Monday, January 28, 2008

‘Nevada Phenomenon’ Bigger Peril to Obama than the Bradley Effect
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A confident Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama shrugged off the buzz that he’d crash and burn with Latino voters, “Not in Illinois, they all voted for me.” But not so fast; there was this retort from a reader, yeah, but you ran against Alan Keyes. Keyes, being the luckless and hapless Eleventh hour Republican political sacrificial lamb who Obama annihilated in his smash victory for the U.S. Senate in 2004. But this time around, Obama faces a far bigger opponent than Keyes could ever hope to be, or even for that matter archrival Hillary Clinton. It’s the ‘Nevada Phenomenon’. It poses a far bigger danger to Obama’s White House drive than even the much debated ‘Bradley Effect’.
The Bradley Effect is named after former Los Angeles. mayor Tom Bradley who lost his bid for California governor to a white opponent in 1986, though Bradley had big leads in polls. Many white voters told pollsters and interviewers that they had no problem voting for an African-American, but once in the privacy of the voting booth voted for his white opponent.
The ‘Nevada Phenomenon’ by contrast has nothing to do with the supposed penchant for white voters to deceive pollsters and interviewers on race. In the South Carolina primary white voters went in reverse. The polls had Obama winning only ten percent of the white vote but in his smash win he more than double that percent. The ‘Nevada Phenomenon’ instead is the mix of wariness, fear, indifference and even hostility of the majority of Latino voters toward a black candidate.
It is more troublesome and intractable than potential white voter resistance to Obama. Even though in South Carolina and other Deep South primary states Obama lags behind Clinton among white voters, he’s still likely to get a respectable percent of white votes. That’s not true with Latino voters. Obama’s poll popularity with Latinos hasn’t budged very much despite his heightened name identification, media boost, energizing change pitch and personal charisma.. And if the history of black candidates, even popular well known and victorious candidates that ran for office and bombed with Latino voters is any indication, Obama won’t do much better than they did.

Start with the politician that gave the ‘Bradley Effect’ its dubious tag. During his 20 year reign as Los Angeles mayor, Bradley won election five times, and built a solid coalition of black, Jewish, and suburban Anglo white voters. However, Latino voters played only the barest of bare roles in Bradley’s coalition and elections. Even though Latinos then made up nearly one-third of the city’s population and were a rising percent of the voters, Bradley made few direct appeals to Latino voters for support.
Since then the political polarization between Latino voters and black candidates has been a virtual trademark in every other race where a black candidate has squared off against a white or Latino candidate. In 1993, Rudolph Giuliani, a tough law and order, conservative Republican running in heavily Democratic New York city against liberal African-American Democrat David Dinkins got nearly forty percent of the Latino vote. Nearly a decade later, Lee Brown, the former New York City police commissioner, got less than 30 percent of the Latino vote in his run-off race against Orlando Sanchez for Houston mayor. The even more popular, veteran former Congressman Ron Dellums received barely thirty percent of the Latino vote in his race for mayor in Oakland against a Latino challenger in 2005.
In each case the black candidates won their races with overwhelming support from black and substantial support from white voters. Their challengers were conservative Republicans or centrist Democrats They actively courted the Latino voters, and even won the important endorsements of prominent Latino elected officials and business leaders. That did little to dent the vote barrier between the majority of Latinos and the black candidates.
In Nevada, the pattern was the same. Obama got the endorsement of the leaders of the heavily Hispanic Culinary Workers Union. But getting the vote of the rank and file union workers was a far different matter, as the subsequent vote showed. Latino voters, many of them almost certainly members of the culinary union, defied their leaders and helped propel Clinton to victory.
This was yet another danger sign that the continuing reluctance of Latino voters to back black candidates could have a blowback effect on Obama.
The Super Tuesday primaries on February 5 will be a big test for him with Latino voters. Their numbers have soared in the key primary states of New Jersey, New York, Florida and his home state, Illinois. So much so that the black vote, even assuming that he will grab a far bigger share of that vote than Clinton, and split the white vote, will not insure an Obama victory. The Latino vote looms as the X factor for him. Unlike the subtle, much harder to finger ‘Bradley Effect’, the ‘Nevada Phenomenon’ is an open challenge to any black candidate that needs Latino votes to win. Obama is now the black candidate that faces that challenge, and danger.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writing the Obituary for Bradley Effect is Premature and Foolhardy

