Two Black Men

crossposted from Daily Kos

On Saturday, part of my regular activity is to read two noteworthy columnists, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, and Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe.   Both are Black, so it is not at all surprising that the columns of both are about the Obama phenomenon.   Both are interesting reading.  Herbert’s The Obama Phenomenon begins simply enough

The historians can put aside their reference material. This is new. America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon.

.  Jackson, in his A night for the newcomers saw

An array of trump cards dropped like hammers in this part of eastern Iowa as a three-way dead heat in the polls became an 8-point Obama victory over Edwards and Clinton.


So what is happening?

Jackson writes from Ottumwa.  He uses one voter to describe what he saw happening.  Cathy Orpet is a 55 year old paralegal from nearby Fairfield.  She liked Biden’s foreign policy expertise and Edward’s populist rhetoric.  She came to  Clinton  rally in Ottumwa, liking Obama but having doubts about his inexperience.  

She came to hear Clinton to see if the experience of a former first lady and current New York senator could persuade her.

On her 25-mile drive from Ottumwa to Fairfield, Orpet realized that Clinton made the case . . . for Obama.

“She was talking about how the Bush administration used fear among the people to have it his way. She is right about that. But as I was in my car, I thought to myself, the only one who stood up to that fear was Barack. He was courageous before the war started while she played into the fear herself [by voting to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq]. That was the trump card for me.”

Herbert puts it simply:

Shake hands with tomorrow. It’s here.

The heard of Herbert’s column follows immediately:

Senator Obama’s victory speech was a concise oratorical gem. No candidate in either party can move an audience like he can. He characterized his stunning victory as an affirmation of “the most American of ideas – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”

Mr. Obama has shown, in one appearance after another, a capacity to make people feel good about their country again. His supporters want desperately to turn the page on the bitter politics and serial disasters of the past 20 years. That they have gravitated to a black candidate to carry out this task is – to use a term I heard for the first time this week – monumentous.

The Clintons, especially, have seemed baffled by the winds of change. They mounted a peculiar argument against Senator Obama, acknowledging that voters wanted change but insisting that you can’t achieve change by doing things differently. Senator Hillary Clinton has had a devil of a time trying to cope with the demand for change while shouldering the legacy of an administration that defined the 1990s.

Barack Obama has none of that baggage.

Jackson offers similar evidence:

At Garfield Elementary School, a mostly white gathering of 334 participants easily surpassed the approximately 240 caucus-goers of 2004. There were 138 new registrants, nearly all of whom went for Obama, according to caucus officials there. One person was Kelvin Townsend, a 51-year-old trucking fleet mechanic. He has voted for the Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was convinced to caucus for Obama by his 43-year-old wife, Julie. She told him that Obama was a consensus builder who would not take rifles out of the hands of hunters.

In addition, their 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, came to caucus for Obama. “He just seems more real and able to get things done,” she said.

On the last day before the caucuses, Obama held a rally in Davenport. He asked for a show of hands of undecided voters. Two of them were St. Ambrose professors Bill Hitchings and Owen Rogal. At the caucuses Rogal went for Obama at Garfield. Hitchings went for Obama in a Bettendorf precinct where Obama scored two-thirds of the delegates.

“I talked to an older black woman at the Obama event,” Hitchings said. “I helped four white women in their 70s find their place at the caucus and they all said the same thing. They said Obama is the hope for their grandsons and their grandchildren. He’s become the face of hope.”

Both Herbert and Jackson are Black.   They are not the subject of my title.  Neither is writing about the “Obama phenomenon” from the standpoint of their common race.  Both are astute observers and writers of great clarity.  Instead, my title, “Two Black Men” refers to the only African-Americans ever elected as governors, Deval Patrick and Doug Wilder.  As a diary by lowkell notes, Doug Wilder Endorses Barack Obama.  And just below Jackson’s column in today’s Boston Globe is a piece by Patrick entitled Why America needs Obama.  

Wilder’s endorsement statement notes:

Our country is in desperate need of a new direction, new ideas, and new solutions to resolve the circumstances that the U.S. has shouldered in recent years. The situation our country faces calls for a new direction, new thinking and change that we can believe in.

Our country needs a leader who can unite and inspire our citizens, a leader who can see things with a fresh eye, and a leader who can move beyond the parochialisms of the past. We need a leader whom people want to rally around with the confidence that positive change is on the way.

 Wilder commits to campaigning across America on behalf of Obama.  In his commitment to Obama he joins Virginia’s current Governer, Tim Kaine, and former Lt. Governor, Don Beyer, both of whom spend significant time in Iowa on Obama’s behalf:  Don left on December 26 and stayed through caucus day.

Patrick argues

We have a chance this time to choose a different kind of candidate, a different kind of president.

Barack Obama is the only candidate in the field who has demonstrated the ability to unite people across differences around common cause.

 Patrick goes on to to offer the heart of his argument:

This is where Barack Obama rises above the field. Instead of calculation or connections, he has risen on convictions. Instead of stoking partisan anger, he calls on our common aspirations. Instead of the right and the left, he is focused on right and wrong. At a time when so many of us – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – are tired of petty division and desperate for change, Obama makes a claim on all of us to join in restoring the American dream. His leadership is about articulating a vision and motivating others to reach for it.

