Wednesday, July 28, 2004

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Not to rain on Barack Obama's parade, but....

By all accounts, Barack Obama gave a great keynote speech last night. Both the Sullivans -- Amy and Andrew -- loved it. Amy liked the Patriot Act references because, "not only a good energizing issue for Democratic voters, but it taps anger and suspicion among conservatives and swing voters as well." Andrew liked the conservative tinges of the speech: "Obama struck many conservative notes: of self-reliance, of opportunity, of hard work, of an immigrant's dream, of the same standards for all of us.... He framed his belief in government with a defense of self-reliance and conservative values."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the rest of Tuesday's lineup wasn't too inspiring.

Obama is pretty far to the left of me, but I'm always pleased to see someone affiliated with the University of Chicago do well on the national stage.

That said, before everyone gets caught up in Obama hype, let's reflect on a recurrent pattern regarding the Democratic Party and promising African-American politicians. As Bob Novak points out today in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The importance of the black vote for Democrats is seen in the fact that African Americans now have been keynoters at four of the last eight conventions. The late Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, a sonorous orator, was the first black to deliver a keynote address in 1976 in New York. She repeated in 1992, also in New York. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, only 30 years old at the time, keynoted the 2000 Los Angeles convention.

Ford, Ford... that name rings a faint bell -- how is the 2000 keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention doing? Like Obama, Ford was the recipient of a media blitz for being an attractive minority face for the Democrats (side note: I'm getting really sick of hearing the word "articulate" used constantly whenever an African-American politician speaks in a tone that sounds more responsible than Al Sharpton). Since that speech, he was anointed as a future leader of the Democratic Party.

So where's Harold Ford Jr. on the DNC speaker schedule this year? He's not talking during prime time.

Ah, here he is -- he's got the 4:20 PM slot today. Hell, Dennis Kucinich has a better time slot.

My point is that Democrats have a recent tendency at conventions to promote a young African American politician as the Next Great Black Hope. It makes for some great TV footage -- and then these politicians recede into the background.

Maybe Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2012 -- or maybe, eight years from now, he'll have that 4:20 PM time slot.

UPDATE: Will Saletan makes the same observation about Harold Ford, and also raises a point that touches on my free trade qualms with the Dems:

Obama, like other speakers at this convention, complains about "companies shipping jobs overseas" and workers "losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico." At the same time, Obama holds himself out as a symbol of a diverse, welcoming America. How can Democrats be the party of diversity at home but xenophobia abroad, the party that loves Mexican-Americans but hates Maytag plants in Mexico, the party that thinks Obama's mom deserves a job more than Obama's dad does? I understand the politics of it. But what about the morals?

posted by Dan on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM


Perhaps Ford is relegated to the lousy hour as a punishment for his powerplay in the Democratic House leadership last year. He lost by a wide margin.

posted by: BigFire on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

I know it's just a typo, but I really think "respinsible" should be considered as a new adjective.

posted by: mg on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Hmm, I thought the democrats gave the prime-time slot to upcoming stars -- so its an inherently risky proposition. Ann Richards was key-note in '88 (or 92?) -- where is she now?

On the Ford note, He did take a shot at unseating Pelosi --,8599,397281,00.html.
So he hasn't exactly disappeared Dan.

posted by: Jor on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Ford is a Congressman from the south in a body dominated by Republicans. The potential profile of a Senator from Illinois is much higher.

I would not quit on Ford yet, but he has a much harder road to maintain a national profile.

Another thing...who remembers that speech? I sure don't. I have a feeling the same will not be said about Obama's speech.

