Saturday, February 23, 2013

Musings on the future of race and national politics

Yesterday BooMan wrote an interesting piece asking whether Hillary can kill the modern GOP. I've said before that I'm not going to write about 2016 for another two years and what I'm about to write probably breaks that promise...again. So sue me ;-)

I agree with the concerns BooMan expressed about the Clinton machine...I don't trust it.  But there was a point in that article where I began to part ways with his analysis.
There are signs that a Clinton candidacy could be strong enough to force the Republicans to play defense in Texas. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found Clinton beating Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie in the Lone Star State. My explanation for this is that hostility to Obama's skin color is masking the true weakness of the modern Republican Party. In a very real way, racism is propping the GOP up and giving them a false sense of confidence that they are still a force to be reckoned with in national elections.
On the one hand, he's right. I imagine that anti-Obama racism has played a rather large role in propping up the Republican Party over these last 4 years. The trouble with that is that it only applies when you look at it from a white perspective. In other words, if you want more white people to vote for your candidate, the fact that President Obama is black is an obstacle.

The question we might want to ask is "What happens to the Obama coalition if our goal is to attract more white voters?" From the perspective of people of color, is that question not at least equally important?

I know BooMan didn't mean it this way, but there is a suggestion in what he said that indicates our path to success as Democrats is rooted in succumbing to white people's racism. Its almost like...we did that black man thing, now lets get back to really winning with the white folks.

All of that musing reminded me of the magnificent article written recently by Eric Wattree - Why I Love Being Black.
Being Black in America gives one an education and perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else. That's not widely recognized, because public attention is often focused on the most dysfunctional in the Black community. But contrary to popular belief, that might not be an altogether bad thing, because it allows the excellence within the Black community time to incubate, untainted by the public eye. That's what allowed Barack Obama to explode upon the world stage as a fully developed powerhouse, and there are hordes of others just like him who are currently incubating in Black cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America...

Charles Darwin would call "soul" a unique adaptation to adversity, and the most insightful within the Black community recognize it as being much like a sixth sense that reaches the very depths of human understanding. When fully developed, it provides Black people with a unique grasp, empathy, and insight into the human experience. That's why it is so effective in conveying human emotion - so effective, in fact, that "soul" has been confused with emotion itself.
I'm not going to suggest that white people can't have that kind of "soul." Its just that Eric has a really good point. There is something about living the black experience in this country and coming out the other side that gives them a perspective on humanity that might be exactly what we need to continue to deal with a world that is facing what David Simon calls the death of normal.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.
I believe that Barack Obama's race, background and upbringing - combined with his innate intelligence and courageous contemplation of his own life - is what has made him uniquely qualified to be not only a great president, but exactly what this country needs right now.

I know we won't be able to completely replicate that in a candidate four years from now. But I want to be clear about what I'll be looking for to keep moving this transformation forward rather than going back by pandering to the racists among us.

23 comments:

  1. Good article Smartypants, I in my infinite wisdom cannot even contemplate a Hillary run for the POTUS slot. She lost me in 2008. When you start to look at what she has really accomplished in her tenure at State, I would like it put in concrete terms. She did not do much in the Senate. I really don't think she is going to run. Chelsea may one day. I really don't think this country is ready for a female POTUS. And if the America I see right now, takes a really good look at what has been happening to our President, it will be much worse for a female candidate, especially Hillary. My thoughts.
    Roberta

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  2. Wow, Smartypants, I took away a completely different message from BooMan's post. I thought he was just spit-balling ideas and that his request for commentary to see if any of his ideas held water was genuine. There might be something to his theory that racism is holding back some voters, but I don't think that means he was suggesting that we pander to the racists to get their votes back into the fold. Rather that the race of the candidate won't factor into the decision making process when it comes time to mark their ballot.

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    1. Please notice that I said "I know BooMan didn't mean it this way."

      So I'm being clear that wasn't his point. But it is the result of his point.

      For example, you are suggesting that race doesn't factor into the decision making process as long as the candidate is white. Think about that for a moment.

      Yes, I got that he was spit-balling ideas. And this is my response.

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    2. You know, I do think that the most fundamentally toxic process in our society is the racist dynamic. It kills people more than anything else. Maybe I'm wrong. So a continued process of making the Democratic Party "the party of everybody which also has white people in it" is a good thing.

      That, but we have got to break the boys' club aspect of our political culture. We are doing so, but the big prize counts. I see no viable candidates for 2016 at the moment who aren't white. Obama has made a concerted, and successful effort, to support younger candidates, women and men, of color, to seed the field, so to speak. Those efforts will take time to pay off. Maybe they will by 2016, but I'm not sure things will happen that quickly.

