Freedom Rider: Should We Want a Black President?

I Want You
"Obama has mastered the art of political bullshitology."

When Colin Powell considered running for president, the question on everyone's mind was whether or not he could win. In other words, would white people who said they liked him really vote for him? Powell eventually decided to shoot for a high profile gig with the next Republican administration, and the question remained unanswered.

Unlike Powell, Senator Barack Obama has entered a presidential race. He is the candidate with all the buzz, and he has raised a ton of money. Hillary Clinton thought that being the boss's wife would be enough to waltz into the nomination. All she had to do was bask in the Clintonian after-glow and presto, instant oval office residency.

Sadly for her, she shares her husband's politics of meaninglessness but none of his personal charisma. She can't get away with fence straddling, triangulating, or insulting the party base. Along comes Obama, a living reincarnation of Clintonian political charm straight from the glory days. Now that Hillary has been out Clintoned, she looks less like a sure thing.

"Is Obama more worthy of Black loyalty than any other Democrat?"

Obama has mastered the art of political bullshitology, and proven campaign fund-raising prowess. He does look like a contender. The likelihood of white people voting for him is still open to question, but that may not be the most important question. Black Americans will again support the Democratic nominee, but is Obama more worthy of that loyalty than any other Democrat?

If he is a winner, it will be in large part because he is willing to throw black people under the bus. He proved as much in his overrated speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention. "There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America." Of course there is a black America, and most of us don't want to pretend otherwise.
Obama's 2004 speech does not mention racism, not even to say something bland such as, racism is bad. Obama sells color blindness in a country that is all about the color spectrum. It makes no sense for black America to embrace this obvious canard. Will we purchase a lemon if the seller looks like us?

When Obama says that the best way to end poverty is to keep teenage girls from having babies, he is insulting us all. If he wants to channel Bill Cosby he must know that it comes with a price. Our support is not his birthright. If he can't bring himself to talk about the loss of high paying union jobs and the deliberate destruction of black public schools, he must know that he can't expect unqualified support.

"If Obama wants to channel Bill Cosby he must know that it comes with a price."

Obama doesn't just represent the dangers of being proud when one of our own gets what the system tells us is the brass ring. He is also the culmination of the dumbing down, and selling out of the Democratic party.

In every election Democrats' choices are worse and worse. Authentic Democrats can't raise money or are ignored or destroyed by the corporate media. Just ask Howard Dean. The Democratic party's insistence on selling out and not standing up for an ideology of any kind has all but destroyed the likelihood of having a decent presidential nominee in the foreseeable future.

The eventual nominee will in fact stay the course in Iraq. Hillary has openly said that she will keep troops there. Corporate Democrat chicanery causes apathy, fatigue, and finally acceptance of phony progressives like Obama. True progressives will legitimately conclude that compromised Democrats are as good as we are able to get.

While legitimate, those low expectations are very dangerous. Black Americans would be more likely to call Hillary out when she acts against our interests. Obama would get a pass from the "aren't you proud to have a black president" crowd. He encompasses the worst of all possible worlds, a corporate beholden Democrat who won't even be put on the spot by the party's most loyal and most insightful constituency. In a spirit of charity, it could be said that Obama is no worse than Hillary Clinton. The expression "damning with faint praise" comes to mind.

"If Obama is the party choice, it will be because he makes white people feel comfortable."

Every four years progressives wring their hands and vote for a Democrat they don't really like. Obama would just be the latest manifestation of that sad quadrennial spectacle. If he is the party choice, it will be because he makes white people feel comfortable, and by definition that means not addressing the interests of black people.

Does it make sense to want a black president? Will we feel better seeing a black president even if he can't find the right time to leave Iraq, institute single payer health care, end mass incarceration, or fight for affirmative action? In the future, we will again see a black presidential candidate claiming that there is no black America. If we adhere to the belief that a black face in a high place is always good, that throwaway line in a speech might just take on a more ominous meaning.

  • Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Ms. Kimberley' maintains an edifying and frequently updated blog at More of her work is also available at her Black Agenda Report archive page.