Sure there will probably be months or years when you don't hear the name Barack Obama. But when it is time for people to start talking about him again, this speech will be the first impression.

posted by: Rich on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Ford's still considered a comer here in Tennessee, the leading Democratic prospect to run for Frist's seat when he supposedly vacates in 2006. It is a little puzzling that he failed to get a more prominent place on the platform; he bet on Kerry early, and the Ford family organization's massive turnout in Memphis was a major factor in Kerry's win over Edwards in the Tennessee primary. Like many another successful southern black Democrat, though, he's a bit on the conservative side by party standards

posted by: David on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Ford is one of the national co-chairs of the Kerry campaign, and I can tell you with certainty that he's working his tail off for Kerry. Just because you don't see him doesn't mean he's disappeared.

posted by: alkali on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Ford might be running away from the national party preparing to go statewide in the south.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Obama is no less than the re-inacarnation of Paul Simon, but no more than that, either.

They hype is due to the the fact that white liberals in Chicago have been 40 years for him. The native black establishment has is either so corrupt or has been so co-opted as be nearly useless in politics outside their ward organizations.

Obama puts a brown face on what has always been an all-white cub - the intellectual/academic leftist who plays in politics. He lets them have their cake and eat it too - he delivers the stale 'progressivism' that they love AND lets them pat themselves on the back for voting for a minority.

He'd be unstopable even with a strong opponent in the race. Question his protectionist trade policies and you'll be accused of being a cross-burner who 'doesn't get it'.

posted by: Jos Bleau on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Ford is what, 34 years old. We'll hear from him yet. But his speech wasn't like Obama's, and he's in the House in a state where it might be more difficult for him to hold a statewide office, and he got on Pelosi's bad side.

And people were not talking like this after his speech. I didn't even see it.

posted by: Katherine on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Novak gets one fact wrong about keynotes: While Jordan did address the 92 convention, Zell Miller was the keynote for that year.

Of course, a mere decade later, Zell will be addressing the GOP this year.

posted by: CalDevil on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Presumably, if Ford is a national co-chair of the Kerry campaign, he probably was involved with his own scheduling to some extent. He probably got some valuable IOU's.

On the other hand, Pelosi might have had a hand in it. Or Gephardt, for that matter. As punishment for his seeking the leadership.

I'd expect they would find more value in keeping the limelight on the new guy, rather than diffusing it by bringing Ford into a prominent spot. The Obama coverage would probably dissolve into shallow Obama vs. Ford compare/contrasts which would be of little value.

posted by: Jon H on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Bear in mind that Ford failed to "know his place" in the Democratic pecking order when he stood against Nancy "Botox" Pelosi for House minority leader after the 2002 midterm drubbing. His demotion to 4:20 may be part of the backlash for that.

That said, Ford is still probably going places. He's got a pretty good shot at the 2006 Senate election, especially since the incumbent Democrat governor needs the Ford machine's help to get reelected.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Dan -

I think you're just wrong about Harold Ford. He gets screen time on the political talk shows. He was the only one to challenge Pelosi for the Democratic House Leadership, even though I think he was in his first term. Also, the Democrats wanted to cement their chances of picking up a Senate seat in Illinois when they originally put Obama on the schedule. The Ryan stuff had not yet come out when it was announced Obama would get the keynote speaking slot. None of these things diminishes the case that Harold Ford is a rising star.

posted by: timshel on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

4:20 is a demotion? That's the official time to start the day's pot smoking.

posted by: triticale on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

What Brian Ullrich said: Ford is only 34, plus he's gearing up to run for Senate [If Frist resigns to run for President] or Governor in 2006.

And I'm sick of the "articulate" label too. It's totally a "not like other blacks" statement. Conveniently it's most often applied to black politicians who aren't quite as dark as Sharpton, either.

timshel: Ford was in his 4th term in the 108th congress, having been elected in 2006

posted by: niq on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

It's a shame that it should be necessary to remind a U of C economist that "the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'." How do two instances, the first of which as others have pointed out really doesn't fit the present circumstances very well and was spun the wrong way by this post anyhow, constitute a "trend"?

posted by: Jon Stokes on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Saletan questions the morals of protectionism? What a poseur. Protectionism may be bad economics that hurts Americans in the long run, but where the hell does anyone get off questioning America's moral right to put the welfare of Americans before non-Americans. We do it every day in a million different ways - Republicans just as often as Democrats - and have done since the founding of our nation.

And because Barack might rather help a Mexican-American than a Mexican national he's a xenophobe? Daniel, how can you approvingly reprint this lazy stream-of-consciousness blather?

posted by: Sebastien on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]


I know it's considered cute in GOP circles to try to turn the race issue around on the Democrats, but the bottom line is that African Americans are an integral voice in the party and have been for some time. They vote for the Democrats because the Democrats stood up for them in the past and still do today, supporting programs that the Republicans have tried time and time again to cut. Black voters like social spending.

As for Ford, you haven't seen the last of him. He just screwed up when he ought to have supported Pelosi. He's making up for it by working hard for Kerry.

Regarding Obama, that was a transcendent speech for a lot of people. Ford's may have been competent, but it didn't have the emotional resonance or the cross-party appeal.

posted by: praktike on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Real crisp point there, D-man. And I can't believe no one has yet to argue about your characterization of American hero Barbara Jordan as one promoted as "the next great black hope". No one who ever heard her speak would think that she didn't more than earn any "promotions" she received. This woman was a voice of moral authority for people of all pigments, and she retired from congress after three terms because of her progressive suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.

There was no talent deficit with Barbara Jordan, and she was certainly not a forgettable flash in the pan.

Though I'm not putting Ford in Jordan's category, his career is anything but over.

I predict Barack Obama will obliterate this stupid point of yours about "recent tendencies" of "promoted" African-Americans.

posted by: oyster on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Perhaps the reason African American politicians have a difficult time receiving sustained media attention is not the fault of party handlers, but the result of the kind of coverage that wishes to talk more about why speakers were selected (and when they are speaking) than on what they actually say. And if it is the fault of party handlers, you could certainly say the same thing about how Republicans presented J.C. Watts in 2000.

This kind of media coverage is especially fatuous when it comes to African American politicians, who must always be subjected to discussions about their race before their views can even be aired.

Your post is slightly exceptional in this regard, as is Saletan's, for actually engaging with the content of his speech. But I say "slightly," because you still speak of how the Democrats deal with "promising African-American politicians." (How would that phrase sound with "white," instead of "African-American"?) And if you read Saletan's complete post, it contains some pretty contorted language about how Obama is "not exactly black" because his mother is white.

posted by: caleb on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

I don't think touting prominent minorities is the exclusive province of the Democrats. The GOP trotted out JC Watts at their convention in 2000, and was nearly universally derided for putting on a false front.

posted by: Matt on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

"How can Democrats be the party of diversity at home but xenophobia abroad, the party that loves Mexican-Americans but hates Maytag plants in Mexico....",

Can you explain why you chose to cut and paste this into your blog? I had to read it twice in Slate because I couldn't believe the argument. My only conclusion regarding this wierd charge of xenophobia is that Saletan is perhaps a bigger fan of American stockholders than American employees. Lots of people are but he should just come out and say it. The xenophobia charge is absurd.

posted by: lansing on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

"And if you read Saletan's complete post, it contains some pretty contorted language about how Obama is "not exactly black" because his mother is white."

Well, he isn't exactly black. I think that younger people, much more accustomed to friends who have African-American mums and Korean dads or Af-Am dads and Anglo mums, etc., have come to use the term 'multi-racial'. Tiger Woods was trying to make this point earlier in his career. Unfortunately, older people sometimes don't get it and he was accused by older Af-Ams of being ashamed of being black and accused by others of trying to be white. People now want to be able to honor all their forebears. Gone are the days when people, especially in the South, labelled someone a 'negro' if they had, what, 1/16 Af-Am blood.
People also tend to use labels depending on skin color. No one calls Jeter the Af-Am Yankee team captain. But he has the same racial makeup as Obama. But, c'mon. Get with the times Caleb. Say after me, multiracial!

posted by: moog on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Dan, I agree with you about the often grotesque media handling of African American politicians as simply "articulate" but I find it contradictory that you immediately turn around to try to fit Obama into a neat little "pattern" of "promising African-American politicians." I think the fact that the speech is being universally praised (as MORE than just "articulate"!) is indicative of the fact that Obama doesn't fit into that pattern so neatly.

