Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: Obama and the DLC

March 19, 2008

Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: OBama’s Effort To Bridge the Divide and the DLC

New America Media, News Analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Mar 19, 2008

Editor’s note: Obama’s electrifying speech in Philadelphia on race and race relations points to the realism-idealism gap between his camp and Hillary Clinton’s, writes NAM editor Robert Lovato. Lovato is a writer based in New York.

Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia eloquently displayed how the Obama and Clinton campaigns are divided by race idealism versus race realism.

Combining the statesman’s calm cadences with the reverend’s passion, Obama delivered what was arguably the crispest, most important delineation of U.S. race relations by a presidential candidate since Abraham Lincoln gave his House Divided speech.

In response to the ongoing racial pyrotechnics seen most recently in the controversies surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor whose racial denunciations from his Chicago pulpit have drawn criticism, and Clinton-backer Geraldine Ferraro who sparked controversy after saying, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” Obama used his abundant rhetorical gifts to advance the cause of race idealism. His speech tried to weaken the relentless pull of our racial past on our electoral present by pointing to a post-racial future.

“This nation is more than the sum of its parts,” he declared before a very racially mixed crowd of supporters sitting and swooning in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. “We may have different stories, but we hold common hopes.” The elevated responses in the Constitution Center seemed to simulate the paintings of children and adults of various ethnicities dancing in a circle as they rise from the ground.

In stark contrast to Obama’s strive-for-higher-ground idealism is the boots-on-the-ground march of the pre-eminent practitioners of racial realpolitik: the Clinton backers of Washington’s Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

Caught between the current reality of an electorate that’s still mostly white and a primary process that reflects stunning demographic shifts, the racial politics of the Clinton supporters in the DLC reflect a strategic decision to consolidate their white base. Viewed from this vantage point, the DLC’s re-engineered appeals to white racial solidarity preview the new politics of the white minority era that looms on the racial horizon.

More than any other political machine in this very tense political moment, politicians affiliated with the DLC have developed policies and made statements that reconfigure racial politics beyond the Southern Strategy – appeals to white voter fear and anxieties with anti-black policy proposals that successfully transformed the once Democratic-leaning South into a Republican stronghold – that still defines much of the Republican racial realpolitik. DLC affiliates have more or less formed a beeline to make racial comments appealing to white voters as an unprecedented racial reality has come upon America: white minority status.

DLC operatives seem to recognize how quickly the political process is moving past the black-white racial politics towards a Sunbelt strategy targeting a more diverse and demographically different country, increasingly concentrated in the sunny southern states stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Like Obama, the DLC recognizes and anticipates the inevitable domination of the electoral college by Texas, Florida, California and other states heavily populated by Latinos and Asians.

Among the most recent comments and policy proposals by DLC affiliates reflecting the Sunbelt strategy are: the Geraldine Ferraro statement; the strong support for the anti-immigrant policies of the very punitive, anti-immigrant STRIVE Act by Rahm Emmanuel and James Carville, an enforcement-heavy immigration reform proposal which many Congressional Hispanic Caucus members have said will increase racial profiling; the anti-immigrant ads used by DLC Chair Harold Ford during his Senatorial bid in Tennessee; DLC stalwart Bob Kerrey’s claim that Obama attended a “secular madrassa”; the numerous racially-charged comments made by former DLC leader Bill Clinton, and, of course, Hillary Clinton in the course of her own campaign.

These most recent statements and policy proposals by DLC affiliates reflect the DLC’s insights into the post-Southern Strategy, post-Dixiecrat moment. This vision was developed by several of the mostly southern founders of the DLC who, in their zeal to combat the GOP successes with white voters through the Southern Strategy, rejected the affirmative action and other “identity politics” in the Democratic party to return to the old white identity politics.

Asked about the statements by Ferraro and other DLC affiliates, DLC’s press secretary, Alice McKeon, declined to make a statement. Asked if Ferraro was affiliated with her organization, McKeon answered, “I’m not prepared to say anything about that right now.”

Longtime DLC critic and editor of the Black Agenda Report, Bruce Dixon, sees in the ratcheting up of racial politics in this primary season the DLC’s aspirations to make Democrats more competitive against the GOP. “The historic position of the DLC is that they want to compete for Republican voters and corporate dollars,” said Dixon. “Their support for the SAVE Act, the racial attacks on Obama are rooted in this desire.”

Dixon has for many years also questioned the relationship between the racial statements and policy proposals of DLC members and the major funding it receives from corporations and from foundations like the Bradley Foundation, a philanthropic organization which gave the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank, over $200,000. Bradley Foundation also has a long history of giving money to organizations and individuals dedicated to decimating civil rights like Charles Murray, author or the controversial Bell Curve who still supports thoroughly baseless racial ideas like the belief that there’s a correlation between race and intellectual capabilities. “The Clintons, Rahm Emanuel and the DLC have to say these (racial) things because their corporate sponsors need a segmented and divided workforce,” said Dixon. “They can’t possibly do anything else.”

Yet, given the chronic inflexibility of politicians of all stripes to articulate the real problems of race in the United States, Obama’s race idealism may, in fact, mark the beginning of, as he promised, real change. Charles Murray himself noted this on the National Review website after Obama’s speech. “As far as I’m concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America,” he wrote. “It is so far above the standard we’re used to from our politicians.”

Race idealism, who knows, may very well carry the day beyond the primaries and the general election.

14 Responses to “Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: Obama and the DLC”

  1. bella Says:

    Roberto —

    Come on! Are you serious? You are actually suggesting that ALL of these people including Harold Washington (African American) are racist? You are not helping your candidate. At all. This is hardly consistent with that beautifully uplifting speech he gave yesterday.

    I have a serious question: do Obama and Clinton supporters want to win the general election? It is articles and blogging with this message that will kill any Democrats opportunity to win the general election.

    I campaigned vigorously for Edwards. Why? Because I am a populist progressive and while being female and a minority are an essential part of my identity and inform my belief system I was compelled by his message and his history. I find the Obam-istas and Clinton-istas out of control and fomenting hate within the party–both racial and gender hate.

    I just don’t get it. We are in the Super Bowl and someone on the offensive team slugs someone on the defensive team and the Hillary-Obama people get out guns and start shooting people. It turns out though the people on the offensive and defensive team are part of the Democratic team!

    Your analysis is tortured and inaccurately portrays a vast right wing conspiracy of pseudo Democrats that are as evil and cunning as Karl Rove. (Do you find any irony in that proposition? I do!) Do I think candidates are narcissists, driven, ambitious, and have incredible egos? Yes. I have yet to meet one who is not. It is the nature of the beast. This includes every Democrat.

    I, for one, am a true blue Democrat who is terrified, yes terrified, that the rabid attack dogs in the Democratic party that are in the Obama and Clinton campaign are going to subject our broken country to another eight years of Republicans.

    Shame, shame, shame on you Roberto.

  2. robvato Says:

    Thanks for sharing some shame, Bella.

    If you can, please share with us whatever evidence you have of the Obama
    campaign’s systemic attacks on Clinton’s whiteness, please share those facts about Obama or his supporters links to racist foundations, please
    share facts about Obama backer’s racist policy proposals and statements.

    Otherwise, please leave the equalizing, tit for tat “both-camps-are-racist” stuff to our infantilizing
    friends in the mainstream media.

    Have a shameless day,


  3. kyledeb Says:

    Thanks for shining a light on the politics of the Democratic Leadership Council. The fact that Rahm Emanuel is displayed prominently on the front of their website is enough to raise eyebrows in itself. Keep up the good work.

  4. bella Says:

    Roberto —

    Your follow-up response is exactly what I am talking about — I am not about to itemize areas of concern that I have with BOTH candidates. There are some very specific reasons I supported Edwards and not the other two–both had to do with substantive policies. Yes, substantive policy does matter. Do know all three have better substantive policies than McCain. Absolutely. This is why regardless of the outcome of the primary I will by working open my pay check, exhaust my vacation leave, and give evening and weekends to ensure we have a Democrat in the office. Why? Because let’s say I agree with you on a number of substantive issues vis-a-vis Clinton’s policies (which is, honestly, pretty accurate given I am a populist and not a moderate), I still cannot tolerate or abide the prospect of another four years with McCain. Can you?

    So, yes. Let’s shove our team mates in the mud, stomp on them, insult them, spit on them, denigrate them, and villify them. Because we don’t need them to win the general election, right? Well, I guess Karl Rove is delighted by such dignity, restraint, discipline, and strategic thinking. So your so right, Roberto, let’s take all the Hillary people and Hillary out and shoot them. This includes all of those sixty or so percent of Latinos because they are just either stupid, hoodwinked, and evil and they do not deserve to stand next to you and other righteous, upstanding, moral change agents who can bully people like me who just want the food fight to stop.

    Do I think Sen. Obama inspires? Yes. Do I agree with most of his substantive policies? Yes. Do I believe that he is ready to lead? Yes. Do I think he will take us to a far better today and tomorrow than the hell we have been drug through for nearly 8 long years? Unequivocally yes. Would I answer in the affirmative to all of those questions with regard to Clinton? Unequivocally yes.

