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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ron Walters: Obama in Debate and at The CBC

Below is an an update from the "sage" on black presidential politics, Dr. Ron Walters. Walters gives Obama a triple for the debate. He cites the consensus of the polls that Barack won the debate. Walters points out several opportunities that Barack could have delivered a knockout blow to several of McCain's deceptions and lies. Evidently, Barack thought substance was more important than an acrimonious distracting exchange with McCain, who bullied his way through the evening. One of attributes that makes Barack such an extraordinary candidate is that he is so extraordinary. Regardless of how those of us who have been engaged in struggle might have been predisposed to refute McCain, Barack shows the temperment to be recognized as being presidential to a white America in the heat of battle. Barack could not see the CNN audience reaction tracking line but his dignity produced positive reactions while the reaction to McCain's belligerance took the downward negative turn. Even in his presentation, and has it has been in his masterful campaign, Barack's judgement is to be trusted. That was Barack's triple, now for his home run.

For those who questioned Barack's authenticity, the report of his keynote speech at the Congressional Black Causus weekend should lay to rest any questions about where Barack Obama has always stood on issues related to the black and poor communities. Seemingly, he hit the ball out of the park in front of America's "black political class." Hopefully, his critics will now give him his due and hold the negative attacks that argue his election will make matters worse when it comes to battling racism. My question is: what was expected?

Barack was a community organizer, not an organizer for some leftist political party, but an organizer for rather mainstream organizations attempting to address economic injustice. That was his DNA. Some of the churches that hired him to address these ills were paying his salary with faith-based funds. It was this life that took him to Trinity United Christian Church, Jeremiah Wright's congregation. Helping the people has been his life choice. For all of the wrong reasons, Fox News did tell us something very important about Barack Obama. It was Fox the made the point that Barack was "in that church for 21 years." Except for the self-destructive diabolical behaivior of Jeremiah Wright during the campaign, a faith commitment based upon the pillars of black liberation theology should have, in and of itself, provided his bona fides in the black community. As Wright's message was more universal than portrayed, Barack's message is more universal.

Being President of the United States requires universality, he must solve the problems of all of America's citizens, including that consituency that took him to politics. Barack's grandparents were working class. His mother was an intellectual committed to justice without regard to race. An African American with working class roots as president of the United States will represent a profound change in how America is perceived and how it will perceive itself. Triples and home runs are great but he must win the game. "Yes We Can" as long as we make it happen.

Simply put Barack Obama is the right person at the right time. He has the unique qualities and following in his movement to replace the now defunct "Reagan Revolution" with progressive change in this country that opposes economic injustice, racism, sexism, gender discrimination, and other forms of invidious discrimination. RGN

Obama Hits a Triple at the Debate, A Home run at the CBC
By Ron Walters

By all accounts Barack Obama won the first of the presidential debates on September 26 over John McCain, who was widely considered to have more experience in foreign affairs. He won by exceeding expectations, exhibiting that he had a substantial grasp of issues and that he was presidential, while McCain talked in generalities and showed his disdain for Obama, not according him proper acknowledgment by refusing to look at him. But whatever advantage McCain was thought to have over Obama by his familiarity with various heads of state and, as he intoned, having been involved in every major crisis in foreign policy in the past 25 years, Obama came back several times, diminishing McCain’s winning points.

For example, when McCain alluded to the fact that he had a bracelet from a woman whose son had been killed in Iraq, Obama countered with his own bracelet, squelching McCain’s emotional point. When McCain charged that Obama didn’t understand the “Surge,” Obama countered that McCain seemed to think the war began in 2007, then dramatically stated since the war began in 2003, McCain had been wrong about the reason for its start, wrong about how American troops would be received, and wrong about the tension between Sunni and Shia factions. And there were others.

Nevertheless, it was also somewhat unnerving to hear him say at least seven times that McCain was right; for him not to counter McCain repeated message that Obama didn’t understand, to see McCain muscle him out of responses several times because Jim Lehrer was not in control of the debate; to see him not follow up on several obvious openings such as his definition of the “success” of the Surge, McCain’s slavish support of George Bush’s policies, McCain’s lack of support for Veterans, and others.

I understand the problem he has. On one hand, he can’t feed into the “angry black man” racial image and turn off some white voters; on the other, he has to establish a level of policy competence and physical ease that lets him appear presidential. But I give him a triple because he could have been much better.

Then next evening, however, when Barack Obama stepped on the stage to give the keynote speech at Congressional Black Caucus annual dinner, that he was home could be witnessed by everybody who was on their feet, rocking to the music of, “Here I am baby, signed sealed delivered, I’m yours….” Obama was given the CBC’s Harold Washington Award, named after the former mayor of his home City and he proceeded to acknowledge those who had paved his way – again, leaving out Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. who sat at a table in front of him.

But as Obama got into his speech and began to warm up, he answered the criticism of me and others, by dealing with critical aspects of the Black Agenda. Time and again, he brought the crowd to its feet by observing that this historical moment was not just about him, but about the children who might benefit and who might live to actually see a black person in the White House. He defined change with his stock presentation on issues like ending the Iraq war, enacting health adequate insurance and health care, and ending the failed No Child Left Behind education program. He also linked shoring up inadequate schools in poor neighborhoods to college attendance and good jobs.

Most important, he showed that he was conversant with the problems of urban America, pointing to the need to deal with poverty, promoting job training and ending mass incarceration by rolling back punitive legislation. And he felt that we should not only be “tough on crime,” but smart on crime. Gone was the patronizing language of moral responsibility as the only solution. This was not only good for the audience to hear assembled there, but it was fuel for the fundraising that he and Michele were doing in town, and for the message of a strong black turnout that rippled through the CBC forums all week long.

So, I give Obama a Home Run for his performance at the CBC and feel that he has not only put many of the questions raised to rest, he also teed up a number of issues he will bring to the table in the debates on domestic issues.

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. One of his latest books is: Freedom Is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates and American Presidential Politics (Rowman and Littlefield)

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