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July 10th, 2008
10:01 AM ET

Obama distances himself from blacks: Is there a cost?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/07/10/obama.germany/art.obama.tues.gi.jpg]
Dr. Ronald Walters
NNPA Columnist
Originally posted 7/9/2008

Just back from the Rainbow Push convention in Chicago sponsored by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., I was struck by the fact that neither Barack nor Michelle Obama showed up and they live virtually right down the street.

The symbol of Obama's absence was made even more vivid to me because he was out making nice with Hillary Clinton to knit together a unified campaign in the fall.

I understand that, but I also understand that he could have showed up, when Governor Bill Richardson, who lives in New Mexico not only showed up, but gave a rousing speech crediting the civil rights movement for much of the political success of the Hispanic community and his own.

I know, I know, it is common knowledge now that Barack Obama has to distance himself from Black radicals, from his church, and much of his community in order to make White voters comfortable enough with him to trust him and then give him their votes. And he will probably show at the NAACP Convention. But the troubling trend which finds him absent from other venues that are the substance of Black life looks like he is taking the Black community for granted because of their thirst for his victory.

I was not too put out when Obama did not show up at the State of Black America, because Michelle Obama was offered to Tavis Smiley and Obama was campaigning to win a touch primary in Indiana.

Jackson, however, not only was material in Barack Obama's rise to the State Senate and the U. S. senate, he represents to most people the living legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That is important because the Civil Rights movement is implicated in Obama's victories, since he won 99 pledged Delegates in nine Southern states during the primary elections. This performance was in states where Blacks constituted one-third or more of the Democratic party base, states where the Voting Rights Act worked to empower Black voters to make a difference.

Without those 99 delegates, Hillary Clinton would have won the pledged delegate race and the popular vote and most surely would have won the nomination.

The question this raises is whether the sophistication of Black voters in this case will eventually cost them. Blacks have a long history of voting for Whites when the potential returns were based on hope.

If we support a Black candidate for president of the United States, I think that it is fair to ask whether we will have more or less access – at least as much access as we did to Bill Clinton – and whether he will deliver the goods for our community.

My concern here is that theory of Black politics should be to move our community from just hoping their political participation will lead to resources, to exercising tough leverage over politicians to negotiate potential returns to our community in exchange for our vote.

In fact, one of the lessons of Rev. Jackson's two previous presidential campaigns is that "Hope and Trust politics" is not as effective as the ability to trade votes for future support. The irony is however, that when a Black person runs for high profile office our leverage often disappears because we are asked to trust that the person will deliver based on their ties to the Black community.

The Black community didn't have to play the politics of leverage with Rev. Jackson because he had proved his fidelity to their needs through his history and in his presidential campaigns he spoke forcefully to their issues. I know, I know, he didn't win.

But I am driven to ask what the traditional notion of "winning" is worth under circumstances where the level of trust is not as high, because the message is absent and the candidate is absent. In other words, how much can the Black community count on the delivery of goods and services by a Black president who presence and message does not privilege his own community.

What concerns me is that we are involved in a great celebration without checking the guidepost that determine whether or not there will be sufficient returns to our community from a Black president in the White House. The irony is that Obama is likely to win, we will have to accept him, but under circumstances where he is essentially a White candidate, so we should "bottom line" our public policy requirements now as every other community is doing.

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics • Rev. Jesse Jackson
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. David

    I don't think Obama is taking the black vote or any other races vote for granted. Obama went to a black church on father's day and talked about fatherhood and personal responsibility. Some whites might have said thats giving too much attention to blacks but he did it. I think Obama has the right balance not to show favoritism to one race and be the President for all not just one race.

    July 10, 2008 at 4:19 pm |
  2. james

    Jesse is telling the truth, Obama really does not have the Black Americans on his mind. He being handle by the White's and in the end he will be used to do their will as usual. And I think that more Black's should speak-out about the way they really feel about his ideals and politics, they are far from the need of Black Americans.
    And the first so called Black president should not forget about the millions who died during slavery; their ghost still haunt the memory of those who profited from their deaths.

    July 10, 2008 at 3:56 pm |
  3. Phil - Denver

    I completely agree with Kristen in PA. She makes a very good point.
    And as for the "black vote", how can someone suggest that Obama takes it for granted? How has anyone taken it for granted in the past? Oh yeah, thats right. "what black vote"?
    It will be interesting to see what the numbers are regarding black participation in this election. But why should anyone expect Obama or any other candidate to bank on a vote that has had little participation in the past?
    As for the "reverend". Look, no one in my family follows him or believes in him. He has ridden MLK's fame and put a good sum of money in his pocket in the process. But what has he actually done? He is NOT the voice of Black America. And his feelings are hurt because Barrack is doing things that he was incapable of. Nor has he asked Jesse to be a part of his committee or alliances. Barrack is running with hopes of making America better. Jesse, once again, is all about himself. Nice work, "reverend".

    July 10, 2008 at 1:22 pm |
  4. Cynthia

    I don't see it as Senator Obama distancing himself from the Black community. This is one event among many that he will be able to or not be able to attend. Let's not try to make something out of nothing.

    July 10, 2008 at 1:19 pm |
  5. JC- Los Angeles

    Barack Obama is a classic example of someone who utilizes every angle to try to reach the top despite minimal accomplishments and experience. Today, there are countless failed executives, politicians and leaders to reference who took a similar path with harrowing results for our once proud nation.

    As a multi-racial candidate, I couldn't understand why Obama wasn't running as the candidate who truly represented the diversity of today's America. Once we were introduced to a racist Rev. Wright, it became clear that Obama identified with his black roots over his white.

    Now, he's trying to distance himself from black leadership and the likes of Jackson. Using race for convenience is unacceptable. Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas have all reached the tops of their professions, however, many in the black community fail to acknowledge their achievements.

    Los Angeles is home to over 140 different nationalities which is reflective of why our country is so great; the American people need a leader that can represent all people equally and not placate to one over another.

    July 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm |
  6. Matthew

    I think that he knows black people will vote for him period on the basis of color and the assumption that this will be a good look on the black community. It is deeper than that, for years the black vote has been critical and Obama has been playing it safe on the level of inspiration. Inspiration has always been a big seller, especially in media. The idea is that you never judge a book by its cover. In a leader there has always been something that they were tirelessly passionate about, but it was that issue that wrapped every other problem up in one. They had a stance that was more than political, but progressive in way that communicates pass barriers from the top to the bottom of society. I hope to see a black man have an opportunity to be able to have a sit in this "white" house of America.

    July 10, 2008 at 12:30 pm |
  7. GAIL Centre,Al;

    Obama is an elitest, he is talking down to blacks, just like Jackson said, I don't think he's for black people, he'll raise taxes and do away with all the free programs he can.that so many people depend on, he will be a diaster for poor people, with his smooth talk. WAKE UP PEOPLE BEFORE IT'S TO LATE.

    July 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm |
  8. TESAP. SAVANNAH, GA

    Ok here I go again......................

    This blog makes no sense.................. In what sense is he distancing himself from black people.............. I am hoping the person who authored this blog if black. So here we go...................... Many blacks fully understand that Obama is running for president in a very different form than the way Jessie tried and failed........... Do not belive for one second that we (black people) do not face the same issues as everyone else. the problem is many so-called black leaders (contrary to popular demand thereare NONE), think he should address issues that only we (the black community) can address and correct. This is just speculation and non-sense. Black issues are: High gas prices; unemployment; education and heathcare.....are we the only ones facing these problems???????????

    July 10, 2008 at 12:12 pm |
  9. Tootie

    Perhaps Jesse is a little sensitive to the fatherhood question, since the birth of his illegitimate love child.

