Thursday, March 20


Geraldine Ferraro doesn't appreciate being referred to repeatedly in Obama's speech on race, and I don't blame her. Immediately after listening to it, I made several points to The Sage:

(1) It was, in the main, an eloquent and meaningful attempt to offer a bridge of understanding between the races. That is, I give him the benefit of the doubt that that was his intent.

(2) If it was meant to counter the controversy about Jeremiah Wright, it failed. It's hard for me to understand the Obamas choosing to attend for 20 years a church in which the pastor regularly spewed invective against our nation and all white people (for me, church should be an opportunity to celebrate the love of Christ), but that alone does not shock me so much as disappoint me. But I cannot comprehend a man who says he wants to help heal the racial divide, exposing his two young daughters to the most bigoted, hateful kind of rhetoric. If we are to finally put an end to racial tensions, we must educate each succeeding generation in the evils of discrimination and, as MLK dreamed, that our people "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

(3) I could not understand why, if Obama's intent was to put an end to race baiting, he would invoke Ferraro's name and comments ("Ferraro, the only woman to ever run on a major party presidential ticket, sparked a controversy when she told the Breeze that 'what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign - to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against,' she said. 'For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign. If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position'") not once, but several times. And in fact, she was likely right:

And she appears to have company in that view. According to a new CBS News poll, voters see gender as more of a barrier in presidential politics than race. Thirty nine percent of registered voters said a woman faces more obstacles in a presidential race while 33 percent said a black candidate does. More to the point, 42 percent of voters said they felt Hillary Clinton has been treated more harshly because of her gender while just 27 percent felt Obama has been treated more harshly because of his race.

When it comes to judging perceptions of attitudes, voters say more people they know would be likely to vote for a black candidate than a woman. Fifty six percent said that “most people” they know would vote for a black candidate for president while just 46 percent said the same of a woman candidate. A full 45 percent said “most people” they know would not vote for a woman. Yet the poll also shows that racism (42 percent) is considered a “more serious” problem in the nation than sexism (10 percent).

Surely this man who champions "a new kind of politics" knows that Ferraro's words, which have been echoed almost exactly by Obama endorser John Kerry and by Obama himself:

Obama acknowledges, with no small irony, that he benefits from his race.

If he were white, he once bluntly noted, he would simply be one of nine freshmen senators, almost certainly without a multimillion-dollar book deal and a shred of celebrity. Or would he have been elected at all?"

And certainly Ferraro's statement cannot reasonably be equated with Wright's screeds, so why juxtapose or equate them? Sounds like the old kind of politics to me, the Chicago machine-type.

(4) Like Ferraro, I was disturbed by Obama's public revelations about his grandmother -- "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe." Again, it's more than a stretch to equate his grandmother with Wright. Jesse Jackson himself once said, "There is nothing more painful to me ... than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." As I lunched this week with several fellow Democrats (all who voted for Obama in the Texas primary), they all agreed that this was the most distressing part of his speech. We all have elderly parents/relatives who have, in many years past, expressed racial sentiments that they would probably not ascribe to today. And while we may share them with others privately in the context of a conversation about race, we would NEVER expose them publicly to ridicule or disdain.

I would be very glad to have an honest discussion about race in this country -- not a politically motivated justification for some position or other, but a true attempt to share experiences and feelings. I think Obama did well in some respects. But he ruined it by injecting political self-justification into the equation.

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