The State of Black Politics: Confused

By Ron Walters
-Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Mar 10, 2008 - 9:59:00 AM

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I noted some time ago that it was a good thing that the Black masses were gravitating toward Barack Obama on their own because the leadership was divided. That division now amounts to confusion and continues even as he stands poised on the brink of doing something never done before, a Black person winning the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. What do I mean by confusion?

First, there is the fact that as a result of Obama’s sterling performance, some of those Black Super Delegates in the Democratic party who had committed early to Hillary Clinton are now moving back to Obama. This reminds me that when Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, most of the Black political class was not on his side, but by 1988 they were all there because in 1984 he had won most of the votes in their districts and they were afraid to be caught off base again.

So, Black Super Delegates like John Lewis have reconsidered their commitment to Hillary, while other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for example, are having conference calls commiserating over the fact that some are officials of Hillary’s campaign, but their districts voted, or will vote, for Obama. Since Super Tuesday, among all Super Delegates, 25 more have committed to Barack Obama, while Hillary Clinton has lost five, an indication that even among Blacks there will be plenty of shifting ahead as he continues to win in Black districts.

Then, there is the letter that Julian Bond, chair of the NAACP, sent to the Democratic National Committee suggesting that not to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates would result in millions of voters in the two states not having their votes counted, an act that would remind some of recent racially discriminatory elections. He asked Howard Dean, the DNC chair, to come up with a resolution of the problem. On that, a counterpoint letter was launched by Rev. Al Sharpton who is neutral with respect to the candidates, which objected to seating the delegates, asking Dean to protect both candidates from charges that the process was tainted, since it would amount to a change of the rules in the middle of the game.

In fact, Bond’s letter was interpreted by some observers as a “pro-Hillary delegate move,” since it was so late in responding to rules enacted by the party last year that governed both primaries this year. Moreover, his letter is puzzling, since the greater disfranchisement would amount to those Black voters who abided by the rules and didn’t vote in Michigan and Florida, but would have their situation negated by a change of the rules.

The last example among many is the dust-up between Barack Obama and Tavis Smiley over his appearance at Tavis’ State of Black America event in New Orleans. Tavis was said to have invited Obama to appear at the event, and Obama wrote him back to say that he was campaigning,but that he would send Michele Obama, his wife and a good surrogate to represent him. But Tavis rejected her, wanting to seat only principals. The result was that while Hillary Clinton came, there was no representation from the Obama camp.

Hillary had to come because of her low standing with Blacks. But for all of the excitement that she created by reading her speech, she could have faxed it to the event and had it distributed. Even her response to Tavis’ question about the reputed racist remarks of her husband toward Obama were addressed in the fashion—the Clinton administration did a lot of good things for Blacks, so you know that he couldn’t have meant to be racist.

I’ve thought hard about this and concluded that since Hillary has a 100 percent name recognition in this campaign and Obama is still introducing himself to people, he was right to stay in the field, especially at the most critical time of the campaign.

The point this makes is that the political confusion among Black leaders in this campaign may eventually prevent effective bargaining for the things their community needs. And yes, they may have to bargain even if a Black president wins the White House.

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African-American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. This column was distributed by NNPA.