Tuesday, July 27th, 2004

Black President

(UPDATED LINKS 11am 7/28/04)

The hype came in the form of a skinny mixed-race Senate candidate with no opposition, Barack Obama (backgrounders here and here, perhaps the next chance for a real Black President in 2016.

Women screamed. Pundits creamed. Hillary and Jesse both beamed. This guy is for real and people will soon be talking about him as “the new face of the Democratic Party”.

What are his politics? Call them urban neo-progressive. He’s positioning himself right between Jesse and Hillary.

The fire in his speech was vintage Jesse ’88. Note how Obama used “hope” as his keyword. Note how thoroughly he’s absorbed the language of the multiculturalists of the 80s (yep, we’ve come a long way baby). And the speech will be remembered for this money line, also vintage Jesse/80s multiculti with a touch of 90s irony:

“Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.

There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

But even as he affirmed his urban background, he pitched himself to the so-called middle. The next line could have come out of a DLC playbook.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, the people I meet in small towns and big cities and diners and office parks, they don’t expect government to solves all of their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead. And they want to.”

But the key lines if you want to understand Obama’s politics were the next ones:

“Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you: They don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.”

There it is. Here’s a Democrat who has absorbed the small-government mantra, who is telling conservative whites–and post-Farrakhan blacks–he’s not gonna be easy on his people. At the same time, he’s telling liberals and people of color he’s not gonna be easy on military spending. Anti-welfare and anti-war. Hillary and Jesse.

Now read the next section of his speech again, and recognize game. Obama is sharp, he’s a great orator, and he’s just a lot slicker than either neo-conservative Corey Booker or neo-liberal Bill Cosby:

“Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things. (APPLAUSE)”

He cut those lines real fine, didn’t he? Welcome to the neo-progressive.

This is a different politic than, say, those promoted by the Dean insurgency, which was essentially a one-noter: anti-war, anti-Bush. These are politics that could potentially play a major role in reshaping the Democratic Party. Centrism is dead. Clinton and Bush took that one to bed. People are searching for a new alternative, and Obama’s neo-progressivism–if it takes hold in the communities of color he can potentially energize–combines a shape-shifting ability to move right, while reviving the moral high ground of the left.

Don’t forget Obama once ran against Bobby Rush, the ex-Black Panther, on the Southside, in a race that held as much intergenerational intrigue as the Booker-James battle in Newark, even though the press never framed it that way. In the African American community, where Sharpton’s failed candidacy represents the exhaustion of the old model and where the hip-hop generation is still getting organized, neo-progressivism–and all the values it promotes-professionalism, wit, irony, and above all, an imperative to find a post-Jackson, post-Farrakhan hybrid–could become the intergenerational compromise.

New ideas always take the form of urgency and passion, two other values Obama upheld Tuesday night. By jumping into the U.S. Senate, Obama leapfrogs Jesse Jackson, Jr. and a host of others for the next generation of African American leadership. And in the Senate, he will only be able to move rightward.

Which brings us to the 2016 scenario, a distant question for now: is this the Democratic Party’s future? Can you get with that?

Anxious to see what Pop And Politics and Afro-netizen have to say.

posted by @ 8:54 pm | 4 Comments



4 Responses to “Black President”

  1. ian says:

    Jeff, thanks for link love in your sidebar but my site is actually at: http://differentkitchen.blogspot.com/

  2. Jeff says:

    got it…thanks.

  3. lynne d says:

    and you know details touts harold ford jr as the first black president

  4. Anonymous says:

    “hip-hop generation getting it togeather”?
    hip-hop died in the early 90′s.

    hip-hop is a corporate machine like rock was/is.
    some blacks might be in it but its mostly run by
    people who are neither interested in music or culture except maximizing profit.

    can you tell me where in the “hood” has it been better since the hip-hop generation profited?

    Obama? Rush?
    Bobby ran for the people Obama’s politics are Oprah’s politics and that is a corporate investments.

    there are many complex layers in what we are addressing here and not all seem what we wish they’d be……comfort for some doesn’t equal comfort for all!

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