"There were early warning signals of the ugliness that could come....the message was that Obama was not exempt from a racial dig. That was also evident in the knock at Obama's Southside Chicago church, or to be more exact the minister at the church, Jeremiah Wright. He is an outspoken afro-centric activist on racial and social issues. The inference was that Obama's guilt by membership and friendship with him made him a closet radical and a race baiter."
This writer wrote these words in a column January 6. It was a no-brainer prediction that the Wright card would eventually be played hard by the media and milked for all it's worth. The inflammatory, provocative rants of Wright were well-known. Thousands within and without his church have heard them for years. His afro-centric tinged writings have been widely cited by black commentators. It was only a matter of time.
The only surprise was the timing. This writer expected that the Wright card would be kept tightly in the political deck and dumped on the political table by the GOP "truth squads" in the fall if Obama is the eventual Democratic presidential nominee. But then again why not dump it on the table now. The Wright rants are just too juicy, racially salacious, and media sensational to keep under wraps any longer. And since Hillary Clinton has been so trashed and demonized by much of the media, while Obama got a free pass, all the better to toss out Wright now. If Obama can be hammered with and tainted by the guilt by association tag with Wright that further poisons the Democratic Party well and makes the throngs of independents that are enthralled by Obama waver, maybe even rethink just who and what they're getting into by backing him.
But this writer didn't just make the prediction that the Wright card would sooner or later be used against Obama. He also flatly predicted the instant Obama stood on the steps of the Old Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois back in February 2007 and announced that he was on a history making quest to be president that two things would happen. The first is that the racial innuendos, rumors, gossip, hints, digs, and finger-pointing would be a subtle and tormenting subtext to his campaign.
The second thing was that he couldn't duck and dodge racial matters by simply pounding away that he and his campaign was about hope, change and unity. That was good campaign stump stuff but it is not the reality of race and politics in America.
Now we come to his so-called race speech. Obama did the obligatory sprint backwards from Wright's preachments and philosophy. The idea was not just to distance himself from Wright's views, but to get ahead of the curve and reassure the waverers and doubters about him that his hope, change and unity theme was still alive and well. The problem with this is that it won't quell the doubts.
He made the speech only under extreme duress, namely the beating that he took for his association with Wright, and his fear that it could wreck or at the very least be a horrible distraction to his campaign. As he correctly noted, the Wright speech(s) will continue to resurface and will continue to be a prick in his campaign's side. It won't open up any new dialogue on race that some commentators naively think will or should happen. Obama in fact told us why. He mentioned the O.J. Simpson case, and how the great racial discourse that the case supposedly ignited was grotesquely twisted, mangled, and ultimately botched.
But that doesn't mean race will magically disappear from the presidential campaign trail, or more specifically from Obama's campaign trail. These questions will still be whispered or shouted out whenever Obama's name is mentioned: Is America ready for a black president? Will whites vote for him in a showdown with two white males? Does he really have the experience (read intelligence and competence)? Is he patriotic enough? Is he black enough? Is he too black? Will he tilt toward blacks and other minorities in the White House? Will he be a yes man for (white) corporate interests? Will his election make race a dead issue in America?
This doesn't make for serious dialogue on racial problems, let alone point America in the direction of real solutions to them. This is mere momentary racial titillation. Obama's speech contained the seed for the racial discourse dodge when he spoke of the disparities in the criminal justice system, failing inner city schools, HIV/AIDS, and chronic and nagging Great Depression high rate of black male unemployment, the need for greater family supports only in the broadest of broad generalities. There was not the barest hint of any specific initiatives to tackle these problems.
The Wright issue and by extension race was forced on Obama. One eloquent and flowery speech won't make either go away.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).