There’s is probably something to the speculation that Barack Obama is somehow not “black enough” to win overwhelming support from black voters in the Democratic primary. But in this case “something” seems to mean reporters going to editors and saying “I have asked black people about the issue and they have opinions on it.” Here, I can do it, too: One (black) neighbor of mine observed of Obama, “Sure, compared to Hillary, he’s black. But Bill’s blacker than both of them.” And when black voters failed to turn out for Michael Steele in Maryland’s senate race last year, there was slightly better than anecdotal evidence that they saw him — as another African-American gentleman I spoke to (See!) put it — “fake.”
But there’s a difference between not voting for a black Republican in a general election because you think he doesn’t represent the historic interests of your demographic group and not voting for a black Democrat in primary because… well, I still can’t quite understand what it is that black voters would be punishing Barack for. Al Sharpton, in his visit to the Hill last week, alluded to Obama having somehow less concern for civil rights issues than he should. Is the bar for such concern higher for him than it is for Hillary?
What’s more, reporters seem to have discovered the supposed intra-race ambivalence for Obama only very recently. Almost unfailingly, reporters covered Obama’s fundraising and press stops in the 2006 campaign as “attempts by INSERT CANDIDATE HERE to raise his profile/curry favor with black voters.” Obama performed this service for Steele’s opponent, Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Jim Webb. By this logic, Obama is “black enough” to help white and Hispanic candidates — but mysteriously, not enough to help himself.
I think I’d take these stories (A dozen and counting! Including here, here, here, and here.) more seriously if they could point to substantive issues on which Obama’s policies are somehow less favorable to black constituents and Hillary’s policies are more beneficial, but, if anything, Hillary’s moderate positions on Iraq (compared to Obama’s) would seem to be a strike against her with black Democrats, who have opposed the war more strenuously than whites almost since its beginning. On affirmative action, the two Senators’ positions are almost identical.
Of course, Hillary has suffered through the female version of this kind of special-class-yardsticking; Chris Matthews, for one, seems unconvinced that women like Hillary, despite numerous polls showing that they, in fact, do. I suspect that black support for Obama will increase as black voters get to know him. They will get to like Obama even more once they get to know Joe Biden.
COMEDY-KILLING POSTSCRIPT: I think Joe Biden is probably not ruined by his Obama-is-clean gaffe, if only because I’m sure he’ll keep talking like that (unscripted, perhaps unwise, but without true malice) through the rest of his campaign. Something else will likely get everyone’s attention soon.
COMEDY-REVIVING POSTSCRIPT: Headline explained here.