Regarding Ford, the single most striking difference is that Obama is going to be a United States Senator from Illinois, which gives him a much larger platform than being a Congressman.

And lets not hold it against the organizers of the Democratic Convention and any given Presidential campaign if it doesn't turn out that they pick as a keynoter someone who becomes President in 8 years. This time at least, they picked an incredibly passionate and effective speaker who everyone is talking about and who seems, from all appearances, to be a very promising future Senator for Illinois. I congratulate Obama on a great speech, and I hope he becomes a great Senator, and I think we'll all be watching him over the next several years. But to muse about where he will be in 8 years, and to try to "rain on his parade" by comparing him solely to other African-American politicians seems, for the time being, a little pointless.

posted by: Brett R. on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Yeah, Matt, except the difference is that Watts was the number four guy in Congress when he was in there, i.e. he had real power within the party, ditto Powell, ditto Rice; all of whom got there position because of merit. (okay, I concede that Watts got his speaking spot partially because of race, well, so Dems do it, too.) Only, it seems that black folks never really get real power within the party. Read Memoirs of an Invisible Man for an example.

posted by: AnotherScott on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Well, he isn't exactly black. I think that younger people, much more accustomed to friends who have African-American mums and Korean dads or Af-Am dads and Anglo mums, etc., have come to use the term 'multi-racial'.

No we haven't.

posted by: WillieStyle on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Who appointed Will Saletan as Universal Arbiter Of True Blackness, anyway?

Of course, he's "not exactly a journalist".

Also, the xenophobia charge is bogus. We have a representative democracy, and our legislators don't represent people in other countries, they represent Americans. Not Mexicans, not Africans. If they can help people from those countries, great, but not necessarily at the expense of Americans.

Is Saletan arguing that Americans should sacrifice without limit for the good of other nations?

Clearly, the same principle would require that Americans should sacrifice without limit for other Americans.

I believe that would be called Socialism, if not all-out Communism.

If Americans have to lose their jobs, and health care, and many other things, for the benefit of Africans and Mexicans and Indians and others, then why shouldn't rich *Americans* have to lose their wealth and property for the benefit of less-well-off Americans?

posted by: Jon H on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Here's the Saletan quote in question:

"Obama isn't exactly black. His mother is white and came from Kansas. His father came from Kenya. Obama is, in short, African-American—a term that Jackson Sr. has too casually applied to people many generations removed from Africa, often through other continents. Obama's father went back to Africa years ago, but that doesn't change the hue of his son's skin or remove his African name, Barack. So the son embraces his blackness."

Race is not a biological trait that can be measured with exactitude, on the basis of a parent's skin color (or else I guess we'd have to know if his mother was "exactly" white, and that would mean knowing what "exactly" her parents were, and so on and so on ...). I actually think that this way of talking about "race" shares too much in common with the idea of 1/16 rules, moog. I'm not accusing Saletan of endorsing a one-drop-of-blood rule about race, but his logic seems consistent with those kinds of antiquated "rules," because both base "blackness" on heredity. Maybe I'm simply overreading here, but consider this: Why didn't he say "Obama isn't exactly white"?

The other thing that irked me was the way Saletan's paragraph seems to be saying that because Obama isn't "exactly black," he is embracing "blackness" for political gain (a silly thought, given that only two African American senators have been elected since Reconstruction). That's the implication I got, anyway, from the rest of the post.

Obama can't win: either he's not exactly black and thus a pretender to the role of "Great Black Hope" (Daniel's phrase), or he's using his father (who "went back to Africa") to advance his political career and is again a pretender. Does anyone else see a problem with this?

