Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Obama: not a black politician

I’m struggling to train myself not to think of Barack Obama as a black politician, but as a politician who happens to be black.

Jesse Jackson is a black politician. Throughout his career he’s been an outspoken champion of the rights of his underprivileged black fellow citizens. It's made him a powerful voice against injustice but, as he demonstrated when he ran for president, it's also made him unelectable. Unlike Obama.

It’s not surprising that Jackson hasn’t always been Obama’s greatest fan, whatever he may say now. Back in July, he accused Obama of ‘talking down to black people’ and said he wanted ‘to cut his nuts off’. It would be hard to view this as an enthusiastic endorsement, except for someone nursing ambitions of a singing career as a castrato.

Obama didn’t just win overwhelming black support. His support among all groups, white as well as black, Asian as well as Hispanic, has given him the right to be considered president elect of the whole of the US. His problem isn’t about who voted for him, but about dealing with the 59 million who voted against him and managing the inevitable disappointment of his supporters, whatever their racial background.

That’s the kind of problem of success that Jesse Jackson never ran the slightest risk of having to face.

No wonder his initial view of the Obama candidacy had a bit of a surgical edge.

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