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).

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think Obama made himself clear with his denouncement. Moving forward it should not be news worthy. Let's move on to more important issues in America.

Mac, Illinois

Laura said...

The reaction I heard from conservatives (that hate Hillary) was critism of Hillary for beating the horse and not letting go of the issue after Barack's initial response and rejection of Farrakan and NOI.

amguttman said...

As far as the definition of a "successful" President, this may be somewhat subjective. Was Ronald Reagan successful? Was Georg HW Bush successful? Both of these Presidents had their "successes". What is your definition of a successful Presidency? As I've said at the roundtable, you don't get to be a US Senator without being tested in serious ways. To say otherwise, is extremely naive.

MustangSallie said...

First, Obama was bashed last month for his minister's daughter giving Farrakhan a magazine award! (Obama had absolutely nothing to do with this!) On that note, I heard that Obama's barber's, cousin's, niece, sister-in-law, kicked a cat for two blocks...

Now, Obama is somehow guilty of siding with Farrakhan because he didn't rebuke his complement enough - say what?! So, if Hitler gave Shakespeare a complement about his work, Shakespeare is supposed to rise from his grave and reject it?! AND if he doesn't reject, denounce it, like we think he should, he's a racist too?!

Give me a break! Last night, Clinton whined about answering questions first, and then she went into a vocabulary lesson. Poor thing, people see right through her!

Oscar Yeager said...

Minister Farrakhan understands the Jewish question and is not afraid to be outspoken about it unlike Mr. Obama.

I think he ( Farrakhan ) has said a few far-out things about "wheels in the sky," and ufo's, but other than that he is a pretty rational guy.

It upsets me that Mr. Obama has rejected him like this.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, Mr. Hutchinson, I must disagree with you. Obama had no reason to "reject" nor "denounce" Minister Farrakhan, regardless of what Min. Farrakhan may or may not have said in the past. Whites are NEVER asked/threatened/forced to denounce white people who have made comments that they public may or may not agree with.

I am so tired of the black “litmus test” that any black person in a public eye has to pass. No other group has a standard “litmus test” to see whether they are worthy of support or not. But for whatever reason, Black people are always subject to “well what do you think of Min. Farrakhan?” This had absolutely no place in the debate. Min. Farrakhan didn’t offer Obama campaign money, he did NOT endorse Obama if you actually read the news (he simply “praised” his ability to seemingly be able to bring America together. He never endorsed nor offered support). Really, there was nothing for Obama to accept, reject or denounce. It was a non-issue. However, even if Min. Farrkahn gave his full, unyielding support, Obama should NEVER have "denounced" or "rejected", regardless of his opinion of Min. Farrakhan, simply on principle.

If Bill O’Reilly endorsed John McCain, no one would ask McCain if he “denounced” and “rejected” Bill O’Reilly b/c of his anti-black comments (most recently the lynch mob for Michelle Obama). Or if Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd or another “white” leader/public figure endorsed a white candidate, no one would make them denounce Strom or Byrd for being a former KKK member, racist, etc. (heck, Byrd was allowed to serve in Congress for about 100 years! and the KKK is a known organization for murder, anti-Black, anti-jewish, racist actions, killings, etc.) Such a ridiculous double standard. Why is that ok, but why does every Black person have to be pressed about Farrakhan? (and he’s considered the “hate monger” but congressmen Byrd and Thurmond aren’t? They were continued elected officials?). Mr Hutchinson, it shames me that you would even advocate for this denunciation. Only Black people are foolish enough to feel the need to denounce their own people for the appeasement of whites. Shameful.... (and apologies for any typos that are in this post)

Anonymous said...

Dude you're bugging. If every single "Black" person in this country votes for Obama and only 50% of all "White" people vote for someone using the same stupid method of voting based on ethnic identity - then guess what? You do the math.

What Obama has managed to do somewhat (no thanks to much of the media and other commentators) is move himself away from the tired, degraded "my ethnic identity is central" approach.

Anonymous said...

re:"
If [someone ] endorsed John McCain, no one would ask McCain if he “denounced” and “rejected” [said someone] b/c of his anti-black comments"

I'm not sure where you conjured this idea from but it's completely false.
McCain has already been grilled about a couple associations. The latest:
(CBS) Today, it was Republican frontrunner John McCain's turn to answer mounting questions about one of his supporters, Rev. John Hagee, a San Antonio pastor with a worldwide broadcast ministry, reports CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/29/eveningnews/main3894660.shtml?source=mostpop_story

Anonymous said...

[I'm not sure where you conjured this idea from but it's completely false.
McCain has already been grilled about a couple associations. The latest:]

Yes, but he was not pressed. They asked him about the association - and his was an actual endorsement, not just a statement that "mccain seems like a great candidate - adn McCain said "that I don't support all of his beliefs" Period. Thus far, no one in the media has put the "denunciation" gun to his head to force a response of "Denounce and reject." when he commented that "he didn't agree with ever one of his beliefs, but..." he was left alone.

McCains comment:
"Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee's views, which I obviously do not," McCain said today in a statement, "I am hopeful that Catholics, Protestants and all people of faith who share my vision for the future of America will respond to our message of defending innocent life, traditional marriage, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society."


Clearly this is a full on endorsement from Hagee, seeing as how we was an INVITED speaker at McCain's event. But where is the force for him to "denounce" and reject"? My point remains...

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Anonymous said...

If either Obama or Clinton are unable to defeat McCain in November it will be because there liberal/socialist loser welfare state agenda was rejected by the voters. I know the liberal media is trying real hard to get a democrat in the White House. They talk up the gloom and doom all the time. We have 5% unemployment. 97% of homeowners are paying on time. Interest rates are very low. The national debt as a percentage of GNP is below the historical average.But the media makes it seem we are in a depression with 25% unemployment. 18% prime rate. And half the country is in foreclosure. Negative nonsense sells. The question is will the voting public believe it?

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