August 29, 2008
DENVER—After the phony roll call vote was taken here to formally nominate Barack Obama—a roll call that did not remotely reflect the true delegate strength of Hillary—the media exploded in an orgy of celebration about the historic character of the moment to which they had just been privileged to be witness.
“The first black presidential nominee ever of a major party in history!” was proclaimed. Coming on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Barack’s nomination is being hailed as the last great step forward in the long march to equality and justice in America.
The moral pressure to join the march of history is enormous.
Nor is it unfair to say that some journalists here are obsessed with the issue of race in this campaign. There may be wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising tensions with Russia, a falling regime in Pakistan, and reports of U.S. and NATO warships headed for the Persian Gulf, but here it is all about the first black ever nominated for president.
During the primaries, Bill Clinton was charged with racism by liberal Democrats for saying that Barack’s claim to being consistent on Iraq was a “fairy tale” and for implying that Barack’s victory in South Carolina was no big deal because Jesse Jackson had carried the state twice.
Here at the convention, the media watched Hillary and Bill’s speeches with a commissar’s care—to ensure they not only embraced Barack but “validated” his credentials to be president. Should they not go all out for Obama, we are told, the Clintons are dead in the party.
The psychic investment in Barack’s candidacy is immense.
So great is the moral pressure to conform that John Lewis, the young hero of Selma Bridge, buckled and recanted his endorsement of Hillary. And that act of disloyalty and betrayal, a capitulation to race solidarity, is regarded as praiseworthy.
Black radio has become a cheering section for Obama. Every GOP ad mocking Obama is inspected for racial motives. Campaign books that portray Obama as a radical or phony are denounced by people who have not even seen them. The thought police are out in force.
Michelle Obama’s speech about her upbringing and beliefs—crafted by Barack’s hires—is said to be the last word on what a mainstream patriotic woman she is. But why, then, would she have taken her two lovely daughters to be baptized by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and to listen on Sundays to his racist rants against America?
Abroad, we are told, Europe and the Third World are awaiting the moment when America turns her back on her racist past and elevates this black man to the presidency. The subtext is that this is not just a political contest, but a moral test for America.
Indeed, many have begun to see this election in solely racial terms, an issue of whether racism once again triumphs in America, or racism is buried one and for all.
Questions arise. With this immense moral and emotional investment in a Barack victory—by 94 to 1 in one poll black America is behind him—what happens if the nation decides he is too radical, too inexperienced, too callow, too risky to be president?
What happens if the American people reject their marching orders and say no to Barack and black America? What happens if all the hopes and dreams, hype and hoopla, end in disillusionment?
Would the defeat of Barack Obama be taken as an affront to black America? Could we be in for a time of deepening racial division rather than healing? Could we be in for a long, hot autumn like the long, hot summers some of us recall from 40 years ago?
One black preacher here suggested as much to me.
Should that happen, the people who have framed this election as a contest between morality and racial justice on one side, and the clammy hand of America’s racist past on the other, will bear the same moral responsibility as did the advocates of mass civil obedience for the racial riots of the 1960s that followed.
Barack has just shot 6 points ahead of McCain. But he has not yet closed the sale. And to prevent his closing of the sale, the GOP must raise doubts in the public mind as to whether he is really a man of Middle America or the closet radical of the Rev. Wright’s congregation who said of Pennsylvanians that they are bitter folks, who cling to their Bibles, bigotries and guns because the world has left them behind.
No candidate has ever been nominated by a major party with fewer credentials or a weaker claim to the presidency, or more doubts as to his core beliefs. If Obama wins, the country could be in real trouble. And if he loses, the country could be in real trouble.
What the media celebrate today, they may rue tomorrow.