    As for racism, I am endlessly fascinated by some many of the progressive men of color in particular who have raised the banner of race, but who assisdiously avoid addressing gender. Having visited a number of blogs to talk about the gross coverage and characterization of the Latino “vote” — which was hardly monolthic by state, region or ethnic group, I was taken aback by supporters in either camp. I guess I should be booted from the party too Roboerto? I guess you don’t need a Latina like me who does not walk and talk just like you.

    Somehow, I just don’t think that is/was Obama’s message.

  5. […] « Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: Obama and the DLC […]

  6. adriana Says:

    Roberto, this is a great post.

    I keep reading and hearing that it is Obama who is injecting race into this campaign, but I see it as you do. The Clintons and their machine have initiated it subtly and overtly throughout this campaign and then placed the blame on Obama. I guess that is to be expected when the machine is greased by corporate America.

    This reminds me of the literature I encounter about faculty of color in higher education. These academics are expected to speak on behalf of their race and ethnicities and comment every time an “ethnic” issue arises and then go on and conduct their expected duties.

  7. bella Says:

    Sen. Obama gave an inspirational speech. I was moved. I have some pretty left positions on an array of issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and the role of property and power in this nation and the world. I, unlike some of Middle America, was not surprised or taken aback to find out that — gasp — Sen. Obama is African American.

    I have to tell you though even as I wiped a tear and was convinced (again) that he will make a great President (just as I believe Sen. Clinton will make a great President) that he missed an opportunity to talk about the reality of diversity in this country (as opposed to the easy default of Black-White “race” relations which only re-inforces a racist paradigm).

    What in the world am I talking about? If you review the body of work by critical race theorists such as Richard Delgado, Derrick Bell and others they talk about race as a false construct. If you continually talk about race as being only Black or White, you have created a false construct of who and what this country is and what is has been for hundreds of years.

    Sen. Obama missed another golden opportunity that could have saved him some of the backlash he is getting from Middle America and it goes to what I believe is the inadequate advice and counsel he is receiving from his inner circle of advisors. In his speech he mentioned other minorities as a passing reference. He mentioned Latinos a few more times than other, but in an ahistorical fashion. (This is the same critique I have of his Race Chapter in Audacity of Hope where he writes about Latinos as if we had not been colonized — namely as if we were/are all recent immigrants.)

    America is not limited to Blacks and Whites and it most certainly has not been since its inception. Go back and read the speech’s transcript. He talks as if the country’s narrative begins with the imperfect relationship of this country to African Americans. Did he forget about the slaughter of Native Americans and the land that was robbed? Did he forget about the colonization of the Mexicans and their indentured servitude along with the Chineses and Filipinos? For hundreds of years? Did he forget that these communities, too, have struggled? Or that Latino school age children attend more segregated schools today then they have in the past 40 years? That the history of this country is extremely complicated and nuanced and it cannot begin until we finally paint this country’s picture using all of the colors — not just black and white. Because the struggle for equality and stepping to a higher ground is a human struggle — not just one between white people and black people in this country. How is it not wrong and revisionist to pretend Latinos do not have this history, or the Chinese who built the railroads, or the Filinpinos who toiled in the fields with the Mexican laborers for hundreds of years. How is it okay to talk about race relations in this country and not acknowledge that it did not begin with the founding of the American Union — it began hundreds of years before when our Native American forefathers and mothers (yes, Mothers) were nearly driven to extinction. Obama could have improved the speech and the message about how all of America has struggled with these issues. Have you seen the interactions between the affluent African American professionals and the Latino worker at a car wash. I have. Not heart warming would be an understatement. How about the reaction of an African American Federal Equal Employment Officer to the distribution of data on Latino underrepresentation in the Federal government at a federal agency Hispanic Heritage Month event? I have. Not heart warming would be an understatement. (Yes, you guessed it — the latter happened to me — what an eye opener — ironically this happened weeks or so after Rosa Park was brought to lie in state at the Capitol buildine a mere two blocks from this federal building). Yes, indeed race, identity, and who we are as a country are very complicated equations and the speech only talked about white and black America. What about the rest of us? Will our story continue to be the hidden, untold, denied, submerged? Is that really okay?

    Sen. Obama gave a speech that was BRAVE. He gave a speech that inspired me and yes, moved me to tears. Because it so darn hard to talk about race and identity in this country. I think he knew a price would be exacted — not from the Mario’s or Bella’s of the world, but by the Middle of America who is in denial about our country’s history and about the different realities we live in today. I am so deeply proud of him. This does not diminish the pride I feel in my bones for Hillary Clinton and the strength I believe she has exhibited in the face of violent, nasty, mean spirited hate toward her because she is a woman — not by Obama, but by some of the supporters and the crazed press. Do I think she is defenseless person? No. Would I feel as strongly if she was winning? Honestly, no. I have to admit I have always cheered for the underdog, the odd person out, the person on the margins, the long shot. (I was and will always be in my heart an Edwards supporter because he unapologetically talked about the poor in this country and meant it.) So as both Clinton and Obama struggle and face incredible odds, I cannot help but cheer for them as each time they face an obstacle, they fight the power, they fight history, they fight the odds, and they dig deep.

