Saturday, February 10, 2007

Independents are Ready for Barack Obama. But is Obama Ready for Black Independents?

February 10, 2007
By Lenora Fulani

Two weeks ago, I spoke at a national conference of independent voters. There were 500 activist independents, from 31 states – over a third of whom were African American. This conference was the latest indicator that black voters are more politically volatile these days, more independent in their voting and thinking. Many will be receptive to Barack Obama and his presidential campaign. A pressing question is whether he will return the interest. Independents may be ready for Obama. But is Obama ready for us?

With independent voter registration growing in Harlem, Oakland and Newark, there is a new constituency in African American politics – the Black Independent. As many as 35% of younger black voters now identify as independent, rather than Democrat. Forty-seven percent of African Americans deserted the Democratic nominee in the 2005 New York City mayoral race to re-elect the Independent Republican Mike Bloomberg. Last year, 32% of Augusta, Georgia voters rejected a Democrat incumbent state legislator and cast ballots for the black independent Helen Blocker-Adams. Black America is no longer a political monolith. Traditional partisan politics have lost their appeal.

Barack Obama is a critic of partisan politics whose road to prominence did not pass through the standard Democratic Party stopping points, i.e. the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the local empowerment machines of the 1970s or the Rainbow surge of the 1980s. He would seem to be a natural fit for black independents.

But as soon as Senator Obama got into the first “scrap” of his campaign – the ridiculous remarks made by Senator Joe Biden about how “clean” and “articulate” Obama is – his response made black independents totally invisible.

Obama issued a statement that listed prior black presidential candidates to show Biden that he wasn’t the first clean-cut African American to run for the White House. The list included nearly everybody – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Mosley Braun and Shirley Chisholm – everybody, that is, but me, the black independent who ran for president twice, and who made the history books for being the first African American ever to get on the presidential ballot in all 50 states. Even the “white bread” USA Today included me in its recent historical review.
Perhaps Senator Obama left me off the list because I’m not clean enough. The New York Post does generally refer to me as the “odious Lenora Fulani,” but I always took that to be a right wing political polemic, not a comment on my perfume. No, I suspect I was left off because I’m not a Democrat. I wouldn’t be shocked if his advisors told him – “Don’t put anyone in your statement who isn’t a Democrat.” If that’s true, it’s a very unfortunate piece of advice. Because in leaving me off the list, Senator Obama crosses a growing portion of black America off his list, too.

Being black is not synonymous with being a Democrat anymore, as much as the Clintons – and others – would have us believe. No less a figure than Reverend Al Sharpton has made that point loud and clear, including when he has spoken out against attempts by white Democrats, like Senator Hillary Clinton, to drive black independents like me out of politics.

Barack Obama has just made it official. He’s running for president of the United States. His message is that it’s time to put principles ahead of partisanship. Black independents have been acting on that idea for years. How he relates to us is the first real test of his principles.

1 comment:

Stephen Frazier said...

MS Fulani;
With all due respect, I must vehemently disagree with your assessment of Joe Biden's comments about Barack Obama.

First, why is it "ridiculous" to call Obama 'clean and articulate'? That was a PERFECT description of him. He had no negative political baggage (at the time), and the whole world is apparently mesmerized by his oratory. What's the problem?

Oh. Is it the INFERENCE that he is the FIRST such black to run? BIDEN did not refer to Obama's race. Only the race baiters made that connection, in my opinion.

If you want to tie Biden's remarks to a racial aspect, then consider;
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are both VERY articulate but carry more negative baggage than a caravan of refugees from Rwanda. Can you say Illegitimate children, suspicious machinations of Operation PUSH funds, alleged strong arming of corporate donors, Twana Brawley, and STILL think these two compare favorably to Obama?

Mosely-Braun, about a THREE on a 1-10 scale of articulation, has been accused of stealing her own mother's welfare checks. In addition, it would be quite difficult to find a more inept senator over the past half century. Even Dan Quayle, wrongly accused of not knowing how to spell potato, had a better senate record than Carol Mosely-Braun.

As for Shirley Chisholm, no doubt she was very articulate. Her declaration that she was the only candidate "with enough balls" to accomplish her platform is proof enough of that. Her record of political accomplishment was indeed "clean" though unspectacular, but her very brief candidacy was nothing more than a symbolic gesture, likened to Julian Bond being proposed for vice president at the Democrat convention in 1968, although he was too young to serve if elected.

As for Biden's neglect to mention you, you must remember that for much of the time you have been running for president (I voted for you at least once) Independents and other third parties have been largely ignored. You would have been mentioned only if you had a chance of a snowball in hell of inclusion in one debate, let alone being nominated.

For sure, until recently, the same could be said for ANY black candidate, but other than that, I must confess, except for a very small minority of us, we know very little about you, and that is partly because we blacks don't often seek information (we wait instead for information to find us) and partly because frankly the Independent party has not done a very good job of promoting itself. Couple that with the fact that the two party system is stacked in favor of the tow parties and we understand why.
I guess my primary beef is that everyone seems to think it is racial motivation to call Barack Obama clean and articulate. I suppose if someone called him highly educated it would create riots.

Finally, I wonder if it is racial to refer to Barack as AFRICAN-AMERICAN. His mother is CAUCASIAN and his father is AFRICAN. Why could he not as easily be called CAUCASIAN -AMERICAN? To refer to him as African -American is to infer that one drop of black blood "overrides" his Caucasian heritage and he can only be black.

I contend he is as much white as black. What say you?