Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering the Other Eartha Kitt

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The smile on Eartha Kitt’s face was unforgettable. It belied the pain, ridicule and turmoil that she had endured after she was unceremoniously shoved at or near the top of then President Lyndon Johnson’s enemies list. But that seemed to be the furthest thing from her mind that late spring afternoon in 1978 when she greeted me at the old Aquarius Theater in Hollywood. Kitt was in Los Angeles starring in her tour production of the musical Timbuktu. I was assigned to do a brief interview and a review of the production.

Kitt’s smile and infectious energy melted the awe and nervousness that I felt at being up close too and actually talking with an entertainment legend. Then there was the “incident.” That was the furor that Kitt ignited when she denounced the Vietnam War and poverty to Johnson at that White House luncheon in January, 1968. A decade later the controversy still got the tongues wagging.

Her performance in Los Angeles was in part Kitt’s American scene entertainment rehabilitation after being virtually banned in the U.S. after her Johnson White House outburst. Her performance was also in part a brash effort to reclaim the luster that had made her virtually a household name and an icon in the entertainment world in the 1950s and early 1960s. By then Kitt had firmly established her legacy as an award winning internationally acclaimed singer, dancer, film, stage and TV actress. Kitt was tagged as sultry, sensual, and sexual alluring. But that was the surface stuff. Kitt’s brash, sassy, and high energy style and persona sent the clear message that she was her own woman. She refused to be relegated to the stereotypical stage and film roles, and turned her sensuality into a badge of fierce independence and pride, the trademark of defiance. Kitt’s pioneer independence and sense of self influenced the coming generation of young female entertainers and personalities from Oprah to Beyonce to Madonna. They owe her a debt of gratitude.

But even that side of Kitt obscured the Kitt who was passionately devoted to and supported peace and civil rights causes. The clash with Johnson, really the Johnson’s, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, at the celebrity women’s luncheon in January 1968 gave the first public hint of that.

Lady Bird Johnson had invited Kitt to the luncheon and in an innocent moment asked Kitt what she thought about the problems of inner city youth. Kitt didn’t mince words and lambasted the Johnson administration for not doing more about poverty, joblessness, and drugs in black communities. Kitt didn’t stop there, she tied her outburst directly into an attack on the Vietnam War, a war she said was without reason or explanation. Kitt’s verbal assault on the war and racial problems made headline news. A badly shaken first lady and an enraged LBJ denounced her. The next few years she was hounded and harassed by the FBI, the IRS and Secret Service agents. The CIA even compiled a gossipy, intrusive dossier on her that attempted to paint her as a sex starved malcontent. The public storm and the negative press proved too much.

Kitt’s career was effectively dead in the United States. But she stuck by her guns and did not apologize, retract or soften her criticism of Johnson’s war and racial policies. Kitt in fact hadn’t said anything at that luncheon that thousands of others hadn’t said about Johnson’s hopelessly failed, flawed and losing war and racial problems. The difference was who said it; namely a celebrated star, and where it was said at the White House. Kitt took the heat and paid the price for giving an honest opinion and her deep felt belief about the cause of peace and social justice. She was branded as a racial agitator.

Missed in the overreaching hysteria and the vindictive bashing was that underneath the glitter and carefully crafted sexpot image, Kitt had given time and money to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations. She supported and participated in the March on Washington. During her wilderness years when she was forced to work outside the U.S. she took heat for performing before all white audiences in South Africa. But like so much about Kitt that went unnoticed, she broke barriers by insisting that her cast was integrated. She also quietly raised money for black schools in the country.

During our brief talk before her stage performance in Los Angeles, Kitt spent as much time talking about her devotion to the civil rights movement and the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, than about the production she was in. She did not mince words when I gingerly asked her about the “incident.” She laughed but did not express any regret about what she said and did that day at the White House. She expressed no bitterness about the years of media and public ostracism.

This is the Eartha Kitt, the impassioned contributor to peace and civil rights, that I knew, remember, and pay homage to.

C'est si bon"

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The What is Obama Debate Again

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Here’s the what is President-elect Barack Obama, black, bi-racial or multi-racial quiz. If he did not have one of the world’s most recognizable names and faces he would fume at being subjected to poor (or no) service in restaurants, bypassed by taxis, racial-profiled by police on street corner stops, landlords who refuse to show him an apartment, followed in stores by security guards, denied a loan for his business or home purchase due to redlining, find himself living in a resegregated neighborhood, or routinely passed over for a corporate management position.
He would not be subjected to any of these routine petty harassments and annoyances, the subtle and at time outright forms of discrimination because he checked the bi-racial designation on his census form. That’s a meaningless, feel good, paper designation that has no validity in the hard world of American race politics.
The deepest part of America's racial fault has always been and still remains the black and white divide. This has spawned legions of vile but durable racial stereotypes, fears, and antagonisms. Black males have been the special target of the negative typecasting. They've routinely been depicted as crime prone, derelict, sexual menaces, and chronic underachievers. University researchers recently found that Obama’s win didn’t appreciably change these stereotypes.

The roughly six million or 2 percent of Americans who checked the bi-racial census box may take comfort in trying to be racially precise, but most also tell of their own bitter experience in feeling the sting of racial bigotry in the streets and workplace. Obama can too and he has related his racial awakening in his best selling bare the soul autobiograhy Dreams from My Father.

Despite his occasional references to his white mother and grandmother, Obama has never seen himself as anything other than African-American. That worked for and against him during the campaign. In coutless polls and surveys, the overwhelming majority of whites said that they would vote for an African-American for president, and that compentence and qualification, not color was the only thing that mattered. Many meant it and showed it by enthusiatically cheering him on. More than a few didn’t. Despite the real and feigned color blindness, nearly sixty percent of whites still did not vote for Obama. Most based their opposition to him on Republican political loyalties, ties, regional and personal preferences. But a significant minority of white voters did not for him because he's black, and they did not hide their feelings to interviewers about that and in exit polls in the Democratic primaries and the general election. Tagging him as multi-racial or bi-racial did not soften their color resistance to him, let alone change their perception that he was black.

Yet, the sideshow debate still rages over whether Obama is the black president or the bi-racial president. The debate is even more nonsensical since science has long since debunked the notion of a pure racial type. In America, race has never been a scientific or genealogical designation, but a political and social designation. Anyone with the faintest trace of African ancestry was and still is considered black and treated accordingly.
Blacks were ecstatic over Obama's candidacy and his presidential win. They were unabashed in saying that they backed him with passion and fervor because he is black. Many would not have cheered him with the same passion if he touted himself as a mixed race candidate. The thrill and pride for them was that a black man could beat the racial odds and climb to the political top; substituting bi-racial for black would not have had the same meaning or significance to blacks. The talk about Obama being anything other than black infuriates many blacks. Their anger is legitimate. If Obama doesn’t run from his black identity then the bi-racial card appears as a naked effort to snatch Obama’s history making victory from them. It’s also an implicit denial that an African-American can have the right stuff, that is the smarts, talent and ability to excel in any arena.
The second that Obama announced that he would run for president in February 2007, much of the press and the public fixated on one question, "Is America ready for a black president?" The question was never, "Is America ready for a mixed-race president?" The answer was that Obama if elected would be America's first black president. It was almost never that he would be America’s first mixed-race president.
That didn’t change on Election Night. Obama’s victory was still hailed as a giant step forward for black and white relations in America, not mixed race relations. That may or may not be the case. The nagging racial sleights and indignities that many African-Americans suffer are tormenting reminders that race still does matter, and matter a lot to many Americans.
Calling Obama the first black president is the accurate, and honest, way to fix his place in American political history. It’s one that he wouldn’t or really can’t dispute.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jesse Jackson Jr. Should Bow Out for Obama’s Seat

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. should bow out of contention for Obama’s Senate seat. True there is yet no evidence that he offered to grease Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s palm in return for the seat. But there’s a continuing probe into whether a Jackson family member or associates acted as Jackson’s paymasters to Blagojevich. The probe, the suspicions, and the time he has spent in his defense have hopelessly tainted him as a credible candidate for the seat. He should also withdraw because Blagojevich’s alleged funny money dealings has tossed too ugly a glare on Chicago’s wheel and deal, borderline legal racketeering politics. The whispers and rumors about Jackson Jr. will swirl no matter what the FBI and the U.S. attorney ultimately decide about the extent of his involvement in the scandal.
But this is really less important than the accusation against him. In politics, especially Chicago politics, protests of innocence to wrongdoing are not the same as innocence. Jackson Jr. is not just a Chicago politician. He’s an African-American politician who carries his famed father’s namesake. The elder Jackson who was also mentioned in the allegation of seat tampering is no stranger to controversy. That’s enough to further stir suspicions. It’s still race, however, that makes Jackson Jr.’s innocence or not most problematic. When black elected officials are accused of wrongdoing, the presumption of guilt hangs heavily in the air. That’s in part because the recent corruption scandals that have snared former Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson and Birmingham mayor Larry Langford have been plastered over the news. The cloud of suspicion is there in part too because in a few celebrated cases when they're indicted, jailed, accused of financial improprieties or ethics violations (as in the case of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who initially screamed race when she took a swing at a Capitol Police officer) the fingered officials have made race the centerpiece of their defense. During the 1990s, former Illinois Congressman Mel Reynolds screamed racism when he was indicted, tried and convicted of sexual assault charges. Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry screamed racism when he was indicted, tried and convicted on a drug charge. California Congressman Walter Tucker, convicted of bribery charges, loudly shouted racism.

