I have my qualms, as you may know,
about Barack Obama, and most especially about what his foreign policy might
be. If elected (and actually before he were to be elected), the first
decision he would have to make would be who would represent him in the
transition to power from early November to January 20. And, frankly, I
get the shudders since he has indicated that, among others, they would be
Zbigniew Bzrezinski (I don't know much about his son, listed as Mark, but I can
guess), Anthony Lake, Susan Rice and Robert O.
Malley. Rice actually undermines the whole promise and premise of Obama's
campaign as, finally, an Afro-American candidate who will not play Jesse
Jackson politics either on race domestically or on Africa itself, which Rice
had done aplenty in Liberia, Sierra Leone and AIDS in South Africa when she was
Madelaine Albright's assistant secretary on African matters. The most
horrific name on Obama's list, however, is Malley's.
It is true that Malley was on Bill Clinton's staff at Camp David when Ehud Barak had all the juice squeezed out of him to satisfy Yassir Arafat. But he was the only American in attendance to blame the failure of the negotiations on Israel, not least in The New York Review of Books, whose prior experts on the conflict were Noam Chomsky and I.F. Stone, afterwards to be replaced by George Soros, "oich mir a maven" or also an expert, and Henry Siegman. Don't blame yourself if you don't recognize Siegman's name. (Anyway, he hasn't appeared in the NYRB in some time. Maybe he even embarrasses Bob Silvers by now, as Chomsky came to embarrass him.) Malley also showed his colors with his attempt to coin a new nomenclature for the Israeli villages and towns in the West Bank, from "settlements" to "colonies." Why would Obama name Malley to his team? You ask me. I ask him.
All of this notwithstanding and some other foreign policy issues, as well, I incline towards Obama because even his candidacy has already altered the terms of racial discourse in America...and altered it in a realistically progressive manner. Christopher Caldwell, the most learned and most sensible conservative columnist, has written about this in the week-end Financial Times and links this phenomenon to changes in racial attitudes because of Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby. I do not think this is at all demeaning to Obama. He is not competing for the black vote in this campaign (and he may even lose it for archaic reasons to Hillary Clinton, for shwarmerei Toni Morrison reasons), as Oprah and Cosby were not competing for the black audience but the all-American audience. The analogy is not at all demeaning. Who will deny that this woman and this man have had a salutary effect on racial realities in the country?
Caldwell makes the point that the gap between black and white has narrowed considerably, and this is already an achievement. So Mrs. Clinton's patronizing of blacks as if they owe her is rather demeaning, and so is Bill's. What's more, the country is now filling with immigrants, legal and illegal, and they are erecting a new reality in America which centralizes them as the issue which cannot be faced. The fact is that no one has an intellectually coherent and liberally clean solution to the dilemma of the illegals (as the conservatives maliciously call them) or to the undocumented (as the liberals try to disguise them as innocent.) Blacks are as split as whites on this matter, and they are part of the solution, if there is a solution.
"The peculiar institution," as Kenneth Stampp called his 1956 study of American slavery, defined our society and politics for nearly a century and a half after Emancipation. Of course, its effects still linger, and loathsomely. No one -- and certainly not I -- is declaring them buried. The conflict between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is a competition between feminism or women's rights and a liquidation of the problem of race in America. I do not deny the insult to women that also still lingers in our country. But Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of a Muslim country twice long before she was assassinated, and woman have been chiefs-of-state in the U.K., Germany, Sri Lanka, Finland, Liberia, Israel, Ukraine, Argentina, the Philippines, Canada and literally dozens of other countries. There will be no great thrill to another one. Of course, there have been perhaps hundreds of black men who were and are heads of states in their countries. But Obama would be the president of the United States, which has borne the burden of racism, sometimes willingly, and the refutation of that symbol would change the world. Is that not change enough to be for him?