Saturday, November 10, 2007

Barack Obama and the Dream of a Color-Blind America

Be sure to read today's lead story at the Wall Street Journal on Barack Obama and the politics of race in America. Obama's captured the hopes of many whites, who see in the Illinois senator's campaign the emancipation from racial guilt:

As he campaigns across the country, Sen. Obama, the son of a black father and a white mother, is both revealing and tapping into a changed racial landscape, especially among younger whites. After decades of often bitter polarization and racial tension on issues ranging from the spread of civil rights to affirmative action, many whites say they are drawn to Sen. Obama precisely because they think his mixed-race background reflects America's increasingly diverse population and projects a more optimistic vision of the country's racial future.

Sen. Obama's candidacy, whether it succeeds or not, appears to mark a turning point in race and politics in America: It is prompting significant numbers of white Americans to consider voting for him not despite his racial background, but because of it.

"Obama is running an emancipating campaign," says Bob Tuke, who is white and is the former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic party. "He is emancipating white voters to vote for a black candidate."
The aticle goes on:

Two decades ago, Jesse Jackson broke new ground by challenging whites to consider a black mounting a serious run for the presidency. Now Sen. Obama and a new generation of black candidates are running campaigns that make whites feel good about themselves. These younger black politicians, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., are, like Sen. Obama, seen by many whites as proof of the country's racial progress - and their own....

Race remains a wild card in American politics. Candidates such as Mr. Ford, who narrowly lost the Senate race in Tennessee last year, have often come close to election only to find race flaring at the last minute to blunt their momentum.

"Obama knows that just because people are saying one thing doesn't mean they will vote that way," says Tim King, the African-American head of a charter school in Chicago who has known Sen. Obama for a decade. "No one ever really knows what people do once they close the curtain in the voting booth."
Sen. Obama's popularity among whites also stirs uneasiness among many blacks. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Sen. Obama trails Sen. Clinton among black voters 46% to 37%.

"There is a lot of debate [among blacks] over how appealing Obama is to white folks," says Mr. King. "People are saying, 'Is he too likeable to white people?"'
This last passage says a lot about the Obama campaign. Whites like Obama because he's non-threatening, with cross-over appeal. Blacks, on the other hand, don't see Obama as down with the 'hood.

I have to admit that I like Obama's multi-racial appeal. I'd like him even more if he'd switch parties and return to the language of personal responsibility and family values that
he outlined in his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston:

Obama's early message of hard work and individual effort has the potential to become the rallying theme of a new black movement toward greater upward mobility.

Unfortunately, his campaign's domestic policy platform
has not lived up to that early vision of tradition and responsibility. His foreign policy, moreover, is much too idealisitic for America's current priorities in international affairs.