When they're popped, they wail that they should not be held to a higher standard of accountability than white officials who get caught with their hand in the corruption cookie jar. When white politicians are jailed and pay hefty fines for violating campaign finance and ethics laws, nobody says that they have to be a cross between Mother Teresa and St. Paul.
However, even if Jackson is a victim of a slightly kooky governor as he and others claim, that still doesn’t absolve him of holding to a standard that leaves not the slightest doubt that he is above reproach. He represents the majority black Second Congressional District. His constituents view him not as other politicians, but as a leader and advocate. They look to him to represent their interests and to confront institutional power. Any legal smear on him, no matter how questionable that soils his name makes it much harder for blacks to retain confidence in them. This diminishes their political power and influence, creating distrust and dissension among black voters.
Jackson publicly pleaded to get his good name back. He knows full well that a taint, any taint, can hamper his ability to do his job. He has an even bigger burden than other black politicians who carry the same cross. His father insured that. The long and storied years of civil rights crusading by Jackson Sr. markedly increased expectations that his son would not be solely a legislative fighter but also a champion for the rights of the underdog, who in this case, happen to be many of his constituents.
Jackson to his credit did not reflexively try to deflect, dodge, and muddy the charges and accusations against him by screaming "racism." He wisely went in the opposite direction and singled out prosecutors for being honest and open and giving him a clean bill—for now.
Yet, Jackson, other black officials, and indeed all public officials will be keenly watched by state and federal prosecutors for any hint of impropriety. If they engage in any forbidden activities with money, they will swiftly be called on the legal carpet. The burden of proof, then, is on them to prove that they can and will do any and everything to avoid even the slightest smudge of scandal.
In Jackson Jr.’s case, a lot of damage has already been done. There are loud calls for him to withdraw his name from consideration for the Senate seat. Jackson hasn’t yet shown any willingness to do that. Unfortunately, the mud tossed on him will not wash off. It hasn’t on other black elected officials who’ve been rudely plopped on the scandal hot seat. Jackson should withdraw his name and do it now.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama’s Win Didn’t End Racial Stereotyping

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There is still much talk about how Barack Obama’s White House win demolished negative stereotypes about blacks. That’s wishful thinking. A new study by a team of researchers from several top universities shows that stereotypes about poverty and crime remain just as frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceives that those most likely to commit crimes are poor, jobless, and black. The surprise was that the negative racial stereotypes also applied to anyone, no matter their color, who was poor and jobless. If for instance a white commits a crime the odds are that the respondents will reclassify that person as black.
The jumbled mental contortions that many go through to dub a white person black solely on the basis of their income and whether they have been jailed didn’t end there. If a person who was perceived as white was jailed that person was still perceived to be black even after their release. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime are firmly rammed together in the public mind. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted it’s virtually impossible to root out. That’s hardly new either.
In 2003 Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crime. This was no surprise given the relentless media depictions of young blacks as dysfunctional, dope peddling, gang bangers and drive by shooters. The bulging numbers of blacks in America’s jails and prisons seem to reinforce the perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young black male face. And it doesn’t much matter how prominent, wealthy, or celebrated a black is. The overkill frenzy feeding on the criminal hijinks of New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, O.J. Simpson, and the legions of black NFL, NBA stars, Hollywood peronalities, and entertainers who run afoul of the law or are bad behaving further reinforce the negative image of blacks.
There was, however, a mild surprise in the Penn State study. It found that even when blacks didn’t commit a specific crime whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African-American. University researchers were plainly fascinated by this result. Five years later they wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway. By then Obama’s political ascent was in full trajectory upward. Polls showed that a crushing majority of whites not only said that they would vote for an African-American for president, but that color was not a consideration in how they viewed and voted for a candidate. This appeared to signal a benign sea change in public attitudes on race.
It didn’t. Researchers found that public attitudes on crime and race were unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn’t commit them.
There are two troubling implications in these studies. One is that Obama’s victory was more a personal triumph for him. It did not radically remap racial perceptions, let alone an end to racial stereotyping. A significant percent of whites voted for him and were passionate about him because they were fed up with Bush’s policies, and believed that he would reverse those policies. The vote for him was race neutral. His victory was a tribute to his personal political organization and savvy as well as public fear and frustration about Bush. The second implication is even more troubling. If much of the public still view crime and poverty through narrow racial lens then that will continue to stir public clamor for lawmakers, police and prosecutors to clean the streets of violent criminals, who are almost always seen as African-Americans. This could mean even more gang sweeps, court injunctions, stiff adult prison terms, three strikes laws, and incarceration for teens, the holding of accused teens indefinitely in juvenile jail detention.
Ironically, Obama inadvertently fed the negative perceptions of blacks. In several much publicized talks on the black family, he blasted black men for being missing in action from the home and shirking their family responsibility. It was a well-meaning effort to call attention to the chronic problems of black males and families, but it also gave the impression that black males are dysfunctional. It was a short step from that to conclude that these same men are more likely to be involved in crime than whites.
Obama’s win was a two edged sword. It was as billed a profound historic win, but it also fanned the illusion that racial stereotypes are dead. Now we know better.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Monday, December 08, 2008

Jefferson Defeat Not About Race

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The much deserved defeat of scandal plagued Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson by Vietnamese-American immigration attorney Anh “Joseph” Cao was not about race. Whites did flock to the polls in bigger numbers than usual and the black voter turnout was much less than in the primary. But despite the ramp up in white votes, blacks still make up the majority of voters in Jefferson’s district. While many blacks voted for him out of old loyalty, a significant number didn’t. The lower voter black turnout in essence was a vote against him.
His defeat then was about ethics, interest and just plain common sense. Jefferson was not just an embarrassment. He was hopelessly damaged political goods and by plopping him back into office for a tenth term his black constituents would have been the losers.
If ever there was a case that screamed for scrubbing race from politics it was the Jefferson case. He has been on the legal hot seat for many months. He was indicted, and faces trial on bribery and corruption charges. He was stripped of his seniority on a key House committee. He left a bitter taste in the mouths of many New Orleans residents during the Katrina debacle, when he allegedly commandeered a National Guard truck to check on his personal property and save personal belongings at the same moment nearby residents needed rescue from possible drowning.
Jefferson mercifully has not screamed race at any point during his legal ordeal, and other than pro forma references to Obama on his campaign website, he did not seek and likely would not have gotten Obama’s direct help in the campaign anyway. Jefferson, however, did subtly play the race card by hinting that he was a political victim. It was a pitch for voter sympathy and of course, voter support. It also implied that he and indeed other African-American politicians should not be held to the same standard of accountability as white officials who get caught with their hand in the till. When they are jailed and pay hefty fines for violating campaign finance and ethics laws, they argue, nobody says that they have to be a cross between Mother Teresa and Saint Paul.
But Jefferson and other black elected officials should be held to a higher standard. Their mostly black constituents view them not as politicians, but as leaders and advocates. They look to them to represent their interests and to confront institutional power. Any legal smear on them makes it much harder for blacks to retain confidence in them. This diminishes their political power and influence, creating distrust and dissension among black voters. This makes it that much more difficult for blacks to generate any enthusiasm to get out to vote, or get involved in community improvement actions. That was clearly the case in Jefferson’s defeat.
It's not just scandal that hurts black officials -- the race card hurts them too. In far too many cases blacks accused of wrongdoing instinctually deflect, dodge, and muddy the charges and accusations against them by claiming racial persecution. They promptly wrap themselves in the martyr's cloak of persecuted civil rights fighters.
This is not a small point. In the past when black politicians have been accused and tried on corruption charges, they have used the race card to deflect attention from their crimes.
During the 1990s, former Illinois Congressman Mel Reynolds screamed racism when he was indicted, tried and convicted of sexual assault charges. Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry screamed racism when he was indicted, tried and convicted on a drug charge. California Congressman Walter Tucker, convicted of bribery charges, loudly shouted racism. In a statement black Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford issued after his recent arrest on federal corruption charges, he strongly implied that he was a victim of political persecution
Langford and the others play the odds and remind blacks that President Reagan's Justice Department initiated dozens of corruption probes against black elected officials during the 1980s. Given the Reagan administration's perceived indifference to civil rights and social programs, it was easy for many blacks to believe that some of these cases crossed the thin line between legitimate concern with bagging lawbreakers and racially-motivated political harassment of black leadership.
Black officials, such as Jefferson, will continue to be keenly watched by state and federal prosecutors for any hint of impropriety. If they engage in any forbidden activities with money, they will swiftly be called on the legal carpet. The burden of proof, then, is on them to prove that they can and will do any and everything to avoid even the slightest taint of scandal. That may be unfair, but that's the price that they must pay to be regarded as credible and honorable black leaders and advocates.
When the charges against him were first made public, a defiant Jefferson vowed that he would never resign from his seat. He banked that black voters would do what they did for nine previous terms; and that’s ignore the tarnish on his star and reelect him. Thankfully, he was wrong.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press January 2009)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Behind the Screwy Obama Birth Certificate Controversy

