Monday, August 25, 2008

Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama’s Rise

Yes, that is the headline of a story in the New York Times today. Here are a few key grafs, which show that the story is indeed about what the headline says it is about:

Mr. Obama has received overwhelming support from black voters, many of whom believe he will help bridge the nation’s racial divide. But even as they cheer him on, some black scholars, bloggers and others who closely follow the race worry that Mr. Obama’s historic achievements might make it harder to rally support for policies intended to combat racial discrimination, racial inequities and urban poverty.

They fear that growing numbers of white voters and policy makers will decide that eradicating racial discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity have largely been done.

“I worry that there is a segment of the population that might be harder to reach, average citizens who will say: ‘Come on. We might have a black president, so we must be over it,’ ” said Mr. Harrison, 59, a sociologist at Howard University and a consultant for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies here.

There can be no doubt that racism and its economic and psychological effects are still very much part of American life. But is this not really going too far? By this logic, any advances for Blacks in America could be interpreted the same way--that no more needs to be done--so perhaps the best way to bring about change is to, um, not let any change happen?

Okay, I am being facetious, but it seems to me that this kind of navel-gazing is just what we don't need in the civil rights struggle. How about a little more struggle and a little less whining about setbacks like, um, having a Black president. Obama himself has set a good example in that regard.

Denver doldrums: While I am not as worried as some people about the tightening of the electoral race, we certainly do not want to see the trend continue--and there is some legitimate worry out there that this might happen. Drew Westen at The Huffington Post says that there are two Obamas, one like John Kennedy and one like John Kerry, and the election may depend on which one gets the upper hand. Westen's piece is worth reading for his excellent analysis of where Kerry went wrong, and where Obama could go wrong still. Indeed, one huge mistake, unfortunately too late to correct, is to let the Clintons run roughshod over the convention and make it about them. This could turn into an embarrassing display of Obama weakness, and I am sure the Republicans are licking their lips over the spectacle.

More on race and Obama: This time from the always thoughtful Bob Herbert, in an opinion piece entitled "The Dog That Isn't Barking." The bottom line would appear to be that just getting Obama elected, and keeping him from being assassinated, would be an important advance for civil rights--and is enough for anyone to be worrying about right now.

More advice for Obama: This time from Paul Krugman, who argues that all the Democrats have to do to win is make the contest one between their party and the Republicans, rather than a personality contest between Obama and McCain. Give it a read.

Update (August 26): From all accounts of the Denver convention's first day, it looks as though the Obama campaign has heeded the advice of many bloggers and commentators and gone on the offensive against McCain, as well as the expected charm offensive about Obama himself. And Ted Kennedy's dramatic appearance takes just enough attention off of the narcissistic Clintons to redress that balance as well, at least for the moment. Let's hope things continue in this vein throughout the week.

More Update: My friend Marc Cooper has a much bleaker view of the convention's first day. I hope he's wrong, but I agree with his conclusion: Attack Mac!


Anne Gilbert said...

I think what they should really be worrying about, is those white voters who say they support him, but may not "support" him enough to actually vote for him. Or the whiners who still want Hillary for president, and plan to vote for McCain rather than Obama, because of this. . . .
Anne G

jqb said...

I think what they should really be worrying about

Which "they" is that? At issue here are concerns of blacks, not the Obama campaign -- specifically, the concern that tokenism will be mistaken for the real thing. I don't think it's fair or right to denigrate the concerns of black intellectuals as "whining" when the article talks of popping champagne bottles, chills running down the spine, and cheering Obama on. In fact, these are people who have had a lifetime of accusations of "whining" because, after all, look at all those black athletes and there's even a black man on the Supreme Court. What we see in this case is not whining but, as the headline says, a debate; and it's not a debate about whether to support Obama, but rather about one sort of risk in his presidency. There are a number of good rejoinders to that concern, and several of them are articulated in the article.