Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Black Politics as National Politics
There is a fascinating article in this morning's NYT by Ginger Thompson about Barack Obama's steep learning curve on the issue of black politics during his at this point amazing presidential campaign. Going in to the race, Obama made it clear that he didn't want to be a "black candidate," that he wanted to go beyond that phase and campaign without resort to racial politics. Now he could not have entirely believed that that would be possible (his professional advisers have been lasered in on these issues from the beginning, like they are in every election). However, at the logical extreme of the strategy is the ideal of electing the first black president only because whites are ready to vote for a black candidate and only because the candidate is acceptable to them, and that ideal is naive and none too progressive either. In fact what may be happening now and will happen sooner or later is that a black candidate wins the nomination with the indispensable help of overwhelming support among African-American voters, and the whites have evolved enough etc. So the messy reality is that a black national candidate must be a politician for the black community (notice that's a function of the whites being not yet ready for the Platonic ideal of "color-blind" politics). Obama, unlike most African-American political leaders, did not grow up in a community where the leaders came out of the civil rights movement. That doesn't mean that he's not sympathetic to them, only that he's not one of them. But he certainly has had a crash course in the topic now.