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

At first glance it defied credulity that the staid, respected Chicago Tribune would do something as screwball as giving any credence to the issue of whether President-elect Barack Obama is really a U.S. citizen or not. But the Tribune will run not one but two big splashy ads paid for by a quasi libertarian outfit named based in Queensbury, New York. The group demands that Obama produce his original birth certificate with all the official markings and proper affixed signatures on it. The one that the Hawaii Department of Health officials made public last June was an electronic copy of the certificate.
Unfortunately, Hawaii officials left just enough room for the Obama birth certificate hounders to wiggle through when they correctly noted that privacy laws forbade them from releasing original documents without the authorization of the individual for which the documents are requested; in this case that individual being Obama.
Obama at the time and since then has also correctly declined to give any more ammunition to the birth certificate hounders. His campaign simply issued a statement that the document released by Hawaii officials is authentic. But that just emboldened the Obama hounders even more. Nearly a million have taken a gander at a You Tube clip on the controversy, dozens of websites fuel the rumor mill about his certificate, and a pile of articles have rehashed the issue of whether the birth certificate that Hawaii produced is legit. Nearly two dozen lawsuits or petitions have been filed in various state courts contesting Obama’s U.S. citizenship (one of them was filed by political gadfly Alan Keyes).
The Tribune ads won’t help matters. But it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if the paper had refused the ad. The online mill would still crank away about the certificate. Wagging tongues fan a controversy and that’s always good for website looks and business. As for We the People, it has used the controversy as a fund raising chip (gimmick).
But that’s less important for some than finding any issue no matter how farfetched to further stoke the paranoid suspicions of more than a few about Obama. Those suspicions were deeply implanted the moment that he declared his presidential candidacy in 2007. They rumbled above and underneath the surface throughout the campaign, and never stopped when he won.
He was not black enough. He was too black. He was not patriotic enough. He was too liberal, too effete, too untested. He was a Muslim, terrorist fellow traveler, and a closet black radical. The shock of an Obama in the White House is simply too much for many to bear. Obama defies the stereotypical textbook look and definition of what an American president is supposed to look like, and be like; namely a wooden image middle-aged, or older, white male.
Obama said as much during a campaign stop in late July when he quipped that he did not look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills. Obama got torched for saying the obvious and that is that his candidacy was different. Obama later admitted that it was a racial reference. The off the cuff remark simply reinforced the point that he and his candidacy marked a turning point in U.S. presidential politics and by extension race relations.
The Obama birth certificate hounders have kept the issue alive with some mainstream papers by crudely cloaking their motives. They depict themselves as public spirited citizens and legal experts with no personal, political, let alone racial, ax to grind. Their sole goal is to insure electoral truth and accuracy, to make sure that all the legal requirements for holding a presidential office are met, and to head off a constitutional crisis. They claim they want to put the matter to rest for good before his January 20 inauguration.
Their fantasy is that the U.S. Supreme Court will help them out and demand that Obama produce his supposed “real” birth certificate and if not declare the election null and void. The Supreme Court hasn’t made any demand on Obama to pony up his birth certificate, and likely won’t. Even if a justice or two had a stray thought about taking a peek at the issue, the memory of the fury over the court’s meddle in the 2000 election that ultimately tipped the White House to Bush is still too fresh in their and the public’s mind to butt in on such a wacky issue.
The bad thing about the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate is not that some print publications have dignified the issue by running paid hit ads on it, but that the ads were even conjured up in the first place. And even worse that so many millions are still willing to believe that it’s an issue at all.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More Than a Sentence for O.J. Simpson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant O.J. Simpson was found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges in a Las Vegas court, a lusty on line debate ensued between legal experts and bloggers over whether the judge would or should throw the book at Simpson at his sentencing on December 5. The debate was tinged with more personal feeling, rage, and loathing about and toward Simpson than about the court’s legal options. Judges, of course, can slap sentence enhancements on a convicted felon based on their prior record, and in some cases their bad behavior. But Simpson has not been convicted of any crimes prior to his Las Vegas conviction. His behavior may have been boorish and repellant but that’s hardly legal grounds for doubling down on his sentence. Nevada legal experts say that the judge could hit Simpson with a maximum sentence of twenty-five to thirty years. If so, he would be eligible for parole in 8 years.
The sentence will satisfy the court of law. It won’t totally satisfy many in the court of public opinion. The reason is simple. Simpson’s acquittal on double murder charges thirteen years ago still sticks in the craw of much of America. The bloggers and legal pundits who furiously debated Simpson’s pending sentence needle was stuck hard on that point. They reflect the feeling of millions more. If Simpson served every day of a lengthy sentence with even the faint possibility of walking free that will not be good enough for many.

From the day that he beat the double murder rap and walked out of a Los Angeles court, he has gone wherever he pleased and done what he pleased. He's been trailed by a pack of doting former fans, and celebrity gawkers. There was no hint that police in any of these cities ever routinely subjected him to a special get Simpson profile. Yet, Simpson's ill gained notoriety and perverse celebrity virtually guaranteed that the legal hammer would drop especially hard on him at the first whiff of criminal wrongdoing. There was no chance that given the savage public mood toward him and with the one person truth squad of Fred Goldman continually wagging the guilt finger at him that Simpson would get the benefit of the doubt on any future charges against him. He, of all people, should’ve known that.
A poll taken after Simpson’s Las Vegas bust found that a majority of the public still seethed that he was a murderer who skipped away scot-free, and that his trial and acquittal was a blatant travesty of justice. Even many of Simpson’s one time black supporters who passionately screamed that he was the victim of a biased criminal justice system in the L.A. murder trial cut and run after the Las Vegas verdict. There was not even a bare peep from them that the conviction had any racial taint to it. Simpson and his attorney’s complaint that prosecutors massaged and twisted jury selection to insure a non-black jury drew barely a yawn in press and legal circles.
Simpson didn't invent or originate the oftimes ugly divide in public opinion about celebrity guilt. It has always lurked just beneath the surface. But his case propelled it to the front of public debate and anger. The horde of Simpson media commentators, legal experts and politicians who branded the legal system corrupt and compromised also fueled public belief that justice is for sale. Simpson's acquittal seemed to confirm that the rich, famous and powerful have the deep pockets to hire a small army of high priced, high profile attorneys, expert witnesses, experts, and investigators who routinely mangle the legal system to stall, delay, and drag out their cases, and eventually allow their well-heeled clients to weasel out of punishment.
Even when prosecutors manage to win convictions of or guilty pleas from celebrities, their money, fame, power, and legal twisting often guarantee that they will get a hand slap jail sentence, if that. The hung jury after months of legal finagling and manuevering in the Los Angeles murder trial of one time record kingmaker Phil Spector drew the same public tongue wagging about how a washed up celebrity with a few bucks can play the system.
Whether Las Vegas prosecutors did indeed as Simpson claimed grossly overcharge him, it didn’t stop the chatter that a killer was finally getting at least some of his due. Few others rushed to his defense and blamed the steep charges on a vindictive and unforgiving criminal justice system. In any case, Simpson did his best to try to convince a hostile and doubting public and jury that he was a victim. It worked once, but not a second time. With Simpson it was always more than just a mundane criminal case, and so is his sentence.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Holder Could Be GOP Target

