Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wall Street Journal On Barack Obama And His Appeal To Black and White America

A classic and uplifting article that should be read by all Americans. It's a great window on how America has improved as a country.

Whites' Great Hope?
Barack Obama and the Dream of a Color-Blind America
November 10, 2007; WSJ

Portland, Maine

Isaiah Oliver, a 24-year-old white social worker, grew up in this overwhelmingly white city and attended the predominantly white University of Richmond in Virginia. Ask him why he supports Barack Obama and he says it's because of the candidate's race.

"Because he's black it makes me want to believe that he will change things," says Mr. Oliver, leaving an Obama campaign rally here. "It feels like you are part of something that's starting to change American politics. It's the cool factor. He's a rock star."

As he campaigns across the country, Sen. Obama, the son of a black father and a white mother, is both revealing and tapping into a changed racial landscape, especially among younger whites. After decades of often bitter polarization and racial tension on issues ranging from the spread of civil rights to affirmative action, many whites say they are drawn to Sen. Obama precisely because they think his mixed-race background reflects America's increasingly diverse population and projects a more optimistic vision of the country's racial future.

Sen. Obama's candidacy, whether it succeeds or not, appears to mark a turning point in race and politics in America: It is prompting significant numbers of white Americans to consider voting for him not despite his racial background, but because of it.

"Obama is running an emancipating campaign," says Bob Tuke, who is white and is the former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic party. "He is emancipating white voters to vote for a black candidate."

Sean Briscoe, a 24-year-old white who writes a political blog in Nashville, is one: "Obama doesn't come with the baggage of the civil-rights movement, focusing entirely on the race issue," he says. "He went from Hawaii to Indonesia. He has been in all these places where you get an appreciation for people who aren't like you."

Two decades ago, Jesse Jackson broke new ground by challenging whites to consider a black mounting a serious run for the presidency. Now Sen. Obama and a new generation of black candidates are running campaigns that make whites feel good about themselves. These younger black politicians, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., are, like Sen. Obama, seen by many whites as proof of the country's racial progress -- and their own.

Sen. Obama "doesn't steer away from race but makes sure that everything he does is influenced by his bi-racial identity," says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who knew Mr. Obama as a law student and is advising the campaign.

"Obama has learned the lessons of [the failed candidacies] of Jackson and [Rev. Al] Sharpton, and married that with the smoothness of Colin Powell," says Scott Reed, a Republican strategist. "He has triangulated against all of them."

Sen. Obama continues to trail Sen. Hillary Clinton by substantial margins in national polls. Even with white support, he could become the equivalent of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 or Howard Dean in 2004, candidates who stirred fervor among white college students and intellectuals but were unable to win the nomination.

Sen. Obama and his campaign aides declined to be interviewed for this story. But his own writings and conversations with people who know him suggest his approach is both politically savvy and rooted in his own experiences.

He has always lived between two worlds. He is the son of a mother from Kansas and an African father, who separated when he was two years old. He lived in Indonesia for a time as a child, when his mother married an Indonesian, and then with his white grandparents in Hawaii. He excelled at elite institutions such as Columbia University and Harvard Law School, then worked in a black Chicago neighborhood. Friends say that double life has affected not just his personality but also his politics.

"Obama knows this is a majority white country," says Mary Pattillo, an African-American professor at Northwestern University who has known Sen. Obama for years. "He is acutely aware how his discussion of race and racial politics will be interpreted and received by whites. We who work in the white world are always mindful of not making whites feel threatened. You can't get angry as a black person working in white America. To get a message across, black professionals are always thinking about the perfect balance of assertiveness and non-threateningness."

Unlike Sen. Clinton, who regularly invokes the history-making achievement she could make by becoming the first woman president, Sen. Obama rarely mentions race directly in his campaign speeches.

Here in Portland, he emphasizes the "core decency of the American people" and his experience "bringing people together to get things done." He ends with a story about meeting an elderly woman in a small town in South Carolina who asked him if he was "fired up" and "ready to go" -- leading to a call and response chant that brings the crowd to its feet. Sen. Obama never mentions that the woman and the town are black.

"Barack is aimed at trying to get as much of the white vote as he can in order to win," says Ronald Walters, former campaign manager for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign. The challenge facing black candidates like Sen. Obama who have national ambitions, says Mr. Walters, "isn't whether they're black enough. It's whether they're white enough."

