. He sounds black. In short, he can’t pass for the house Negro.

Colin Powell did pass. So has Condoleezza Rice. And now, Barack Obama. The real state of race in America is that bald and raw, still. If you want to succeed in high level politics in the U.S. as an African American, then you had better look and sound and act as white as possible. Because it isn’t black Americans who elect a black candidate; with only 12 percent of the population, blacks aren’t even the largest minority group in America anymore and fewer than half of eligible black voters actually vote. It’s white voters who elect b lack candidates.

Racism is still the elephant in the room in this country; whites fear a black candidate who doesn’t seem to share their values. That means a black man in a loud suit or with Little Richard hair, like Sharpton, scares them. Or a black man who sounds like he came from the streets, like Evans, scares them.

Last week there was a discussion about the field of Democratic candidates for president on NPR with several political pundits. Polls indicate that the majority of African Americans, like the majority of Democrats, support Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama. Sen. Clinton runs at 40 percent in the polls; Obama at 12 to 15, depending on the poll.

The pundits had several explanations for this. First, they noted former President Bill Clinton’s cachet with African Americans. (Nobel Prize winner and African American writer Toni Morrison once wrote in the New Yorker magazine that Clinton was “the first black president.”) Then they noted that many African Americans knew nothing about Obama, who has only been in national politics for two years. It was also noted that Obama may have won the election in Illinois because the Republican favored to win was forced to drop out right before the election, due to a sex scandal, and the sudden replacement brought in by the Republican Party was the far right wing lunatic (albeit African American), Alan Keyes (another former presidential candidate, by the way), who wasn’t even a resident of the state (yet still received 30 percent of the vote).

Finally, it was suggested that Obama might not have as much cachet with African American voters for the very reason he was attractive to white voters: while he’s literally an African American in that his father was African (from Kenya ) and his mother a white American (from Kansas ), he did not grow up in the mainland U.S. He was born in Hawaii , and then lived with his mother and her Indonesian second husband in Jakarta for several years. He returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents for his high school years.

Obama is black, but unlike previous black candidates for president like Shirley Chisholm, Jackson and Sharpton, he isn’t from urban America , he isn’t from “the hood,” he doesn’t have a political history grounded in the civil rights movement. He’s an anomaly.

And that’s the point Biden was really making: that Obama is not like any other black candidate Americans have seen before. He doesn’t stoke the ingrained racism that a Sharpton or a Jackson inspired in white voters, because he isn’t controversial.

From the fact that Obama, a life-long smoker, never produces a cigarette in public because it wouldn’t look right for a candidate to be smoking, to the fact that he never says anything objectionable, Obama doesn’t stir controversy. He’s always calm, collected and smooth. He doesn’t outrage anyone, like Sharpton and Jackson have, because he never says anything outrageous.

In short, Obama is a black candidate that white people feel comfortable with, much like Chakah Fattah in Philadelphia . Both candidates tow the party line, don’t provide any visionary (and thus possibly scary) ideas to constituents. They are, as one African American columnist noted, Dr. Huxtable, the lovable Bill Cosby character that white America embraced. As a consequence, in the privacy of their own homes (rather than to a reporter as Biden did), white voters can say that they like Obama (or Fattah), *even though he’s black.*

I like Obama. Other than the smoking, what’s not to like? He’s charismatic, he’s attractive, he says the right things. But given the choice between a rabble-rousing, challenging, in-your-face, old-school Democratic black candidate like Sharpton or Jackson and the mild-mannered, ruffle-no-feathers Obama, I’d take the rabble-rousers over the calm centrism of Obama any day.

This factor characterizes the black/white racial divide in America today: The only acceptable candidates of color are ones who don’t read as black to white voters, the ones who, in a different time in America would have been the “house Negroes”–the slaves who were deemed innocuous enough to be allowed to work in the house with the white folks, rather than in the field, with the other slaves.

It shouldn’t be that way in 2007; it’s time to smash this racial glass ceiling in America . We might need the Obamas and Fattahs to exude their charisma and charm in politics, because that has its place, too, but we surely need the Sharptons and the Jacksons to scream and yell and make demands, as well.

What Biden said was only the tip of the racial iceberg, because what Biden said doesn’t elucidate the flip side: that white America is terrified of *real* black America .

I live in real black America . In real black America there are schools with no textbooks, no libraries and no computers and although all the students were born here, none can speak proper English and their teachers, weighed down by the myriad dangers of being a teacher in an inner city school, don’t correct their grammar. Which means they leave their schools with far less chance of getting a good job than their white counterparts.

In real black America , where I live, drugs and AIDS and teen pregnancy are pandemic. In real black America , where I live, guns are easier to get than health care and fatherless boys are easy lures for gangs and drug runners.

In real black America we need black politicians who will work to fix the problems of real black America , not assuage the racial fears and biases of white America .

It’s Black History Month. Not African American history month, but *black* history month. America still sees color before it sees anything else. If it didn’t, Biden would never have even thought the things he said about Obama.

The best way to celebrate Black History Month would be to acknowledge how much work we still have to do to bridge the divide between black America and white America and that the answer might not be for black politicians to act more white but for white politicians to be more concerned about black Americans.

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