Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama's Farrakhan Dilemma
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Here's what a spokesperson for Democratic Presidential contender Barack Obama said when he got wind of former Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s virtual endorsement of Obama’s White House bid, “Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support." Farrakhan made the glowing tout of Obama at the NOI’s annual Savior's Day confab in Chicago. Obama’s denunciation of Farrakhan was blunt and pointed. But he did not reject Farrakhan’s implied endorsement.
Even after Hillary Clinton publicly demanded that he forcefully reject Farrakhan’s endorsement, Obama waffled. He weakly said after more Clinton cajoling that he rejected the endorsement. He still did not mention Farrakhan by name. A candidate shouldn't need to be prodded by his opponent to emphatically reject the endorsement of a controversial, and in the case of Farrakhan, much vilified figure. Obama, of course, does not endorse Farrakhan's views, politics, or his organization, and he has made that clear on more than one occasion.

Yet his failure to flatly say he does not want his endorsement is no surprise. Farrakhan may be a controversial and much vilified figure but he is not a fringe figure within black communities. He is still cheered and admired by thousands of blacks. They are also voters too and most have embraced Obama with almost messianic zeal. This zeal has been a driving force in powering Obama's surge past Clinton. Many blacks are exhilarated by the prospect that a black man will sit in the Oval office. In other words, Obama is a racial fantasy come true for many blacks.
Few blacks publicly demand that he assume the role of a black leader. They have made no demand that he tell what he’ll do to boost civil rights protections, fight the HIV/AIDS plague, or take strong positions on the other pressing social issues. It’s just as well they haven’t since his image is that of the new generation African-American elected official who thinks and speaks as a unifier and consensus builder, not a racial crusader.

However, many blacks quietly expect or at least hope that if he’s elected it will be more than a historic first for blacks. They hope that he will be a vigorous proponent of civil rights and social programs. As long as that hope is there their impassioned zeal be for him will be there too. If Obama denounces Farrakhan too strongly that would raise the eyebrows of the thousands of blacks who admire Farrakhan and his organization.

But, if Obama doesn’t blast Farrakhan as an anti-white hate monger that could raise questioning eyebrows with many white voters. He can’t afford that. He’s far exceeded the predictions of many who questioned whether whites would vote for an African-American for president. They have and he has even done what was thought to be even more implausible and that’s net considerable backing from white males. They have been rock solid backers of GOP presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Obama got their support with his open-ended message of change and unity. Farrakhan, then, is the absolute last thing that Obama needs now that he’s on a roll with so many diverse voters.

Obama isn’t the first politician to face the Farrakhan dilemma. It got Jesse Jackson into momentary hot water during his presidential bid in 1984. Jackson rashly agreed to let the NOI briefly handle some of his security. That drew howls that Jackson was in bed with the Farrakhan. Jackson backpedaled fast and dropped the NOI as part of his security. That didn’t stop the loud grumbles that Jackson as a presidential candidate was too cozy with Farrakhan. But Jackson did not denounce Farrakhan. He stayed mute in part out of his stubborn insistence that no one should tell him who could support him, and in bigger part with an eye on the black vote.

Obama is closing in on a place in history. If he wins the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries, his fierce nomination battle with Clinton will be virtually over. The movement will be irresistible among Democrats to nominate him and that will evaporate the Democrat’s worst fear, namely a fractured convention, split between the two warring Obama and Clinton factions. A divided party would be a lethal blow to the Democrat’s chances to take back the White House.

But Obama also knows that he doesn’t just need black votes. Any Democratic presidential contender will get the majority of black votes. That was the case with Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Both still lost. He needs blacks to turn his drive to the White House into a crusade. They must make a spirited and massive rush to the polls. Farrakhan can help insure that some of that spirit and some of those numbers are there. Obama can’t publicly applaud him for doing that. But he can’t totally reject him either. That’s Obama’s Farrakhan dilemma.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama is No JFK but Even If He Was His Inexperience Can’t be Cavalierly Dismissed
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In a recent address at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton blasted arch rival Barack Obama for his inexperience. This should not be dismissed as another frantic, grasp at straws by Clinton to slow the momentum of his campaign or a badly overrated quality that few first time presidents need bring to the Oval Office anyway. The tout of Obama as the second coming of John F. Kennedy is supposed proof that a Senator with ideals and vision, ala JFK, can work wonders for the country even if short on experience.
The Obama-JFK comparison is a bad stretch and the dismissal of experience as a president-to-be attribute is an even worse stretch. JFK majored in foreign policy at Harvard and was a decorated naval war hero. His father, Papa Joe, was a multi-millionaire diplomat, confidant of presidents, and consummate political deal maker. This enabled JFK to meet a slew of European leaders. He wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book, served fourteen years in the Senate and Congress, and came close to getting the vice presidential nomination in 1956.

Despite JFK’s years of public policy experience and political acumen, that Obama can’t match, he was still woefully ill equipped to deal with the two biggest crises that confronted his administration; the Cuban Missile crisis and the civil rights crisis. The mythmakers have spun a picture of a cool, calm, and collected JFK facing down Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1962. He allegedly forced him to get Russian missiles out of Cuba and that saved the world from nuclear destruction.
The truth is far different. In his memoirs Khrushchev gloated that the Soviet Union never had any intention of going to war over Cuba, and that the missiles were a bargaining chip to get the U.S. to remove American missiles from Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union. The other aim was to get the U.S. to guarantee the security of Castro’s regime.

Even if Khrushchev’s boast is sloughed off as a face saving historical falsity to burnish up his badly tarnished image; the fact is that American missiles were removed from Turkey. And in the nearly half century after the missile show-down, there has been no US military effort to oust Castro. He stepped down voluntarily and will likely die of old age.

The U.S. –Soviet stand down was brokered through back channel talks initiated by Robert Kennedy with the Soviet ambassador to the U.S. After they hammered out the bare details of the agreement it took urging by RFK and other Kennedy senior advisors to get Kennedy to finally approve the deal. JFK’s inexperience in a crisis moment cost valuable time, delays, and raised tensions. It had another tragic by-product. It earned JFK the undying enmity of the thousands of Cuban-Americans.
Then there’s the issue of civil rights. The Obama camp twisted and mangled an innocent comment Clinton made in which she praised President Lyndon Baines Johnson for driving the 1964 civil rights bill through Congress. Supposedly Clinton defamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by minimizing his role in getting a civil rights law. Clinton, of course, got it right. It took every bit of Johnson’s relentless political arm twisting, cajoling, and deal making skills to get wavering Republicans and hostile Southern Senators who controlled key committees to back the bill or soften their vehement opposition to it.

The bill though was not Johnson’s. It was introduced by Kennedy. Despite his efforts, Kennedy could not budge Congress to take action. JFK simply did not have the political muscle to budge the bill’s opponents. Johnson did have the experience and the muscle to ultimately force passage.

The rap against Obama that he lacks the requisite experience to get the job done effectively in the White House is not a cheap and meaningless campaign shot at him. The American presidency should not be an OJT position. Voters shouldn’t be asked to make a leap of faith that an untested candidate can smoothly and effortlessly handle crisis situations that inevitably arise. Inexperienced presidents are poor crisis managers. They get us into costly and unpopular wars and brush fire conflicts. They alienate foreign friends and allies. They bungle the economy. And their administrations more times than not are riddled with corruption and cronyism. The disastrous proof is the administration of the man that Obama seeks to replace.
Even without fingering Bush’s foreign and domestic policy bumbles and ineptitude, the presidents that have been most successful in recent decades have been FDR, Bill Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower. They had two things in common. They had extensive executive and administrative experience either as governors, or in the case of Eisenhower, in the armed forces before they became president.

The lack of administrative and crisis management experience shouldn’t disqualify a prospective presidential candidate, or mean that he or she will crumble under fire. At the same time, their inexperience raises a giant question mark about the candidate. That can’t be cavalierly dismissed.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Order Now!
The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House

Age Won’t Be Obama’s Trump Card against McCain
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama coyly hinted at something that has been virtually taboo during the fierce hunt for the White House in 2008. That’s likely GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s age. In a speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Virginia in early February, Obama hailed McCain for his half-century of service to the country.
This borderline ageist damn with faint praise of McCain was of course tame stuff compared to the dumb crack from B karate movie action guy Chuck Norris before the Florida primary last January that McCain was just too old to be president. Norris subsequently apologized but he still got a swift and deserved disappearance as a prominent mouthpiece for McCain’s GOP presidential rival Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. It probably ramped up in the number of votes McCain got from the loads of AARP seniors that retired in the state. That sweetened McCain’s victory there and rocketed his once seemingly DOA campaign forward faster.
Norris aside, age is and will be a factor in the possible showdown between McCain and Obama. Some Democrats undoubtedly bank that Obama’s boyish looks and fresh faced vigor will stand in stark contrast to the weary, and slow pace gait of McCain. But age won’t be an Obama trump card against McCain.
It just doesn’t titillate and get the tongues furiously wagging as race does with Obama and gender with Hillary Clinton. It shouldn’t. Age is no legitimate measure of McCain’s mindset, physical health, or even his possible longevity in the office. JFK, Nixon, and Clinton were all in their forties when they took office. Each had serious health problems, and each one faced serious political and personal crises during their terms, but their health didn’t lay them low. McCain released hundreds of pages of his health records before his presidential run in 2000 and last year to head off talk that he’s medically and emotionally incompetent (that pertains to his torture as a Vietnam POW) to be president. Even if he hadn’t, and even if there were health issues with him, his age still holds minefield peril for Obama.
Reagan is the best example of that. Other than sniggers, and wisecracks about his memory lapses and occasional gaffes, there was no evidence Reagan lost a single vote because anyone thought he was too old. The early signs of Alzheimer’s came much later in his term and by then the Reagan myth and legacy had been well ensured. The eyes of many in their audiences misted over the countless times McCain and the other one time GOP presidential candidates evoked Reagan’s name during their debates and on the campaign trail.
Reagan for his part did much to defuse the age issue when he turned to his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale in their presidential debate in 1984 and challenged, "I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." The aim was not to score a quick debate point or to cut Mondale low, it was to make the point that age is not a liability but a desired quality in a head of state; that age equates with experience, level headedness, and maturity.
Then there are the voter demographics and age related issues. The vast array of programs from social security to education and housing subsidies for seniors soaks up more than a quarter of the federal budget. Legions of senior citizen advocacy groups keep a hawk like watch on funding, spending, and possible cuts in those services. The slightest hint of any attack on social security either real or manufactured politically is the political kiss of death for a candidate. Seniors have the political muscle to make sure of that. Those aged 60 and older make up almost a quarter of those who turn out on Election Day.
There is no such thing as an old age voting bloc. Seniors vote based on their needs, personal tastes, interests, and political preferences, just like other voting groups. But seniors have been far more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats. In 2004, those over aged 60 gave Bush a wider vote margin over John Kerry than any other age group.
McCain deftly snatched a page from Reagan’s political playbook, dampened the age issue, and will try to turn the age table on Obama. He’ll pound on the point that a school boy looking, relative political newcomer on the national scene simply can’t be trusted too make the mature, sober, and vital decisions that presidents have to make especially in times of war, terrorist peril and domestic crisis. The irony is that age may just turn out to be McCain’s trump card instead of the Democrat’s even if Obama tries to help him out of his chair when they debate.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What to Make of Obama’s Strange Bedfellows, Namely Blacks and White Males
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

This is an election with some strange things happening. One of the strangest is the penchant for so many white males to join with African-American voters in a few primaries to back Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. It’s strange not because of anything Obama has said or done to get so many white males behind him. It’s strange because of the possible motive many of the men that are voting for him. Let’s put it this way. Are they voting for him because they truly buy his flowery pitch of hope, change and unity. Or, is there something darker, and more insidious at work here. The something is the deep, persistent, and widespread notion among many men that a woman is not fit to hold the highest office especially if that woman is named Hillary.

Males make up slightly more than forty percent of the American electorate, and of that percent, white males make up thirty six percent, or one in three American voters. They have been the staunchest Republican backers since Ronald Reagan’s trounce of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Without their solid support in 2000, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. In 2004, Bush swept Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in every one of the states of the Old Confederacy and three out of four of the Border States. He grabbed more than 60 percent of the white male vote nationally. In the South, he got more than 70 percent of their vote. That insured another Bush White House.

Male voters gave not just Bush but Republican Presidents Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents in their presidential races. The majority of them that voted for the GOP presidents were middle-to upper-income, college educated, and lived in a suburban neighborhood. This closely parallels the demographic of the men that are voting for Obama. But at the same time, fewer than one in five white males labeled themselves as liberal.
The reasons for the intense and unshakeable loyalty of working and middle-class men to the GOP are not hard to find. The gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 contest between Reagan and Carter. That year Reagan got more than a 20 percent bulge in the margin of male votes he got over Clinton. Women voters by contrast split almost evenly down the middle in backing both Reagan and Carter. Most men made no secret about why they liked Reagan and what they perceived that he stood for. The tough talk, his apparent firmness and refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly into the stereotypical, male qualities of professed courage, determination, and toughness.