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has never publicly made mention of the Bradley Effect. The Bradley Effect is the label that’s been plopped onto the penchant of many white voters to shade, deceive or just plain lie to pollsters and interviewers when they tell them that color doesn’t mean anything to them in an election. The only thing they claim they look at is the competence and experience of the candidates in an election. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp.poll released on Martin Luther King', Jr.'s birthday nearly three out of four whites say America's ready for a black president, presumably that means they'd vote for Obama without batting an eye.

After Obama’s breakthrough win in the Iowa caucus election and his narrow loss in New Hampshire, two of the whitest voting states, political experts trumpeted that the vote for Obama was close to that of his numbers in the final polls. They gleefully rushed to write the obituary for the Bradley Effect. They moved to fast. The Bradley Effect is alive and well, and it appeared to be very much in play in Nevada. Hillary Clinton trounced Obama among the state’s white voters. Obama got the overwhelming backing of black voters and that markedly bumped up his vote totals. But they make up less than one in five of the state’s black voters.

The white vote or lack of it that Obama got in Nevada is far more representative and ominous for Obama than the white votes he got in Iowa or New Hampshire. Many Iowa Democrats are independent, populist leaning, and have broken ranks in the past with the Democratic Party’s odds on favored candidates. Obama also got a huge boost from young voters. They were fired up enough by his change message, relative youth and the novelty of his campaign to flood the polls for him. In New Hampshire, legions of voters are independent, even contrarian, in who and how they pick their candidates. But Nevada was a far different story.

Bush won Nevada twice but Bill Clinton also won the state in 1996. At first glance, the state is a political oddity when stacked up against the rock solid GOP states to the North and to the East of Nevada. Its relative political flexibility also makes it a state that seems very much in play for the Democrats. Thousands of the state's voters are young, and could be considered moderate Democrats. But that’s what makes it even more troubling for Obama. A big cornerstone of his pitch is to younger, moderate Democrats, and independents. He has done everything possible to tailor his message, style, persona, and even the appearances he makes in the most racially neutral way possible. There is absolutely no chance that there will be a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton sighting in his campaign at least in the swing states.

That’s wise. They would be the political kiss of death for him if there is even the vaguest hint that they are visible in his campaign or too enthusiastically cheer lead his campaign. In fact Sharpton hasn’t endorsed Obama, and Jackson's endorsement has been perfunctory. He has even criticized him a couple of times. Their noticeable hands off his campaign are tacit recognition of the Bradley Effect. Their active involvement in it or even favorable words by them about it could stir the Bradley Effect.

Though Obama has said nothing publicly about the Bradley Effect, he is very much aware that it derailed Bradley’s drive to be the nation's first black governor in modern times, caused Doug Wilder to sweat nervously on Election night in Virginia before he squeaked out a win there for governor in 1989, and helped do in Harvey Gantt and Harold Ford, Jr. in their Senate campaigns in North Carolina and Tennessee. It wreaked havoc in other campaigns where a black has squared off face to face with a white candidate.

Though there's no proof that the Bradley Effect played any role in Obama's defeat in New Hampshire, Obama campaign insiders admit that they are keeping a hawk like eye out for any sign that it could crop up and hurt their man. They’re smart to do that. The plain truth is that if Obama bagged every black vote in every state it wouldn’t insure him the Democratic nomination, let alone the White House. White males still make up nearly forty percent of the American electorate, and older white women make up a big bloc of voters, and the majority of them are Democrats. He can’t win without their votes.

The Bradley Effect is murky, amorphous, and virtually defies fingering. Yet, it will cause nervous moments for Obama’s campaign when it rolls into the South and the other Western and heartland states. There’s a lot of campaign left. To write the obituary for the Bradley Effect is premature, and worse, foolhardy.

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

Monday, January 14, 2008

Obama Needs a History Lesson about Hillary and King

Obama Needs a History Lesson about Hillary and King
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The Obama camp did it again. They manufactured yet another issue out of a non issue when they pounded Hillary Clinton for supposedly defiling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by minimizing his role in the civil rights struggle. Here’s Hillary’s terrible sin per the Obama campaign crowd. She said that Dr. King’s dream was realized when President Lyndon Johnson shoved the 1964 Civil Rights Bill through Congress. This was anything but a put down of King.

Hillary paid tribute to King for laying the groundwork for the civil rights bill and gave justifiable credit to Johnson for ramming the bill through a bickering, divided and very recalcitrant Congress. Her point was that presidents that have their public policy priorities screwed on right can make changes, monumental changes, for good.

If Hillary could be faulted for anything it’s that she didn’t go far enough. If Johnson hadn’t forcefully intervened and jawboned, prodded, arm twisted, and embarrassed the slew of wavering and hostile Congressmen to the bill into supporting the bill, or at least tempering their opposition to it, King’s dream would have remained just that, an empty dream. King recognized that. In a Playboy interview in 1965, he said this about Johnson: “He has demonstrated his wisdom and commitment in coming to grips with the problem (racial discrimination). My impression is that he will remain a strong president for civil rights.” History amply proved that, and Johnson despite his Vietnam War tumble from historical grace, still is regarded as the president that did more for civil rights than any other president.

But I’d go even further still. King gets much deserved praise and is much honored for igniting the national fervor for civil rights and galvanizing thousands to put their bodies on the line in the civil rights battles. Yet, there’s an ugly side and often forgotten note to that. The street marches and demonstrations also stirred the first tremors of white backlash. The George Wallace surge in the North, the open hostility of many Northern whites to housing and school integration, and the Republican reawakening in the South was a direct outcropping of the civil rights push. This stiffened the spines of Southern Democrats and conservative Northern Republicans who dug their heels in and flatly opposed the bill, piled amendment after crippling amendment onto the bill initially, and employed every legal and parliamentary dodge and stall tactic they could dredge up to delay a vote on it, if not to kill it outright.

King could do nothing about this. JFK who introduced the bill couldn’t do anything about it either. He was at his wits end after months and months of Congressional ducking and dodging on the bill about how to get it moving. By the time Johnson took office, following JFK’s murder, the bill was still born in Congress. There was every chance that it could be shelved. However, Johnson would have none of that. He was a Southerner and he knew the mood and temper of the South. From his decades in the Senate he knew where the political skeletons were buried and how to rattle them. He did what King and Kennedy didn’t have a prayer of doing, he got the sympathetic ear of enough Southerners to take some of the steam out of their vehement opposition to the bill.

The rest of course is history. The Civil Rights Bill, not King’s marches and demonstrations, broke the back of legal segregation in America and became the watchword for progressive, visionary social legislation for decades to come.
King and all the top civil rights leaders knew that history had been made with the passage of the bill, and that the man that played the towering role in making that history was LBJ A t the signing ceremony for the bill, King and the other civil rights leaders beamed when Johnson handed them the pens after the signing. They effusively praised him for his tireless effort.

Hillary’s statement was a simple, honest, and respectful nod to Johnson for his indispensable part in making civil rights a legal fact and reality in America. This was the same nod that King and the civil rights leaders made more than four decades ago to him.

This is a nod that the Hillary haters have forgotten or deliberately distorted in their clinical obsession to smash mouth every Hillary utterance. This is a history lesson that Hillary got right about King and Johnson, and one that the Obama campaign flunked badly.

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

Monday, January 07, 2008

What to (and not to) Expect from an Obama White House
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A President Barack Obama will be the most scrutinized president since Abraham Lincoln. Ironically, the reason for this has less to do with race, though that will loom large in the lens of many, as it has to do with him. He’s lifted public passions and expectations to the clouds with his soaring rhetoric about hope and change; the man who can repair the shambles of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies.
That’s quite a cross for a Senator halfway through his first term, with a wafer thin voting record, little experience with foreign policy matters, and whose still fuzzy, or to put it more charitably, with a still work-in-progress program on affordable health care, education, criminal justice system reform, tax policy, and the housing crisis. A man who needs to pound consistency into his pronouncements that at times seem at odds with the other pronouncements he’s made on winding down the Iraq war and the terrorism fight.

The jury is still way out on just how many of those inflated expectations that he can fulfill. But there are glaring clues as to how much change he can or will even try to make. One is his record in the Illinois state legislature. At first glance, his votes and views during his days in the Illinois Senate on taxes, abortion, civil liberties, civil rights, law enforcement and on capital punishment give much comfort to those who crave for him to make the change he hints at. His stance on tax hikes marked him with some business and taxpayer interest groups as another tax and spend Democrat, and his views on social issues, marked him as an unabashed liberal.

He’s anything but that, and that’s another clue as to what to expect from an Obama White House. He’s a centrist Democrat who is fast replacing the Clinton’s with the Democratic Party’s shot callers as the consummate party insider; their new go to guy. Corporate donors, Hollywood moguls, and through the back door with him, fat cat lobbyists with the quiet nod of Democratic Party insiders have dumped millions into his campaign. They don’t shower money, favors, and promotional praise on a candidate unless they are comfortable that the candidate will not stray to far off the beaten political path and abandon the moderate, respectable approach to policy making.
In the White House, Obama will move cautiously and do everything he can to ensure that the tag “liberal” won’t be slapped on him. The majority of Congressional Democrats and Republicans are centrist to conservative to even ultra-conservative. They would instantly draw their line in the sand against him if he makes a quick push for big tax hikes for education and health care to a push for a quick withdrawal from Iraq which Obama does not favor.

He will do everything he can to escape the fate that befell Bill Clinton the instant he touched a toe in the White House. Republicans waged a gutter wallowing personal and political stealth, and at times, open war against him and his policies, and Clinton made no pretense of being a liberal Democrat. Their attack arsenal included everything from personal slander to stonewalling his judicial appointments and his stab at health care reform. That forced Clinton to tip toe even further to the right on the death penalty, beefing up police power, gay rights, welfare reform, and reining in bloated military spending, while assuring that the Democratic Party would not pander to minorities and the poor.

Obama’s pro choice and abortion rights defense in the Illinois legislature earned him a perfect rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. And he was a major backer of legislation limiting police interrogations and requiring police to keep racial stats on unwarranted traffic stops, and he supported strict gun control. These are three hyper sensitive issues for conservatives. If Obama puts White House muscle into big reform fights on these issues, he will draw instant fire from right to life groups nationally, police unions, and the NRA.

It’s not likely he’ll risk that, it’s not his style anyway. He got high marks from Illinois Senate Republicans precisely for his willingness to horse trade, deal make, and compromise on the touchiest of issues for conservatives. They praised him as a flexible politician and consensus builder who listened to the views of his Republican opponents.

American politics demands that, especially of moderate Democrats. With Obama, corporations and lobbyists will be even more hawk like in guarding the legislative door to protect their interests, conservatives will tighter their perennial gate keeping against any effort to push abortion rights, and the defense industry will be even more vigilant against any effort at deep military slashes.

Any president that bucks these dominant special interests risks being branded anti-police, anti-business, pro abortion, pro labor, pro-gun control, and a dreaded tax and spend liberal Democrat. That fear more often than not translates into even the best intentioned president caving in when the battle is on for crucial political and social reforms. That will include even one who has made hope and change his ticket to the White House.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February, 2007).

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A President Obama No Proof that America has Finally Kicked Its Racial Syndrome
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A win or a big showing by Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama in Iowa will do two things. It will prove that a significant number of white voters will vote for a black presidential candidate. It won’t prove that America has finally kicked its racial syndrome. From the moment that Obama stood on the steps of the Illinois state capitol building in Springfield, Illinois last February and announced the launch of his dream presidential campaign to change America, the political deck seemed hopelessly stacked against him turning himself into a serious contender for the White House. The initial knock against him was that he was too new, inexperienced, and had a wafer thin legislative record in the Senate, and was saddled with a name that when twisted, mangled, or deliberately distorted sounded suspiciously like Osama.

But by far, the biggest hole card against him in the political deck was race. Put bluntly Obama is an African-American, and the conventional thinking and reality is that white Americans might publicly swear that color doesn’t matter to them when it comes to voting for a candidate, but then suddenly develop an acute case of voting booth conversion on Election Day. That meant that once inside the cozy and very private confines of the voting booth they punch the ticket for a white candidate in a head to head contest with a black candidate. The campaign trail is strewn with the wreckage of the campaigns of black candidates that held leads, in some instances substantial leads, over white opponents, and then went down to flaming defeat on Election Day.

The two tips that Obama could escape their fate was the victory of Deval Patrick who won the Massachusett’s governor’s seat in 2006. He had even less political experience than Obama, had less money, and was up against a seasoned office holder. He won anyway, and he won with white votes.

The even bigger tip that things might be different with Obama is Obama himself. He plays hard on his multi-racial upbringing and heritage, can raise bushels of campaign cash, is a centrist politician that gets high marks as a consensus builder during his stint in the Illinois state legislature, and is not typed as a race card player ala Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

In other words, he is an American exception, a black man who is, savvy, telegenic, moderate, and poses no racial threat. This quirky, even schizoid, American exceptionalism that plays well for Obama has been time tested in sports, entertainment, and in the business and the professional worlds for decades. That is the willingness of many whites to view some blacks through color neutral lens, and elevate them to a perch beyond race. In the crudest way, it’s expressed with the always offensive crack to some highly regarded black professionals, businesspersons, sports and entertainers that they are different, and not like the others. But generally, it’s simply to cheer the few exceptions for their talent and ability (as even if that’s the exception) and keep praising them as long as they make no personal and legal missteps.

The beyond color pass isn’t granted to some blacks solely out of enlightenment or altruism. There’s a dividend. It permits many whites feel goodism, and to back pat themselves for being color blind and that shows how far America has come in dumping the ugly burden of racial bigotry. That notion drove much of the decade long contentious debate over affirmative action. Affirmative action opponents railed that minorities had broke down the racial barriers, and individual talent and ability were the only thing that counted in society. Race simply violated the precepts of a color blind society. The Obamas of America seemed to more than bear that out.

Even if the now thinkable happens and Obama does wrest the Democratic presidential nomination, and even beyond that the White House, there are other sobering historic examples from the long rule of England’s Queen Victoria to the time in office of Pakistan’s tragically martyred former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that proves that an Obama can get high marks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that racial hostility and victimization has vanished. Victoria’s rule did not change gender relations in Victorian England. It was still a rigidly, class, and male dominated, patriarchal society. Bhutto in power didn’t change gender relations in Pakistan either. It is still a rigidly Islamic fundamentalist, caste, and male dominated, patriarchal society.

An Obama presidency would be a racial step forward in the sense that it shows that enough whites can and will look past race to make a black, especially an exceptional black, their leader. It would not show that they are willing to do the same for the millions of blacks that cram America’s jails and prisons, suffer housing and job discrimination, are trapped in failing public schools in America’s poor, crime ridden inner cities.

Their plight and how they are viewed and treated will remain the same after Obama takes office as it did before. A President Obama won’t change that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February, 2007).