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A New Politics in the Making?
By William McGaughey
This years campaign for the presidential nomination, both on the Democratic and Republican sides, promises to be quite earthshaking in terms of ideologies and constituencies supporting the two parties. What we see is an erosion of the old politics as primary voters repudiate certain candidates and support others.
At this point, it seems clear that the Republicans will nominate Senator John McCain. Not so clear, but likely, is that the Democrats will nominate Senator Barack Obama. Is an earthshaking political realignment in the works?
The tensions are more open on the Republican side. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, was booed at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference while he was trying to prove his conservative credentials. Conservative leaders like Laura Ingraham and James Dobson blasted McCain for his deviant positions on certain issues. Ann Coulter said she might vote for Hillary Clinton. Worst of all, Mike Huckabee (no longer splitting the conservative vote with Mitt Romney) racked up a string of primary victories posing as the true conservative in contrast to McCain.
Barack Obama, the Democrat, has meanwhile coasted to a number of impressive primary victories since his triumphs in the South Carolina primary and on Super Tuesday. Criticism of his politics is more muted. Behind the scenes, however, there is anxiety in Democratic circles that his profession of racial inclusiveness may be upsetting the political apple cart.
A way to look at this is to see that the voters are undermining the leaders of long-established voting blocs. The racially defined bloc supporting the Democrats dates back to the 1960s. The socially and economically conservative bloc supporting the Republicans dates back to the 1980s. This years election threatens to unravel the tapestry of partisan politics that has long prevailed in the United States.
An explanation that makes sense to me is given in a recent article from U.S. News & World Report. Historian Fred Siegel, it said, is among those who see the schism over McCain as all about money - money that has flowed to social conservative leaders and those who represent them in Washington. Politics is a business, says Siegel, and just as Sen. Barack Obama is bad for Al Sharptons business model, McCain is bad for people whose business it is to act as intermediaries between the social conservatives and the GOP. For them, he says, McCains nomination could well be a revolution because they will have lost control of the funding mechanism.
So, John McCain is bad for Laura Ingrahams and Ann Coulters business model and Barack Obama is bad for Al Sharptons model of how to do political business. Voters in both parties have said they want another approach. That is what makes this years primary season so interesting. The special-interest voting blocs are coming apart.
In the case of Republicans, we saw economic conservatives come together with Jerry Falwells Moral Majority of Christian social conservatives during the administration of Ronald Reagan. No new taxes and tax cuts for the rich came into the same Republican tent with appeals to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow prayer in the schools. John McCain, however, voted against the first Bush tax cut and he supports stem-call research. He is soft on illegal immigration. And he is the presumed Republican nominee!
Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, is the champion of politics as the Democrats have practiced it since the Kennedy-Johnson years. She makes an appeal to black voters on the basis of the special affinity that she and her husband have long felt toward this group. She rallies female voters around her as a likely prospect to become the first female president in U.S. history. In contrast, Obama does not run for President as a black candidate; he runs away from this type of politics. He runs, instead, as a candidate and a President who will bring people together - not as black or white, not male or female, he says, but as Americans.
A Harvard law-school professor, Randall Kennedy, has written a book called Sellout which describes the attitude of many black people toward blacks who depart from the traditional political norms. In a recent talk, he pointed out that Senator Obama has been tarred with the sellout label by some because he has attracted a significant part of the white vote. This makes some black people nervous. Is his appeal based on a racially self-hating message directed at whites? Is, indeed, Obama black enough? Can he be considered part of the African-American community when neither of his parents was descended from African slaves?
Previously it was presumed that a mixed race person such as Obama might have been descended from a white slave master who had raped a black slave woman. But Obamas father was known to be a black man from Kenya who had married a white woman from Kansas. The father abandoned Barack Obama and his mother when he was two years old. The child was raised by his white grandparents. This does not fit the acceptable racial paradigm. Clearly Obama loved both his mother and his father. He himself is a model of the racial unity which he preaches as a political candidate. That is profoundly threatening to practitioners of racial politics.
Carrying the argument a step further, I dare say that Barack Obamas candidacy is an assault on black racism. By racism I do not employ the usual self-serving definitions that exclude black people on the basis of their supposed powerlessness in society. My definition of a racist is someone who personally identifies with his or her racial group more than with being a member of the human race.
By that definition, many black people are racists, as are many of other races. Racism is not action but an attitude of self-identification. Black racists can be just as hateful and vile as white racists in their words and deeds. They are quick to label other blacks who accommodate white society as sellouts and Uncle Toms - something which whites today would not dare to say about others of their race who were friendly toward blacks.
The presence of black racism in our community goes largely unrecognized. It is taboo even to mention the subject. White racists have become so demonized in the majority culture that to mention blacks in the same context stirs angry denunciations, including and especially among progressive whites who want to preserve the African-American community as a monolithic group supporting the Democratic Party.
Perhaps the time has come to say that, since racism is a problem of the heart, it is none of the publics business. Racism is selfishness or self-perceived superiority defined in racial terms. All people are selfish to one degree or another. Only saints are free of this attitude. Since government lacks the power to force people into sainthood, it should limit its focus to controlling violent behavior, not malevolent thoughts. It should treat all people equally, regardless of gender or race.
Now all of this is, of course, political heresy. Moral even-handedness is hard to accept in an age when each person or group wants to get something extra for itself and there are power brokers who can arrange this for a fee.
Maybe with Obamas candidacy the racially defined voting blocs will begin to crumble. Thats what really worries the political brokers. Their business model may soon be out of date. If McCain, the political maverick, worries Republican stalwarts, so does Barack Obama worry, not just Bill and Hillary Clinton, but all whose political outlook is based upon a loathing of the so-called majority white-male culture with its institutionalized racist, sexist, and homophobic tendencies.
Can it really be that he thinks America is good?
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