The Final Call Blogs the 2008 DNC Convention (FCN Reporters)
DENVER (FinalCall.com) – The question early on was whether White America was ready to support a Black presidential candidate and the answer seemed to be “yes” given Sen. Barack Obama’s big win in Iowa, his Super Tuesday success and now, his position as the leader of the Democratic Party.
Still the elephant in the room remains: Will the Democratic Party fully unite behind the senator from Illinois?
Some political analysts believe that the Democrats will gather behind the Black politician who has had a phenomenal rise. Party unity dominated news coverage Aug. 25 as the Democratic National Committee opened in Denver.
While some believe things will work themselves out, others see a possible gap between longtime party leaders used to operating a certain way and an invigorated base that recognizes the need for change. And, they admit, there will always be a percentage of folk who withhold their support and votes because their primary candidate did not prevail.
Polling data revealed as the convention opened showed Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain even at 47 percent, with just 67 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters willing to back Sen. Obama. Some 37 percent said they planned to vote for Sen. McCain, who kicked off ads playing up discontent among Clinton voters and her criticism of Mr. Obama.
The two primary questions facing the party are whether Senators Obama and Clinton will unite and remain as one political family and whether voters are going to back Sen. Obama as the nominee, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill told The Final Call.
“The answer to the second question is probably more important than the answer to the first because the biggest issue is if the voters come over to Barack. And so far almost 70 percent of Hillary Clinton’s base has come over and are not going to McCain in mass numbers as the media would like you to believe,” Dr. Hill said.
The assistant professor of Urban Education and American Studies at Temple University said Sen. Obama has presented opportunities for reunification and healing by showing remarkable humility and beneficence–even giving the entire Clinton family a prime spot at the convention and by allowing an open roll call vote for Sen. Clinton to be called for nomination.
“That’s a hugely, we hope, symbolic gesture that allows the Clinton supporters to get their say, have a chance to honor Hillary Clinton for the historic campaign that she ran, and extend the final olive branch before we come together as a unit in November of 2008,” Dr. Hill said.
“No one can know whether Sen. Clinton will throw all of her support behind Sen. Obama in a sincere fashion. The key is to deliver her voting base to him and as for Bill Clinton, the reality is that the support is not there and people have to keep moving without it.”
Glen Ford, executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com, a political journal, believes Sen. Obama’s national political poll standings present a larger problem.
“As the day of decision grows nearer, White folks grow weaker in the knees at the prospect of a Black president. What we have here is another historic juncture that we’ve passed in our lifetimes,” Mr. Ford said.
The ruling circles in the U.S., and its finance capital arms exemplified by Wall Street firms, are behind Sen. Obama more so than the Democratic base and especially the White electorate, he maintained. This has been with their financial support and contributions, Mr. Ford said.
“They are the ones who want a new face on the old order and they are desperate for this new face because the old one is crumbling and doesn’t work for them anymore. They know the world hates the current face of Uncle Sam and this (support of Sen. Obama) represents the new and improved product of corporate marketing,” Mr. Ford explained.
According to Greg Akili, a senior political community organizer for the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) and deputy field director for the Democratic Party, the party needs to energize its base of Blacks, women, Latinos and working class voters. It also needs to be the second voice to Whites, working class Whites and others who have reservations about voting for a Black man, he added.
Mr. Akili said there are some people who, no matter what their history or vision, are not comfortable voting for Black people, even if they are Democrats. This racial residue prevents them from voting for anybody that’s different, but a positive factor is that enough people are willing to consider Sen. Obama and look beyond his race, he said.
“If you say you’re a Democrat and want a different direction for the country, then you will have to show that. The candidate’s going have to do that but it will need to be reinforced by the party and leadership at all national, state and local levels. They will all have to sing from the same page on this so that becomes their role,” Mr. Akili said.
“I think there’s much more movement toward coming together than towards resistance in part because the Democrats are hungry for a win at the national level and because of the last eight years of poor government. In addition, the distinction between the candidate and the party is he’s embraced the principles of the Democratic Party and he’s become the manager of the party, as opposed to the party becoming the manager of the candidate,” Mr. Akili said.
Mr. Ford offered no recommendations for resolving Democratic Party disunity. “I really want to dispel this idea that there’s a silent White phalanx of opposition to Barack Obama. There’s a popular White resistance to him and any Black candidate by the White electorate,” he said.
Mr. Ford continued, “The Democratic Party has always taken for granted that the rednecks in the back woods of Mississippi would not vote for Barack Obama but they’re finding now that it’s the White middle class males and union guys in states like Vermont who would not vote for him. Racism is so endemic, so pervasive in White America’s world view, that even a Black candidate who goes out of his way, and then doubles back every day to avoid being the Black candidate, cannot escape being treated as such by this White electorate.”
Many admit that Sen. Obama has given his own party, not to mention Republicans, Independents, undecided and unregistered voters, many reasons to unite behind him. Sen. Obama has activated unprecedented numbers of America’s youth to engage the political process. He has amassed a massive campaign treasury, primarily through use of the Internet and other technology. In addition, his campaign is pushing a large grassroots effort to identify and register people to vote and make sure they get to the polls.
Further, he has won votes across racial, ethnic and gender lines and accomplished all of this within a party under the power and influence of the Clinton political machine and amid Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s and the right wing media’s personal, negative attacks against himself and his wife, Michelle.
“I don’t think Sen. Obama wants to run an emotionally negative campaign but he will probably have to run some negative spots about McCain because his people have and are certainly going to run them about him,” said Dr. David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Dr. Bositis told The Final Call that none of the reputable polls have Sen. McCain leading Sen. Obama and that “one Zogby poll that was a totally erroneous poll was described by the polling profession as being ‘loopy.’ ” People knew it wasn’t going to be a runaway race for Sen. Obama anyway, but the fundamentals favorable for him to win are still there, he argued. The Final Call interviewed Dr. Bositis before polling data came out following the Aug. 23 announcement of the selection of Joe Biden, the veteran senator from Delaware, as his vice presidential running mate.
Mr. Akili cautioned that Sen. Obama’s good fortune of timing and his message of change came at a period when the U.S. is plagued with racial divisions and problems, including the self-righteousness of the Bush administration that catapulted the country into war and a bad economy. Still supporters should not rely solely on these factors to win the November election for Sen. Obama, he said.
“People are willing to embrace his message of change and hope but in bad economic times they want change, but they don’t want to lose. Part of the campaign’s and candidate’s struggle is going to be how do you send a message of change and security, because that’s what people want in these times of a high cost of living, high oil and gas prices, among other things,” Mr. Akili said.