Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Race Begins?
This Stan Simpson op-ed strikes me as close to the mark:
The litmus test for me on Obama and his potential to persuade us to look past race will happen when his African American support emerges on the national stage.
When those camera backdrops are no longer the faces of mostly white Iowans and New Hampshirites but African Americans giddy with racial pride about Obama's prospects -- if Obama can sustain his white support then -- well, OK, he's got something...
South Carolina will be significant for a few reasons. First to see whether black voters break for Obama or not (polls suggest they will). And second, to see what impact that has on his national appeal. As Simpson points out, Jesse Jackson won five primaries in 1984 and thirteen in 1988, while never once being considered anything other than a black (as opposed to a serious) candidate. It's easy to say that Obama and America have transcended race, but it's more accurate to say that Obama has largely ignored it and America has not yet associated it with him.
This strikes me as one area where, in the debate between whether misogyny or racism is more decisive in American politics, Hillary Clinton actually has the advantage. As her 'emotional moment' showed, when she demonstrates behavior that in traditional gender stereotypes is considered feminine, it can wind up benefitting her (among voters if not with the press). And what I said here notwithstanding, if Obama ever engages in (pronounced) behavior that in traditional racial stereotypes is considered black, chances are he's history.
So it will be very instructive to watch Obama's language, both spoken language and body language, while publicly campaigning for black votes, in regards to how comfortable both Obama and America really are with a candidate who is both black and serious.