Again, consider how differently this would read if Saletan said Obama is embracing his "whiteness" by speaking about his mother. He couldn't say that, and for the same reason I don't think he should say this.

posted by: Caleb on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

The whole silliness of this Obama business is too much to comment on. The man was evidently raised by his white mother with little to no contact with his biological father. Yet he is running on his race, and being promoted (meaning touted) for precisely that reason, no less among neoconservative than liberals (or maybe I am being redundant).

Indeed his race and the prospect of seeing a some sense from a non-white is leading to some howlers. I suspected that not many in the mainstream press had used 'articulate' with Obama, because this is supposed to be 'condescending' in PC circles. A google search revealed the use of those two word by the blog "The Black Commentator" and Obama's *own* campaign web blog. Also by other assorted blogs. Not by the mainstream media.Maybe a Lexis search would show different, but I doubt it for the reasons given above. What this does show is that neocon's like Dan Drezner are about 20 years behind the times in race reality -- just now adopting PC and seeing phantom racism where there is none.

The real bit of fun was looking at The black Commentator's weblog. . He lays out 'bright line' questions about Nafta, The agression against Iraq, and universal health care. Obama's positions are 180 degrees out from Dr. Drezner's and (I imagine) 90 percent of the neocon/neolibertarians who spend time here.

I guy you guys like him, well, because he's black. Yeah, just like this guy

posted by: stari_momak on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Uh, say, isn't that Obama guy running for Senate? Almost unopposed?

That might give him more of shot of remaining in the public eye that Mr. Ford.

posted by: Andrew on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Does it not strike anyone as odd... the dirty politics needed to get Obama into the national spotlight?

posted by: Bithead on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

(side note: I'm getting really sick of hearing the word "articulate" used constantly whenever an African-American politician speaks in a tone that sounds more responsible than Al Sharpton).

Way to imply bigotry where none exists. Natural articulation is an important trait in a statesman. To note Obama's verbal talent is not racist.

Just watch Dubya for 2 minutes to realize how important articulation is.

posted by: goethean on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]


protectionism is immoral, and you don't have to give 2 shizzits about anyone outside of your borders to argue it.

here's why: it protects entrenched interests within society (monopoly producer/provider, traditional producer/provider, traditional worker) who have some significant resources (org. labour as individuals might not be as powerful as bill gates, but much more powerful and rich than welfare moms) against the interests of society as a whole, and those of the least powerful and least rich in society.

restrictions on steel imports and minimum prices raise the price of most manufactured goods, hurting the poor the most, decrease the economic prospects of steel consuming industries and thus decreasing domestic employment (hurting the poor and unemployed the most), and support a declining industry, resulting in inapprporiate and wrong signals as where one should look for a good long term job (hurting the poor, unemployed and ill-educated the most)

for a historical example, france protected its wool merchants and textile manufacturers by banning the importation, sale, or use of calico cotton textiles from india. this was punishable by death (people were broken on wheels for this) for simply wearing calico cotton (cheap, brightly patterned, and vastly superior to the products of the entrenched wool interests). This immoral system was in place for centuries (don't have the book to hand for exact dates... its from "The Birth of Plenty" by William Bernstein ) but was justified as it protected the interests of wool merchants and the workers in mills (what about their children??)

All protectionism is immoral full stop. Restrictions on trade not related to the prosecution of wars, stopping development of WMD, sanctions as alternatives to military action, or ensuring supply of military needs in case of war are completely immoral and should never be imposed. The goals causing military protectionism in smaller countries can usually be achieved more cheaply through agreements and maintenance paid directly to shipyards etc.

so put that in your pipe and smoke it praktikale

posted by: hey on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Most black Americans "aren't exactly black." Outside of the majority of recent black African immigrants, roughly 80 percent of black Americans have some white and/or American Indian ancestry. Colin Powell didn't get his light skin color through repeated exposure. Nor did my mother.

posted by: Juliette on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Obama made the point himself, that if you didn't know who he was and only saw a picture of him being frogmarched into a police car, there wouldn't be any questions on how 'exactly black' he is.

He calls himself black and that's all you need to know.

posted by: Cobb on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]



posted by: TIA on 07.28.04 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

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