Then there’s the thing that’s even less politically and gender correct to admit and that’s that the bias of many men toward women in high positions is so deep seated that they refuse to believe that they are even biased. Psychologists have testified in countless gender bias law suits that the “unconscious bias” of male managers against women, especially against women attaining power positions. The refusal of men to promote women has been the biggest factor fueling gender discrimination in corporate hiring and promotions. Male managers in charge of promotion and pay decisions unwittingly engage in "spontaneous" and "automatic" stereotyping and "in-group favoritism" that results in the most desirable jobs at the company being filled by white males.

Even if unconscious gender bias affects only a relatively small percent of men in a close contest between a male and female candidate in which the two are rated fairly evenly in competence, qualifications and experience, the refusal of many men to vote for her could harm her candidacy. Female candidates offset the male bias by getting solid support from women voters.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Order Now!
The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House

Democrats Pose Greater Peril to Obama or Clinton than GOP
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There was absolutely no surprise at the results of Super Tuesday. This writer flatly said days before the first vote was cast that Super Tuesday would be anything but super for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and that neither would or could deliver the knockout punch.
There are two colossal reasons that virtually preordained the muddled, confused and frustrating outcome for the two Democratic presidential contenders. The first is the Democrat’s winner-not-take-all proportional system and the system of super delegates that they have dumped onto the primaries. Super delegates are at large delegates and can pretty much vote for whomever they want, and under the proportional system delegates can be divvied up according to the vote total that the respective candidate gets in Congressional districts. The idea behind that is to bring democracy with a small d to the vote process and snatch the decision about who gets the big prize out of deal making party bosses at the national convention.

But the first reason for the Democrat’s Super Tuesday muddle pales when stacked up against the second reason. And that’s the fast emerging and much alarming polarization among Democratic voters, or put another way, the hard lines between those backing Obama and those backing Clinton and the reasons why they’re backing them. Exit polls showed two clear things. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans in the South back Obama. The overwhelming majority of Latinos in the Western states back Clinton. The other is that white men in increasingly bigger numbers are backing Obama. And Democratic voters are supporting their picks with passion and zeal.

Latinos and blacks are the two big, strategically placed, and dependable voting blocs for the Democrats. In every election back to Lyndon Baines Johnson’s smash victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, blacks have been the loyalist of loyal foot soldiers for the Democrats. With the surge in Latino voting numbers in the past two decades, Latinos have just as important to the Democrats and have been nearly as loyal to them as blacks.

The tormenting question for Clinton then is if she eventually gets the grand Democratic prize will African-American voters who have virtually turned their tout of Obama into a messianic crusade back her with the same fervor and more importantly numbers? A lackluster and lukewarm turnout by blacks for her would spell big trouble for her and the Democrats in November.

The equally tormenting question for Obama is if he eventually gets the Democratic grand prize will Latino voters back him with the same fervor and numbers as they did Clinton? The same rule applies to him as Clinton. A lackluster and indifferent turnout by Latinos would spell big trouble for him and the Democrats in November.
Then there’s the question of white male voters. They make up nearly forty percent of the American electorate. In every election dating back to Ronald Reagan’s big wins over the Democrats in the 1980s and since, they have powered GOP victories in national elections and more importantly have been the sure ticket of GOP presidents to the White House. Bush got a whopping sixty four percent of the white male vote, and he did even better among white males in the South. Their sudden like of Obama then is suspect. The perplexing question is are they voting for Obama because they are truly sold on his message of hope and change, or is there a darker reason? And that is that they hate the thought of a woman bagging the highest office, especially if that woman is named Hillary.

A dirty secret little of the campaign just may be that in this age of supposed gender enlightenment when men profess profusely that they have no problem backing a woman for president many secretly do. This is not idle speculation. Polls have consistently shown that while whites are virtually unanimous in saying that they have no problem voting for an African-American for president, far fewer say the same about a woman.

