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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Divides Obama Doesn't Bridge


In distancing himself from the heated remarks of his pastor, Barack Obama did as well as anyone could do in his position. The problem is his position, which is having sat in the reverend's pews for 20 years without thinking to pick up and leave.

The discussion of race in the Democratic contest — as in American life — runs along different tracks. Certain people can say certain things. When the wrong person crosses to a track he or she doesn't have a license to be on, all hell breaks loose. Such was the consequence of Geraldine Ferraro's remark that Obama wouldn't be where he is today in the presidential contest were he not black.

Obama is a gifted and brilliant politician — and would be so if both parents were white. But serious political analysts do consider how race has helped this otherwise inexperienced candidate. Because Ferraro is white and expressed her opinion in an insensitive manner, she had to leave the Clinton campaign.

Obama's classy response to the former vice-presidential candidate's comments demonstrated his legendary political skill. He dismissed them as "wrong-headed" but not racist — enhancing his reputation as a builder of bridges over the color divide.

But the Obama campaign hasn't always been as lofty in the game of who-may-say-what-about-race as its candidate.

The first contest in which race played an important role was the South Carolina primary. Obama used his race in appealing to black voters — about half the Democratic electorate — and who could blame him? Hillary uses gender when it suits her.

But while candidate Obama floated above the fray with his soothing style, his underlings trumped up charges against Clinton of hidden racism. The most ludicrous was the claim that she had said disrespectful things about Martin Luther King Jr.

The Obama camp had one credible rap against the Clintons.

It was Bill's likening the Obama candidacy to that of the irritating Jessie Jackson. The comparison was offensive and grossly unfair, but use of the race gambit has hardly been limited to one side.

Obama's smooth flight over racial turbulence ended with the airing of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's tapes. By now, the public has heard the "God damn America" a dozen times. That, plus Michelle Obama's hard-edged remark about how her husband's campaign has made her proud of being American for the first time, has cut into the Obama race-transcending mystique. Hence the speech in Philadelphia.

Holding a tough hand of cards, Obama responded to Wright's outbursts with admirable finesse. He downplayed their outrageous, sometimes demented, nature by labeling them "divisive," a moderate word. He refused to disown his pastor. He couldn't. Doing so would have seemed craven after their long history together.

Given the calamity of slavery and Jim Crow, one must give slack to black anger. But there are limits, especially for an avowedly post-racial candidate.

We've had a situation where it's politically unacceptable to attribute Obama's success to race, but a minister may say that the government created AIDS to kill people of color and remain a candidate's spiritual adviser. Suppose Clinton's minister had awarded a lifetime achievement award to David Duke, as Wright had to Louis Farrakhan.

But for Obama, the most lasting damage of this affair may not be tied to race or religion but to class. Working stiffs will struggle to square Obama's close bond to a purveyor of racial grievance with his own golden existence. With four Ivy League degrees between them, half a million in income and children in private schools, the Obamas seem to be doing more than OK.

The clashing images of resentment and privilege are a divide that is hard to bridge.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Froma: I greatly appreciate your column on "Both sides using race gambit". Race should not be an issue in the campaign. Senator Obama's support of a church that sends the messages of hatred towards America should be of concern of all registered voters.

I would think that the intensity of Rev. Wright's messages has instilled in the majority of his congregration, including the Obamas, a very strong feeling of hate towards America.

If the Obamas were to get into the whitehouse, what changes would they initiate such that they could overcome this hate?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Merle Gilliland
Sat Mar 22, 2008 11:13 AM
I wonder why an upscale black couple like the Obamas chose such a radical congregation? Could it be that once again Obama was proving his "blackness". Politics bound, he knew he would need a solid black electorate. Perhaps he felt safe in the bosom of his church to sympathize with some of his pastor's views.
Your remark on "class" rang a bell. I constantly hear of Obama's upscale voter base. They are smart, educated, well-emplyed. I've heard Obama supporters put down Clinton voters as, uneducated, uninformed, blue-collar, out-of-touch, last minute voters who pay little attention to current events, etc. I'ts pretty demeaning to almost 50% of the electorate.
The insistence of the rarified few would have us believe that they alone are qualified to pick our next leader reminds me of the early days of this country when the rich males felt the same way. Obama has risen to a social class far above many of his black voters. It may rub some of them the wrong way but in the end he is the answer to their prayers.
Yes, Obama has had it every which way. Part black, part white. Just folks. Part white intellectual and Senator from Illinois, coming from modest roots and a single-parent home to a million dollar plus home. Claiming lilly-whitness in campaign ethics yet accepting years of financial support from a Serbian money man.
Like most politicians the only change Obama can bring is a change of complexion.
Comment: #2
Posted by: beecee
Sun Mar 23, 2008 4:49 PM
I, as a lifelong moderate Democrat, agree Obama gave a great speech. It is the reason for it that gives me pause. If he had done this years ago as part of the trans formative leadership he now promises to America then great. But as a speech to save his candidacy, I say this is manipulation and I resent it. The more I find out about Obama, the more I realize his life as been, in large part, a life of expediency. In almost every case, I see that his responses to the challenges before him have been weak, such as his response to Rev.Wright's off the wall statements.
I feel much as I did when we inched toward war 5 years ago and the media, swept away by the hype, fell down on the job. This time the post facto breast beating will not be good enough. Please read the two articles listed below and by all means provide more for us to read. We all need to learn much, much more about this man, good and bad. If he is to be our nominee, then for Pete's sake give us some reasons to vote for him in November Otherwise, many, like me, will just NOT vote for this man. I have not missed voting for President since Jimmy Carter and this is killing me.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Celeste Johnson
Mon Mar 24, 2008 12:23 AM
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