The Complex Dynamics of American Political Culture
An interesting editorial appeared in the Ghanaian Chronicle newspaper edition of Friday, August 29, 2008. The editorial was limpidly titled “The Assassination Plot against Obama” and decried the allegedly uncovered plot to liquidate the African-American presidential nominee of the U.S. Democratic Party by four whites, including a woman, in Denver, Colorado, the scheduled venue of this year’s Democratic (Party’s) National Convention, during which confab the junior United States senator from the state of Illinois would be officially nominated to head the battle for the White House against the ruling Republican Party. The accused conspirators have since been arrested and at the time of this writing, Sunday, August 31, 2008, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) was engrossed with uncovering the full details of this alleged assassination plot.
What fascinated this writer about the Ghanaian Chronicle editorial, however, was its very lead sentence, which read quite guilelessly as follows: “When an American boxer revealed to the British press that he was afraid of [for?] the life of Senator Barrack[sic] Obama[,] and advised him to step down from the then Democratic presidential race, many were those who did not take him serious[ly].”
In essence, what the Chronicle’s editorial writer seemed to suggest was that, somehow, the unnamed boxer who expressed his fears about Mr. Obama’s safety, in retrospect, had been, at least, partially prophetic in his assessment. Fortunately or unfortunately, anybody who has lived in America for any remarkable span of time, such as this writer who is now heading into his twenty-fourth year as both a legal resident and naturalized American citizen, would not have taken the publicly expressed fears of the “pugilist-prophet” any seriously either. And just why is that? Simply because living the life of a black person, or even an ethnic minority, regardless of one’s economic status or class, is veritably tantamount to, literally, living life on the proverbial edge; what with being constantly reminded of one’s outsider status as well as one’s legal protection by the palpably impersonal hedge of laws that appear to have a far stronger moral edge than functional heft, by way of prompt and stringent enforcement.
Intriguingly though, the threat against the admirable and meteoric political career of Senator Barack Obama did not begin in 2008, and certainly not with Election 2008. And such fear, as morbidly expressed by the unnamed boxer, presumably an African-American himself, significantly, did not have the face of any white American written on it. Rather, the original attempt to destroy the political career of Senator Barack Obama had the eerily visible African-American face of a Harvard-trained economist called Dr. Alan Keyes, a perennial and bumbling presidential candidate on the ticket of the white-dominated and ultra-conservative, or right-wing, United States Republican Party.
It is also significant to recall that in the wake of Mr. Obama’s historic announcement of his intention to run for the U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois, on the ticket of the liberal, and left-leaning, U.S. Democratic Party some three years ago, Dr. Keyes, a native of the state of Maryland, in the Washington, DC, area, decided to change his residential, or mailing, address, as required by law, in order to run against the now-Senator Barack Obama. And just what was the rationale of Dr. Keyes? It was simply and invidiously that since Mr. Obama’s Kenyan father, now deceased, had not been born in the United States and thus had not descended from ancestors who picked cotton on a southern U.S. plantation, Mr. Obama could not be properly reckoned as a bona fide African-American. For Dr. Keyes, a rabid anti-African diplomat who served in the Reagan administration, matters were further aggravated by the fact of Mr. Obama’s mother having been a white woman from the mid-western state of Kansas. Dr. Keyes would subsequently remark, snidely, that while, in fact, going by U. S. racial classification Mr. Obama was African-American, in practical, historical terms, “Barack Obama is not an African-American” in the same vein, or manner, that Dr. Keyes may be described as an African-American.
