Obama run would speak to issue of race
November 28, 2006
The smoke had barely cleared on the 2006 election when the sprint for 2008 began in earnest. In the middle of it is Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Obama's possible run for the presidency is grounded in the belief that the nation is ready for a black president with an unusual name.
Following black Americans like former Rep. Shirley Chisholm in the 1970s and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1980s, Obama says he wants to push the nation to see beyond race and view him as a national leader.
But this year's election would seem to indicate race is still a factor in our national psyche.
In Virginia, Sen. George Allen used the infamous "macaca" slur to describe an American of Indian descent.
In Tennessee, a TV ad alluded to black candidate Rep. Harold Ford consorting with a blond Playboy bunny.
In Michigan, the defeat of affirmative action demonstrates that the issue of race still has resonance.
Obama's desire to run has also raised a number of questions about the candidate himself -- questions that have little to do with race and everything to do with experience, politics and ideology.
Some argue that Obama simply lacks the leadership and policy experience needed. He has been in the U.S. Senate since only 2004, and he has a thin legislative record to boot.
What's more, although Obama's political star may be shining bright, down here on Earth, the links to fundraisers, media consultants, pollsters, political organizations and grassroots activists are what win presidential nominations.
Obama is a prodigious fundraiser. According to Harper's Magazine, he has raised millions for his own reelection war chest for 2010, and millions more for his Hopefund PAC, which gives to other Democratic candidates. However, becoming president these days is a $100 million affair, at least.
Perhaps most important are the ideological questions surrounding Obama. His legislative record and political speeches have swayed between softly liberal and pragmatically moderate.
While addressing issues of Katrina-like poverty and speaking in broad terms about inclusion and living up to the values that the nation holds dear, Obama has stood out on little.
He has opposed the war in Iraq and calls for the gradual withdrawal of troops. But that position becomes more mainstream by the day.
He also voted for the bankruptcy bill that makes it more difficult for people in debt to lighten their load.
Obama raised eyebrows when he initially endorsed and supported Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary over the more progressive and vocally anti-war Ned Lamont, who went on to win the primary race. But in late October, Obama issued an e-mail supporting Lamont, who this time lost the election to Lieberman.
Polls show Obama to be favored by Democratic voters in the same range as former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore, all of whom trail Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Polls also show that Obama makes whites comfortable. His personal story of having a father from Kenya and a white American mother -- in the post-segregationist, multicultural new millennium -- makes him non-threatening and gives him cache with moderate white voters.
In the end, it is more likely than not that Obama will run. He has more to gain than lose. Win or lose, he gains credibility for a future run or for a vice presidential slot. If he does run, the nation will finally decide if it's ready for an African-American in the executive branch.
Clarence Lusane is assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several works, including "Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race and the New American Century" (Praeger, 2006). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.