      Also, you put a white woman on the ticket, and she's for sure white. Definitely plays into the politics as white peoples' plaything vibe. But she's a woman. It normalizes the breaking of social boundaries into our political practice, as a staffing matter. The key to understanding diversity, for lack of a better word, in any institution is not the demographics of the institution as a whole but the demographics of the leadership.

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    3. You're right, I forgot about reading that bit about it not being what BooMan was saying. My bad.

      To clarify I was talking about the racists not having race to influence their voting. I agree with Bill...there aren't any viable candidates who are not white. And the Democratic party has a lot of white people in it. It has lot of racists in it, too. There are plenty of racist white Democrats who did not vote for Obama simply because he's an African American. Take Africa American out of the mix and those people might vote for the Democrat this time.

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    4. Bill,

      In this piece I wasn't really trying to get at the Hillary side of things specifically - but the racial implications of what BooMan said. He's actually said this kind of thing about the post-Obama era (whether Hillary was the subject or not) several times and its always bugged me. Writing about it was my way of sorting that out.

      When it comes to Hillary - I have a total "wait and see" approach. First, she'll have to decide to run. Then I'll want to take a good look at who she hires to run her campaign. That will be a HUGE tell. I'll also be listening to see if (as you suggest below) she's learned anything from Obama these last 4 years. I'm still somewhat skeptical about that because it looks to me like on all the big foreign policy calls, she's been on the opposite side of the president's final call. Finally, I'll be looking at her competitors in the primary.

      In the end, if she runs and gets the nomination, I'll support her. My questions will all come as I watch her in the primaries. I don't know yet whether I'll support her then or not.

      I am as intent on breaking the "boys club" nature of our politics as anyone. There is a way that Obama is doing that by being a different kind of man than his predecessors. And for me, its not just about having a woman president...its about having the RIGHT woman. As I said, I'm still waiting to see if that would be Hillary.

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    5. You are absolutely correct that the real tell will be whom she hires.

      BooMan seems to me to have some real blind spots. Surely, I do too, but different ones. Anyway, he is valuable because he has really great intuitive sense of how things tend to go down, and also because he is one of the few real prose stylists in the blogosphere. He really can write. At times I marvel at how, when one of his posts comes up in my feed, I can immediately tell it's him before I even look who wrote it.

      It would be wrong to overstate his influence when it's equally clear that Kos, a much bigger fish, has basically influenced nothing, but my point is that BooMan is one of those people whose writing is so good that sometimes I forget to disentangle his ideas. That's my problem.

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    6. Tien Le,

      The idea that there aren't any viable non-white candidates is why I wanted to avoid talking about 2016 this soon. The truth is - we don't know who the candidates are going to be. So much can change in the next 2-3 years that it really is ridiculous to speculate on specific candidates. Would anyone really have given Obama a shot at beating Hillary - much less winning the presidency - back in 2005?

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    7. Bill,

      You're absolutely right - BooMan is just that good.

      I suppose that's why his insistence on this point has bugged me for so long. I rarely disagree with him.

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    8. Tien Le,

      Take Africa American out of the mix and those people might vote for the Democrat this time.

      That's exactly the rationale that bugs me.

      Its also probable that if you take African American out of the mix, there are people of color who won't vote.

      I don't want it to be an either/or. But we at least need to acknowledge that side of the equation. Ignoring it seems to me to be an element of white privilege.

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    9. I'm all for there being every color and religion and whatever throw their hats into the race. I don't give a rip if the white racists in the Dem party vote or not. We can win without them. I agree, a lot can happen between now and 2015 when people start campaigning in earnest. I'm just acknowledging the very distinct possibility that many white racists didn't vote for Obama who would vote for a white Dem candidate in '16. We don't have to like it, but it doesn't mean it isn't true. I think BooMan has a point that racism was propping up the GOP in '08 and '12. If the Dems nominate a white candidate in '16 that might expose an even bigger weakness in the GOP's voting base and Southern Strategy. It might not. It's a valid speculation.

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    10. We don't have to like it, but it doesn't mean it isn't true.

      I never challenged the truth of the fact that racism meant some white people didn't vote for Obama. I acknowledge the point.

      I'm making ANOTHER point. We also have to consider that there are people of color who might not vote for a white candidate.

      That concern should be equally as valid for speculation.

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    11. And yet black people have a long history of voting for white candidates in America.

      Not so, the opposite.

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    12. Tien le, I beg to differ with qualified non white candidates. You have possibilities with Corey Booker(should he beat Geraldo for that Senate seat) and Deval Patrick to name two. I'm with Smartypants on speculating 2016. There's no telling who'll step out in front of the line.

      Vic78

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  3. My contempt for Hillary was off the chart after the racist nonsense of 2008. My sense of her has changed, though.

    I might finally snap (again...) if what we get in 2016 is a return of the "Clinton machine." But this isn't 2008, and a lot has happened.

