Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Biracial Candidate Walks His Own Fine Line

An interesting article about Obama and the delicate issue of race:

Much of Mr. Obama’s success as a politician has come from walking a fine line — as an independent Democrat and a progressive in a state dominated by the party organization and the political machine, and as a biracial American whose political ambitions require that he appeal to whites while still satisfying the hopes and expectations of blacks.

Like others of his generation, he is a member of a new class of black politicians. Too young to have experienced segregation, he has thrived in white institutions. His style is more conciliatory than confrontational, more technocrat than preacher. Compared with many older politicians, he tends to speak about race indirectly or implicitly, when he speaks about it at all.

After Hurricane Katrina, he did not attribute the lumbering federal response to the race of most of the storm’s victims. “The incompetence was color-blind,” he said, adding that the real stumbling block was indifference to the problems of the poor. After six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white schoolmate in the “Jena Six” case in Louisiana, he said the criminal justice system needed fixing to ensure equal justice “regardless of race, wealth or circumstances.”

And when Mr. Obama announced his candidacy in February, he chose the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., a place imbued with the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. He spoke of his work in “Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods” and of ending poverty; race came up only glancingly, as in, “Beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.”

But the postracial style has its pitfalls.


The Long Run

A Biracial Candidate Walks His Own Fine Line

Published: December 29, 2007

The 2006 Democratic primary campaign for the presidency of the Cook County Board of Commissioners was vintage Chicago politics.

The incumbent was an aging party loyalist, mayoral confederate and institution in black Chicago. His opponent was younger and white, a reform-minded independent Democrat who had helped Barack Obama in his Senate race two years earlier.

Both sides wanted the support of Mr. Obama, a vote magnet in Chicago. The challenger, Forrest Claypool, 48, had the backing of the major newspapers and a couple of liberal members of Congress. The incumbent, John Stroger, 76, had the party organization, many of the city’s blacks and Mr. Obama’s political benefactor, the State Senate president, Emil Jones.

So Mr. Obama remained neutral. He was blasted in blogs and newspapers for hedging rather than risk alienating people he needed, though others said he had made the only shrewd choice.


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