07 January 2008

When I Reached The Tipping Point

For the record, I was an Obama skeptic for quite some time.

Back in October 2004 I wrote the words below:

    I watched an interesting interview earlier today on TV One. Cathy Hughes, the black woman who owns this network, took charge of the microphone herself on her cable channel to interview Barak Obama, the heir apparent to the junior Senate seat in Illinois. I've heavily paraphrased her below.

    "The Republican Party has traditionally been seen by the African American community as a party that has no real interest in promoting an agenda that includes us or our concerns. Yet I see Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice, Rod Paige, and others who are prominent members of their administration, in positions of real power and influence.

    The Democrats, on the other hand, court us assidously during their campaigns, but their interest seems to vanish, as if they have amnesia all of a sudden, after an election. The best the Clinton administration could do was field one black man, Ron Brown, who, after engineering Clinton's victory, reluctantly took the post of Secretary of Commerce after being turned down for the job he wanted as Secretary of State.

    Are you concerned about the absence of blacks in real positions of power in a Democratic presidency? Will you use your influence as a Democratic Senator to help correct this?"

    Barak's answer was tepid, flighty, and rhetorical - he needs the backing of the national DNC to keep his political career on track.

    But what she said is what plenty of people of color - black, brown and yellow - ask in their homes across the nation. Why does the Democratic Party have so little minority participation at its upper echelons? How can a party claim to be the home of the "morally outraged", or the "intellectual" party, or the most "inclusive" party, when it excludes us from the inner circles of power?

    They say the proof is in the pudding. But there wasn't enough chocolate in the last batch of Democrats in the White House to even pretend to be a swirl.

    Black folks like Hughes, who have to balance their own books to keep their companies afloat, are increasingly interested in seeing the Democratic Party balance its own.

    So am I.

And until last month, if you stood in our kitchen, or ran into me at the cigar shop, I would play devil's advocate all day long.

There were several things that got to me lately. The main thing, or as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly describes, the tipping point was probably the predisposition of the media at that time to crown Hillary as the de facto winner of the Democratic primary before a ballot was cast.

One of the other things that started to get me hot under the collar was the way the black political establishment, here and elsewhere, was going to play the same old game they've always played, with same old negroes leading the march behind the Clintons, just as I was trying to assemble for the umpteenth time my short story collection about redefining what it means to be black in America without the baggage of the past weighing us down.

And now that I've seen the movie The Great Debaters (terrible title), which Sheila swears is a Oprah Winfrey propaganda piece designed to help make smart black people more palatable to the public, it has hit me, hard, that everything we have achieved to now is really just window dressing when the same old white guys can say the same old shit - "America isn't ready for this yet" - without blinking an eye.

Which America is this?

Obama is still a little weak in the knees - in some instances, he reminds me of John Edwards four years ago, back when he seemed a little light in the britches for this.

He's not a natural fighter, which we've come to expect in our politicians. Duking it out in the trenches isn't his style. He looks a little uncomfortable having to spout the type of bullshit rhetoric a seasoned politician can deliver on cue, knowing damn well it can all be ignored when we aren't looking, which is most of the time, and obfuscated for those few times that we are.

And there are moments, when I watch him stumble over the answer to a question for which he has not properly prepared, when I wonder if it is too early in his career for him to be running.

If this was the original Clinton, running for the first time, I don't think Obama would have a chance. Not against a hungry, ambitious, young Bill.

But against Hillary and Edwards? At this point, lightweight or no, I think he has earned a significant part of his success. How much of it is attributable to Republicans who are sabotaging Clinton in hopes of fielding a much more vulnerable opponent is hard to say, but unless you were born yesterday, you know there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.

So I've thrown in with Obama, stuttering, cocaine sniffing and all.

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