Ultimately, though, the people of Illinois knew far better; they would assist Mr. Obama to crushingly trounce Dr. Keyes at the polls with a near 2 to 1 margin of proportionality. And the now-incumbent junior senator from Illinois is quick to point to the fact that at least 88-percent of the Illinois electorate is composed of white Americans. It may also be recalled that in deciding to assume a state of Illinois mailing address, Dr. Keyes cynically claimed that the people of the proverbial “Windy State” had issued the Maryland native an S-O-S or an emergency signal for help. In other words, in the morbid imagination of Dr. Keyes who, ironically, is also a trained priest or minister of religion, as Americans are fond of saying, Senator Barack Obama was an outsider and thus, at best, a political nuisance to the American geopolitical and cultural landscape. At the worst, Barack Obama was simply a pest, a vermin to be promptly and thoroughly exterminated.
And while the Ghanaian Chronicle editorialist would have his/her audience believe that the successful candidacy, or presidential nomination, of Obama “has become a symbol of victory for all blacks across the world,” had the writer bothered to compare notes with the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, the first African-American to, twice, seriously gun for the presidential nomination of the U.S. Democratic Party, and one of the few remaining firebrand activists from the Civil Rights era, the Chronicle editorialist would have been more cautious in his/her assessment of black enthusiasm over the historic presidential candidacy of this son of the brief marriage between a Kenyan scholarship student and his white-American “college sweetheart.”
And regarding the latter, it may be recalled that recently, while preparing for a television interview, with cameras rolling and mini-microphone still on the lapel of his suit jacket, the veteran Civil Rights stalwart caustically lambasted the junior senator from the state of Illinois, merely because Mr. Obama had dared to courageously exhort absentee African-American fathers to repent of their derelict ways. Unaware that his remarks were being taped, Rev. Jackson threatened to sever “the nuts,” or gonads, of his hitherto secret political nemesis for presuming to “talk down to African-Americans.” In sum, what makes the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama an ethereal – as well as surreal – American narrative inheres in the fact of the candidate being virtually effectively envisaged by both white and black Americans as an “Outsider,” with a capitalized “O.” According to fairly reliable opinion polls, most whites claim not to know much about Mr. Obama, almost as if to conversely imply that all the other non-black candidates grew up with them in the individual and various neighborhoods. Even more predictably curious is Republican senator John McCain’s decision to select the 44-year-old female governor from the state of Alaska, Mrs. Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, who has even less political and absolutely no foreign policy experience, whatsoever, as the presumptive Republican Party nominee’s running-mate, even while Mr. McCain, a Vietnam war icon, has spent most of the campaign season impugning both the relative political and foreign policy inexperience of Senator Obama.
Needless to say, Senator McCain likely based his ironic decision on two equally cynical elements or factors. First is the Arizona Republican senator’s acute awareness of race as a trump card in American political culture. For, while non-white American citizens and residents have had to be civically protected by periodically enacted Affirmative Action laws, being white, by way of racial classification, appears to have served European-Americans far more durably and safely than any congressional and/or presidential edict. Secondly, the McCain campaign hopes to capitalize on the apparent fury of Mrs. Hilary Clinton’s supporters, largely that percentage of her women supporters who are also predominantly white, over and above the fact of a black Mr. Obama being the party’s preferred candidate.
Still, Mr. Obama’s most formidable political Achilles Heels venturing into Election 2008 is the African-American political mainstream, the last Democratic bloc to join the “Obama Revolution,” almost at a superfluous moment in the Illinois senator’s campaign. Some political commentators and analysts have chalked this “predictable anomaly” to the tired “CRABS-IN-BUCKET” philosophy of global black self-alienation. Ultimately though, it is not a facile question of whether white America is psychologically prepared to massively vote an African-American into Casablanca, their White House. Rather, Election 2008 is a critical and landmark choice between outright economic strangulation minted of wasteful war-mongering, on the one hand, and the rapid and massive rebuilding and thus re-valorization of the fast-thinning American middle-class. Election 2008 is thus a veritably apocalyptic contest between the sinister forces of gross racial and economic insensitivity and political inequality, on the one hand, and the salutary constitutional pursuit of a civilized and humane policy of quality-of-life enhancement. And about the only “color” that matters is “green,” as in “greenback” or the dollar.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of 17 books, including “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.