So, … What Now?
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
An internet acquaintance pondering on future possibilities for another Afro-American president lamented that she hoped the next one would really be black. Her point, that Barrack Obama had not only been only half black but that he had been raised as a white, in a white household and thus, she wondered how he could have really been expected to understand the problems faced by blacks in America, something which, at the end of his administration, many thoughtful black Americans, looking at just how little, if any, they’ve advanced, may be wondering. Sure, there is the immense pride in seeing someone with whom they can more directly identify finally occupy the top office in the land, and for some, with the satisfaction of having seen a black president assume the office before a white woman, but … ?
The young lady’s observation raised several important interrelated issues for me. Had Obama’s presidency been a success (see http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2017/0118/Was-Barack-Obama-a-transformative-president)? To me, it has been a bitter and dangerous disappointment, rising to a deafeningly partisan crescendo as it comes to an end, with a burnt world strategy placing the entire world in jeopardy. Many critical traditions lie in ruins, not least of which is confidence in the mainstream media and in the American political system. A rather bitter legacy all too reminiscent of the mid nineteenth century.
But what about the future for African American political leaders? Which current black political leaders in America have the political relationships necessary to win a presidential election and among them, which have lived lives more closely related to the experiences of Afro-Americans. The question is complicated by the fact that United States citizens of African descent are not a homogenous population any more so than are Italians, Irish, Hispanic or other demographic groups. Their heterogeneity is a positive sign but calls into question the common elements or experiences a leader ought to have in order to be considered truly representative, and further, if such a person might be found, would he or she be too divisive with respect to other ethnic groups to be electable.
As to the first issue, my memory thrust forth a person I’d once thought might be the first black president, Harold Ford, Jr., the former congressman from Tennessee who currently serves as a managing director for Morgan Stanley and as a professor of relevant subjects in several universities. I looked him up and found that not only did he seem less representative of the black experience (whatever that is) than did Barrack Obama but had floundered deeply in ethics related problems and was an important member of the now discredited Clinton Wing of the Democratic Party. Michelle Obama of course came to mind. Indeed, during the 2016 presidential campaign there were serious but totally unverified rumors (of course, that’s the nature of rumors) that she’d been offered a delayed role in a Clinton administration and support for a presidential candidacy in exchange for whole hearted support for the scandal tainted Hillary Clinton campaign. That would certainly explain the bitterness with which the Obama administration reacted to the Trump “victory”. Mrs. Obama’s experience is certainly different than her husband’s and she might have been a formidable candidate, uniting two important political segments, women and African Americans, but she has since made clear that she has no interest in elective or appointive political offices. Donna Brazile? Please, after the Sanders debacle her political future ought to be doomed.
I then considered the possibility for Afro-American Republican leaders and was surprised by the fact that there seem to be more prominent potential leaders there than within the Democratic Party. Many popular conservative Republicans come to mind albeit, of course, far from progressive shores. Among them Ben Carson, Allen West, Tim Scott and Herman Cain and it seems there may be many others. A bit surprised I wondered just how closely they met the second and much more complex part of the issue, proximity to mainstream Afro-American experiences (if such a thing exists). I also wondered how they’d resonate with black voters as a group, a group that has for almost a century seemed the property of the Democratic Party, ironic and denigrating as that may seem. Just how electable might they be? The answer, although as with all things future seems shrouded, might prove very surprising in light of racial attitude stereotypes (i.e., that all conservatives are racist and liberals, well, … liberal).
Still, when thinking of fully qualified, charismatic, experienced possibilities, two Afro-Americans especially come to mind, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice (ironic that they’re both Republicans and more ironic, given historical realities, that that’s ironic), and they seem to best fit the apparent requirements. Ms. Rice is a conservative academic with vast international experience but, like General Powell, with the taint of the Bush era disasters. Like Mrs. Obama, she might be attractive to two important constituencies, women and blacks, but both seem very tied to the Democratic Party. The most electable and probably most prominent Afro-American would have been Colin Powell. Despite his Bush era errors, I believe he would have been not only a great first African American president, but a great president and ours a much better world. I believe he is one of the few people who would have risen above partisan politics and done a great deal towards uniting us, perhaps even succeeded. However, the eviscerative nature of American politics presided over by the dishonest “gottcha” media led his wise wife (I understand) to veto that possibility. Good for them, … sad for all of us.
So my conclusion is that, given the little I know of current options, I don’t have much of a clue as to how to respond to the young lady’s queries, … but that I should have. All of us should.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved