Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
A recent CNN poll seems to confirm what a majority of African-Americans and a significant percent of whites seem to think or at least say. And that’s that President Obama will have to be better because he’s black. Translated this means that at Obama’s first real or perceived screw up there will be howls that that’s what you get when you plop a black into any position that requires a brain and skill. The undercurrent that courses through this warped race tinged view of why blacks are expected to fail is that they are plopped in an important spot because of affirmative action or unexpunged white guilt, and they’re grossly unqualified for it.
These screwy reasons ignore the savvy, ability to think, preparation, or education that get African-Americans top spots in corporations, universities, and politics. Obama certainly had the right stuff to bag the biggest political prize of all, the presidency. The great what if, though, is would former President W. Bush have bagged the grand prize if he had been black? The CNN poll doesn’t answer that but some have set a bar virtually nonexistent for a mediocre white politician ridiculously high for Obama.
Obama is well aware that the old racial double standard rule might apply to him too and that he will be under torrid public glare; more torrid that any presidential candidate in campaign history. And there will be packs of voters who hope, even pray that he flops. Race is the only reason many of them wish that. Surveys during the campaign found that even some of the most passionate Obama backers did racial gymnastics and separated their man from other blacks. They raved about his political genius, hailed him as the one to lead the country out of the Bush morass. Yet many still said that blacks were more crime prone and less industrious than whites. A month after Obama’s triumph not much had changed. A long term study of racial attitudes by the National Academy of Sciences found that a significant percent of Americans still saw color as the major factor in determining who committed crime and who was most likely to be poor.
Obama acknowledged the racial wariness of some near the beginning of the campaign when he said that there were some who would not vote for him because he’s African-American. He said the same thing again albeit more subtly in his triumphant speech on Election Night in Chicago’s Grant Park when he said that he wanted to reach out to those who did not vote for him(accept him).
During the campaign the political stars aligned for Obama as they did for no other Democratic presidential candidate in a decade and a half. There was massive public fatigue from Bush policies, rage at Republican corruption and ineptitude, an SNL laughingstock vice presidential candidate, and a catastrophic financial meltdown and crumbled economy. There was also Obama’s backward stretch to keep race out of the campaign. The only time he dealt with the issue was to damp down public unease over the inflammatory racial tirades of his former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Despite all the towering political pluses he had, a majority of whites and that included a narrow percentage of young whites did not vote for him
But the presidential campaign is now a fast fading memory. The big concern for most Americans no matter whether they backed Obama or not is can his policies work? This doesn’t mean that racial stereotypes, open and closeted, have magically vanished. He’s in the bare embryonic stage of his presidency, and few are willing to say anything about his style or program that can be remotely seen as having a hidden racial animus. It’s simply politically incorrect and crass to hint or infer that Obama is not up to the weighty task of governance. Even GOP hard bitten conservative William Bennett publicly but lightly rapped talk show kingpin Rush Limbaugh on the knuckles for allegedly wishing that he wants Obama to fail.
The true test, though, will come when Obama makes a real or perceived foreign policy or domestic issue stumble or takes a stance on an issue that angers his opponents. Obama will be lambasted for that. All presidents are. Criticism is a part of the job; it comes with the political turf. Presidents know that, expect that, and should even welcome positive criticism. The difference is that America has never had a black president who has had to bear the brunt of criticism for missteps or policy blunders. Obama is the first. There are two kinds of criticism Obama will get. One is leveled based solely on whether his policies and decision making help or harm public interests. The other comes with a sneaky racial motive. Obama sadly will get both.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009). http://www.learnhowobamawon.blogspot.com
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Barack Obama lists “Civil Rights” as the first item under his “Agenda” on his White House website, whitehouse.gov. He pledges to end gender and race based pay disparities, push through the Fair Pay and Employment Non-Discrimination Acts, harshly penalize voter fraud, outlaw racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies, provide financial incentives to local and state police to ban racial profiling, and to dump the race tinged drug sentencing disparities. Obama also promises to push through Congress the long stalled Matthew Shepard Act. This markedly expands hate crime prosecutions. None of these things are really new.
Obama pledged to take swift action on hate crimes, voting rights, employment discrimination, and the repressive drug laws on his campaign website. Yet they never got off the campaign website and were virtually non existent as campaign talking points.
Candidate Obama’s reluctance to talk much about his civil rights agenda on the campaign trail was a calculated political move. Talk of civil rights has been taboo in all recent America presidential races. It seeps into presidential debates only when a Democratic or Republican presidential contender or president snatches the issue to assure middle class voters that he will not tilt toward or pander to minorities or to race bait their opponents.
In a 1988 debate, Bush Sr. slammed Democratic contender Michael Dukakis as being soft on crime for allegedly letting black convict Willie Horton roam free to commit rape and murder. Bill Clinton used Jesse Jackson as a foil to assure middle class voters that he would fight just as hard as conservative Republicans to protect their interests. In one of their debates in 2000, Bush and Democratic rival Al Gore clashed over affirmative action. Both were intent to distance themselves from the issue.
Obama knew that talk of civil rights invariably translates out to talk of race. This was a minefield that could blow up at any time and the explosion could mortally wound his candidacy. The endless TV sound loop of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory racial tirades in the midst of his fierce primary battle with Hillary Clinton sent momentary shell shocks through the campaign. It forced Obama to scramble fast and do damage control. The Wright flap guaranteed that race would not be even a vague utterance during the remainder of the campaign.
While presidential candidate Obama had to observe the rules of political expediency to win the White House, President Obama doesn’t. Obama’s political capital account is bulging. His public approval is sky high. And he has the bully pulpit of the White House. He can not only talk about civil rights issues with no risk of backlash but act on the agenda that he laid out on his campaign website and now highlights on his White House website.
The need for action is greater than ever. In its annual State of Black America reports the past decade, the National Urban League repeatedly warned that blacks are less likely to own their own homes, die earlier, are far more likely to be jailed disproportionately and receive longer sentences, receive less or poorer quality health care and earn far less than whites. They attend failing public schools, and are more likely the victims of racially motivated hate crimes than any other group.
The report also found rampant discrimination and gaping economic disparities between Latinos and whites. In the past decade, the income, and education performance gaps between blacks and Latinos and whites have only marginally closed, or actually widened. Discrimination remains the major cause of the disparities.
Shunting civil rights to the back burner of presidential campaigns almost always meant that once in office presidents shunt them to the backburner of their legislative agenda. Yet, presidents have not been able to tap dance around racial problems. Reagan's administration was embroiled in affirmative action battles. Bush Sr.'s administration was tormented by urban riots following the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Clinton's administration was saddled with conflicts over affirmative action, police violence and racial profiling. W. Bush's administration was confronted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, voting rights, reparations, and affirmative action battles, gang violence, and failing inner city public schools. By ignoring, or downplaying these issues until they burst into flashpoints of national debate and conflict, presidents have been ill prepared to craft meaningful legislation and programs to deal with them.
Obama is way ahead of the policy curve on this. He’s already spelled out what needs to be done on civil rights, but why it must be done. During the first 100 days, he will be watched more intently than any other president in recent history to see how effectively his administration deals with crisis problems from the Iraq War to the economy. The crisis problems of racial disparities and poverty, however, are no less compelling. President Obama it’s now safe to talk about civil rights.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).
White House Civil Rights Agenda
"The teenagers and college students who left their homes to march in the streets of Birmingham and Montgomery; the mothers who walked instead of taking the bus after a long day of doing somebody else's laundry and cleaning somebody else's kitchen -- they didn't brave fire hoses and Billy clubs so that their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren would still wonder at the beginning of the 21st century whether their vote would be counted; whether their civil rights would be protected by their government; whether justice would be equal and opportunity would be theirs.... We have more work to do."
-- Barack Obama, Speech at Howard University, September 28, 2007
President Barack Obama has spent much of his career fighting to strengthen civil rights as a civil rights attorney, community organizer, Illinois State Senator, U.S. Senator, and now as President. Whether promoting economic opportunity, working to improve our nation's education and health system, or protecting the right to vote, President Obama has been a powerful advocate for our civil rights.
Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.
End Deceptive Voting Practices: President Obama will sign into law his legislation that establishes harsh penalties for those who have engaged in voter fraud and provides voters who have been misinformed with accurate and full information so they can vote.
End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Reviewed by David Hurley
As a student of Success University, I spent a lot of my time last year thinking about "the principles of success"... Meanwhile, one of the biggest "success stories" of our time was being played out... There is today no greater exemplar of "success mentality" than the man who is about to be inaugurated as America's first black president.
But how, exactly, did Obama do it?
Political analyst, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, has the answer in his new book, launched today, and appropriately titled, How Obama Won.
How Obama Won unravels the key issues, the big events, the process behind the politicing, the pressures and controversies that affected Obama's presidential campaign.
Hutchinson reveals how Barack Obama responded to the challenges he faced on his historic journey to the White House through the ups and downs of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Purchase a copy here, in e-book or print versions.
Here are some of the questions that How Obama Won addresses:
What impact did race and gender have on the campaign? What was the thinking behind the campaign strategy? Who were the key players behind the campaign? How have the Democratic and Republicans parties changed?
What impact did blacks, whites, Hispanics, women, young people, blue collar workers have on the result? What was the role of corporate and special interests in the election?
And, finally, what does the result mean to America and the world?
In How Obama Won Hutchinson explains that "race" was not such a key factor in Obama's victory and the war in Iraq and terrorism were not the most prominent concerns of the voters.
What struck me as clever about Obama's "Change is coming to America" message was that merely by winning the election Obama had indeed "changed America" - even if his policies do not actually bring fundamental change to American society... Now we know that a black candidate can become president; in that sense everything has changed (and nothing has changed).
Earl Ofari Hutchinson assesses whether Obama's honeymoon will be short lived or not.
The massive problems he faces with the recession, the financial crisis, conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan are compounded by the high hopes he has whipped up among the American public for "change"...
In How Obama Won Hutchinson explains what Obama needs to do in order to avoid massive disappointment.
David Hurley is an author, entrpreneur and publisher of numerous articles on internet marketing success strategies.
How Obama Won is available in both book and e-book form. Find out more, and listen to Nikki Leigh chat with Earl Ofari Hutchinson about the book here:
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The unchallenged article of faith is that the election of President Barack Obama fulfills Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that the content of character should trump skin color. King uttered the words in his March on Washington speech in 1963. We’ll hear that said time and again in the march up to the King national holiday January 19 and Obama’s inauguration the next day.
Obama’s election did show that millions of whites could strap racial blinders around their eyes and punch the ticket for an African-American for the world’s most powerful political post. King would almost certainly glow with approval at that. But there are a couple of troubling caveats that mar America’s great racial leap forward. Obama won in large part because he did what no other Democratic presidential candidate did, and that includes Bill Clinton. He turned his presidential campaign into a virtual holy crusade by African-Americans voters to get him in the White House. The staggering 96 percent of the black vote he got made the crucial difference in the key Democratic primaries and later in nailing down the victory over Republican rival John McCain in the must win states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
At the same time, Obama’s allure to white college educated young, business and professionals was overstated. McCain got 53 percent of their vote. He trounced Obama among North and South rural, and blue collar whites. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of more than 400 counties from New York to Mississippi. Overall, he got less than a third of Southern white votes. The racial fault lines are still tightly drawn within a wide segment of the electorate.
A mid-September 2008 survey also found that a significant percentage of whites who said they’d vote for Obama also said that blacks were more crime prone and less industrious than whites. There were several ways to look at this seeming racial paradox. One is that these Obama backers were so fed up with Bush policies and a battered economy that Obama offered a change and a lifeline. Another was that he presented a race neutral soothing departure from the perceived race baiting antics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And yet another was that he simply was sufficiently racially ambiguous enough not to pose any real racial threat.
In other words, he was seen as a racial exception. That's the penchant for some whites to make artificial distinctions between supposedly good and bad blacks.
These explanations don’t point to a profound and benign sea change in racial attitudes let alone tell why negative racial notions could still be rife among many white Obama supporters. The reports that Obama has received more taunts and physical threats than any other president-elect is another troubling indication that an untold number of Americans still can’t stomach the thought of an African-American in the White House.
The hoisting of Obama to a rarified political or non racial pedestal is the exact opposite of what King had in mind. In that same March on Washington speech what’s forgotten or deliberately distorted is that King talked much about the legacy of segregation, bigotry and discrimination that trapped thousands of poor blacks and that offered no easy resolution. Nearly a half century after King’s I Have a Dream words the black poor are still just as tightly trapped in the grip of poverty and discrimination that King warned about.
On the eve of the King national holiday and Obama’s inauguration, the Boston based research and economic justice advocacy group, United for a Fair Economy, released its sixth annual King Day report. It found that the gaping disparities in income, wealth, employment, quality and availability of housing, decent schools, and health care between blacks, minorities and whites has grown even wider. Countless government reports and studies, and the National Urban League’s 2007 State of Black America report also found that discrimination and poverty are still major barriers for millions. And it’s not just the black poor that bear the brunt of discrimination. President Bush even wondered out loud recently why there were so few black reporters covering his press conferences.
Obama has publicly bristled at the notion that the civil rights movement is outdated, or worse that he somehow supplants the ongoing work of civil rights leaders. He has repeatedly praised past civil rights leaders for their heroic battle against racial injustice.
It was not simply showy campaign symbolism when Obama pegged his Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech to the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington last August. This was a fitting tribute to the civil rights movement that challenged the nation to make King's dream of justice and equality a reality. Obama faced that challenge as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, during his stints in the Illinois legislature and in the Senate. He faces that same challenge in the White House. There’s still much to overcome.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).
Monday, January 12, 2009
"The most important film of our time" goes the tagline for the new biopic "Notorious” which is the story of the life and death of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. aka "Biggie Smalls." Really? This is a more important film than Malcolm X? And it’s more important than the films about Martin Luther King or films such as "Cry Freedom" or "The Great Debaters?" I don't even think it’s the most important Hip Hop movie. What about Krush Groove or Beat Street?
I’ve loved hip hop since I first heard "Rock Box" by Run-DMC in the early 80's. From the era of Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, the Sugarhill Gang, the Whodini, Fat Boys, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys in the mid-80's. In the late 1980s it was the EPMD, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy, NWA, the Tribe Called Quest, De la Soul, Queen Latifah, Compton's Most Wanted, and Dr. Dre. They are the legitimate pioneers of rap and hip hop.
Now granted, I can't stomach much of what passes as Hip-Hop nowadays as it seems like it’s geared more towards a segment of the population that wear "skinny jeans" and Mohawk hair styles. In other words most of the stuff nowadays is more for little kids and adolescents.
This brings me back to “Notorious.” His entire career can be confined to two albums. TWO ALBUMS! The first album was "Ready to Die." This album is labeled as a classic but I would have to disagree. Can you really compare it to Public Enemy's "It takes A Nation of Millions." or to Ice Cube’s "Death Certificate" or a Tribe Called Quest’s "Low End Theory?"
These albums defined a generation and helped to revolutionize the way Hip-Hop was viewed. These albums made you think as well as made you move. While all three of these albums are as different as Obama is to Ronald Reagan they are lyrically and musically on point. "Ready to Die" is mostly filled with the usual tales of hustling, sex, standard rap braggadocio and party songs. It is no different than anything that has come before it. The only thing that set this album apart is the beats, which deviated from the mid 90's grimy east coast sound which permeates throughout the albums of such New York artists as Wu-Tang Clan, Black Moon, and Onyx. But this is more attributed to P Diddy and his Hitmen production team and not Biggie himself.
Biggie's first album did showcase a sort of hard-luck case who was able to pull himself up out of a bad situation and become a winner. This could have been inspirational to a lot of people but the whole rags to riches story was nothing new or innovative and neither was the whole "I had to sell drugs to feed my daughter" song and dance which was supposed to make his actions seem honorable without any remorse on his part. At least, when NWA or Ice T. told a tale of drug hustling there was some kind of repercussions within the song. On Biggie’s second album "Life after Death" the content remained the same as the first album except now the tone was less bleak now that he had made it. There were less hard luck songs and more "lets party, drink champagne, and bone random chicks" songs. He even had the good sense to include a how-to song on the rules of selling drugs (the Ten Crack Commandments. This is just what black youth need). However there are a few notable songs contained on "Life after Death" such as "Notorious Thugs" which pairs Biggie with the rapid fire delivery of Cleveland rap quartet Bone Thugs & Harmony and even showcases Biggie impressively going toe to toe with the nimble tongued Bone group.
I don't think that Biggie is without talent. On the contrary I think he is a very talented wordsmith. But to label him as "the greatest rapper of all-time" as a lot of people has done is a slap in the face to all the great emcees that came before and after him who have had more of an impact in the development and evolution of Hip-Hop. What about Krs-One, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, or the man who I think should be in everybody's top-five, a person who revolutionized Hip-Hop music, and in my opinion truly took rap to a new level, that’s Rakim. When are their movies coming out about their lives? That’s not a notorious question.
Fanon Hutchinson is the editor and publisher of a Los Angeles based hip hop and sports blog http://bighutchbaby.blogspot.com
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There’s a good chance that former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle will be charged in the videotaped New Years day killing of Oscar Grant, a young African-American. But charging Mehserle with the fatal shooting of Grant and getting a conviction is a far different matter.
On the surface the case seems to be about as close to a slam dunk for a successful prosecution as any case involving apparent police misconduct could be. There are at least two compelling videos that appear to show an unarmed and handcuffed Grant face down on the BART platform. Grant does not appear to be resisting the officers. Witnesses testified that Grant posed no threat to the officers. BART officials have offered the weak explanation that Mehserle might have mistakenly thought that he was reaching for his taser gun. But expectations, witness testimony, videos, and an implausible explanation by BART for the deadly shooting may not be enough to nail Mehserle.
The first obstacle to convicting cops charged with deadly force is the use of videos. Defense attorneys who represent cops charged in questionable fatal shootings have honed the discrediting of videotaped evidence to a fine art. In a number of highly charged cases in cities across the country where the videos of police abuse have been widely televised to shocked millions, skilled defense attorneys have still won acquittals. They tell jurors that the videos are grainy and fuzzy, the sound and quality are poor, the tapes have missing pieces, and they omit events that show what provoked the officer to use force. They pound home that videos can be interpreted in many different ways.
Their spin to jurors is that videos give a distorted, clouded and therefore invalid picture of why an officer used deadly force. Defense attorneys don’t stop there. They also question the honesty, motives, and background of the videographers. In the Grant killing the two videos that were widely shown were shot by two young persons with cell phone cameras. One of whom refused to give his name.
The next obstacle is the investigation. Police officials and prosecutors move at a deliberate glacial pace in compiling evidence, witness testimony, and officer statements. The time delay works to the officer’s advantage. It insures that their version of why officers used force is in total sync with the version given by other officers present. Mehserle’s quick resignation after the Grant shooting further blurs things. He evaded an internal investigation and giving possible damning statements.
The rare times that a prosecutor brings charges against an officer for overuse of deadly force the defense attorney are top line and have had much experience defending police officers accused of misconduct. Police unions pay them and they spare no expense in their defense. The cops almost never serve any pre-trial jail time, and are promptly released on ridiculously low bail.
Then there’s the jury. Police defense attorneys seek to get as many middle-class whites on the panel as possible. The presumption is that they are much more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than black or young witnesses, defendants, or even the victims. That’s no small point. In the great majority of deadly force killings the victims, as was Grant, are young African-Americans or Latinos. The witnesses generally are young or minority. That’s the case in the Grant killing.
Prosecutors have a daunting job trying to overcome pro-police attitudes and the negative racial stereotypes. Two Penn State University studies on racial perceptions and stereotypes, one in 2003 and a follow-up study in 2008, found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crimes, and in some cases where crimes were not committed by blacks they misidentified the perpetrator as an African American. Defense attorneys always play hard on any prior misconduct, bad behavior, or any criminal conduct by the victim. The Grant case would likely be the same. Early press reports repeatedly talked about Grant’s alleged criminal record. This feeds into the stereotype of bad behaving blacks, and that the victim somehow is responsible for the officer using deadly force.