Even though that statement may well annoy the supporters of some other candidates, it serves a key purpose.  Remember that most of lower New Hampshire is part of the Boston media market, that the Boston Globe is more likely to be read there than the Manchester Union Leader.  And while Patrick’s own tenure as governor is clearly subject to some criticism, he was elected governor of a state whose African-American population in the 2000 census was only 6 percent – by contrast, Wilder’s Virginia had a 1990 share of 13% (19% in 2000, but Wilder was elected Lt. Governor in 1985 and Governor in 1989.

Patrick focuses on Obama’s ability to draw independents and even some Republicans.  He writes about the hope that Obama inspires, and asks Americans (meaning the people of New Hampshire, at whom this seems particularly aimed) to take a chance on their own aspirations:

Once in a generation, a candidate comes along who is committed to more than succeeding at the partisan food fight in Washington. Once in a generation, a candidate comes along who is both book smart and street smart, who is equally at ease with the meek and the mighty – and perhaps most especially with himself. Once in a generation, we get the opportunity to take a quantum leap forward in our politics. Barack Obama is that candidate and this is our opportunity. I don’t care if it’s not his turn, because I know in my head and in my heart that it is his time.

The Clinton campaign has always counted on winning New Hampshire, but also felt that it could survive (after all Bill finished 2nd) until the big states where her superior organization and connections with party regulars would enable her to stem any bleeding, even though her hope was to lock things up on February 5.   But Herbert makes an astute observation>

If the Clintons are going to stop Mr. Obama, they need to do it now. If he wins the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, the news media will go nuts and he will head toward the Jan. 19 caucuses in Nevada and the Jan. 26 primary in South Carolina (where half the voters are African-American) with incredible momentum.

I expect that African-Americans, under those circumstance, would view his campaign with almost religious fervor. All those questions about whether he’s black enough would be history. Mr. Obama would be perceived by many as within striking distance of the presidency, and there will be very few blacks in favor of stopping that train.

 I think the endorsements by Wilder and Patrick indicate that the phenomenon of Black support coming to Obama has already started, and would reach tsunami proportions if he in fact does win New Hampshire. And as many have noted, NH is a state in which independents can vote in the Democratic priority, in which the proportion of older voters who participate tends to be less than in Iowa, which has a higher share of highly educated voters, all groups that tend to favor Obama.  

I remain an uncommitted voter.  Lowkell thinks it possible that Virginia’s primary on February 12 might actually matter.  Maryland, where I teach, also holds its primary on February 12, and I am seeing among my students increasing enthusiasm towards Obama, although my post politically active student is a strong Clinton supporter who had not yet returned from winter break because he was in Iowa on her behalf.  If the February 12 primaries have importance, it may well be as a final certification of what has already happened, because if Obama wins NH, he will win SC (and he may win there even with a close 2nd in NH) and it will be all over but the convention as a formality.  

The next 4 days will be of great interest.   The Clinton campaign had already antagonized some in the Black community by the digs at obama on is apst use of drugs – that cause quite a negative reaction that could e heard on Black talk radio.  I wonder how Clinton can thread the needle to raise doubts about Obama without it causing a blowback of massive proportions in the Black community.  And Edwards?   If he finishes a distant 3rd in New Hampshire he ceases to be relevant.  The only way I see him finishing second is if Clinton goes completely negative and drives her own numbers down.

Tonight’s debate should give us some clue.  Debates have not been Obama’s strongest venue.   And he is fighting laryngitis, as was evident in his remarks yesterday.  But if he brings energy and intelligence to the debate performance tonight, it is hard to see how his momentum gets arrested.

Four black men.  Two notable black columnists who are observing what is happening around the country, in Iowa and in New Hampshire.  Two black governors, one past and one current, who are now strongly supporting Barack Obama.  And a country that seems hungry for a different kind of politics, for someone who inspires the nation.  Is it now Obama’s moment?


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  1. and my students were blown away.  Even my one Ron Paul supporter thought it was terrific.  I remember how JKF inspired young people, and how until his death is younger brother Bobby was beginning to have a similar effect, and showing an ability to bring people together for some purpose beyond themselves.  

    If Obama wins NH the press surge on his behalf will be overwhelming.   If he loses NH, it is hard to predict how it will play out.

    I wrote this diary as an observer, not as a partisan.  My wife has been strongly for Obama since hearing him speak at the Virginia Jefferson-Jackson dinner last year.  I see more enthusiasm and energy among Obama supporters than I do among Edwards supporters (of whom there are many among Virginia’s political activists) or Clinton.   And I see a far greater draw across partisan lines, at least recently.

    What are your reactions to what you have seen and heard, and perhaps what you read in the material to which I have linked?


  2. went on their crazy tax cut and spend rampage to rule the world by military force, I have had increasing questions about the old models of “liberal” and “conservative.” Those neocons have been anything but conservative. And the need to restore the original intentions of our bill of rights is anything but liberal. Now, it looks like Obama is breaking the mold from the other side.  

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