    I will never apologize for the three last Democratic candidates. Nor will I apologize for supporting them AND being willing to provide my two cents on how they could help me and themselves do this democracy thing better.

  8. roberto, thank you for this report on ‘racial idealism vs racial realism: obama and the dlc’, received and forwarded with our appreciation for the great work offered up by ‘new america media’ in providing for our diverse communities the respected voices on issues of deep meaning. though, i had to reread bruce dixon of the ‘black agenda report’ with unexpected delight and enthusiasm, as to my dismay and disappointment, bruce had previously taken his own editorial hits at obama. yet, perhaps, this is an indication that the black agenda is turning toward a more positive attitude and cease the earlier scrutinization over presumed political inconsistancies in obama’s motives. in our perspective, this misjudgement comes also from a handful of progressives in the black and latino activist community, which allude to obama’s lacking of progressive principles. though, as many of we front line recipiants on the fragmented left ideologies professed in our body
    politic and political rhetoric, hold a strength of reason that the history of opression deserves a fresh and enlightened vision offered with a reenvigorated energy blend of the ideal and real that is obvious to the many making up the new generations empowered by this campaign.

    to be sure, the hits by the media on both the rev. jeremiah wright and barack have been a blow to the campaign, yet obama has proven possessing a resiliant character and risen bravely risen the stronger from the racial fray. and, your assessment eloquently describing obama’s having delivered ‘the crispest, most important delineation of U.S. race relations by a presidential candidate since Abraham Lincoln gave his House Divided speech,’ is a testiment of the idealism and realism that this campaign has earned. no doubt, we are hopeful that bruce dixon together with our brother and sisters carrying any doubts will come to concurring that in this expression of high esteem which lauds obama’s worth and valor, will lead to their becoming more accepting and gracious toward this gifted candidate and begin supporting obama’s courageous bid for the presidency.

    on our side, we have are confident that obama is the best choice in the national horizon and indeed merits the respect and support from the leadership and icons of the progressive and feminist communities who have prior withheld public support. also, inspiring the undecided who can make the difference in pennsylvania as well as the rest of the primaries awaiting in gaining the 2,125 votes needed for winning the nomination. this report is a welcomed contribution!

    yes, we can, si se puede!

    sincerely, dorinda moreno
    grassroots4obama, hitec aztec communications
    fuerzamundial/’we are the ones that we have been waiting for”

    Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: Obama and the DLC

  9. I agree with La Carnala Dorinda, She know’s how I think and She’s,
    “BIEN FIRME Y BUENA JENTE” Tambien She’s got more of a
    CLUE than most people out there and she can speak for much of La Raza Porque ella intiende muy bien como PIENSA La Jente!!!
    Juanito Burns
    Korea Defense Veteran Y
    H.W.V.A. State Rep.
    Del Estado Nuevo Mejico

  10. I agree with La Carnala Dorinda, She know’s how I think and She’s,
    “BIEN FIRME Y BUENA JENTE” Tambien She’s got more of a
    CLUE than most people out there and she can speak for much of La Raza Porque ella intiende muy bien como PIENSA La Jente!!!
    Juanito Burns
    Korea Defense Veteran Y
    H.W.V.A. State Rep.
    Del Estado Nuevo Mejico

  11. […] growers plight, many U.S. natives are drinking deadly doses of the nativist Kool Aid defining the new racial politics of the post-Mason-Dixon, post Southern Strategy moment. Minutemen, Republicans and growing numbers of Democrats and other politicos have made an industry […]

  12. […] a time when blatant racial codes have given way to the subtler racism of a post-Southern Strategy era, Obama finds his historic presidential bid bogged down by the new racial codes being engineered by […]

  13. […] Obama, Wright and Zombie Politics in Times of Empire April 30, 2008 Their fangs still dug deep into the rancid carcass of the “Obama-Wright controversy”, the mainstream media and candidates Clinton and McCain have birthed yet another member of the army of walking dead threatening our political system: the Obama-Wright Zombie (And no, the word “zombie” is not being used with any racial connotations or subtexts……I don’t work for the Clinton’s). […]

  14. […] a time when blatant racial codes have given way to the subtler racism of a post-Southern Strategy era, Obama finds his historic presidential bid bogged down by the new racial codes being engineered by […]

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