Perspective and Collective Assumptions

Prompted by Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed piece and blog today claiming venom from Barck Obama’s supporters with regard to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and alledged race baiting–which Krugman attributes actually to the media–I’ve just watched the YouTube video of the question and answer that started this conversation about MLK and LBJ. It is the reporter who picked the segment mentioning King, which was one of several illustrations of “hope” in Obama’s stump speeches, to quote back to Senator Clinton. I see no racist intent in her response, nor do I see it as a deviation of her “experience matters” campaign stance. And strategically, one never wants to add complexity to an argument that would cede ground to one’s opponent. But her response does echo a patronizing history of majority privilege. It does seem to reinforce the division of labor, that the marginalized should continue to campaign for their goals outside the system and that change is only achieved when an insider, a beneficiary of long established hierarchies decides to ratify the outsiders’ ambition. Couple that with former President Clinton’s mention of Jesse Jackson’s wins in South Carolina, excluding mentions of his own win or John Edwards win or Al Sharpton’s loss and you get a picture of Black leaders as marginal outsiders at the very least.

Is that playing the race card intentionally or does it speak to a deeper status quo mindset that views Blacks as inspirational figures but not worthy of consideration for administrative leadership? I don’t believe that Hillary isn’t sincerely inspired when she realizes that there is an African-American man next to a European-American woman on the stage next to her running to lead the nation. But I do believe that her drive for the office may blind her to the some of the slights people who are not European-American feel everyday. And I’m clearly aware that in my editing of this comment, I went back to insert the word “man” after “African-American” and I inserted “European-American” before the word “woman.” Is it a given that a person running for President is a man? And is it a given that a woman running for President is white? Changing our collective assumptions about people in this world should be a vital project for the “Leader of the Free World.” It should result in strengthening our international image as well as creating a climate for greater security for us domestically. I think all should avoid using “Missus Clinton” in reference to Clinton as much as all should avoid efforts to attach marginalized Black leaders to Obama, as Bill Clinton has done. Overall I believe that Senator Obama is better positioned to change collective assumptions. However inspirational is her potential to break the glass ceiling, Senator Clinton and her team seem too locked into past divisions of patronage based on race, class and other privilege to offer as effective leadership to a diverse nation and world. If you are baited, it’s your responsibility as a leader neither to bite, nor deepen the divide by short sighted or misleading comments. Obama will be tested and baited by the media as the Democratic candidate for President. It is unknown how he will respond to the “Clinton Rules.” But we do know that in her self-touted vetting process, Senator Clinton and President Clinton have both failed.

Are they race-baiting intentionally? Probably not initially. Are they trying to capitalize on racial politics? You decide. (Frank Rich thinks so.)

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