Geraldine Ferraro has left the Hillary Clinton campaign as a result of the controversy over her statement that Barack Obama has benefited from his race in the 2008 campaign: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” Initially, Ferraro defended her comments vigorously, but the Clinton campaign must have concluded that the exchange was not to their advantage.
I don’t think we’ve said anything about this controversy, and maybe we shouldn’t start now. For what it’s worth, I have mixed feelings about it. It’s easy to say, and it’s probably true, that if Obama were entirely white, instead of half white, he would be a back-bench Senator with no claim on national attention. When he talks about “change,” does anyone doubt that one component of the change is that Obama is the first serious African-American presidential candidate?
Having said that, the appropriate response may be, so what? Obama is a man of extraordinary ability and great political skill. His public persona is not especially “black,” which is one reason why hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don’t seem to like him much. To his credit, he has campaigned not as a “black candidate,” but as a candidate, period. Of course he has garnered an overwhelming percentage of African-American votes, which seems to irritate the Clintons, but how is this any different from Italian-Americans voting for Mario Cuomo, or Irish-Americans voting for the Kennedys, and so on?
Barack Obama deserves to be engaged on his own terms. I agree with him on virtually nothing, but respect him as a man who has taken his case to the voters in a good old-fashioned way, so far successfully. His race is irrelevant to us, and if his candidacy demonstrates that it is irrelevant to most Americans, that can only be a good thing.
UPDATE: Paul and I were typing our posts at the same time; it’s interesting to compare our reactions. I’ll combine the comment threads on the two posts on the Forum.
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