Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ten Troubling Questions I Asked Obama to Answer before McCain Asks Them
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Here are ten troubling questions for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama that he’d be wise to answer coming from me, If he’s the Democratic presidential nominee you can bank that John McCain and the GOP truth squad will ask him them. The questions were sent directly to him at his national campaign headquarters Friday, March 28. The questions are not campaign rhetoric, gossip, and partisan allegations. They are fully documented, and totally a matter of public record. If Obama won’t answer them, then the challenge is for his supporters to answer them point by point. This doesn’t mean hurling the usual cheap shot, brainless, personal invectives, name calling, personal insults, or character assassination. This is no substitute for factual answers. The Questions.

1. You stated that you were not in the Senate in October 2002 when President Bush rammed through Congress the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. But you also stated that “perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was I didn’t have the benefit of U.S. intelligence.” This implies that you might have voted for the war if you had been in the Senate when the vote was taken. Why then do you condemn Hillary Clinton and other Senators who voted for the war authorization resolution when you admit the possibility that if you had been in the Senate you would have done the same?

2. As chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Foreign Relations you could have held oversight hearings, called witnesses and offered alternatives to Bush’s disastrous efforts against A Qeada in Afghanistan. Your subcommittee held none and provided no alternatives to Bush policy that you condemn, why?

3. In the Senate you have one of the poorest attendance records, and you often simply vote present on thorny issues, why?

4. Senate Legislation was proposed to require nuclear giant, Exelon to make public disclosure of its radiation leaks. You did not fully support that requirement. Exelon has been identified as your fourth biggest campaign contributor. Why did you oppose the tougher regulatory proposal for Exelon?

5. Chicago financier Tony Rezko has been accused of numerous financial illicit dealings. You have claimed that you did no political or personal favors for Rezko. Yet as an Illinois state legislator you wrote endorsement letters to government agencies on his behalf, as well as having conducted other documented financial transactions and dealings and with him. Why do you deny that you have no relationship with Rezko?

6. The head of your campaign finance chair is Penny Pritzker. Before taking over Obama’s campaign finances, she headed up the borderline shady and failed Superior Bank. It collapsed in 2002. The bank engaged in deceptive and faulty lending, questionable accounting practices, and charged hidden fees. It made thousands of dubious loans to mostly poor, strapped homeowners. A disproportionate number of them were minority. Why does she still have a principal financial role in your campaign?

7. You have taken money in past campaigns from straw donors. These are donors that have taken money from tainted and dubious sources and then contribute to your campaign under their names. You have talked much about financial openness in campaigns. Why did you take money from straw donors in the past? And do you take money from them now?

8. Following a speech by Hillary Clinton praising Lyndon Johnson for his role in helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an Obama campaign advisor privately released a four page memo urging hammering Clinton for denigrating Dr. King. Yet, you told reporters that neither you nor anyone in your campaign had made the accusation that Clinton denigrated King. Why did you say that when clearly it was the memo from your campaign advisor that triggered the media and public assault on Clinton regarding King?

9. You have not produced a single public document that would provide the public with greater insight and knowledge about legislation, initiatives proposed, your votes on key bills, and your attendance record during your terms in the Illinois legislature. Why?

10. You have repeatedly charged that Clinton violated a pledge not to put her name on the Michigan Democratic primary ballot. However, neither Clinton nor any other Democratic contender pledged to the DNC not to have their name on the ballot. Three other candidates had their name on the ballot in addition to Clinton. Why do continue to make this claim that the other candidates, but especially Clinton, violated a pledge not to have their name on the Michigan ballot?

Obama’s campaign is based on the firm pillar that he represents a new, open, fresh, and transparent politics. He is the candidate that is the antithesis of the political duplicity, double dealing, evasions, lies and corruption that marred other candidates. Obama can prove it by answering these questions; questions that raise serious doubt about his contention that he represents a radical break from the political past. If he won’t answer them then will his supporters answer them for him? That’s again, before McCain asks them.

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, March 20, 2008

Damned if He Does and Damned if He Doesn’t: Obama, Race and the Media Regime
By Sikivu Hutchinson

The recent flap over Chicago liberation theologian and Obama supporter Jeremiah Wright has finally given the right wing enough ammo to begin its blitzkrieg against Barack Obama’s presidential bid. Wright’s fiery oratories on racism and American imperialism have whipped the jackboots of Fox News into an orgiastic heat in their mission to out Obama as a radical black nationalist. Caving to the media-drumbeat on Tuesday, Obama delivered a reflective speech on race, acknowledging America’s racist history while drawing dubious parallels between the economic struggles of middle and working class whites and African Americans impacted by racial segregation. Prior to Obama’s plea for racial healing he’d denounced Wright’s comments and removed him as one of his campaign advisors. Obama’s swift censure of Wright, and his willingness to act as white America’s native informant interpreting the gaffes of bad Negroes, is yet another example of how his ambivalence about fully confronting racism is driven by political expediency. Portraying Wright as a throwback to the “divisive” past of the 1960s in one interview, Obama resorted to Kumbaya rhetoric to let black folk know that they aren’t the only ones hurting—in essence, been there done that, let’s move on.

