Beyond the race barrier

WE HAVE just witnessed one of the most exciting events in modern American political history.

By Eric S. Margolis (America Angle)

Published: Sun 8 Jun 2008, 11:25 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:22 PM

African-American Barack Obama's hard-won triumph in the Democratic Party presidential primaries is not only an historic event, it's a great and proud moment for America.

In late August, the Democratic convention will formally nominate Obama, 146 years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation that freed America's black slaves, and exactly 45 years after Martin Luther King delivered his epochal speech, ‘I Have a Dream,' that began the political liberatmion of America's black citizens.

The nomination of the first non-white to a major party nominee for president ought to make all Americans stand taller. The rest of the world is certainly cheering. America has regained its reputation of being a nation where anything is possible.

The media keeps calling Obama a ‘black.' But the junior senator from Illinois is technically not a ‘black' at all. His father was a black Kenyan, his mother a white from Kansas. Obama is as much white as black.

In the West Indies, where I used to live, Obama would properly be called a mulatto, a group that ranked just below whites in Afro-Caribbean and Latin American culture.

Obama, who sips herbal tea and listens to Mozart, is much closer to white, liberal, upper middle class society than America's traditional black culture or working class whites. Though I dislike the term, he is precisely an ‘African American,' or a ‘person of colour.' The much-admired former president of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, was, like Obama, the product of a black-white union.

Though Obama is not really a black man in the North American sense of the term, his candidacy has revealed the racist underbelly of the United States, particularly among southerners, blue-collar workers, and evangelical Christians. Hillary Clinton helped open this Pandora's box, and Republicans will be certain to keep the lid open during the campaign.

Many Jewish Americans are also spreading anti-Obama prejudice. An intense campaign is going on among Jewish groups warning that Obama is 'soft on Israel' or even a closet Muslim. "I don't trust that schwartze in a suit," as one New Yorker puts it, using the dismissive Yiddish expression for blacks.

Even Obama's ritual pledges of loyalty to Israel before Washington's mighty Israel lobby this week did not allay such hostility. American Jews traditionally made up half of the Democratic Party's financial donors, and used to be the party's rock-solid liberal core. But Republican John McCain has been luring Jewish voters away with his ardently pro-Israel stance and intensifying threats against Iran, which have now reached a fever pitch.

The next big question is, who will Obama choose for vice-president. Angry feminists and menopausal women, Hillary's core supporters, are demanding Obama name her as his running mate. But given Hillary Clinton's 40 per cent negative ratings nationally, her questionable ethics, and the prospect of Obama being stuck in a ménage a trois with Hillary and Bill Clinton, he would do well to look elsewhere for a candidate who can bring balance and experience to the ticket.

By refusing to graciously concede defeat weeks ago, and raising the race issue, Mrs Clinton put her political career before the party. She also inflicted serious damage on Obama, keeping him on the defensive.

Most Americans have had enough of eight years of the Clinton's political slipperiness and unethical behaviour. They — and the rest of the world — are clearly fed up after eight years of the catastrophic George W. Bush. The nation craves dignity and honour in the White House. Either Obama or McCain will be a hugely welcome change.

Newcomer Obama has served only one Senate term. Veteran senator and war hero McCain will crucify him over the inexperience issue. So Obama badly needs a highly experienced political and foreign policy ally for vice-president with Washington know-how, like Senators Joe Biden or Chris Dodd, or able Gov. Bill Richardson.

As for John McCain's vice-presidential choice, he is now flirting with a Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, whose parents came from India, and Colin Powell as potential ‘dark-skinned VPs,' and with former Hewlett Packard company boss Cory Fiorina to attract female voters.

Obama has broken America's race barrier, but sadly the 2008 campaign promises to be as much about skin colour as policy and character.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun.

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