The biggest obstacle of all is the blurred standard of what is or isn't acceptable use of force. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer. In the Rodney King beating case in 1992 and the Sean Bell killing in New York City in 2007 defense attorneys turned the tables and painted King as the aggressor and claimed that the level of force used against him was justified. In the Bell case, they claimed that Bell and his companions were trying to run them down and they feared for their lives.
Convicting the cop who killed Grant, or any cops who wantonly kill, is a colossal task for even the most diligent prosecutor. The Grant case will be no different.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The voluntary withdrawal by scandal plagued New Mexico governor Bill Richardson from the Commerce Secretary post drew instant and angry demands from some Latino leaders for Obama to pick another Latino to replace Richardson. In making the demand they fanned two myths. One is that Obama hasn’t appointed enough Latinos to his staff and cabinet posts. The other is that Latino votes are mainly why he bagged the White House. Obama transition officials quickly and correctly noted that Obama has appointed more Latinos to senior positions than Bush or Clinton. And that’s even before he’s taken office.
But it’s the myth that Latinos tipped the victory scale for him that’s even more self-serving. Latinos did vote in bigger numbers and in a higher percentage for Obama than Democratic presidential loser John Kerry in 2004. Their vote did help seal the win for Obama in Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. Bush won Colorado and Florida in 2000 and all three states in 2004. But the electoral math shows that even if Obama had lost both states he still would have beaten Republican rival John McCain.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and arguably North Carolina were the must win states. Bush won two of the three states in 2000 and 2004 and cinched the White House. This time Obama won all three. If he had lost Pennsylvania and/or Ohio the outcome might have been far different. Blacks make up twenty to thirty percent of the vote in these three states. They gave Obama the crucial edge there. The more than 15 million black voters made up more than twenty percent of the overall Democratic vote in 2008. They gave Obama 96 percent of their vote. This was an all-time percentage high for a Democratic presidential candidate. If black voters had not turned the Democratic primaries into a virtual holy crusade for Obama and if Obama had not openly in the South Carolina primary and subtly in primaries thereafter stoked the black vote, he would have been just another failed Democratic also ran presidential candidate. The fight for the White House would have been between McCain and Hillary Clinton.
In the 2008 election Latino voters increased their vote total by a modest one percent from nine to ten million votes from 2004. Even then Latino leaders and voters were glacially slow to warm up to Obama. In the Democratic primaries they overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton. In the general election many Latino voters still expressed deep ambivalence and doubt about Obama. McCain got nearly one third of the Latino vote. This is pretty much what other GOP presidential candidates typically get from Latino voters. Bush’s top heavy Latino vote total in 2004 was a political aberration.
The Latino leaders that pump the myth that they elected Obama do it in part to leverage more numbers and influence in the Obama administration, and in part to puff up the notion that Latinos are now the major ethnic power broker in national politics. Latinos certainly deserve their fair share of Obama appointments and cabinet posts; they need a big voice in his administration on issues from health care to immigration to Latin American relations. But that’s far different than turning the quest for Obama appointments into a numbers game, a quota game. Then inferring that if Obama doesn’t play ball call him a disappointment or that he’s ignoring Latino interests. Obama must not listen to that talk. It does him, his administration and Latinos a disservice.
Latinos certainly are well on the path to becoming major players in national politics, but blacks have been major political players for many years. The black vote has been the Democrats trump card in every election for the past half century, win or lose. They gave Kerry 85 percent of their vote. Latinos by contrast gave Kerry only 53 percent of their vote. Black voters have been so reliable, maybe too reliable, that Democrats have been repeatedly rapped for plantationism; that is for taking the black vote for granted and offering little tangible benefits in return for their unyielding support. Obama didn’t change that. He said little during the campaign about failing public schools, the HIV/AIDS plague, criminal justice racial disparities, and the lack of minority business initiatives and funding
Black voters and elected officials, though, wisely did not demand that he say and do more about these issues as the price for their game changing vote turnout. The Congressional Black Caucus, local and state black Democrats, and civil rights organizations passionately backed Obama in the general election. They pulled out all stops to get out the vote. If any group deserved bragging rights for the Obama win they do. They would be right to demand even more staff and cabinet appointments from Obama. They haven’t demanded that. The Latino leaders that are sweating Obama to appoint more Latinos solely because they are Latinos should do the same.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).