Obama and Race, take 7,523

Arbitrary number this is, but we have something like a 75 percent chance that the next president will be a Democrat, and — well, after Iowa I’d have said 75 percent chance, after New Hampshire it’s — um –50?– the Democratic nominee will be Barack Obama.

I confess to an inability to shed cynicsm, and to being a young cumudgeon.  Regarding my post on Obama’s speech, I should reiterate that I don’t see how anything Obama might have said could have a different effect.  You cannot run for president without thinking yourself as somehow synonymous with the nation at large, and edging to referencing yourself in the third person.

Obama contains the classic dilema of Electibility: he is presidential timber because he has just enough of a dearth of experience to allow a wide projection of meaning.  Or, as Bill Clinton parced it, one year of Senate experience.  (And, might I add, under the mentorship of one Joseph Lieberman.)  This is not enough time to leave a mark, and Obama has been careful to make sure that is the case, and this allows the public to think of themselves as pushing the “reset” button for our line-up of political figures.  Which poses the question, as we slide into electing our first black president —

When will we have our first Entrenched Black Senator?  Obama might have been that man, I suppose up for the White House in 2012 had Kerry won the election in 2004.

Implicit in the first lines of the speech, though never explicitly said as we can slide to its meaning of getting out large numbers of people who do not normally vote and tapping into the idealism of Youth– Race… to not lose some of the cynicism and appreciate the moment is to commit the civic sin of ahoristical perspective.  And Hillary Clinton’s campaign disgraced itself when Mark Penn suggested the Republicans might use rumors about drug dealing — dealing in racist stereotypes for that moment.

We have had some level of debate on the meaning of Obama’s background, and how it sets him apart from the cultural background of the average black American, and also the terms of the literary conceit of the “Magical Negro”, someone popping out of nowhere to assuaging of white guilt, and I suppose you can trudge through these area and drudge through the nuances as carefully as you feel that need.  Blah de Blah de Blah.  Do so, and then go tap the shoulders of the great Reactionary Racist Demagouges of American history, and see where this discussion gets you.  For instance, South Carolina’s Ellison “Cotton Ed” Smith, who, as his nephew and biographer put it…

“At some point in every speech the Lord’s will got mixed up with the boys in grey storming an impregnable height, the purity of Southern Womanhood, Yankees, the glorious past and the still more glorious future, including the white man’s sacred right to lynch.  It was all very vague and inspiring.”

Or, in his own words, referencing his reaction to the 1936 Democratic Convention…

“When I came out on the floor of that great hall, bless God, it looked like a chckerboard: a spot of white here, a spot of black there.  But I kept going down that long aisle, and finally found the great standard of South Carolina.  And, praise God, it was a spot of white!  I had no sooner taken my seat when a newspaperman came down the aisle and squatted by me and said, “Senator, do you know a nigger is going to come up younder in a minute and offer the invocation?”  I told him, I said, “Now don’t be joking me, I’m upset enough the way it is.”  But then, bless God, out of that platform walked a slew-footed, blue-gummed, kinky-headed Senegambian!  And he started praying and I started walking.  And as I pushed through these great doors and walked across the vast rotunda, it seemed to me that old John Calhourn leaned down from his mansion in the sky and whispered in my ear, “You did right, Ed.”

But you can pretty easily just throw a dart at a long list of American political figures and hit a remark such as that.  So that was the sight of a black man playing any small role in civic life, and in the party that he considered the Vanguard of White Supremacy — tiny flutterings flittering away.  After all, he thought they’d been well shut down on the defeat of Reconstruction, which on that score, from the farewell speech of the last of the 20 black members of Congress from the late nineteenth century, also reading the tea-leaves.

“This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negro’s temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.  These parting words are on behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrial, loyal people, rising people, full of potential force.  […]   The only apology that I have to make for the earnestness with which I have spoken is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future happiness, and manhood suffrage for one eighth of the entire population of the United States.”  — George H. White of North Carolina, 1-29-01 — the next black Congressman would be Oscar DePriest in 1929, working his way in the Chicago political machinery.

Then again, you know, the statement “They said this day would never come” could have been said by Hillary Clinton if she had won.  Hillary Clinton dead wrong in her response to the “Iron my shirt” hecklers — drop the “Remnants” in the “Remnants of Sexism” statement.

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