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Obama And The Black Community Must Be Heard by Dr. Lenora Fulani

The more you look at it, the more you see an absence of dialogue in New York’s black community about the choice in the Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The majority of the black political establishment has closed ranks behind Hillary and used that to tamp down public debate on which candidacy – Obama’s or Hillary’s – makes the most sense for black voters to support.

Let me be very clear here. I have not endorsed Obama’s presidential campaign. Moreover, I am an independent and therefore not a voter in the New York Democratic presidential primary on February 5, 2008. But I am a political leader and I am concerned that the Clinton steamroller has shut down public discussion of critical issues affecting the black community.

Two weeks ago, I was a guest on Reverend Al Sharpton’s show “The Hour of Power” on KISS-FM. State Senator Bill Perkins, one of the few New York black electeds supporting Obama, Reverend Sharpton and I talked about the importance of Obama more directly confronting Hillary about the real record of Clintonism in the 1990s. The DLC/Clintonian philosophy means feeding the corporate sector through liberalized free trade, while failing to address the needs of the American people, whose wages and living standards have stagnated or declined, while Wall Street is making record profits. A recent front page article in The New York Times linked Bill Clinton’s policies to these problems.

Globalization is a fact of 21st century life. But the political question is how the interests of the American people will fare in that environment. