Black and white
By Doug Thompson
Let’s talk about something vastly more important than the winner of this year’s presidential election.
Let’s talk about race.
Let’s talk about whether we can even talk about race without making a bunch of people incoherently angry.
A black man won the South Carolina primary. It was a massive victory. He defeated an entrenched opponent whose husband, a former U.S. president, went after him.
This is the first outright victory — a clear majority victory — by any candidate in either major party’s primary so far.
And what are many of the news stories about?
Whether Bill Clinton’s reference to Jesse Jackson’s South Carolina primary victory in 1988 was a racial slight.
High-ranking Democrats tell the Clintons to soothe racial tensions instead of inflaming them, too.
Let me repeat that in more detail. Barack Obama won the primary. Hillary Clinton lost two to one. John Edwards was politically killed. And what’s the headline? Naughty boy Bill mentions that Obama’s victory wasn’t the first-ever by a black man.
Let’s put this shoe on the other foot. Was Jackson just a “race candidate?” Are Jackson’s victories in 1984 and 1988 an embarrassment to Obama now? Would it be better for Obama’s campaign if Jackson had not made history in the 1980s?
Now let’s quote Jesse Jackson, from Monday’s edition of the New York Times:
“’Bill has done so much for race relations and inclusion, I would tend not to read a negative scenario into his comments.’ He said his chief concern was that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton not ‘bloody themselves’ so much that they can’t unite against the Republicans in November.
“Several other prominent Democrats had also talked with Mr. Clinton earlier in the week, urging him not to escalate racial tensions within the party. One, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, said on CNN that Mr. Clinton should ‘chill.’
“Mr. Jackson said that on Saturday, Mr. Clinton had simply been recognizing Mr. Jackson’s success and said Mr. Obama recognized it too.
“’He said that he felt his success was built on my 84 and 88 campaigns,’ Mr. Jackson said of Mr. Obama. He said there had been a ‘growth and maturing of the electorate’ since he ran, and he saw Mr. Obama’s win as ‘part of the historic evolution of the New South.’”
Give Jackson some credit, even if he is just trying to soothe troubled waters. Somebody needs to. Lots of people who aren’t named Clinton need to “chill,” too.
Obama’s victory is not just a re-run. Jesse Jackson got 7 percent of the white vote in 1988. Obama got 25. That is progress — painfully, achingly slow progress, but progress. It’s even measurable: 18 percentage points in 20 years, less than one percentage point a year.
That achingly slow progress is why it is important not to punish people for citing history — perfectly and clearly relevant history. Progress is so slow it is often impossible to see in the short-term. If you don’t recognize progress is too slow, you can’t figure out how to speed it up.
I submit that Barack Obama’s speeding it up quite a bit. Anybody who reads my stuff knows that I’ve never fallen under Obama’s spell. OK. So when even I say that South Carolina’s primary was a major milestone, please believe it.
But Obama’s victory wasn’t about race, people protest. He has multi-racial support. We know. He said so. Look at his win in Iowa, too, a state that’s is 95 percent white.
Folks, I’m not afraid to talk about race. Since I’m not Bill Clinton, I guess I might get away with it.
Obama got four out of five black votes and one out of four white votes in South Carolina — a state where he did not have months to personally canvass like Iowa.
Mike Huckabee got a higher percentage of black votes when he ran for governor of Arkansas than Hillary Clinton did, and a greater percentage of black votes than Obama got of white votes.
Anybody who says race wasn’t a huge factor in South Carolina is wishing too hard.
You don’t break down racial divisions by ignoring them.
Barack Obama is black. That’s one of the very few points in his favor as far as I’m concerned. I’d love to throw a rock at the glass ceiling — not some piece of glass that shatters if you touch it.