Race remains a wild card in American politics. Candidates such as Mr. Ford, who narrowly lost the Senate race in Tennessee last year, have often come close to election only to find race flaring at the last minute to blunt their momentum.

"Obama knows that just because people are saying one thing doesn't mean they will vote that way," says Tim King, the African-American head of a charter school in Chicago who has known Sen. Obama for a decade. "No one ever really knows what people do once they close the curtain in the voting booth."

Sen. Obama's popularity among whites also stirs uneasiness among many blacks. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Sen. Obama trails Sen. Clinton among black voters 46% to 37%.

"There is a lot of debate [among blacks] over how appealing Obama is to white folks," says Mr. King. "People are saying, 'Is he too likeable to white people?"'

"Obama doesn't really push people to consider what diversity really is," says Alfred DeFreece, a black teacher at Eastern Michigan University, who says many of his white students favor Obama. "He is close enough to what is a tolerated white norm, very much what is palatable and acceptable and good." Mr. DeFreece says he wonders whether Sen. Obama would be able to aggressively push social programs that help blacks in poverty and end discrimination.

At the same time, Mr. DeFreece also reflects the country's changing racial landscape. The woman he lives with is white.

Sen. Obama's rise reflects the ways American race relations have changed in the past 40 years -- the expansion of the black middle class, the rise of blacks to positions of prominence in business, academia and government, and a general lessening of racial tension.

About 75% of whites and 55% of blacks describe black-white relations as "somewhat good or very good," according to a recent Gallup poll. About 75% of whites and 85% of blacks say they support interracial marriage. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 63% of registered voters said they believe voters are prepared to elect a qualified African-American as president, a dramatic increase from 1986 when just 29% said they thought America was ready to elect a black president. In the current poll, just 46% of voters say voters today are ready to elect a qualified Hispanic as president and 38% a qualified Mormon.

Sen. Obama runs stronger among younger voters who are at the forefront of many of these changing attitudes, from their embrace of hip-hop music to the diversity they encounter on college campuses. And he runs strongest among whites in their 30s and 40s who have lived through the racial changes of the past decades.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Sen. Obama trails Sen. Clinton among Democratic primary voters by 22 percentage points overall -- and by virtually the same amount among white voters alone. But his deficit is smaller -- 46% to 32% -- among voters aged 18 to 34 and he runs even with Sen. Clinton among voters aged 35-49. By contrast, he trails Sen. Clinton among voters over 50 by more than 30 points.

"I've met people who reminded me of Obama at high school," says Mae Mouk, a white 24-year-old assistant in a Washington, D.C., law firm who grew up in Baton Rouge, La. "I have dated outside my race. I had friends in high school and college who were in interracial relationships. I look at race differently than my grandparents and parents."

Most whites, of course, still live in largely segregated neighborhoods and have attended predominantly white schools. Even on more-diverse college campuses, blacks and whites tend to live in separate worlds. But many young whites pride themselves on being open-minded and on having been exposed to the rhetoric and reality of diversity.

"I don't see race as a big issue," says Mr. Briscoe, the Nashville blogger. "Most younger people can go in between the different communities and can get along with people of different backgrounds. It's a more multicultural way of life. I have friends of all different colors. I can listen to rap music."

Sen. Obama "is a citizen of the world," says David Bartholomew, a white law student at Boston College Law School. "Obama and my generation -- we see the future of the world as countries evolving together. Because of his background he can speak to a wider range of people than any other candidate. He can speak globally."

Younger voters like Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Bartholomew embrace Sen. Obama -- born in 1961 and too young to have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. -- as a post-Civil-Rights candidate. But his approach and campaign rhetoric consciously echo the hopeful spirit of the early civil rights days.

In his autobiography, written before he entered politics, Sen. Obama tells the story of his Kenyan father drinking with friends at a bar in Hawaii when a white man objects to being in a bar "next to a n-."

"The room fell quiet and people turned to my father, expecting a fight," Sen. Obama recounts. "Instead, my father stood up, walked over to the man, smiled and proceeded to lecture him about the folly of bigotry, the promise of the American dream, and the universal rights of man." The white man ends up buying Sen. Obama's father a round of drinks.

In the book, Sen. Obama looks back wistfully to the early 1960s, a "fleeting period" that promised "a bright new world where differences of race or culture would instruct and amuse and perhaps even ennoble."