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Before nominating Eric Holder to be his attorney general, President Elect Barack Obama quietly asked key Senate Republicans if there would be any potential confirmation problems with Holder’s nomination. Holder is his first cabinet pick and Obama wants to make sure that the pick will be hailed as a good one. The last thing he needs is a bitter, partisan, and contentious scuffle over Holder.
Holder’s legal credentials, administrative experience, and accomplishments are impeccable. As Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General, he got high marks for initiating community outreach programs to address domestic violence, hate crimes and child abuse, devising standards for criminal prosecution of corporations, and handling civil health care matters. He’s also touted for encouraging greater diversity and more pro bono work by attorneys. Holder drew loud cheers from civil libertarians when he told the American Constitutional Society in a speech earlier this year that he would restore the “rule of law” to the Justice Department; meaning that he’d reverse the worst civil liberties abuses by Bush’s Justice Department in the terrorism war.
Yet Holder’s sterling credentials are one thing, but politics is another. A political appointment to a top spot is generally a pro forma affair; it may be anything but that with Holder.
The immediate cause for some worry is Holder’s role in Clinton’s pardon of outlaw financier Mark Rich in 2001. Holder reportedly green lighted the pardon, but soon regretted it. He says he never would have said anything favorable about Rich if he had known the full details of the case. Prosecutors, the GOP and even Democrats pounded Clinton for the pardon. But Holder’s input on Rich was only one factor in Clinton’s decision to pardon Rich, and it was ultimately Clinton’s call.
That probably alone won’t assure a smooth sail for Holder through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Holder nomination gives a badly mauled GOP a chance to show that it still has some fight in it and that it will not simply be a rubber stamp for Obama. Some conservatives indeed have said that picking a fight over some of Obama’s top picks might be a good way to show the troops that the party can regain some of its political footing.
The Rich issue is not the only skeleton that the GOP could attempt to rattle in Holder’s closet to get that footing. One is the claim that Holder routinely cleared Clinton’s brother Roger of any wrongdoing when he lobbied brother Bill to grant pardons for a drug trafficker and other high level crime figures. This charge will also go nowhere. Clinton did not grant the pardons. And Holder did not solely make the call absolving Roger Clinton of wrongdoing in the pardon cases. Top FBI officials and then independent Counsel Robert Ray also said that Clinton did not do anything illegal.
Another possible hit point is Holder’s lobbying on behalf of telecom giant Global Crossing after the company went belly up in 2002. Global Crossing incurred millions in debt. Back in June, the Republican National Committee first brought this up and claimed it would push to make it a campaign issue. The RNC didn’t say just what the issue was. It didn’t matter. The charge also went nowhere.
Then there is the Elian Gonzalez case. In 1999 Cuban leaders in Florida were furious at Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno for enforcing a court order requiring that the six year-old Gonzalez be removed from his relatives' home in Miami's Little Havana and returned to Cuba. As Deputy Attorney General, Holder took some heat for enforcing the court order.
The same year Holder drew more fire for his role in approving the clemency request for 16 members of the radical Puerto Rican independence group FALN convicted of a string of terrorist bombings and murders. The FBI, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. state attorneys opposed clemency for the 16. Holder refused to comment on what part he played in the clemency action.
Silence on the part of government officials is always taken as a sign by politically driven inquistors that an official has something to hide or is trying to dodge culpability for their actions when things go wrong. The FALN clemency issue could prove to be even more an irritant for Holder than the Rich case. In June, the RNC tried to stir up the pot on the FALN issue when it issued a press release urging the FALN clemency be made a campaign issue. There were no bites and the issue quickly died.
Then Holder was not an elected official, held no government office, and was only one of several top advisors to Obama. The talk of him being Obama’s pick as attorney general was just that, talk. However, he now is Obama’s pick and a GOP thirsting for anyone to target to make trouble for Obama may just see Holder as that target.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press January 2009)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama’s Racial Balancing Act

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President elect Barack Obama’s close and long time confidant Valerie Jarrett was emphatic when she told a group of black journalists that Obama would not waver one bit in his commitment to diversity in his administration. The journalists were nervous at the paucity of African-American names that have been repeatedly tossed around as likely Obama staff and cabinet picks. The list is top heavy with moderate to conservative Wall Street bank and corporate officials, ex-Clinton White House staffers, officials and advisors, and Democratic governors and senators. Though Obama has made no actual decisions whether any of them will make the final team cut, it was still cause for worry. The names prominently mentioned are hardly anyone’s definition of diversity. The political logic is that with the colossal problems of the war and the economy, an inexperienced and untested president who’s already under an intense microscope, virtually dictate that Obama can’t hit the ground running without the old, experienced corporate and Democratric insider hands on his team.

This will do nothing to ease the worry that blacks could be left out. And that’s a legitimate worry. The hard political reality is that black voters gave Obama more votes than any other Democratic candidate in presidential history. He could not have won solely with their record turnout and vote. But without those record votes he would almost certainly have lost. As in politics, there’s always a price or at least an expectation from an interest group that gives a candidate near universal backing. In this case, the implicit expectation is that an Obama White House will fight hard for civil rights, health, education, and job creation programs, and criminal justice reform. In fact, Obama hadn’t even warmed the president elect seat when Al Sharpton urged him to have his Attorney General revisit the Sean Bell case. The next day a coalition of national Latino legal and civil rights groups demanded that Obama appoint more Latinos to key posts in the cabinet, staff, and in the judiciary. More groups will almost certainly follow suit with their interest demands.

But even if Obama were not faced with towering crisises that have nothing to do with race, ethnicity and special interest demands, he still would hew tightly to a moderate centrist path in his staff and cabinet picks. The tipoff of that was his campaign. There was, and could not have been, the slightest racial or confrontational edge to it. That was absolutely crucial to win over doubting centrist, and conservative independents. In the early stages of the campaign they leaned tenuously to McCain. But Obama’s pitch that he’d put priority emphasis on tax and economic aid to the middle-class proved decisive in tipping the vote scale in his favor.

This was no accident. Though Obama publicly distanced himself from Bill Clinton's conservative Democratic Leadership Council. He still hewed closely to the template that Clinton and the DLC laid out for Democrats to win elections.

That is talk of strong defense, the war against terrorism, a vague plan for winding down the Iraq War, tax reform, a tame plan for affordable health care and the sub-prime lending crisis, and the economic resuscitation of mid-America. This non-racial, centrist pitch does not threaten or alienate the white middle-class. Meanwhile, Obama was virtually silent on issues such as racial profiling, affirmative action, housing and job discrimination, the racial disparities in prison sentencing, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, failing inner city schools, ending the racially-marred drug sentencing policy, and his Supreme Court appointments.

There were two other reasons for this formula approach apart from the heavy risk that making these centerpiece issues in the general election could have been the political kiss of death for him. One, is that his two Democratic presidential predecessors Al Gore and John Kerry also avoided talk of these issues during most of their campaigns. They, like Obama, are moderate, centrist Democrats. They were deeply fearful that a too heavy emphasis on civil rights and social programs would have left them wide open to assault from Bush and the GOP independent committees as too liberal Democrats, who were tax and spend, and soft on welfare and crime. That’s the standard tag, or better yet smear, plastered on Democrats. It’s their curse. Though both Gore and Kerry lost to Bush. They didn’t lose by much. In fact Gore won the popular vote. The lesson was that even in a loss, steering a center course was the prudent way for Democrats to keep the race close enough to have a shot at winning.

Obama even more than Kerry and Gore could not depart from the Clinton formula. Race made sure of that. From day one of his campaign he was and would be the most watched and scrutinized, and at times assailed, presidential candidate in modern times.

Jarrett’s emphastic assurance that diversity will be the watchword in an Obama House was honest and heartfelt. But politics being politics, diversity will be more a balancing act than the watchword on Obama’s watch.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press January 2009)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Not Black President Obama, Just President Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant that Barack Obama tossed his hat in the presidential rink nearly two years ago the twin mantra was that he could be the first black to be president and if that happened America had finally kicked its race syndrome. The twin mantra has been repeated ad infinitum, and it’s dead wrong about Obama and the presidency. The early hint that race was overblown and over obsessed came from Obama. He didn’t talk about it. For good reason, he was not running as a black presidential aspirant. He was running as a presidential aspirant. He had to make that crucial distinction for personal and political purposes.

The ritual preface of the word “black” in front of any and every achievement or breakthrough that an African-American makes is insulting, condescending and minimizes their achievement. It maintains and reinforces the very racial separation that much of America claims it is trying to get past. Dumping the historic burden of race on blacks measures an individual’s success or failure by a group standard. That’s a burden whites don’t have. They succeed or fail solely as individuals.

Obama’s personal history--his bi-racial parents, his upbringing, his education, and his relative youth-- defies racial pigeonholing. He was influenced by but not shaped by the rigid race grounded civil rights struggles of the 1960s as older whites and blacks were.

The institution of the presidency, and what it takes to get it, demands that racial typecasting be scrapped anyway. Obama would have had no hope of bagging the presidency if there had been the slightest hint that he embraced the race tinged politics of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. His campaign would have been marginalized and compartmentalized as merely the politics of racial symbolism.

He could not have raised record amounts of campaign cash. He would not have been fawned over by legions of Hollywood celebrities, corporate and union leaders. He would not have netted the endorsements of Colin Powell and packs of former Reagan and Bush Sr. administration stalwarts, and prepped by W. Bush political guru Karl Rove on how to beat Hillary Clinton. The media would never have given him the top heavy favorable coverage, endorsements, nor relentlessly hammered Republican rival John McCain. If the media had so chosen, it could have torpedoed Obama’s campaign by playing up his connection with his race focused former pastor Jeremiah Wright. It bought his protest of racial bewilderment at the Wright race revelations, and dropped the matter.

