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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Code Words II

The last time I commented seriously about presidential politics, I weighed in on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden's "compliment" that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was a clean and articulate guy.

As you may recall, Biden caught heat from folks who asked this hypothetical: if Obama had been a well-spoken, clean cut, 40-something white Harvard educated attorney and freshman U.S. Senator, would Biden have still felt the need to compliment Obama's appearance and speech, or would he have taken them for granted?

I don't like thin skins, and if you read this blog regularly you know that already. Nor do I toss bombs like "racist" too often. But that hypothetical struck a raw nerve with me, 'cause I've been on the receiving end of such code-worded compliments - the kind that read between the lines "I'm impressed with you, 'cause I wouldn't expect someone like you to be so (fill in the blank)."

So keeping in mind that I don't do partisan politics, 'cause I think don't think donkeys are funny and elephants are only cool on the Discovery Channel, and I don't have a horse in this presidential race...other than Dave Barry, don't get mad at me if what I'm about to write is a shot at your candidate:

Anyone who is delusional enough to believe that crusty, old school Republicans are the only politicians, or even the predominate politicians, who condescend to ethnic minorities with coded language has not been listening very closely to the words of former Pres. Bill Clinton in reference to Barack Obama's potential abilities to run the country.

I can't fault the former president for vigorously advocating for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential run. But when he does it by dropping between-the-lines hints that many minorities support Obama just because he's half black, then Clinton is essentially suggesting that black people are not smart enough to pick a candidate because they simply like his positions more than his opponent's.

When asked by a TV reporter to comment on Obama's South Carolina primary victory, Clinton replied in part that Jesse Jackson had also won the South Carolina Democratic primary in 1984 and 1988. Hmmm. Why mention Jackson's victory? Why didn't Clinton compare Obama's victory to his own South Carolina primary wins in 1992 and 1996? What about Al Gore's South Carolina primary win in 2000, or John Edwards' in 2004? Clinton singled out Jesse Jackson's victories, in my opinion, to diminish Obama's win as being significant only because he is half black, to suggest Obama's win was a "black thing."

Bill Clinton, the guy who gladly accepted the label of being the "virtual first black president" from some numbnut who didn't get a good look at the former president before making that assessment, would never dare scoff at blocs of white voters and suggest they support a particular candidate just because that candidate is also white. He'd never dismiss a white candidate's victory as being the result of that candidate's skin color.

Why, you ask? I don't know. You'd have to ask Clinton. Maybe he gives white voters the benefit of the doubt that they have sense enough to pick candidates for the right reasons. What kind of credit he gives white politicians to whom he's not married, I don't know.

It all sounds very racist and non-Democrat to me, at least according to how the TV talking heads have described the Democratic Party's collective tender heart. And to all the preachers, retired politicians, and former peddlers of self-defeating music video channels aimed at black people, who have publicly suggested Obama isn't black enough or "real" enough because he hasn't made a career out of his race, shame on you for perpetuating that sort of stereotype.

Remember, I'm voting for Dave. And if I were to simplify my beliefs and concerns to a 10 point scale, I'd say that none of the candidates from either major party get more than a few points. So I don't care if you love Obama, hate Obama, love Clinton, hate Clinton, love McCain, hate Romney, sort of like Huckabee, etc.

But the actions of some of Obama's rivals remind me that subtle, deceitful racism is alive and well, and not always from the people the pundits warned you about.

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  • I enjoyed your article, it echoed my own dissatisfaction with President Clinton's and others' recent comments in the press. Personally I don't appreciate Obama's vague rhetoric much, positive and inspiring as it may be. But the kind of insinuative statements to which you refer do not contribute to politics in any positive way. We see so much today of what I might call "yellow politicking" that one might think the public beyond all sensitivity, but I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. Thanks and keep up the tradition of the Fourth Estate!

    By Blogger Scott, at 12:17 AM  

  • I really wish more people would look at what are the true factors in this -or any election for that matter -what each candidate states as their stance on the various top issues of the day.
    As a woman, I would very much love to see a woman win the nomination and election to serve as president. There's absolutely no reason why a woman isn't or can't be just as qualified, just as capable as a man. But, even so, I sure as heck am not going to throw away my most valuable commodity in this country - my vote (and yes, each and every single vote does count ya know) -to elect a woman, simply because she is a woman and we should have a woman president some day.

    By the same token, electing someone to the office of president who is black, or Asian, or Indian, or Native American or Jewish -or whatever -simply because that person is of the same race or ethnicity or religion as you are is just as absurd as electing a woman just because a woman is running for the office.

    When JFK ran for President in 1960 -before I was old enough to vote - I know of many who then voted for him simply because he was Catholic and so were they and equally as many who wouldn't vote for him because of his religion. I worked with a woman back in the 80's when Gary Hart - remember him? -was a contender for the nomination for a while (before a sex-related scandal knocked him out of the contest) and that lady had planned to vote for Hart for president simply because she felt he was so handsome.