    July 10, 2008 at 11:48 am |
  10. Anthony, Dallas, Tx

    Why would yall put something like this on here to start controversy.

    July 10, 2008 at 11:20 am |
  11. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Seriously, who else are blacks going to vote for. Jackson's same tired message hasn't changed since the 1960's. Then it was reasonable to say that much of the inequities between white and black were due to racism, prejudice and government inaction. Today that's largely not the case. 90% of what a person accomplishes is through his or her own efforts, 10 % by the circumstances of birth. With 70% of black children born out of wedlock, black dropout rates much higher than whites, black crime rates higher than whites, how is that the government's fault? Obama is telling blacks to accept responsibility for what a defective subculture has done to their community. Bill Cosby had the same message a few years ago and got much flack for it. This article talks like if there's a black President, it's payback time- a super affirmative action season. Obama's success has been due to the fact that he has largely been race neutral. Whites are sick of hearing that all the black community problems are their fault and the result of slavery. It's time to step up.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:49 am |
  12. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    I hate the fact that if a black person in this country is not screaming black power from the top of their lungs then they are acting white and trying to appease white people. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Barack Obama is running for President of the United States of America not the Black United States of America.

    His candidacy should inspire the black community to pull themselves up by their own boot straps, not sit back and say now Barack will be president everything is going to miraculously change. The only way problems in the black community will change is when people decide for themselves to do differently.

    Stop making excuses…Obama has said change doesn’t happen from the top down but from the bottom up and its true. Unless people who want things to be different actually do something about it instead of waiting on the next MLK nothing will change I don’t care how many black presidents we have.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:44 am |
  13. American Patriot

    This is one of the most divisive tactics I"ve seen from this campaign in effort to dilute Senator Obama's impact ( on the order of"throwing his white grandmother under the bus"). The Senator has said nothing out of order to or about either side of his ethnic make-up (Black/White) tho many who fear his very possible election & have very low opinions of Blacks are attempting to place a wedge between Obama's powerful campaign & the Afican-Americans the pundits feel can't or won't think for themselves. They Are Wrong !!!!
    (Rev.)Jesse Jackson is of another era who needs to get on the bus of 'Now & Today' or get left behind !!!! It is a new day & we must all move forward . Perhaps if he'd lived up to his own words he could still make a positive impact on all of society not just a fragment.
    My message to the good Rev. is if you have nothing positive to add or say, just be quiet & get out of the way !!!! WE are moving forward !!!!
    Knowing the Rev.'s history ,I don't doubt Billary is behind his comment !!!!

    July 10, 2008 at 10:42 am |
  14. k.t

    What people don't understand is that a biracial president will have to walk a fine line if he is to suceed in any type of elected position . People must sacrifice in order to make that an reality . But since the wounds are so deeply ingrounded in the black com. the question is can it be pulled off with out hurt or finger pointing. We shouldnt hate on the best to be apart of the rest!!!!!!

    July 10, 2008 at 10:39 am |
  15. Cindy

    I think that Obama is taking the black vote for granted. It seems to me that he thinks that they will automatically vote for him because he is black. He is making a big mistake by thinking that.

    But on the other hand the president is the president off ALL people not just blacks. So to cater to one race is ludicrous and shows bias. Which isn't great either. He has to balance his time between all races and give each equal time. He can't be only at every black function held. That wouldn't sit right to all other races. He and McCain both have a fine line to walk on that.

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:35 am |
  16. A Girl from SC

    Obama knows that African Americans will never leave him because he's black.
    Period.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:17 am |
  17. TB

    "My concern here is that theory of Black politics should be to move our community from just hoping their political participation will lead to resources, to exercising tough leverage over politicians to negotiate potential returns to our community in exchange for our vote."

    I am sorry to see that some feel this is a black/white issue. Isn't this the basis for all politicking? We all hope for a better tomorrow. We vote for people we HOPE we will have access to. We all want leverage over politicians in exchange for our vote. Bottom line – hope is for all.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:16 am |