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Michael Fauntroy Headshot

Let's Not Overreact to Obama's Win

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I find myself increasingly agitated by the response to Barack Obama's win in the Iowa caucuses. I have concluded that far too many people - from the news media to Obama supporters around the country - are reading too much into what it means for the presidential campaign and race relations. Yes, it was impressive. Yes, it was historic. Yes, it caught many people by surprise. Yes, it begins to give people reason to believe that America might be ready to elect a Black president. However, I feel compelled to make two points in my effort to warn people not to overreact to Obama's win.

First, beware the fawning media. Virtually all of the coverage of Obama's win has been over-the-top, almost as if he won the nomination. This isn't a surprise with Obama, as the national news media have treated him as if he were the Second Coming from the moment he rocketed to national prominence following his speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention. His personal story and charisma have charmed the media into doing almost no critical analysis of his political positions. Most of the coverage I saw tried to suggest that his win was proof that White voters have overcome their aversion to Black presidential candidates. His chief opponent, Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, has been bashed by the media consistently since she hit the nation's consciousness in 1992. If Clinton's coverage were half as positive as Obama's since her rise to national prominence, then she might have the nomination locked up by now.

CNN may have been the worst of them all on Thursday night with Bill Bennett leading the charge. His saying that racism is no longer a problem in America is ridiculous on its face. Racism may not be an issue for White, middle-aged, millionaire men such as Bennett, but there are a lot of jobless, homeless, incarcerated, and otherwise disenfranchised Black and Brown people in American whose lots in life are at least partially attributable to racism. Bennett, who experiences America from the comfort of a climate-controlled radio studio could never understand this. He interviews and takes calls from people who think the way he does and share his beliefs. This cocoon-like existence only validates a warped world view that leads one to believe what Bennett believes.

Second, it should never be a surprise to anyone when a Black Democrat wins a presidential primary. Democratic voters around the country have been voting for Black presidential candidates for years. After all, the hated Jesse Jackson won seven primaries and four caucuses 20 years ago. He scored wins in, among other places, the White-as-Iowa Vermont (95 percent White) and disproportionately White Delaware (70 percent White). Indeed, the real surprise will be when a Black candidate wins a Republican primary.

Obama won the support of 38 percent of Iowa caucus-goers in his victory. That means, of course, that 62 percent of caucus-goers did not want him to be their party's nominee. This is all the more significant given the incredible turnout much of which has been attributed to Obama's campaign of hope. He expanded the playing field and got his people to the caucuses for which he should be commended. However, it should be noted that Senator John Kerry also received 38 percent support in his 2004 Iowa caucuses victory. Obama's win was solid and comfortable, but it wasn't earthshattering.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote. A registered Independent, he blogs at