Thursday, January 17, 2008

The White Curtain

Why I Got Angry After New Hampshire:
The White Curtain and the Possibility of Hope

The African World

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.,BC Executive Editor

I have not been an Obama supporter. On the issues, I have
felt that Kucinich and Edwards are clearer and more on point.
They have been talking about some real changes in domestic
and foreign policy, and I applaud that. I have been
disappointed that they have not grasped race far more than
they have, but they tend to lean in the right direction.

But that is not why I am writing this piece.

I got angry after the New Hampshire primary. Going into the
primary, Senator Obama had a 13-point lead over Senator
Clinton. Senator Clinton had virtually issued her concession
speech. Yet, Senator Clinton came out on top.

There have been a number of reasons offered by pundits as to
what happened:

* Some have suggested that Senator Clinton became more
humane through the misting of her eyes during a candid
moment (captured on camera).
* Some have suggested that
the perception of Senator Clinton being "attacked" by
both former Senator Edwards and Senator Obama led to a
sympathy factor.
* Others have suggested that Senator
Obama became cocky and stopped reaching out for
* Still others believe that the "white
curtain" (a term used by writer Bob Wing) came into
play and that white voters said one thing to the
pollsters and did another thing behind the curtain.

I do not think there was any one factor, although I am
inclined to believe that the "white curtain" was far more in
play than the media let on. And this failure on the part of
the established media to give more credence to the "white
curtain," or what in other circles is called the 'Bradley
Factor' (after the reversal in fortune by former LA Mayor Tom
Bradley, who lost the election for California governor in the
1980s after all of the polls indicated that he was a shoe-in)
has my back up.

In a Washington Post column from January 11th, African
American commentator Eugene Robinson suggested that what
often happens when Black candidates run is not so much that
whites change their minds, but that the numbers of white
undecided voters enter into the picture and they cast their
ballots for the white candidate. I have great respect for
Robinson, however, this seems like a distinction without a
difference. It begs the question of what inspires these
white undecided voters to turn out in high numbers to vote
AGAINST a Black candidate. In that sense, it may be that we
have to look at this question of the "white curtain"' a bit
differently, i.e., that it may not be so much a matter of
white voters indicating - to pollsters - that they will
support a Black candidate and then voting otherwise, but
rather that large numbers of white voters use the category of
"undecided" in order to shield their true preference.

The second source of my anger has to do with the Clintons,
and I use the plural here. If another Black person calls
former President Bill Clinton the alleged 'first Black
President,' I think I will personally take their head off,
followed by their arms and legs. Rather than treating Senator
Obama's candidacy as a serious one with which they have
significant differences (which they actually do not), there
has been the use, by the Clintons, of codes as a way of
attacking Obama's character. The emphasis on 'experience' is
one such code. The denigration of the idea of 'hope' is
another code. Instead of forcing Senator Obama to clarify his
positions on the issues, which is in fact his key weakness,
the Clintons have engaged in attacks on the candidate as a
person, something of which Senator Obama is undeserving.

Former President, Bill Clinton, was unsettled by the way some
of his recent comments were interpreted as suggesting that he
believed Senator Obama's candidacy to be a fantasy. Instead,
Bill Clinton was, in my opinion, quite correctly - but for
the wrong reason - suggesting that the media is turning the
Obama candidacy into a fantasy. Yet what is important here
has been the reaction within Black America. Bill Clinton's
remarks were HEARD as part of a character assassination
against Senator Obama. African Americans, for a host of
reasons, have been and continue to be slow to warm to the
Obama campaign, but when Obama is personally attacked, the
Clintons can be guaranteed they will encounter genuine anger
that they may not be able to overcome.

Ok, now I am a bit calmer. But here is my other point:
Senator Obama is going to need a strategic "rethink." The
Obama campaign has gone a long way on motivation and good
feeling, but with little content. Obama has fostered the
illusion that we can all join together and that he will
oversee the construction of an historically unprecedented
united front of Democrats, Republicans and Independents to
bring us into a new age. He has studiously avoided any tough
issues, yet is prepared to make reckless foreign policy
suggestions, e.g., unilateral US military action against Al
Qaeda bases in Pakistan and the need to take action against
Iran (without defining why Iran is an alleged problem).
Contrary to his competitor in the change category, former
Senator Edwards, he has largely shied away - until quite
recently - from discussing the fact that the US is polarizing
along wealth and income lines, as well as the fact that labor
unions are key to economic justice.

The Obama Campaign may have believed that they could use
'hope' and 'bi-partisanship' as their tickets to the White
House, but that route seems to be fraught with problems. The
New Hampshire loss makes it imperative that the Obama
campaign redefines itself as it approaches Super Tuesday. As
both Clinton and Edwards press him, the former on his
character, the latter on his views, Obama will be compelled
to define himself as an independent political figure with a
clearer vision as to what sort of country, indeed world, he
wishes to construct. If he does not, he will be condemned to
be viewed as a motivational speaker rather than a champion of
a new path.

Having walked the fence for so long, I am not sure that
Senator Obama is prepared to be the practitioner of a new
political direction. There is an important place for both
hope and fine language, but if the vote is in his favor, the
question will be: what happens after Inauguration, Senator?

[Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black
Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of
TransAfrica Forum.]

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