    1. Hillary lost in 2008. She had the Clinton machine working for her, and they completely f'ed up. She must have been incensed. Bill Clinton was (and for all we know may still be) a terrible husband. I'm not talking political sins here, I'm talking marital ones. He betrayed her, horribly and, clearly, repeatedly. When his s**t hit the fan, Hillary stood by him, and after his term, he and his people helped her political career. I have to imagine that must have been a deal. "You ratf****r, Bill, if you want me to help you save face, you damn well need to pay up when I run for Senate!" And when the chips were down and Hillary really needed the A-Team to do her right, they blew it, and Obama, whose team really was the A-Team, won. I am of the opinion that the only reason she remains married to Bill at this point is because divorce would produce headlines that would be, from her perspective, unhelpful to her. It's not like his people got her the results they promised.

    2. Hillary served four years under Obama, and not in a token capacity. I am vastly more pleased with her performance at SoS than I am with Madeleine Albright, she who rationalized a sanctions regime which clearly led to the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I don't even mention Powell and Rice, because I expected nothing from them. Hillary has been by all accounts very effective in the position, respected across the board, seal of approval on 60 Minutes from the President. Benghazi as a scandal was the dog that wouldn't hunt, as we all know. She served and emerges unscathed.\

    She also saw how Obama worked, and how his calls played out. She knows that when she was tasked to do health care, it didn't pass. Obama passed it. We can haggle about details, but I have to think this is something that for part of her hurts, but for the other part of her, that really is interested in accomplishing something, is very instructive. What did he do differently than me that got what we now know is a lasting result. Hillary does not want to lose ever again. Also, the call with Bin Laden. Clinton's big foreign policy achievements were to bomb civilians. Obama got bin Laden. Hillary can tell the difference.

    3. Obama won in 2012. This, to Hillary, confirms that the Clinton machine are losers and that Obama is a winner. Ed Rendell could blather on and on with his panties all in a bunch about the election and the white electorate, and Obama trounced not only Romney, but the GOP generally.

    Hillary is extremely sharp and has practical concerns. She does not want a f-up like 2008 ever, ever again. She is not unaware which way the wind blows. Her specific policy preferences are likely to the right of mine, but so are every other national politican's, excepting likely Sanders. We also, when looking at politicians, shouldn't assume at any time that policies pursued actually reflect the personal desires of the politician in question. They reflect, rather, the politician's judgement about what they can actually get passed that comes closest to what they feel is needed. I feel like Hillary is to the right of Obama, but I am not actually sure in either direction.

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  4. The question we might want to ask is "What happens to the Obama coalition if our goal is to attract more white voters?" From the perspective of people of color, is that question not at least equally important?
    *****************************

    This is the elephant in the room....We(the Obama Coalition) are out of the box and we will not go quietly in the night...

    for me Clinton represents the old guard...

    i am looking for a candidate who not only accepts the Obama agenda but strives to move it forward...someone who can not only keep the "Obama Coalition" together..but grow it...

    because even if GOP and its forces do not have racism as a weapon...their agenda remains the same...

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  5. smartypants,

    another good column.

    I, too, am bothered by the ' take the BLACK GUY OUT OF THE EQUATION AND LOOK HOW WE CAN WIN'.

    I also don't think it's repeated often enough.

    Barack Obama put a stake through the heart of the Southern Strategy.

    It should be shouted from the rooftops every other day.

    Willard Romney won 61 percent of the White vote. While White people need to have their own conversation about why 60 percent voted for a pair of sociopaths that vowed to shred the American Social Safety Net..that's a topic for another day.

    Willard won 60 percent of the White vote - and it wasn't even close.

    THAT is what you call a stake in the heart of the Southern Strategy.

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    1. take the BLACK GUY OUT OF THE EQUATION AND LOOK HOW WE CAN WIN'.

      To me that goes against the great victory of the Obama coalition...just when we're winning, we need to go back.

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    2. Thank you. The question should be "how do we expand our winning coalition?" The game has changed and it seems as if some bloggers have been caught flat footed.

      Vic78

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  6. That poll projection tickles me a little. I discovered that there are 2.1 million eligible unregistered Latino votes in Texas. 2.1 million extra votes would have put 38 more electoral votes in the Obama column. I really don't care for bigots' concerns in the 21st century. Democrats shouldn't worry themselves with such nonsense either. Let them continue to fuck their sisters while we make this country better. We don't do that by worrying about our not so enlightened fellow citizens.

    Yes, I was miffed when I read Booman's blog post yesterday. As far as today goes, any liberal that can't move past the white frame might as well be a dinosaur.

    Vic78

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  7. This is why, if Hillary wants to be President, she'd be best served getting out in front of immigration reform.

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    1. Her rallying cry SHOULD be "No Taxation without Representation" and taxpayers IN the country go to the FRONT of the line.

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