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You Are Here: Home » Dossiers » Obama’s candidacy and the bittersweet feeling within the African American leadership

By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff WriterWhen Barack Obama launched his candidacy some ten months ago, few people from the old guard within the African American leadership—just as the rest of the nation—pay serious attention. To many, the junior senator from Illinois was considered more of a trouble maker than a real contender, even after his surprised victory in the Iowa caucuses, which effectively dethroned Hillary Clinton as the undisputed queen of the band.              Some veteran Black politicians like New York congressman Charles Rangel and some well known intellectuals like Maya Angelou supported Clinton to the very end, and their support was an open secret, for they never hid it. Others simply remained distant and aloof even when it became clear that the vast majority of African Americans threw their support behind the Illinois senator.Exercising prudence in the historical march toward racial integration and economic prosperity has been the cornerstone of what professor Michael Druze of the University of North Florida calls “the doomed policy.” But to many of former Martin Luther King lieutenants, still in active duty and still hope to be influential in the corridors of the White House, jumping ships while cruising in the middle of calm and turquoise water was and still is not a smart thing to do. Besides, there were important Black leaders who attempted, but failed, their own march toward the White House. Former Virginia governor Douglass Wilder and former Illinois senator Carole M. Brown were two good examples. They never made it beyond their departing point.  It is a sad fact that those who marched from Selma, Alabama, to the heavily fortified police barricades of Atlanta through the ghettoes of Chicago through the police cordons of San Francisco and Los Angeles and through the dangerous streets of Washington D.C. in 1963 now find themselves on the other side of history, unable to savor the fruits from the seeds they themselves planted during their heroic struggle to beat the odds in order to make this country a better place.It is nothing but political selfishness when one thinks that he and he alone reserves the right to dictate the political future of an entire population. Whether one calls it nourishing one’s political birthright or grandstanding, the truth is that time has changed, and changed it has for the better in this specific struggle for racial equality, although many fights still lie ahead. But an Obama presidency will further the goal, ushering a new waive of pride and self-confidence not just among Blacks, but also among all minorities.Just for the purpose of the argument, politic should be based on strategic interest of an individual, a community or a country as a whole; it should never be based on race, as we always point out in CSMS Magazine. Henceforth, it would be highly hypocritical, or even ludicrously dubious to attribute to those who share the same racial traits with Obama the etiquette of traitors just because they do not share his political platform. To the contrary, one could easily shed some positive light over this form of political understanding or misunderstanding, however puzzled, confusing or strange it may seem. It could be seen as a newfound sophistication of the old guard in electoral politics. To condemn those who refused to back Obama because of their common racial traits would be tantamount to a reverse racism totally unacceptable. They should not be despised; nor should they be regarded as estranged civil right leaders out of touch with reality. But as we edge closer to the historic November showdown, where the differences between the two antagonist candidates have never been so clear-cut, influencing an Obama loss could instill the infinite guilt or perhaps the selfishly repressed joy into the hearts and minds of those who will choose to either abstain or vote for McCain in November.  

The Jessie Jackson controversy: the latest example

 No one has ever come closer to where Obama is today than Jessie Jackson, who in 1988 after Super Tuesday became one of the important front runners among the primary candidates, but was shunned by many of his former peers who openly threw their support behind former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. It is a policy called “playing it safe” in order to avoid offending “our friends” for “we need to land our votes where our mouth is,” as Georgia congressman and important member of the old guard urged in Charleston last spring while openly campaigning for Hillary Clinton, reminding African Americans in South Carolina of “the wonder years” with their “eternal” good friends—the Clintons—at the White House.            Lewis, whose own constituency voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama on Super Tuesday, was still being extremely cautious—even after his cry for the Clintons in South Carolina was deafly ignored, lost in a thunderous joy for the rock star candidate Barack Obama who swept though the polls, capturing more votes than all the rest of the candidates combined. Obama outmaneuvered them by putting in place his own well-organized grassroots organizations all over the South. Carl Lewis later stunned Clinton to switch to Obama only after it became clear that the Illinois was unstoppable and within striking distance from clinching the Democratic Party nomination—a beautiful tale of political flip-flapping.               But Jessie Jackson, whose own microphone betrayed him two weeks ago on Fox News caught criticizing Obama for “he doesn’t like black people” and then quickly called Obama to apologize, did not seem to learn from his past. His action was one of the latest incidents exposing the deep resentment against the Illinois senator that exists among historic African American leaders. Obama, whose origin is not rooted from the old South and who—by the nature of his campaign—cannot be called an African American candidate, was nonetheless emphatic about his position on race relations in his historical speech in Philadelphia last spring.            Yet, the pride that he has in his wife and children, his works as a community activist in the disenfranchised Chicago neighborhoods do not appear to be sufficient to earn him the natural admiration from his elder compatriots. Obama, the mainstream candidate cannot afford to be the political activist he once was. Otherwise, his chance of winning in November would be severely diminished. They all know that, and Jessie Jackson must remember that he was forced to criticize Yasser Arafat just to appease Jewish leaders as he became a serious contender in 1988. Whether one calls it blatant opportunism, and Obama sometimes goes out of his way to keep his voters into fold, especially European Americans, is a different issue. That can certainly bring discomfort among African American leaders, but would he win with minority votes alone? Also see When will race seize to be the cornerstone of American politic? Hillary Clinton’s Paranoia and the Democrats Dilemma Hillary Clinton wants to clinch the nomination at all costIs Barack Obama unstoppable after his stunning victory in Iowa last week?   The Obama campaign plunges deeper into the defensive after the Nevada lost last Saturday

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