Monday, June 16, 2008


The Obama Temptation...

...for several black conservatives:

Just as Obama has touched black Democratic voters, he has engendered conflicting emotions among black Republicans. They revel over the possibility of a black president but wrestle with the thought that the Illinois senator doesn't sit beside them ideologically.
"Among black conservatives," Williams said, "they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him in November."


J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he's thinking of voting for Obama. Watts said he's still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community.
Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with
Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.
"And Obama highlights that even more," Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. "Republicans often seem indifferent to those things."
Likewise, retired Gen. Colin Powell, who became the country's first black secretary of state under President George W. Bush, said both candidates are qualified and that he will not necessarily vote for the Republican.

"I will vote for the individual I think that brings the best set of tools to the problems of 21st-century America and the 21st-century world regardless of party, regardless of anything else other than the most qualified candidate," Powell said Thursday in Vancouver in comments reported by The Globe and Mail in Toronto.

All of this suggests, rightly, that political choices come down to more than ideology or policy. There is often a "gut" feeling that comes into play. It's easy to say that this comes down to just "race." But RT contributor David Bernstein shared some of the deeper complexities a couple months ago (after -- ahem! -- a bar conversation on the topic with a certain founder of RT, but that's another story):
And yet ... I, like many folks, find him strangely compelling. And it's not just because we're fellow "mixed-race Americans", although that is certainly part of it -- I mean, I never expected to see a presidential candidate who shared both my skin tone and my haircut -- but the touch of Obamamania I feel at times goes beyond mere ethnic association.

So what is it? I think it comes from the dreams I have had that, sometime in my lifetime, we would actually live in a post-racial society -- that skin color would matter no more (and hopefully less) than other attributes when measuring the status and character of individuals. I used to write about this regularly in the early 90s; I even published a magazine called Diversity & Division based on the premise of post-racialism way back then.

And here's the kicker. I always assumed that the first successful post-racial politician would be a conservative. Liberals, and partisan Democrats in particular, are so caught up in race that it just didn't seem possible for them to get behind a candidate of color who wasn't a Sharpton-esque loudmouth or some slick machine pol deftly practiced at playing on white guilt.

Obama, whatever else you say about him, doesn't ask for white guilt. I love him for that, and so do many other conservatives of a certain age. And I, like all the cute young college girls at an Obama rally, got caught up in the possibilities, in symbolism that his candidacy represents -- of a new America where a mulatto guy named Barack could get elected president based on his ideas
and personality, not on some fouled up racial dynamic.
Karol Sheinin, by the way, thinks that J.C. Watts isn't being completely straightforward on his reasons for possibly voting for Obama:
That's funny, because when I interviewed him in 2004, during an African-Americans for Bush event at the Waldorf Astoria in NY, (video here) and asked him what the Republican party could do to attract more black voters, he said they should just keep doing what they're doing. He didn't indicate there was any room for improvement and he disputed my assertion that doing what we've been doing hasn't worked.

Karol may have a point. However, it's never really a good idea to take what a politician says at a political convention at face value: They are usually "on," at that point, i.e. sticking to the party line on just about every topic that comes up. At this point, four years later, and not working to re-elect an incumbent president, Watts may feel to free to share what he really thinks.

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