John McCain is usually the candidate getting heckled and interrupted on the trail, a product of his open town halls but also the more controversial aspects of his foreign policy.
But on Friday it was Barack Obama who found himself being yelled at -- several times -- by African-American attendees who argued that he ignores "black" issues.
In an appearance in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Illinois Democrat's address was interrupted when several young black males stood up, hoisted a banner that read, "What about the black community, Obama?" and began peppering the Senator for not focusing on their concerns.
Obama told them they would have time to ask questions after the speech was over, and they did. They asked why he was not focusing on issues like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, Jena Six, Sean Bell and "the numerous attacks that are made against the African-American community." Obama responded twofold: telling the hecklers that he had, in fact, been focused on these issues and explaining that there would never be 100% continuity between his agenda and that of the voters.
"Listen, I was a civil rights lawyer," Obama said. "I passed the first racial profiling legislation in Illinois. I passed some of the toughest death penalty reform legislation in Illinois. That doesn't mean I am always going to satisfy the way you want these issues framed... which gives you the option of voting for somebody else, it gives you the option of running for office yourself, those are all options. But the one thing I think is important is, that we are respectful towards each other."
It is rare for Obama to be heckled in a political forum, but it's not terribly surprising that the protest came from a fellow African-American. Moments after he took the man's question, a nearby African-American woman yelled at Obama again. The Senator has trod a thin line on the racial components of this campaign. Witness the uproar over accusations -- made by John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis -- that he played the race card. And his posture as a post-racial candidate has struck some as discourteous (see: Jesse Jackson). Still, the idea that Obama will get anything short of an overwhelming portion of the black vote seems far-fetched.
Below is the full question and answer exchange:
QUESTION: "In the face of the numerous attacks that are made against the African community or the black community, by the same U.S. government that you aspire to lead. We are talking about attacks like the sub-prime mortgage... that was a phenomenon that started in the African American and Latino community, attacks like the killing of Sean Bell... and the Jena Six... and on and on... in the face of all these attacks, why is it that you have not had the ability to speak to the interest and the behalf of the oppressed and exploited African-American community in this country?"
OBAMA: "I think you are misinformed ... Every issue you talk of I did speak out about. I have been talking about predatory lending for the last two years in the U.S. Senate and worked to pass legislation to prevent it when I was in the state legislature. I have repeatedly said that many of the predatory loans that were made in the mortgage system did target the African American and Latino communities.
"Jena Six, I was the first candidate to get out there and say this is wrong, that an injustice what had been done... When Sean Bell got shot I put out a statement saying immediately this is a problem...
"Don't start shouting back, I'm just answering your question. On each of these issues I have spoken out. I may not have spoken out the way you have wanted me to speak out. Which is fine. I understand. On each of these issues you have mentioned I have spoken out and I have spoken out forcefully. Listen, I was a civil rights lawyer. I passed the first racial profiling legislation in Illinois. I passed some of the toughest death penalty reform legislation in Illinois.
"That doesn't mean I am always going to satisfy the way you want these issues framed... which gives you the option of voting for somebody else, it gives you the option of running for office yourself, those are all options. But the one thing I think is important is, that we are respectful towards each other. And what is true is that the only way we are going to solve our problems in this country is if all of us come together, black white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, disabled, gay, straight... that has got to be our agenda."