Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Biden v. His Own Mouth

The television today has been abuzz with Senator Joe Biden's comment yesterday about Senator Barack Obama. Biden said:

I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.
Senator Barack Obama rightly pointed out that previous African-American Presidential candidates Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun (the first African-American Senator from Illinois to run for President), and Shirley Chisholm (an African-American woman who ran for President in 1972!) — were all quite articulate speakers. I can tell you firsthand that few experiences in life compare with being in a crowd of people being led by Reverend Jesse Jackson in the call "I am somebody!!" In fact, I would say that the experience amped up my passion for politics by a couple o' notches.

Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton ran to highlight issues they felt were being neglected; neither won a single primary. Shirley Chisholm was well before her time, although she did have 152 delegates at the national convention. (I weep to think what a better nation we'd be today if we had elected Shirley Chisholm instead of Richard Nixon in 1972.) Jesse Jackson won five primaries in 1984, and was the early leader in delegates in 1988, although he ran second in the final tally.

The point I think Senator Biden was probably trying to make — rather inarticulately, it must be said — is that Senator Obama is the first African-American who might really have a shot at the Presidential nomination. In 1988, even with the mantle of "early frontrunner," Jesse Jackson's candidacy was doomed by the overwhelming perception that there was no possibility he could win in November; the nation was "not yet ready" to see an African-American President. In the intervening years, we've had two significant African-American Presidencies, Morgan Freeman and Dennis Haysbert, and now we have D. B. Woodside. You may not think of Deep Impact or 24 as leading political indicators, but the broad public acceptance of the character of an African-American President in film and television dramas is a fair barometer of attitudes towards the potential reality. (If America is ever threatened by a killer comet discovered by a dolphin-loving young future hobbit at the Ambassador Hotel, there's no one I'd rather have in the White House than Morgan Freeman.)

Since we are on the cusp of Black History Month, let's remember also Senator Hiram Revels (R–MS, 1870), Senator Blanche K. Bruce (R–MS, 1875), General Colin Powell, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Uncle Thomas, Harold Ford Jr., Gwen Ifill, Belva Davis at KQED, Mayor slick Willie Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Bill Cosby, Consul Frederick Douglass, Tavis Smiley (PBS host and author of The Covenant with Black America), as well as Dr. King and George Washington Carver, not to mention....

P.S. If you're a light-skinned European-American and you live in a big city, here's a little Black History Month suggestion for you: if you see an African-American having a little trouble hailing a taxi, flag one for 'em. It's just wrong that a middle-aged white guy practically has to fend off taxis when I'm just walking down the street in jeans and a hoodie, while a well-dressed professional who happens to have dark skin can't get one for love or money.

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