Sunday, February 03, 2008

Barack Is More Electable

Read this post on The Daily Voice

When my friend Keith Boykin asked me to reflect on my feelings on race and gender in the presidential campaign, I was reticent to add my voice. For one, I am thoroughly exhausted - as well as annoyed - by the 24-hour news cycle perpetuated by the media and political pundits who project their views on the American people while rarely speaking to ordinary Americans.

Secondly, though I am undoubtedly a strong and proud African-American woman (and have decades of friends who can vouch for that), I simply did not want to talk about race or gender. I didn't want to add yet another verse to the tired chorus of "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" or to "I am Woman, Hear me Roar." In the end, no one remembers the verses, but the ugly hook of "race vs. gender" plays endlessly in our minds.

I decided to write not only because I adore Keith, but because upon reflection I've concluded that I really didn't have to talk about race. Not directly anyway. To the contrary, I now believe that the fundamental issue of concern here is electability.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a long-time fan of Barack Obama. An "adopted" member of the Harvard Law School class of 1991 (I was actually '92), my friends and I were awed by his intellect, strength, leadership, vision and possibility - even then, it was clear.

Still, like many loyal Democrats, I felt torn during this primary season based on the incredible field of candidates. I like Hillary Clinton, and have a great deal of respect for much of the work she has done in the Senate and in general. And while I never considered Bill to be "the first Black president," like many Americans I had affection for him, much of which was rooted, no doubt, in his innate comfortableness with my culture and his evident understanding and ability to articulate our pain. As a student of politics and policy, I was well aware of the former president's occasional missteps on issues of interest to me (recall the demonization of Sista Souljah, the complete abandonment of Lani Guinier, welfare reform without real job creation or childcare reform, and much of his crime policy), but like many, I gave him the "family" pass, excusing his actions as "political."

But in recent weeks while those of us obsessed with politics were watching yet another cable network news show, something happened. Something happened while my friends and I were reading Gloria Steinheim's New York Times op-ed proclaiming gender as "the most restricting force in American life" and noting that Black men got the right to vote "a half century" before women of any race (irresponsibly overlooking the ensuing decades of lynchings and murderous suppression of voting and other civil rights as many of Steinheim's beloved suffragettes stood by enjoying privilege). While I was standing in front of an inside-the-beltway water cooler trying to explain to colleagues that my race and gender were inextricably intertwined, and that I often believe that the insidious nature of racism and sexism combined may be greater than either in isolation, something happened.

The rest of America said, "enough!"

I first noticed it when my father, a 68-year old retired African-American man in Florida (and loyal Democrat who at the time fit Hillary's demographic) announced to me that he was so offended by the Clintons' race-baiting that he would vote Republican before he'd ever vote for Hillary. (And this was well before Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson comparison). Perhaps I have been in Washington too long but I was struck by the depth of his anger. So I reached out to others of different races and gender - including diehard Hillary Clinton supporters; I also asked about their family and friends. The results of my informal anecdotal poll were more powerful than any Gallup or media poll I'd read. While Washington pundits were drawing cartoons opining that both Obama and Clinton were equally to blame for the nasty tone in the Democratic primary, in conversations and emails across the country, ordinary Americans - Black, Latino, White and others - were becoming increasingly fed-up with Bill Clinton's (now obvious) racial attacks as Hillary stood by enjoying privilege. Sound familiar?

So all of this brings me, quite simply, to the issue of electability. To be sure, I support Barack Obama because he is experienced (he actually has more legislative experience than Senator Clinton), and because my personal experience knowing him authenticates the reasons that Caroline Kennedy and Toni Morrison so eloquently penned in their beautifully written pieces. To be sure, it would take volumes of drafting to explain the pride, power and inspiration that a "President Obama" will bring not only to my son and daughter, but also to my father who never thought he'd live to see such a day in America.

But what I now know for sure is a stone-cold hard fact. The polarizing strategy pursued by Bill Clinton (and acquiesced to by Hillary) has angered ordinary Americans. It angered not only African-Americans like my father who have lived and breathed the vile stench of racism for much of their lives, it also angered millions of younger African Americans, Latinos, Whites and all Americans who desperately want to move beyond the 20th century divisiveness that the Clinton strategy exemplified to a new day that is not about Black vs. White, Male vs. Female or Red vs. Blue. These Americans are craving something different, something better, something inspirational and have appealed to the better angels in our leaders and in all of us to create it.

I am gravely uncertain that these forward-looking Americans will forgive the Clinton tactics, abandon the Dream and simply support a Clinton Democratic nominee, rewarding the kind of behavior that they abhor. And sadly, that would only benefit the likely Republican nominee, John McCain, who for some reason is seen as a Republican maverick and is able to appeal to moderates, including African Americans like my dad. This is unacceptable to me. We do not need to take that chance. It need not happen. We don't have to abandon the Dream. We can answer the appeal to the better angels in all of us. We can hold on to the audacity of hope and ride it through to a clear victory in November. We can support Barack Obama. It is time for Obama. Now.

Charisse Carney-Nunes, attorney and social entrepreneur, is the author of two children's books and senior vice president of The Jamestown Project.