Much of the outrage over Wright has centered on comments he made about 9/11 in 2001 and a recent sermon he gave on Obama’s experience as a black man in racist America. Wright charged that Clinton, due to her wealth and white privilege, has never had to suffer the indignities of being passed up by a cab or racially profiled by the police. The footage of Wright declaiming against Clinton’s privilege was replayed on Fox and other news outlets ad nauseum, casting Wright as a foaming at the mouth zealot making a reckless charge. Yet Clinton’s entitlements as a white elite female whose husband was once one of the most powerful men in the world have been conveniently omitted from the mainstream media’s hand wringing about whether race trumps gender in the presidential contest. Deftly relying on patriarchy, while decrying her status as a beleaguered female in a male dominated arena, Clinton owes her once presumed march to coronation to a form of political capital that has never been available to American women of color.

In their zeal to skewer Wright, the Fox jackboots played their own race card, trotting out a duo of black conservatives to trash his credibility. Wright was caricatured as a David Duke-meets-Farrakhan buffoon, a demagogue spewing anti-white anti-American bile with no historical basis. In the parallel universe of the right wing media regime, it is black “bigotry,” not white racism, which poses the biggest threat to the multiculti allure of Obama. Never mind that the reality of institutional racism, signified by deep disparities in black unemployment, household income, homeownership and health care, belie claims by the likes of Geraldine Ferraro and the Fox crew that Obama’s success is primarily due to his blackness. Set against this backdrop of black disenfranchisement Obama’s meteoric rise is a paradox, defying the traditional white supremacist terms of presidential politics while placating Middle America. Though his high-minded musings on racial unity may help him dodge Fox’s attempt to “Sharptonize” him, they won’t satisfy the black electorate’s need for concrete policies addressing the divide in income, homeownership and education that make the wages of whiteness a bitter reality for people of color in the U.S.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and author of Imagining Transit: Race, Gender and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (2003).

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Woes for Obama and Clinton with Ferraro’s Fingerpoint of Race and Gender
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A defiant Geraldine Ferraro told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she had “absolutely” no regrets about saying that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama was getting kid glove treatment because he’s black. Ferraro could be defiant. The former Democratic VP candidate and Hillary Clinton advisor had just voluntarily stepped down in response to the howls from the Obama camp for Clinton to fire her for what they called her racist and insulting remarks. The Ferraro-Obama flap was just the latest in the long and rancorous, name calling, and finger pointing attacks that Clinton and Obama have leveled at each other.

But the Ferraro tiff did raise one intriguing question. And that’s, does race trump gender, or is it the other way around? That question has been perched on the lips of pundits since Obama and Clinton tossed their hats in the ring last year. In the case of Obama the question was always would whites back an African-American for president. In the case of Clinton the question was would men back a woman for president. Ferraro flatly said that the media was sexist and that it had relentlessly dumped on Clinton because she’s a she. Obama in his retort hinted that race was an obstacle and that he had worked doubly hard to cast his campaign above race, and stick to the theme of change, presumably that meant change for all.

But Ferraro no matter how crude and intemperate one thinks her racial dig at Obama was, she had a valid point about gender. And so did Obama about race.

Clinton has had to deal with a relentless barrage of gender tinged wisecracks and outright insults on the campaign trail. At one rally, hecklers yelled to her to iron their shirts. Other gender taunts and slurs were even less flattering. Radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners in one of his nationally syndicated shows, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?" Clinton has been taunted in some online websites with fake ads for toilet brushes labeled, "First Cleaning Lady" and a Clinton nutcracker was also for sale. It cracked nuts between her legs. Hillary Clinton's hairdos, ankles and even her cleavage did not stir any sustained protests or outrage from either men or women.

A female in the White House would shatter the frozen in time mindset that the first lady isn't the president but the emotional helpmate to the president. That notion, though, is still a foreign concept to many men. In February, the Associated Press and Yahoo News found that 40 percent of Republicans said they would be reluctant to vote for a woman. A much smaller percentage said they would be reluctant to vote for a black.

However, Obama and his backers have constantly been on guard against any hint of a racial backlash to his candidacy. The first hint of that was in the New Hampshire primary when some polls showed Obama handily beating Clinton only to suffer a close loss. That brought whispers that Obama was a victim of the Bradley Effect. This was named after the loss in the 1982 California governor’s race by African-American Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley to a white candidate. Bradley had a double digit polling lead over him before the election. The Bradley effect is the propensity of whites to tell pollsters that race has no importance in their vote and then show at the polls that it does. But Obama seemed to dispel the Bradley Effect by garnering substantial white support in primary victories in other states. Yet, the potential for subtle white resistance to his candidacy is something that the Obama camp privately worries about.

