Race and Religion on the Campaign Trail
A few days ago in Philadelphia, Barack Obama gave a major speech explaining his views on the status of race relations in the United States and the relevance of race in the Presidential campaign. The speech was prompted in part by continuing public discussion of some incendiary statements on racial matters that have been made by his long time pastor and friend, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ. Obama has distanced himself from the remarks, but has not rejected the preacher personally. Wright, who retired from his pastorate last month, had a position on the Obama African American Religious Leadership Committee, but has now resigned.
Obama's race has continuously been referred to during the campaign in term's of "first viable African American Presidential candidate", just as Hillary has been similarly referred to as the first such woman. The 1984 Democrat V-P candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, while serving on the Clinton fund raising committee, took the discourse in another direction when she said Obama would not be where he is in the campaign today if he were not black. She inferred black men have a special advantage and implied that Obama was a sort of token. After her remarks were widely criticized, when given a chance to back off, Ferraro shot back that she was just exercising her free speech right and being honest, and she then said she was wrongfully being attacked as a racist, which she claimed was a tactic to intimidate white people from speaking out. Ferraro eventually resigned from the Clinton team, and Hillary handled her remarks about like Barack has handled the intemperate remarks of Wright.
The Obama speech has been well received from diverse quarters. He spoke of his personal experience as an African-American being raised by his white family. He referred to the sad racial history of America, but his focus was on the need to go forward to address and improve race relations as part of making progress on all the other issues we face as a nation.
That we have made great improvements in race relations in this country is apparent from the fact Barack Obama has a significant lead over Hillary Clinton. For historical perspective, consider that when John McCain's father was serving as a Navy Officer in WWII, the armed forces of the United States were still racially segregated, and non-whites were not even allowed to become commissioned officers in the Navy. The civil rights and "Great Society" programs of the 1960s helped many African-Americans achieve a piece of the American dream, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans today are still not realizing that dream. Until all Americans, regardless of color, more fairly share the economic benefits of living in this country, racial tensions will persist, particularly in hard financial times.
Polling to determine racial bias, and to a lesser extent gender bias, is subject to a unique factor of politically correct responses not accurately reflecting inner feelings that may be acted upon in the voting booth. In the past, pollsters estimated the size of the factor and adjusted the results for a black candidate accordingly. At best, the estimate was just a guess. If Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democrats, pollsters will have the opportunity to estimate or guess the racial factor on a national basis. Books will be written for years on the impact race played in the 2008 Presidential election, but I doubt we will ever have a definitive answer, unless all the polls show Obama favored by a decent margin and then McCain wins.
I think Obama's race will work against him with some Hispanics, Asians and blue collar and older whites. It will work in his favor with some of the small number of African-Americans who might otherwise vote Republican or not vote, and with some independents and normally uninvolved voters who see him as someone obviously different from the "typical" older white male candidate.
Particularly after the last two Presidents, a man with libido trouble and a stone throwing hypocrite, some Americans are concerned about the religious values of the next President. Those on the religious right, who normally embrace Republicans, are trying to close their eyes and hold their nose as they consider a tepid kiss on the McCain cheek. Hillary Clinton, correctly or not, is not seen as a religious person. The perception of her as a calculating decision maker does not endear her to those who believe decisions should be based on a strict moral compass.
I doubt one out of a thousand Americans can tell you who Hillary's pastor is, or John McCain's. Reverend Wright brought Barack to Christ, officiated at the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their children. I wonder who ministers to the Clintons and McCain and who officiated at their weddings and baptized their children. Ironically, this flap over the words of pastor Wright may actually work in Obama's favor, by planting the reality that he is a church going Christian, by reminding African-American church goers who have drifted Republican that he is one of them, and by laying to rest the false seed some have been trying to plant that he is a Muslim.
The Obama speech has now brought him another benefit. Bill Richardson was so impressed with it that he has announced his endorsement of Obama for President. I really like the idea of an Obama/Richardson ticket. Richardson has diverse experience which can be of great help to Obama, and being half Hispanic, he will have great appeal to Hispanic voters.