By the late 1960s, both the rhetoric and substance of the Civil Rights Movement had sharpened with the rise of Black Power and groups like the Black Panthers, who accused whites of being racists, leading to an eventual white backlash and decades of black-white hostility and anger.

"The secret to Martin Luther King was that he flattered white Americans that you are better than you think you are," says Shelby Steele, a black research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "The very essence of Obama's appeal is the idea that he represents racial idealism -- the idea that race is something that America can transcend. That's a very appealing idea. A lot of Americans would truly love to find a black candidate they could comfortably vote for for President of the United States."

Richard Harpootlian, a white lawyer and former state chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, was in college in 1968 when King was assassinated. He recalls going down to Atlanta to walk in King's funeral cortege. "They played the 'I Have a Dream' speech with his line about judging his children not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," Mr. Harpootlian recalls. On that day, "I thought we were never further away from that vision. When I met Barack Obama, I felt as I'd never felt before that he typifies what Dr. King was talking about."

At the Obama rally here, 17-year-old Nick Wright, a high school senior, is one of the few African-Americans in the crowded downtown arena. He sits at a table with a white classmate, welcoming people to the rally.

"Obama isn't just reaching out to the African-American community," says Eli Noll, the white classmate. "He's so much for the youth of America."

Mr. Wright nods in approval. "I just read about Malcolm X in English class," he says. "He had a lot of good things to say, but nobody listened because of some of the other things he said. Obama -- he doesn't have to be like Malcolm X."

Write to Jonathan Kaufman at

Heroes On Hulu - Watch The Entire Episode "Out Of Time" Here, Now Live!

Click on the arrow to watch the entire Heroes episode "Out of Time."

Hulu is NBC's new website system that allows one to see HD-quality online versions of shows from NBC, CBS, and other providers. I don't see it as a YouTube replacement for reasons I state over at Zennie's Zeitgeist, but it's a fun system, none the less.

Hulu - I Get My Hulu Invitation, Watch Bionic Woman

I received my Hulu invitation two days ago, which allowed me to take a look around. It's not anywhere like YouTube, and in my view NBC and others that have elected to take down their YouTube channels have made a massive error. These platforms are complementary.

In my view, Hulu is simply network television online. YouTube is a video distribution device that's designed to cause viral video propagation. YouTube clips are generally between three and six minutes. "Bionic Woman" -- shown here -- is 42 minutes long (and you can watch the whole episode "The List" above right now). Thus, the best strategy for NBC is to maintain and explains its YouTube presence and install links to Hulu-based shows. In my view, Hulu will never reach YouTube's level of viewship just by design.

But that written, I like the Hulu system. The video picture is clear, even my Mom liked it and she's used to the standard tube and watches YouTube videos.

Hulu brings up another interesting question: are Hulu views part of the Nielsen ratings for Bionic Woman?

Barack Obama Charms Waitress In Iowa - Gets New Supporter Over Ice Cream

This was reported in


Barack Obama made an unscheduled stop on his campaign bus tour of Iowa the other day. Even a presidential candidate needs an ice cream cone of an afternoon.

Obama got the ice cream cone in a dairy bar in Wapello. But he also got a little more than he bargained for. After ordering around $20 worth of snacks--mostly ice cream and onion rings--for his campaign group, Obama got to talking with the counter waitress, Angela Dossett, who had some non-edible pressing concerns.

Turns out, she's the widow of a Marine killed in Iraq three years ago. She's afraid she'll lose all her survivor benefits if she makes more money or remarries and moves on with her life. "I can't move on," she said. "If I do I lose'' medical and other benefits.

Obama, who is a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, made a note of her concerns. Afterwards, she said Obama was the first presidential candidate to stop by the small diner. Now she is favorably disposed toward him. "He's really a nice guy,'' Dossett told The Times' Janet Hook.

Obama could have gotten away without paying the check. As the candidate was about to leave, one employee told him that the diner owner, who shyly stayed in the back kitchen, would spare him the bill if he just left an autograph. But the senator had already paid.

Obama chose vanilla, by the way.

--Andrew Malcolm

Daniel Craig | James Bond 007 Casino Royale Opening Segment

Daniel Craig | James Bond 007 Casino Royale Opening Segment

Another James Bond Classic movie opening.