The politically correct view is that Clinton and Obama’s entrance into and drive for the presidency will permanently alter the hostile mindset of many men that a woman is not equipped to hold the highest office and the thought of many whites that a black man is not equipped to be president. Yet, in Democratic primaries in January and February Obama held his own or surpassed Hillary’s vote total with white men. He did it in some of the most traditional bastions of white male voter resistance to backing a black candidate in elections past. Meanwhile, Clinton got substantial white male support in her big primary win over Obama in Ohio. But the racial divide did appear with a vengeance in the Mississippi primary where Obama got the bulk of the black vote, and Clinton got the bulk of the white vote.

So whether Ferraro was totally on the mark about men and Clinton and race and Obama will continue to be debated, squabbled over, and finger pointed at by Clinton and Obama. The one thing that’s for sure is the one candidate who has a Cheshire cat wide grin on his face at the rancor between them over race and gender is named John McCain.

New America Media National Political Affairs Writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back ( Middle Passage Press, July 2008).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Black Voters Can’t Put Obama in the White House
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

African-American voters will help insure that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama keeps his slight edge over Hillary Clinton—for now. They will not help him beat John McCain if he eventually gets the Democratic nomination. Yet it’s still a virtual article of political faith that a strong, united, and crusading black vote can tip the scale for a Democratic presidential candidate. This is a myth and it’s risky business for Obama and the Democrats to believe that. It’s easy to see why Obama might be tempted to think that. When Obama needed a surge early on in the campaign, he called on Oprah, and she delivered. She made a blatant racial pitch for blacks to in the crucial South Carolina primary to vote for him, and they did in near record numbers. That put him over the top and propelled his campaign.

With the black vote firmly in hand, that gave him the freedom to craft his hope and change message in broad, bland, and especially non-racial terms. The idea was to avoid any appearance of a Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton racial tilt. That would be the political kiss of death with many white voters.
But that didn’t change the political reality that black votes still provided the decisive edge for Obama in key primary state wins. And even in his losses to Hillary Clinton in Ohio, California and Texas, black votes kept the race close. Those votes, though, will never be enough to put him over the top in the big states against Clinton, let alone against John McCain in the South and Border states.

The myth that the black vote wins presidential election has been bandied about for so long that it’s taken on the proportion of a political urban legend. In 2000, black voters made up nearly 11 percent of the overall voter. They gave the Democratic presidential contender Al Gore 90 percent of their vote. In 2004, black voters made up nearly 12 percent of the vote and gave Democratic presidential contender John Kerry 88 percent of the vote. Gore and Kerry lost.
The Clinton wins in 1992 and 1996 also helped fuel the myth that black votes put Democrats in the White House. Clinton managed to pry four Southern states out of the GOP orbit but he did it by downplaying racial and social issues and stressing family values, tough defense, and a strong economy. He got lots of white votes, especially, white male votes, and that made the difference since he got the same percentage of black votes that Democrats traditionally got in prior elections.
In 2004, then presidential contender Howard Dean openly worried that Democrats could not beat Bush unless they got a bigger share of white male votes. He quipped that the Democrats had to court beer-guzzling white guys who wave the Confederate flag. That brought howls of protests from Dean’s Democratic rivals and the charge that Dean was pandering to unreconstructed bigots to get more white votes in his column. A livid Sharpton called Dean a turn coat Democrat and warned that heeding Dean would be a betrayal of black voters. They could have saved their breath. Kerry made only a weak, half-hearted effort to court white male voters in the South. Bush still got nearly seventy percent of the white male vote there, a second sweep of the South and a second term.

A chastised Dean got it right. He simply crunched the numbers and recognized that white males make up more than one-third of the electorate. .
In 2000, exit polling showed that while white women backed Bush over Gore by 3 percentage points, white men backed him by 27 percentage points. Four years later the margin was 26 points for Bush over Kerry among white males.

A huge first red flag waved high for Obama and the Democrats in the recent Ohio Democratic primary that warns that they can’t win without white votes. Clinton won a smash victory over Obama in large part with white votes. And even more ominously, blue collar lower income white voters roundly rejected Obama. In fact, nearly twenty percent of white voters defied political correctness and said that they would not vote for an African-American. That contrasted with national polls, which showed that more than 90 percent of whites said that race would not be a factor in determining their vote. The Ohio mini-white backlash to Obama doesn’t bode well for the Democrats if he’s the eventual nominee. No Republican or Democrat has won the White House in the past four decades without winning Ohio.

Black voters will cheer and dash to the polls en masse for Obama, but their votes won’t be enough to put him in the White House. Despite the myth, they haven’t put any other Democrat candidate in the White House either.