Obama had to cling closely to the centrist blueprint Bill Clinton laid out for Democrats to win elections, and to govern after he won.

It meant during the campaign and will mean at least in the early days of his presidency emphasis on strong defense, the war against terrorism, a vague plan for winding down the Iraq War, mild tax reform for the middle-class, a cautious plan for affordable health care and for dealing with the sub-prime lending crisis, and a gentile reproach of Wall Street.

The old axiom that you can tell a president-elect by his staff and cabinet picks will very much apply to Obama. A cast of governors, senators and ex senators, former Clinton and Democratic party operatives, and even a few token Republican mavericks have been floated for Obama’s staff and cabinet picks such as Al Gore, Tom Dachle, Tim Kaine, John Kerry, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, Paul Volcker, Chuck Hagel, Robert F, Kennedy, Tom Vilsack, and yes Arnold Schwarzenegger. The list reads like a who’s who of the Beltway and Heartland America establishment.

Obama’s cautious, center-governing non-racial, likely staff and cabinet cast and policies is plainly designed to blunt the standard Republican rap that Democrats, especially one branded a liberal Democrat, inherently pander to special interests, i.e. minorities, are pro expansive government, and anti-business. They will be watching hawk like for any sign of that from Obama.

As president Obama will be pulled and tugged at by corporate and defense industry lobbyists, the oil and nuclear power industry, government regulators, environmental watchdog groups, conservative family values groups, moderate and conservative GOP senators and house members, foreign diplomats and leaders. They all have their priorities and agendas and all will vie to get White House support for their pet legislation, or to kill or cripple legislation that threatens their interests.

An Obama White House will of course be a historic and symbolic first. However, it will be a White House that keeps a firm, cautious and conciliatory eye on mid-America public opinion, and corporate and defense industry interests in making policy decisions and determining priorities. All other occupants of the White House have done that. Obama would and could not have attained the White House if he didn’t do the same. This has nothing to do with race, or the nonsense of being tagged a black president, first or not. It has everything to do with the requirement of White House governance.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why Race Won’t Hurt Obama on November 4th

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Republican presidential contender John McCain got one thing right about Democratic rival Barack Obama. He told Larry King that he didn’t think race would be much of an issue in the final vote. As McCain put it only “a tiny, tiny, minority” will vote against Obama because he’s black. McCain was not just campaign bloviating to puff up his oft touted credential as a play it straight on race guy. The notion that because millions of whites passionately back Obama race is permanently off America’s table is more hope and prayer than reality.

Still despite endless and obsessive speculation that race could derail Obama in his slog to the White House it won’t and it probably never would have. Start with McCain and Obama; McCain made the personal and pragmatic choice not to make race an issue either directly or indirectly through code words, snide hints, and racial guilt by association attacks. When the Jeremiah Wright flap cropped up, he could have hammered Obama as a stealth race baiter. He turned thumbs down on that. Later when VP mate Sarah Palin and some others in his campaign were etching to unload on Obama-Wright again, he still said no.

That decision was not totally due to honor and noble intent. A too frontal racial attack would have brought instant screams of foul from Democrats, and millions of voters who demanded that the campaign be a clean, issues focused campaign. McCain read the political leaves correctly and saw the political peril in flipping the race card. The occasions that he slipped and rapped Obama as a socialist and a terrorist fellow traveler brought universal condemnation that he was going negative or worse running a dirty campaign.
Obama helped things even more. The firm message in his signature slogan of hope and change, campaign literature, TV ads, rallies, in pitches to contributors, his core of advisors, and major endorsers was that the Obama presidential campaign and an Obama presidency would be broad, non-racial and issues driven. Anything else would have instantly stirred horrifying visions to many of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. His candidacy would have been DOA.

But McCain and Obama’s best efforts to make race a non issue in the campaign would have fallen short without the sea change shift in public attitudes. The decade since the Rodney King beating, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the urban riots, has been a period of relative racial peace in America. During that time polls consistently showed that more whites than ever are genuinely convinced that America is a color-blind society, equal opportunity is a reality, and blacks and whites if not exactly attaining complete social and economic equality, are closer than ever to that goal. Though the figures on income, education and health care still show a colossal gap between poor blacks and whites, the perception nonetheless is that racism is an ugly and nasty byproduct of a long by-gone past.

The passage by huge margins of anti-affirmative action measures in California, Michigan, and Washington, was not simply a case of whites engaging in racial denial or a cover for hidden bias. Many white voters backed the initiatives because they honestly believed that color should never be in the equation in hiring and education, and that race is divisive.
It’s is easy to see why they believe that. "Whites only" signs and redneck Southern cops unleashing police dogs, turning fire hoses on and beating hapless black demonstrators have long been forgotten. Americans turn on their TVs and see legions of black newscasters and talk show hosts, topped by TV's richest and most popular celebrity, Oprah Winfrey.

They see mega-rich black entertainers and athletes pampered and fawned over by a doting media and an adoring public. They see TV commercials that picture blacks living in trendy integrated suburban homes, sending their kids to integrated schools and driving expensive cars. They see blacks such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice in high-profile policy-making positions in the Bush administration. They see dozens of blacks in Congress, many more in state legislatures and city halls. They see blacks heading corporations and universities. And those blacks who incessantly scream racism about their plight are roundly reviled for feeding racial paranoia.
There is even some talk that the so-called Bradley Effect, the penchant for whites to lie to pollsters about their true racial feelings and vote against a black candidate, may actually turn into a reverse Bradley Effect this election. That’s that many whites will vote for Obama because he’s black. That notion is just as dubious as the Bradley Effect. But to even raise the possibility tells much about changing times and attitudes.

If Obama wins and that seems likely, race will be, as McCain says, only a tiny, tiny factor. That’s a tribute to him, Obama and the millions of America voters that were determined to make sure that race did not hurt Obama on November 4th

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

Five Things President Obama Can do to Keep the Fox Guys Off His Back

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The then freshly elected President Clinton had barely dropped his arm after taking the oath of office in January 1993 before they started in on him. The “they” was Rush Limbaugh (Remember his “Day one of America held hostage” daily rant), packs of radio shock jocks, legions of Christian broadcasters, and, of course, the Fox Network. Clinton was allegedly too pro abortion, too pro big government, too pro tax and spend, too unpatriotic, too personally sleazy, and too married to Hillary. But his greatest crime was he was a Democrat. The Fox holy crusade against him didn’t end until he closed the door for the last time on his way out of the White House.
Now it’s Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s turn. The cast of the anti-Clinton holy crusade warriors remains unchanged. They are gnashing their teeth in horror while rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a President Obama. They’ll soon likely get their wish and when they do they’ll dust off the Clinton bash script with all the same “too” hits that were leveled against him. Some may even be tempted to sneakily toss the race card into the script.

Obama won’t be able to keep the wolves totally at bay. He’s a centrist Democrat like Clinton. For the hardcore conservatives that alone is enough to send red flags shooting to the top of the pole and keep them there. The added plus is that an anti-Obama feeding frenzy is a potential ratings bonanza for Fox.
There are five things then that Obama can do to damp down the yelps against him.
1. The economic mess. He’s not Houdini and he can’t magically make it go away. It will be tough if not impossible to deliver on the ritual debate and campaign stump promise he made to virtually cut taxes for everyone while keeping tax increases to the bare minimum. That defies fiscal logic.

He can though arm twist banks to renegotiate, impose a moratorium on, delay payments, or repackage loans for thousands of foreclosed challenged homeowners. There’s even some talk about government intervention to use some of the bailout money to create a homeowner foreclosure relief fund to provide government guaranteed loans to directly aid those in most immediate danger of losing their homes. He can prod Congress to use some bailout money to help these severely distressed homeowners. He can act on the proposal to create a government sponsored small business credit fund to make readily available loans and lines of credit to credit worthy small and medium sized businesses that have been refused loans by banks.
Infrastructure Stimulus. Obama can take the Senate up on its offer to call a lame duck special session after the elections to pass an economic stimulus bill which includes more than 10 to 16 billion dollars for the federal-aid highway program, transit, and airport capital improvement projects. It’s not exactly the second coming of the old Roosevelt Great Depression job creation WPA but it will stimulate business, contractors, and suppliers, create thousands of jobs, and potentially ramp up tax revenues for cash strapped cities and counties.
Rein in Wall Street. He can push and prod the Fed to better monitor and enforce provisions that clamp a lid on dubious trading, lending practices, and investments by some banks and brokerage houses. That includes imposing severe penalties for those who break the rules.
The Iraq war. He can’t end the war in the six months as he promised when he was a middle of the pack Democratic presidential contender and then backpedaled from that promise when he became the lone Democratic presidential contender with a real shot at the presidency. But he can beef up Iraqi’s security forces and then conduct a phased withdrawal of American troops. This is a good faith step toward winding down the war without compromising Iraqi security and American troop safety.

Neutralize Fox News. In an off the cuff quip in mid October, Obama said he’d be much better off if Fox News didn’t dog him mercilessly. Obama’s pique at Fox was understandable since he’s been their number one punching bag for months.
But Obama can and should turn the tables on Fox. Carping and complaining about their legendary anti-Democratic Party bias, or trying to pretend they don’t exist isn’t going to change Fox, let alone make it go away. Instead, keep Fox in the loop. Obama should talk to the Fox guys like he routinely talks to the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. That won’t make them sheath their daggers. It might though make them pull them out a tad slower.
These five things are time and cost effective doables. They will do much to help smooth out some of the bumps in President Obama’s road ahead, Fox notwithstanding.

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).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Some Racists like Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Not long after Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama tossed his hat in the presidential rink back in February 2007, an odd, even bizarre thing happened. A hodgepodge of avowedly racist groups burned up internet sites not with rage, but glee. They were giddy at the thought that Obama might win.

Their rationale was that an African-American in the White House would prove their point that blacks were out to dominate whites and that whites would be so disgusted that they would unite in righteous and very racist anger. That in turn would trigger their long swooned over racist fantasy of a race war. This was dismissed for what it was, namely the ranting of the racist lunatic fringe. But that doesn’t mean that many whites who harbor hidden or even conscious racial animus won’t also back Obama albeit for their own reasons. A mid-September survey found about one quarter of whites hold negative views of blacks that are top heavy with the old shop worn stereotypes. The respondents said that blacks use race as a crutch, are not as industrious as whites, oppose interracial marriage, and are terrified of black crime (Obama mildly chided his white grandmother in his so-called race speech back in March for saying she feared black men). Yet nearly a quarter of them claim they’ll vote for Obama.

The standard explanation for this seeming racial schizoid view is that whites are so hammered by financial hardship that the economy trumps race and that Obama can do more to help them out of their financial hole than Republican rival John McCain. Others like him because his race neutral campaign is a soothing departure from the perceived race baiting antics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Still others like him because his racially exotic background supposedly doesn’t fit that of the typical African American.

There is truth in these reasons cited to explain Obama’s appeal to some racial bigots. But there’s another reason that hasn’t been cited. That’s the long, checkered, and tortured history of racial exceptionalism. That’s the penchant for some whites to make artificial distinctions between supposedly good and bad blacks. That’s apparent in the unthinking offensive, insulting, and just plain dumb crack made to some articulate, well-educated blacks in business and the professions that they are “different than other blacks or not like other blacks.”

Racial exceptionalism also stems from the ingrained, but terribly misplaced, belief that blacks are perennially disgruntled, hostile, and rebellious, and are always on the lookout for any real or perceived racial slight, and etch to pick a fight over it.

An African-American who doesn’t fit that type is touted, praised, even anointed by some as the reasoned voice of black America. A century ago the mantle of the reasoned, exceptional African-American was bestowed on famed educator, Booker T. Washington. He was showered with foundation and corporate largesse. In the 1920s and 30s, NAACP leaders always found a ready welcome at the White House. They were praised in the press and bankrolled by some industrialists. In the 1960s Urban League President Whitney Young, NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins, and Martin Luther King Jr. before he fell out of favor with the Lyndon Johnson White House after his too vocal opposition to the Vietnam War and turn to economic radicalism, were lionized for their reason and racial moderation.

In the 1980s, Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. actively cultivated and promoted a bevy of younger GOP friendly academics, black business leaders, and black conservatives. Reagan and Bush Sr. plainly saw them as a leadership alternative to the black Democrats and the old guard civil rights leaders. The black conservatives were appointed to government posts, bagged foundation grants, were feted by conservative think tanks, and their columns were routinely published in major newspapers. They were continually cited by writers and reporters as a breath of fresh air among African-Americans mostly for their willingness to break ranks with and to blister Jackson, Sharpton, and the civil rights establishment.

Obama hardly fits the mold of a black conservative, but neither is he the ultra-liberal Democrat that some conservative opponents routinely paint him as. Even before his rocket launch to the threshold of the presidency, he was considered a moderate, centrist Democrat, a consummate party insider, and a rising Beltway establishment politician. Without that stamp of mainstream approval, his White House bid would have never got to political first base.

Obama bristles publicly at the notion that he’s in competition with or a critic of civil rights leaders, or that he is immune from racial jabs. He has repeatedly praised past civil rights leaders for their heroic battle against racial injustice. That’s good, but that doesn’t erase the nagging penchant to elevate some blacks above the racial fray, and declare them the exception. That includes some white bigots who say they’ll back Obama.

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, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell’s GOP Payback

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama was a mere formality. Powell pretty much hinted that Obama would get the nod from him when he repeatedly dropped glowing and admiring words about Obama over the past few months. Powell’s stated motive for breaking with GOP ranks and endorsing Obama is by now standard stuff. He’ll put a fresh, new, or as Powell called it “transformational” face on America’s much bruised and maligned foreign policy.
There’s no reason to doubt that Powell endorsed Obama for that reason. But in another sense his endorsement is a bitter sweet payback for the harsh, odd man out treatment he got from some within the Bush administration and from others in the GOP.
Despite his impeccable military credentials, unwavering party loyalty, towering prestige, and diplomatic savvy, Powell always stirred unease, even deep furor in the bowels of many conservative Republicans. They were never awestruck by the general's bars, commanding personality, and public popularity. That first surfaced when Powell made some soundings that he might seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. Pat Buchanan and a strong contingent of conservative groups were appalled.
They sternly warned that they would make "war" on him if he were really serious about grabbing the nomination. If Powell had ignored their threat and charged ahead in his bid for the party's nomination they would have pounded him for backing affirmative action and abortion rights. They would have dredged up the charge that he did not take Saddam Hussein out when he had the chance as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs during the Gulf War. The general got their message and quickly opted not to seek the nomination. As it turned out, they hammered him with the soft-on-Hussein charge anyway.
Even so, Reagan, Bush Sr., Gerald Ford, William Buckley and nearly every other Republican big wig were star struck enough with the general's magnetism and perceived popularity that they still wanted him on the Republican ticket. They remembered that in some opinion polls, Powell actually made it a horserace in a head to head contest with President Clinton. They figured that as the party's vice-presidential candidate he could breathe some life into the stillborn campaign of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996 while not alienating the party's hard liners.
This was the stuff of delusion. If Powell had actually chosen to run he would have been under the most savage scrutiny of any candidate in American presidential history. The public and press on foreign and domestic policy issues would have mercilessly grilled him. Powell would have been forced to answer the same tough questions and face the same objections as the Republican vice-presidential candidate as he would have as a presidential candidate. And Republican hard rightists would have objected just as strongly to the prospect of Powell being one heartbeat away from the presidency.
The talk of Powell as Republican VP candidate fizzled just as fast as the talk of Powell as presidential candidate did. In 2000, Powell knew that the same Republican rightists still itched to pick a fight with him. He quickly scotched any talk about a Republican presidential candidacy. The Secretary of State post was a much better deal. It gave him a high political profile without the risk of stirring the rancor of the right. As a Bush cabinet nominee, rather than a presidential candidate, Powell would implement, not make, policy. This supposedly kept him out of political harm's way.
But this also proved to be the stuff of delusion. The battle within the Bush administration between Iraq war hawks Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice over the war and the terrorism fight has been well-documented. Powell’s diplomacy first tact, his deep understanding that a unilateral too aggressive military policy posed the dire risk of a terrible blowback to U.S. security, and his personal inclinations that Saddam Hussein was largely an impotent, contained dictator who had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorism threat was anathema to the hardliners. They still demanded that he vigorously and enthusiastically help beat the administration's war-drum policy. It was a bitter pill for Powell to swallow, but swallow he did.
He dutifully put a respected face on Bush war doctrine. Even so, he was still closely watched for any hint of deviation from Bush's foreign policy line. This would have brought more howls from conservatives for the general’s head.
Powell survived but not without scars. The lies, deceptions, and staggering human cost of the Iraq war that Powell sadly shilled for tainted his legacy of admired, even revered public military and foreign policy service.

Powell’s Obama presidential endorsement then is much more than an endorsement. It’s a chance to buff a bit of the taint away as well as a nose thumb for past GOP scorn. Payback, if you will.

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).

Friday, October 10, 2008

How the GOP Will Suppress Minority Votes on November 4—Legally

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

News reports that state officials in the crucial battleground states of Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina were purging thousands from voter rolls illegally drew a flurry of media and public attention. The crude, dubious, if not outright illegal, stuff to suppress votes such as the absence of polling places in minority neighborhoods, ballot and vote machine irregularities, using lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter’s residences, rigid time lines for filing voter applications, the lack of information, misinformation or deliberate disinformation about voter registration forms and materials has also drawn plenty of media attention over the years.

