Friday, December 07, 2007




I was both embarrassed and conflicted by a CBS News poll that showed Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama 52% to 28% among Black voters. I was conflicted because my emotions seemed to directly contradict my long held position that the new struggle in this country is no longer about race, but class, and I stand by that position. Nevertheless, it is extremely embarrassing to know that the rest of the world has simply got to being snickering over the Black tendency towards self-hatred--and let there be no doubt about it, that's exactly what the numbers above reflect.

It is both contrary to my character and antithetical to everything that I believe to suggest that anyone should cast a vote based on race alone--after all, if White people voted race alone, Black politicians would never win an election outside the Black community. But it seems to me that this election, and Senator Barack Obama in particular, represents a very special circumstance. It's a confluence of factors coming together that demand Black people to unite and assure we're on the right side of history.

Senator Barack Obama is not just another Black politician--he's intelligent, he's personable, and his political instincts are flawless. In fact, his sense of class, dignity, and propriety places him so high above the rest of the pack that the other politicians don't know what to do with him. He is so well thought of by the American people--Democrat, Republican, and Independents alike—that it is clear that he possesses that very special, JFK-like quality that could bring this nation together. I see the candidacy of Senator Obama as an opportunity—and quite possibly our last opportunity--to recapture the best of what
is as a nation, and we are as a people. I'd say, that alone, speaks volumes.

Admittedly, I'm far from one who's qualified to speak for God, but it seems to me that considering all that Black people have suffered in this country--including being called ignorant, classless, and untrustworthy--if God handpicked the kind of man that he thought should represent our people in this country, Senator Obama would be that man. He is the walking personification of everything we know our people to be--even his heritage, the marriage of Africa and America, is a metaphor for who we are as a people. Yet he trails in the polls, among our own people, by 24%. What's up with that?

I have no problem with Hillary. In fact, if she wins this nomination I'll be right out there supporting her enthusiastically, right along side Barack, I'm sure. But what makes Hillary so special that we would support her over a dream that goes back as far as the African-American culture itself? The numbers mentioned above can reflect nothing less than a flaw in our character. Think about it--what do we actually know about Hillary other than she's married to Bill? I was married to a wonderful woman for thirty-three years, yet we were as different as night and day. So, just because the name is Clinton, doesn't mean we're gonna get Bill. And even if Hillary is identical to Bill, who's to say that a President Barack Obama wouldn't stand head and shoulders above even Bill Clinton himself? Bill was an excellent president, but he was far from the Messiah.

We've simply got to have faith in ourselves. If we don't, who will? If Black people don't have faith in the fact that we are capable of producing a leader with the capacity to lead our people and this nation to a higher level of humanity and leadership in the world, why should anyone else believe in us? And if Barack Obama is not that man--with his background as the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review, his demonstrated courage to stand up against invading Iraq during a time when it was unpopular to do so, and the flawless political judgment that has propelled him to the very apex of power in a nation where all the cards were stacked against him--then what Black man (or woman, for that matter) among us is?

Some Black people seem to be actively seeking a reason not to support this man. For the lack of any other excuse, they say he lacks experience--but experience at what? Where has experience gotten us so far? Hillary Clinton has experience that goes all the way back to the Nixon era, but that didn't prevent her from voting to give George Bush the power to take us into the most foolhardy war that this country has ever been involved. Then, after conceding that she'd made an error, she repeated the error in voting for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment against
Iran. On the other hand, Obama, this "political novice", had the wisdom to tell America, once again, that we were giving a man who can't be trusted, a free hand to be foolhardy--once again. And now, recent revelations in the news tell us he was right--once again. So I'd say, inexperience notwithstanding, Senator Obama seems to be batting a thousand.

The inexperienced Senator Obama also stands poised to hand control of political power back to the American people. He's demonstrated single-handedly that the people can come together and more than compete with big business as a source of political funding. Obama has raised more money through small donations from average Americans than the "more experienced" politicians have managed to raise through their corporate masters. That means that Americans now have a fighting chance of electing politicians that are more beholding to them than they are to big business (and mark my word--you can look for big business to sponsor some sort of legislation in the future to try to close that egregious loophole).

Thus, regardless to how this campaign turns out, whether Obama wins or falls short in his effort, he's already performed an immeasurable service to the American people by demonstrating that politicians don't have to be beholding to big business. Someday, when all of this is looked back upon, Obama's contribution is going to be recognized as one of the most valuable gifts to America in modern history. I'd say, that alone is a pretty impressive accomplishment for a guy with no experience. Now I ask you, what have any of the more "experienced" politicians done to change the face of American politics lately?

So the bottom line is, considering Senator Obama's Character, political savvy, and the fact that he's the very first viable Black presidential candidate in the history of this nation, to contend that he's not ready to be president is to say that no Black person is ready to be president of the United States. If you happen to be Black and not willing to take that position, in order to be logically consistent, you have to be prepared to come up with the name of a Black person who you consider more viable and qualified to be president. If you can't do that, you're in denial, and on the wrong side of history.

It's hard to understand the Black community. Never in my most horrific nightmare did I ever think I'd have to mount such a self-evident argument to my own people regarding a viable Black candidate. As I sit here I imagine Martin, Malcolm, and a million slaves spinning in their graves, saying, "I died for this! What's wrong with those idiots?" I also imagine racists of the past taunting these great men, saying, "We told you--y'all were fools."

But as sad as this situation is, it brings to mind an old joke--a very old but profound joke, so bear with me: There was a guy stranded on his roof during a flood, and the water was rising fast. In an attempt to try to save him, a group of people wanted to throw him a life preserver, but he turned it down, saying, "That's ok. God will provide." Then they tried to save him in a boat, and later with a helicopter, but in each case he turned them down, saying, "That's ok. The Lord will provide." Finally the water overtook him and he drowned. Then, as the Devil was dragging him off to Hell, he looked up to God and said, "My Lord, why have you forsaken me, and why am I going to Hell?" And God replied, "Man, I sent you a life preserver, a boat, and even a helicopter, and you refused them. You're going to Hell because you committed suicide."

That joke is a perfect example of what's currently happening in the Black community. We're being given the opportunity to bring Martin's dream, and the prayers that our people have whispered for hundreds of years into reality; the opportunity for Black children to say for the first time, and with conviction, that "I'm going to be president someday." For the first time, a Black child will be able to go through life knowing that he is the master of his own destiny. And just as important as all of the things mentioned above, finally, the losers and deadbeats in the Black community won't be able to convince Black youth that failure is acceptable, because "it's the White man's fault." But in spite of all of that, some of us are so consumed with self-hatred that we'd rather cut our own throats before supporting one of our own for president.

That is the reality, but if we allow this opportunity to pass us by, God would be completely justified in telling us to stop complaining and just shut-up and suffer. After all, God helps those who help themselves.

Eric L. Wattree, Sr.

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