Saturday, August 13, 2011

Race Consciousness

The French have a great way of putting it: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

On November 5, 2008, Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak blogged

Barack Obama, the son of a father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, was elected the nation's 44th president Tuesday, breaking the ultimate racial barrier to become the first African American to claim the country's highest office.

A nation founded by slave owners and seared by civil war and generations of racial strife delivered a smashing electoral college victory to the 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, who forged a broad, multiracial, multiethnic coalition. His victory was a leap in the march toward equality….

The victorious candidate himself caught the mood of an entire nation, left, right, and center, when he exclaimed

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Recognizing that their country had surmounted an imposing hurdle, many in the audience of 240,000+ were crying, a new day having arrived.

Or so it seemed. Thirty months later, the Senator standing that night on the Chicago lakefront is now an unpopular President, charting a pragmatic, centrist course, nevertheless opposed at every turn by the opposition party, which has chosen to be consistently in opposition, national interest notwithstanding. Some of the reflexive, seemingly irrational , opposition is rooted in racial bigotry; the vast majority of it, not.

Although a primary challenge to such a president normally would be in the offing, it is not. It would end in failure, but probably not before weakening the incumbent and leaving him vulnerable to defeat at the hands of a candidate representing a party so extreme that its patron saint, the late Ronald Reagan, would not recognize it.

But there is another reason no challenge to Barack Obama’s re-nomination has emerged. Courageously, longtime columnist Eleanor Clift recently wrote

we’re talking about the first African-American occupant of the White House in a party identified with civil rights. “Who wants to feel responsible for costing the first African-American president his reelection?” says Cook. What’s more, blacks vote heavily in key primary states.

Anyone contemplating a run against Obama must consider the consequences of not only defeating the president, but the likely repercussions to his or her own career. “If he were white, he would have a progressive challenger,” says Bill Schneider of the Democratic group Third Way. Because Obama is this historic figure, challenging him would hamper the prospects of anyone who wants a future in elective Democratic politics. “Blacks would be deeply offended by a challenge, and that’s no way to score points in the Democratic Party,” says Schneider. African-Americans are the Democrats’ most loyal constituency, and while they too are disappointed in what Obama has been able to accomplish, they are not going to abandon him.

In his weekly address given, on Saturday, February 28, 2009, little more than five weeks since he took office, President Obama vowed "I came to provide.... change that will grow our economy, expand our middle-class, and keep the American Dream alive for all those men and women who have believed in this journey from the day it began." The economy has grown little, but will expand once anti-spending hysteria has worked its way through the system. The middle class has declined but will strengthen, at least superficially, once the economic slump has ended.

But that American Dream? If Barack Obama "were white, he would have a progressive challenger" but "blacks would be deeply offended by a challenge" to the first non-white president ever. To a lot of us, the American dream remains at least as elusive as ever.


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