Yet, the main ploys the GOP will use to damp down minority votes on November 4th have drawn virtually no media attention. They include letter writing challenges, residence and citizenship challenges of non-native born Latino voters, and reliance on a provision in the Help America Vote Act on provisional ballots. Worst of all, these tactics are all perfectly legal.

Federal court rulings flatly prohibit Republican organizations from sending letters to newly registered voters in solely low income, black and Hispanic neighborhoods to verify their address. If those letters aren’t returned, the GOP contends that the recipient's address on their voter registration form is incorrect and the registration is fraudulent. When the voter shows up at the polls they are challenged. Republicans insist that the legal prohibition against this tactic applies only to the Republican National Committee and not to state and local Republican organizations and “volunteer groups.” Since GOP groups have declared themselves exempt from the court rulings against the tactic, they fully intend to use the letter writing ploy to challenge the registrations of people in certain designated zip codes. The zip codes just happen to be those in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.

In April the Supreme Court handed the GOP an even more powerful weapon to water down minority votes. It upheld Indiana’s rigid voter registration law which requires government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, a passport, or a state or military ID card. Though Indiana got much of the media attention when the court ruled, it’s hardly the only state to require rigid proof of identity. Florida and Georgia require photo IDs. Eighteen other states require either photo or non-photo IDs. In four states polling workers can demand that voters produce a photo ID. Many will. And they’ll likely have the blessing of nearly several dozen state election officials who were chosen in sharply partisan elections.

It’s a stretch to think that many will rein in their political biases when it comes to making the narrowest interpretation of the Byzantine tangle of state voting laws that allow election officials wide latitude to disqualify or assign to provisional ballot anyone with even the slightest real or perceived registration glitch. Polling workers will take their cue from state officials and tightly scrutinize the IDs and registration cards of voters at countless numbers of local polling places. If the election is close the over scrutiny of minority voters will almost certainly ignite an endless and bitter round of legal and court challenges with little certainty that they’ll be successful.

The other tact is to challenge non-native born Latino voters, mostly newly registered voters. They now make up about 10 to 20 percent of the Latino population in the Western battleground states of New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. The states have nineteen electoral votes. In a close contest their votes could be the make or break votes for Obama or McCain. Anti-immigrant rights groups with active or tacit support from local GOP organizations could station monitors, poll watchers, and volunteers at polling places in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. Their presence would be a powerful disincentive for many non-native born voters to turn out. Polling officials will be on the lookout for any hint of impropriety in their registration.
Then there’s the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002. It’s supposed to help streamline the voting process and make registration easier. But the act is a two edged sword in that it permits voters who have been rejected for borderline legal reasons to cast provisional ballots. But these ballots are set aside and it could take days or weeks, not to mention court and legal challenges before determinations can be made which ballots can be counted. There will be thousands of these ballots and the overwhelming majority will be from black and Hispanic voters.

The aim of vote suppression is the same as it’s been for a half century and that’s to whittle down the vote total for the Democratic presidential contender, in this case Obama. Democrats will pull out all legal stops to fight voter suppression. They will nail the more blatant, patently illegal tactics. But their success in stopping them still won’t prevent untold thousands of black and Latino voters from being shoved out in the election cold on November 4th. Unfortunately, the law will be on the side of those who shoved them out there.

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).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Presidential Debates That Aren’t

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

OK, we now know for the umpteenth time that Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain will cut taxes, provide affordable health care to everyone, drill for more oil, expand nuclear power use, end global warming, rein in the Wall Street fast buck artists, take out Osama Bin Laden, and end the war in Iraq either by withdrawal or victory. And yes we know that both have had a tough family upbringing, and therefore they know what working people have to go through.

These themes have been rehashed and reworked so many times that we can recite them in our sleep. But what we don’t know and certainly haven’t heard in the debates is what Obama and McCain will do about failing urban public schools, the HIV-AIDS pandemic, their view of the death penalty, the drug crisis, how they’ll combat hate crimes, shore up crumbling and deteriorating urban transportation systems, and what type of judges they will appoint to the federal judiciary and to the Supreme Court.
The latter is especially crucial since there may be two possibly three high court vacancies during the first McCain or Obama White House term. We don’t know what they’ll do about these problems because the debate format, the questions and questioners, and even the internet queries play it close, predictable and safe. The result is that the only thing the 50 to 60 million viewers who have tuned into the two debates know what McCain and Obama have to say about these equally vital public policy concerns and problems can only be gleaned from canned snippets from their speeches on the campaign trail, or more likely by going to their campaign websites. For most, that’s not going to happen.

Even on the issues of health care, Iraq, and Iran that the debates have obsessed on, the response from Obama and McCain has been a disappointment, a disappointment that is in that neither has gone much past the canned lines that they have endlessly recited when asked their stance on them. But there were at least two or three moments during debate two when both contenders seemed poised to turn and face each other, take the gloves off, and directly challenge each other on their votes and positions on legislation on taxes, health care, Iraq, and Iran. For instance when McCain demanded that Obama come clean and tell what the penalties would be on small businesses with his health care plan. Or, when Obama charged that McCain voted against the Children Health Act. Or, when McCain implored Obama to admit that the surge in Iraq worked, and wanted to know why he still wouldn’t admit it. Or, when Obama claimed that McCain voted multiple times against alternative energy funding.
These were missed opportunities for the voters to really get the measure of each one beyond the stock pitches. In the three week countdown to E Day, November 4, my suspicion is that voters will still be in a fog regarding Obama and McCain’s stance on the “other” issues that have gotten only the barest of shrift. But then again there’s one more debate.

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).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Democrats Hands Aren’t Clean in the Financial Mess

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The normally expansive Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was anything but that when she was asked if the Democrats should get some of the blame for the Wall Street financial mess. Pelosi answered with a terse “no.” But Pelosi quickly got expansive when she finger pointed Bush and the Republicans for creating the mess. This is the standard Pelosi line. Bush and the Republicans eagerly cut sweetheart deals with financial industry lobbyists to gut lending and stock trading regulations, winked and nodded at the banks and brokerage houses as they engaged in an orgy of dubious stock swapping, buys, and trading, conned millions of homeowners into taking out catastrophic sub prime loans, and watered down the oversight powers of government regulatory agencies.
But Pelosi’s Bush rap is disingenuous. Democratic president Jimmy Carter and Congressional Democrats kicked off the rush to deregulate in the late 1970s when they cajoled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to relax lending standards for banks and S&Ls to provide more home loans for home seekers. Their goal was noble. It was to get the financial industry to loosen the lending purse strings to lower income and minority home buyers.

But relaxing the standards heightened the risk to banks and lenders and sent the signal that Democrats were willing to also relax regulations and oversight on banks and lenders. It was a short step from that to relaxing regulations and oversight on other financial transactions by the banking and brokerage houses.
It didn’t take long for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to take that step. Under relentless pressure from top bankers during the 1990s, Congress scrapped most of the provisions of the decades old Glass-Steagall Act. The Act was a Depression era measure that kept federally insured banks out of the go-go world of stock trading, exotic lending, and financial speculation. It also set rigid standards for mortgage lending and strict oversight over banking practices.

Clinton’s Treasury secretary Robert Rubin lobbied hard for dumping the Act. The rationale being that U.S. banks and brokerage houses needed to have the restrictions snatched off to stay competitive with Asian and European bankers and financial traders. President Clinton bought the line. The revision bill passed with bipartisan support in 1999 and Clinton quickly signed it.
Despite the havoc to the financial markets and damage to consumers the gut of the Act has created, Clinton still says that he has no regrets over signing the bill. The one regret that Clinton has in hindsight is that he didn’t push harder for tougher oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and financial traders. Clinton’s regret rings hollow given that it was Congressional Democrats and Democratic mayors who clamored the loudest to relax the oversight rules under the guise of bumping up minority homeownership. And it was Rubin and other Clinton administration officials who pushed Congress to loosen the constraints on financial trading.
In 2005, Senate Democrats had another chance to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Senate Banking Committee passed a bill to give regulators the power to require companies to shed their investments in risky assets (the so-named government-sponsored enterprises GSE reform bill).
The bill never got to the Senate floor thanks to Democrats. They killed it in committee. Democrats continued to parrot the line that any limitations on the financial industry would hamper its ability to compete in the financial markets. This was only part of the reason Democrats flacked for the financial industry. The other part is the sway that industry lobbyists have over Congress through the gargantuan amounts of cash they dump into the campaign coffers of top Democrats. That includes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Banking Committee Chair and short lived Democratic presidential candidate Christopher Dodd.
Obama got more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from employees and political action committees of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama’s top presidential campaign contributors and bundlers read like a who’s who of Wall Street bigwigs. They have either directly contributed or bundled millions of dollars into his campaign.
Clinton ranks number 12 on the Fannie and Freddie PAC gift list. She has received more than $75,000 from the two enterprises and their employees.
Dodd grabbed the top spot on the list of Fannie and Freddie PAC campaign payouts. He has received more than $165,000. Yet, Dodd has screamed just as loud as Pelosi that the blame for the financial muddle lay exclusively with Bush and Republican bungled policies.

