Before I address the question, Obama/Clinton: Which Way Black America?
- I can not help touching on Obama’s sweep on the weekend of February
9, 2008. He won all the states – Washington State, Nebraska, Maine,
the Virgin Island and Louisiana. Louisiana was kind of expected, but
the other states? Who would have thought it a few months ago? Increasingly,
the possibility of Obama becoming the Democratic Party Standard Bearer
looms large and his becoming President of the United States is now within
the realm of possibility.
Still, there is a question which I ponder often. Which candidate would
better serve the USA and in particular the interest of African Americans
– Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama? Symbolically
there is no contest. Obviously, it is Obama. We should not dismiss or
minimize the importance of symbols. There is a quote from Paul Tellich,
a renowned theologian, on symbols. This quote, which Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. cited in his 1955 doctoral dissertation was said to have been
taken from the dissertation written by Dr. Jack Boozer three years earlier.
Dr. Boozer, who, like Dr. King, was a graduate student at Boston University,
Here, is the quote. “Tellich insist that a symbol is more than
a mere sign. The basic characteristics of the symbol are its innate
power. A symbol possesses a necessary character. It cannot be exchanged.
A sign, on the contrary, is impotent and can be exchanged at will. A
religious symbol is not the creation of a subjective desire or work.
If the symbol looses its ontological grounding, it declines and becomes
a mere ‘thing,’ a sign impotent in itself.”
Obama’s very presence, to say nothing of his success in the presidential
race, has inspired unnumbered blacks, minorities, young people, indeed
all people of decency and fairness. For my purpose, I want to focus
on people of African Ancestry. Wherever I’ve gone, Africa in particular,
there is a glowing pride when his name is mentioned. Moreover, if Obama
should win, only God knows how far reaching the impact. For those who
have been so inspired will surely make their mark on the world and history.
However, beyond symbolism and all that that means, the question still
remain, who would benefit African Americans the most in turns of jobs
or positions, businesses and or economic opportunities, allocation or
direction of resources to the Black communities, appointments to important
offices (which Blacks have not held before), health care, affirmative
action, reparations, education, assistant for African countries and
third world countries in general? In other words, at the conclusion
of his or her tenure, who would have benefited African Americans the
When I size up the two candidates, this is what looks me in the face.
Senator Hillary Clinton: Personally, I have interacted with the Clintons
in various ways. In 1992, I did the invocation at the Democratic Executive
Committee meeting. This meeting happens after the Convention has selected
its presidential candidates. All the Democratic bigwigs assembled there,
including the nominees, President and Vice President, Clinton and Gore,
During Clinton’s presidency, I used to be one of the relatively
few Ministers invited periodically to the White House for an interracial,
interfaith clergy breakfast. There were other functions in Washington,
D.C., and the community involving the Clintons which I participated.
I was at the White House for a reception for Nelson Mandela on his last
visit to the United States during the Clinton administration.
Moreover, during the Clinton years, my daughter, Leah, who interned
at Congressman Ed Towns’ office during her sophomore year at Dartmouth
College, upon graduating in 1984, went to work full time for the Congressman.
From there, she went to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), when
Mr. Ron Brown was chairperson. He, (Ron Brown) then sent Leah to New
York City to make preparation for the 1992 Democratic Convention. After
which, she went to work at the Labor Department as Special Assistant
to Ms. Alex Herman, who was Secretary of Labor. She was eventually appointed
Assistant Secretary of Labor. Later she would return to the DNC and
eventually be appointed Chief of Staff by Mr. Terry McAuliffe, which
position she still holds. Several months ago, she was appointed by Howard
Dean, the current Chairperson of the DNC, to Chief Executive Officer
(CEO) of the Democratic National Convention, which will take place August
2008 in Denver, Colorado.
There were other appointments of significance for Blacks that I knew
and many others that I did not know. There were other gains which Blacks
achieved during the Clinton years. I think every black person knew someone
who knew someone who knew the Clintons. While a lot of us wouldn’t
go as far as Toni Morrison, to call Bill Clinton the first black president,
and 99 and 9/10% of us surely would vigorously disagree with Obama’s
rejection of Clinton as a black president because he couldn’t
dance, but, I think overall, a fair assessment of Clinton’s relationship
to blacks has been better than good and far better than other presidents.
Not withstanding some of his actions and words we have criticized.
In addition, blacks in particular that I have known for years are high
in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign staff and are among her top advisors.
They and others speak highly of Mrs. Clinton.
Senator Barack Obama: When I consider Obama there is nothing to consider.
I don’t know him. I met him once in passing at the Democratic
National Convention in Boston, 2004. I liked him then; I like him now.
I don’t know what he has done for Black people in his community
or in his law practice. I don’t know anyone around him or close
to him or who is advising him. Now, the above doesn’t mean that
Obama is not Afro-centric. Maybe he realizes if he is going to win the
Presidential campaign, he will have to have the support of whites. Therefore,
he can not be too black or black at all. What he or Mrs. Clinton will
do once he or she is elected, who knows?
Well, there is the dilemma for those of us who are Afro-centric and
have had dealings with the Clintons and none with Obama. So, when we
see conscious black people supporting Mrs. Clinton, we ought to be understanding
and respectful of their decision although we disagree. Let us believe
that they probably arrived at the decision after much thought and sole
searching and that it is not loyalty alone that drives their decision
for Clinton. They sincerely believe Mrs. Clinton is the best choice
for Americans and African Americans in particular.
Just as for those who support Mr. Obama ought not to be labored naive
or “color consumed,” rather let us ascribe to them a thoughtful
process which moved them to favor Senator Obama. While surely race placed
a part but it was concern for the best interest of people of African
Ancestry that drove their decision. For myself, I still agonize. There
is another piece with which I have to wrestle. As aforementioned, my
daughter, Leah, is the CEO of the Democratic National Committee. Her
position demands neutrality. I believe anything I do that is news worthy
will reflect on her. Hence, I do not want to do anything that would
subject her to questions of her loyalty to neutrality based upon decisions
that I have made. In the light of the awesome responsibility of her
position, the last thing she needs is to be hounded with questions of
her adherence to neutrality. Therefore, I have decided to refrain from
public endorsements. I am a father, who is in his 50th year of ministry.
I have had my times. Now, I am blessed to have children to carry on
the family tradition of working and struggling with and for the people.
Leah, is not only all of the above mentioned, she is also a Pastor -
the 5th generation of ministers in our family.
I conclude in the place where I started, or, with the question I raised,
Obama or Clinton – Which Way Black America? We can be grateful
that we are living at a time that many of us thought would never come.
Inevitably, the Democratic Party will have as its leader a person of
African Ancestry or a woman, and who knows, we might have both.
P.S. As I was completing this article, on the TV there were charges
of plagiarism and the stealing of ideas by the Clinton and Obama camps.
Clinton people claimed that Obama in a speech he made copied the words
of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick who in his 2006 campaign speech
said, “’I have a dream’ - just words? ‘We hold
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’
– just words?” Obama admitted that he should have given
credit to the Governor, but he shot back at Clinton accusing her of
taking his words, “I’m fired up…” Both of them
took my words, “Fired up…” which I popularized across
the nation in the 70 & 80’s. I first heard these words in
South Carolina at a demonstration to free Ben Chavis, who was a member
of the Wilmington 10. They were accused of rioting and unlawful acts.
The demonstrators used the words “I’m Fired Up, Can’t
Take It No More.” I changed the words to “Fired Up, Won’t
Take No More,” which places a different interpretation on the
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