When the dust finally settles in the fall, the eventual GOP presidential nominee will do his internal fence mending in the party, and will placate the warring other presidential opponents and competing factions. He will have the usual king’s ransom campaign chest, the spin of Fox and other major cable TV news outlets and conservative talk radio jocks, the solid backing of millions of conservatives and Christian evangelicals, the sure electoral votes of most of the South and the heartland states, the X factor of race and gender working in his favor against Hillary and Obama, and the hunger to maintain Republican dominance.

The last thing that the Democrats need is a fractured Democratic Party that’s hopelessly split into two feuding, finger pointing and irreconcilable factions. That could pose an even greater peril to their bid to take back the White house than the GOP. That possibility is looming bigger and bigger.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Order Now!
The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House

Super Tuesday Answers Some Questions But Raises More for Clinton and Obama
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The odds are that Democratic presidential arch rivals Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton will know no more about which of the two will be the party’s standard bearer the day after Super Tuesday than they did when the day started. The early talk about the “inevitability” of Hillary’s march to the Democratic nomination has long since ceased. And any talk about Obama’s inevitability, despite his rock star size crowds, poll surge and high profile endorsements, is just as nonsensical and wishful thinking. Obama will win some of the 15 Democratic state primaries and seven caucuses and one in American Samoa and Clinton will win some others. In the biggest and most crucial delegate rich state of California, the delegates are parceled out proportionally, so both Clinton and Obama will get their share.

But even with no Clinton or Obama knockout punch on Super Tuesday, the day will still answer some questions while raising a couple of large questions for which ever one grabs the top Democratic prize. The first question for Obama is will white voters en masse back an African-American candidate. Nearly every white voter in every poll profusely swears that they are color blind, and many back pat Obama, and say they will vote solely on the basis of competence, qualification and vision. They’ve said the same thing in head to head contests between black and white candidates in past elections and then once in the privacy of the voting booth done just the reverse. The result: the black candidate has gone down to flaming defeat.
But Obama’s race neutral change pitch has had earth rattling political reverb and he will likely get a significant number of white votes, particularly from younger voters. That will in part bury the Bradley effect and that’s the penchant for many white voters to dupe pollsters and interviewers about their feelings on race. At least that is, bury it in the primaries where his opponent is a woman with towering negatives with many voters. The questions for Clinton on the gender side is will male voters in big numbers back her. In some polls more than half of male voters say they wouldn’t vote for her, and are even less charitable toward the notion of a woman president than a black president.

A question and a worry for Obama is can he win a big number of Hispanic voters over. That’s only an issue in part because of the tensions and conflicts that have marred relations between blacks and Hispanics in some places, and in greater part because of the long standing ties, heartfelt affection, and political court by the Clintons of Latinos. His success at chipping away some of Clinton’s Latino firewall in California and the Western states where Hispanic voters make up ten to twenty percent of the vote could be a deal maker or breaker in his drive to the nomination and beyond.

The question for both is: Do Americans really want the change that they say they want. Obama is betting the political bank they do and even Hillary has done everything she can to counter the charge that she’s old guard politics and that she is just a much as a change maker as Obama. Another question for both is how big the issue of the Iraq war still is to voters. Obama has pushed hard to sell himself as the only top tier candidate that opposed the war from the start, and that Hillary at least initially backed it. But polls now show that the war with the appearance of stabilization and the military surge in Iraq is not the top campaign issue it once was.

The last daunting question for the Democrats is how to keep the momentum going after Super Tuesday for the months up to the convention in August and make sure the muddled outcome of Super Tuesday doesn’t split the Democrats into two warring and irreconcilable factions. That would spell doom for the party in the fall.

The Republicans don’t have to answer that question. Ten of the Republican primaries are winner take all affairs. If one candidate, and from the big time endorsements that he’s gotten and the poll numbers, that candidate is likely to be John McCain. He almost certainly will emerge with a commanding lead over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in the number of delegates needed for the GOP nomination. He will have six months to do internal fence mending, unite the warring and wavering GOP core factions, pile up key endorsements, massage, streamline, and sharpen the party’s message, further bulge his campaign war chest, and further distance himself from Bush’s unpopularity. That guarantees the most important thing of all: a united Republican Party without the albatross of the Bush legacy.

Super Tuesday will answer questions for the Republicans. And raise more questions for the Democrats. That makes Super Tuesday much less super than Obama or Clinton would like.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).