Dodd griped that the Bush Bailout scheme was too skimpy on details. That’s a sure sign that if, or when, the Bush plan gets to the Senate, Dodd and other Senate Democrats will back it. Why not? They’re no different than Bush and Congressional Republicans in giving Wall Street pretty much everything else it has wanted, Pelosi’s Republican saber rattle notwithstanding.

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, September 25, 2008

Presidential Debates Are Good Theater, But Not Much More

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

To some, Republican presidential contender John McCain is a noble citizen for citing the urgency of the financial implosion as the reason for trying to delay the first debate with Democratic rival Barack Obama. To others, it’s simply a naked, crass, and desperate effort by McCain
to seize back a tiny patch of the high ground from Obama on his strong point issue of the economy.
It doesn’t much matter what the true motive for the stall is it won’t change the fact that presidential debates make good theater but not much more. In a late life reflection in 1987 on what went right and wrong in his long and checkered political career, former President Richard Nixon had this to say about presidential debates, "In the television age, a candidate's appearance and style count far more than his ideas and record."
Nixon more than any other presidential candidate in modern times should know about that. The widely held belief is that Nixon's fidgety, wooden style, and unkempt appearance in his first 1960 televised debate with a relaxed, tanned, youthful looking John F. Kennedy did him in.
In their two follow-up debates, though, a much better composed and relaxed Nixon came off as having as good, if not better, command of the issues than Kennedy. His perceived debate loss to Kennedy didn't finish him. The probable vote machinations by Democrats in Illinois, a lukewarm, belated endorsement by the wildly popular President Dwight Eisenhower, and Nixon's refusal to phone Martin Luther King Sr. to offer support when Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for civil rights protests in Georgia badly damaged him. Kennedy made the call. As a result, Nixon's vote among blacks dropped nearly 10 percent from Eisenhower's in 1956.
Nixon's alleged debate wash out sealed the belief that an afternoon shadow, mussed hair, a malapropism, and a gaffe during a debate will make or break presidents and their challengers. That's a myth. In 1976, President Ford's bid for a full elected term supposedly went down the tubes when he blurted out that Poland wasn't under Soviet domination during his debate with Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter. Presumably, that gaffe shot to pieces Ford's credibility on vital foreign policy issues. But Ford could not shake Republican blame for the Watergate scandal, and his pardon of Nixon. This more than his debate miscue did him in.
In 1980, it was thought that Republican challenger Ronald Reagan's carefully scripted and rehearsed "There you go again" retort to Carter when he accused him of wanting to slash Medicare so befuddled Carter that his re-election bid came unglued. But by the time of their debate, Carter's presidency was badly tattered. Voters blamed him for high inflation, unemployment, waves of business failures, and the bungled Iran hostage rescue mission.
In 1988, Democratic presidential contender Michael Dukakis' automaton-like answer in his debate with Vice President Bush Sr. to the loaded question about the death penalty supposedly blew his presidential bid. But Bush Sr. carried Reagan's imprimatur. The Reagan administration gave the appearance of fostering an economic boom, had stunning foreign policy successes marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and stratospheric public approval ratings.
In his debate with Democratic challenger Bill Clinton in 1992, President Bush Sr. repeatedly glanced at his watch and seemed impatient to get the debate over. That allegedly soured voters on him. That did not torpedo his re-election bid. Bush's inability to resuscitate the economy and urban racial turmoil badly hurt him. What really nailed him was the insurgent campaign of Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot. He siphoned off thousands of potential Republican votes. That cost Bush more than a hundred electoral votes in thirteen key Southern and swing states that Republicans had either won during Reagan's presidential triumphs, or had run strongly in.
In 2000, Bush came off as personable, witty, and conversational in his debate with Democrat Al Gore. By contrast Gore was perceived as stiff, arrogant, and condescending. Yet, many experts believed that despite Gore's personality glitches, he still beat Bush on the issues. Gore went on to win the popular vote. It took the Florida vote debacle and a Supreme Court ruling to settle the matter for Bush.
Do presidential debates then really influence voters to back a candidate and educate them on the issues? Some studies find that a majority of voters feel they don’t learn much from the debates, and are disappointed at that. Even the minority of respondents who say they learn something from the debates insist that they don’t influence their decision on who to vote for. Party affiliation, long-standing political preferences, personal beliefs and values largely determine that.
Obama will win the White House if voters really feel that he can best handle the country’s economic mess. McCain will win if voters really feel that the national security and foreign policy concerns trump the economy and that he’s the best to handle them. As for the presidential debates, they’re still good shows though.

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).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did Palin Really Say She Wouldn’t Hire Blacks?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Sarah Palin admittedly hasn’t had much of a track record when it comes to acknowledging let alone promoting diversity during her short tenure as Alaska governor. She’s on record with a terse utterance on hate crimes legislation and another one on cultural diversity.

During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign she told the Eagle Forum that she opposed expanded hate crime legislation. In her gubernatorial campaign booklet in 2006, Palin gave her equally terse view of discrimination. She simply said that she and her gubernatorial running mate would provide opportunities for all Alaskans. There is no record that Palin has made any other public statements on diversity and minority issues since then. This in itself might be cause for only a slight eyebrow raise.
But Palin’s skimpy track record and paucity of words on diversity is relatively tame compared to the far more damaging accusation that’s making the rounds. On April 29, fourteen Alaska black leaders that included prominent ministers, NAACP officials, and community activists met with Palin to voice their complaint over minority hiring and job opportunities. During the meeting she allegedly said that she didn’t have to hire any blacks. Even more damning, she purportedly said that she didn’t intend to hire any.
This charge is so racially incendiary that it sounded like yet another one of the legion of Palin urban legends that have fueled the cyber gossip mill from the instant Republican presidential contender John McCain plopped her on his ticket. The charge had to be confirmed or denied. If Governor Palin or any other public official flatly said that they had no intention to hire blacks that would be politically unpardonable. And for a potential vice-president it would and should be the kiss of death.
In a phone message to this writer, Megan Stapleton, a Palin spokesperson who works with the McCain-Palin campaign committee, vehemently denied that Palin ever said that she would not hire blacks. Sharon Leighow, a communications spokesperson in the Alaska governor’s office, also disputed the allegation. She said that Palin’s press secretary was part African-American and that two of her senior advisors were Filipino and Korean.

But Leighow was also adamant that Palin did not hire staff persons based on color, but solely on talent and skill. As she put it, “Governor Palin is totally color-blind.”

In a call to this writer, Gwen Alexander, President of the African American Historical Society of Alaska who initially reported Palin’s quip stuck by her contention that Palin made the racially charged retort. She also charged that Palin did not support or even officially acknowledge the group’s annual Juneteenth Commemoration.
June nineteen is celebrated as the date of slave emancipation in Texas. Alaska is one of thirteen states that have designated it an official holiday. Other Alaska governors have sent the traditional greeting and acknowledgement to the Society. Alexander says Palin snubbed the group.
The unofficial charge then is that Palin is insensitive to the state’s African-Americans, and that includes refusing to hire and appoint African-Americans. That charge is hotly disputed by Palin’s staff and they cite names and numbers to back it up. But apart from the veracity of the charge and the denial, Palin’s statement that she’s absolutely color blind when it comes to hiring and appointments does set off warning bells.

The color blind argument strikes to the heart of the continuing debate over what and how far governor’s, indeed all public officials, should go to insure that their staffs and their appointments truly represent the broadest diversity possible. Officials must make a concerted outreach effort to make that happen. Palin’s color blind posture more often than not has been nothing but a convenient excuse not to seek out, and hire and promote African-Americans and other minorities in their administration, no matter how qualified.
Diversity is a major issue this election. It’s implicit in Democratic rival Barack Obama’s White House run. It’s explicit in Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative initiative on the ballot in three states this November. Obama opposes it. McCain backs it, and so does Palin.

Palin’s commitment to diversity is no small point in Alaska. According to the 2000 Census figures blacks make up officially about four percent of the state population. But those who self-identify at least in part as African-American bump up the percentage much higher. This is not an insignificant number especially when American Indians, Aleuts, Eskimos, and Asians are taken together. Minorities then make up about one quarter of Alaska’s population. This makes the state one of the most ethnically diverse in the nation. Diversity must be more than a word that an Alaska governor pays campaign lip service to and then ignores.
Palin’s campaign and gubernatorial spokespersons say the knock that she is hostile to blacks and minorities is unfair. That may well be true. But to those Alaska black leaders who challenged Palin on her administration’s minority hiring practices, to them the knock is much deserved.

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).