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The withdrawal of the candidacy of former Senator
John Edwards, coupled with the outcome of the Super Tuesday
primaries, established that within the Democratic Party, there
is a two person race for the nomination. The Super Tuesday
results, more than anything, demonstrated that Senator Obama
was clearly competitive with Senator Clinton. While Senator
Clinton won the states she was expected to win, Senator Obama
captured thirteen states, including locations where one would
never have expected a victory, e.g., North
So, let’s look at the scorecard and see where
we are. No, not the delegate count, but the political scorecard.
On the major issues, there is no significant difference between
Obama and Clinton. Yes, there is some nuance, and, yes, Obama
opposed the Iraq war. But as
readers of my commentaries know, I have not discovered particularly
this, there is a clear Obama-mania underway and there are
two aspects to this that we must address head-on. On the one
hand, Obama is inspiring millions with the notion of “change.”
Now, the “change” that is mentioned in speech after speech
is very vague. When Obama speaks in concretes, e.g., attacking
Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan unilaterally,
there is nothing new and different about that approach. Yet
what seems to be happening is that the disgust with the Bush
years, combined with a reassessment of the Clinton
years, is leading many people to look for something very different.
This is in part generational, but actually much deeper than
that. I emphasize this point because it is easy to write off
the excitement as being naiveté. There is an unfocused
desire to break with what the USA has been experiencing, both domestically and
internationally, and it has come to be personified in Senator
Obama, almost despite himself.
The other aspect, however, is more complicated
and a bit unsettling. There has been a tendency, including
among some progressives, to attempt to fashion Senator Obama
as something other than what he is. Over the months, I have
heard progressive commentators describe Senator Obama as if
he were the second coming of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his
’88 campaign. Surprisingly, Senator Obama is rarely challenged
by credible progressives for the weakness of his platform
and the lack of depth of his call for “change.” It’s as if
we close our eyes, click our heels together, and repeat something
to the effect of, the “change” will be progressive…the
“change” will be progressive…
So, we are faced with this enigma. Some people,
including some writers for The Black Commentator, are adamant
that Senator Obama should not be supported and that he is
a fraud. Others, including some writers for The Black Commentator,
argue exactly the opposite. I am not going to argue the position
of Solomon and suggest splitting the baby, but I will argue
that critical support of the Obama campaign is an appropriate
approach to take. Let me suggest why.
*First, and not in order of importance, the
reality of the US electoral system and the state of progressive
movements, is that we are a ways off from having a candidacy
that is anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-empire - at least
a candidacy who can win. Unfortunately, we are in a period
where we are compelled to address the lesser of two evils.
In that sense, while I do believe that we could have had
a winning candidate who was better on the issues
than is Senator Obama, no such candidate prevailed in the
Second, there is little question but that
Senator Obama has helped to ignite excitement and an electoral
upsurge, though I would not describe it as a movement, at
least not at the moment. This becomes a space in which progressive-minded
people can and should be pushing the content of progressive
change, rather than relying on mere rhetoric.
Third, the color line. While I adamantly
object to those who yell - in support of Senator Obama -
that “race does not matter,” the reality is that a successful
Black nominee, not to mention an elected Black president
of the United States, lays the foundation for a different
discussion on matters including, but not limited to, race.
This does not mean that a Black person automatically makes
the environment more progressive (does anyone remember the
name Clarence Thomas?) but it does mean that an individual
who is liberal-to-progressive can open a door for
discussion. We should not expect that he will walk through
that door, but others of us may very well be able to.
My conclusion, and I offer this with great
caution, is that critical support for Obama is the correct
approach to take. Yet this really does mean critical
support. It means, among other things, that Senator Obama
needs to be challenged on his views regarding the Middle East;
he must be pushed beyond his relatively pale position on Cuba
to denounce the blockade; he must be pushed to advance a genuinely
progressive view on the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and the
right of return for the Katrina evacuees; and he must be pushed
to support single payer healthcare.
I emphasized in an earlier commentary, it is up to the grassroots
to keep the candidates honest. Silence, in the name of unity,
is a recipe for betrayal. What we have to keep in mind is
something very simple: the other side, i.e., the political
Right, always keeps the pressure on. If we do not pressure,
in fact, if we do not demand, the reality is that the Right
will come out on top.
To do the right thing, we must assess and appreciate
Senator Obama for who he is and what he is - politically -
rather than engage in wishful thinking. To do anything else
is to be disingenuous to our friends and our base. Senator
Obama, if elected President, will be unlikely to reveal himself
to have been a closeted progressive. Yet, with pressure from
the base, he may be compelled to do some of what is needed,
despite himself and despite pressures to the contrary.
Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator.
He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies
and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.
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