    My point here -hopefully is showing by now and I shouldn't have to explain it (but I will) is that anytime we are singling out a candidate based on race, sex, religion, ethnic origin to vote for or against that person, we are using the wrong standards. Any time someone interviews someone and asks questions that go along those lines, is promoting that type of voting then -in my opinion.

    Keep the campaigning based on the person's qualifications for the job and not their looks, their skin color, their sex, the country from which the person's ancestors came or whatever along those lines.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 12:48 AM  

  • It's insulting to any group to assume that all its members share a common mind.

    Even before Clinton's bizarre mention of Jesse Jackson in this context, his statement that Obama's candidacy was "a fairy tale" demonstrated his real views on the electability of a black man (or half-black man) to the White House.

    Could he be more offensive?

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:41 AM  

  • Maybe it's time to take the 'soundbites' out of elections?

    We've seen this kind of electioneering in the UK increasingly. The politicians try to dumb things down (& when were they ever clear on policies before elections), the media dumb things down cos it's quicker & easier, & we let them.

    Mind you, electioneering has always involved a lot of mud-slinging. So much for 'improvements'.

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 8:39 AM  

  • I'm not saying I disagree — because I don't — but I also can't help but wonder if Clinton referred to Jesse Jackson's win in South Carolina not because he was black, but because Jackson didn't go on to win the primary election.

    Clinton wouldn't have proven the same point to mention his or Gore's victories in those states because THEY both went on to win the Democratic nomination. As for Edwards in 2004...well. Isn't he from next door in North Carolina? Candidates generally (though, obviously, not always) tend to states from their territory. Plus, Edwards was (up until today) once again in the running, and so may have avoided throwing his previous defeat into the mix for obvious reasons (not to mention, there's talk Hillary may want him as a running mate).

    So if Clinton's point was that you can win South Carolina and not win the nomination... he probably chose the most obvious example within his reach.

    That's not to say it didn't sound bad — because it did. And I won't say racial prejudice isn't impacting this election — because it is.

    I'm just not sure this particular comment from Clinton is the best example.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 9:20 AM  

  • Liberal democrats have always been racist and bigoted but up to this point they have gotten away with it.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 12:50 PM  

  • Jesse won in SC but didn't get the election was his cover for: "Jesse (a black man) won in SC but didn't get the nomination and now Barack (a black man) has won in SC so you can draw your own conclusions, y'all."
    The man who can parse the word 'is' didn't just reach for the first example he could think of. There have been too many of these from too many Clinton supporters for it to be innocent.
    What it is is demeaning to both candidates, the party and the nation.

    By Blogger WNG, at 1:31 PM  

  • I'm voting for Obama on Tuesday. This war MUST end. Obama has been anti- illegal-invasion from the start so he got me from hello.

    By Anonymous jali, at 1:39 PM  

  • I'm rarely surprised by what I see or hear from politicians.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 11:08 AM  

  • WORD. I couldn't agree more. Man, wouldn't it be awesome if Dave won?

    I'm actually volunteering for Obama in Brooklyn on Super Tuesday. Mrs. Clinton knocked me to the ground in a senate office building a number of years back after she came bounding out of her office without looking and didn't even stop to see if I was OK. Sorry, but she's not getting an ounce of this white woman's vote. I happen to think that anyone who wouldn't even stop to see if someone they had knocked over was OK isn't really fit to be looking out for the disenfranchised, the needy, or me.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 6:23 PM  

  • Not to get too partisan here -jali-, but we had the UN ok to go into Iraq AND Afganistan.

    Barry wants to invade Pakistan,,,just because.

    Also the Dems have been using blacks since they were the slaveowners. They've just had trhe MSM there to do PR for them and their policies.
    Bill Clntons political mentor (Fullbright?) was a grand poobah in the Klan.

    Sorry to get all political and historical on you james.

    By Blogger KurtP, at 11:22 PM  

  • You know? I thought the same thing when I heard those comments and it struck a nerve with me as well because I've been hearing a lot of "insert strong word for crud here" about how I should support Hillary because she's a woman. As if I lack the intellect to pick a candidate based on my political ideology. As if I was too stupid to read the papers, check my own beliefs, and pick a candidate based on something deeper than simple physical characteristics.

    Anyway. Yeah, I figured that race would become an issue when Obama threw his hat in the ring but what I didn't figure was how fun it would be (and isn't it?) to see Obama out-Clinton the Clintons. I mean seriously, the guy is a political genius and it is kind of fun to see Hillary get eaten alive by some guy from Illinois employing her husband's tactics, no?

    By Blogger qofd, at 2:03 AM  

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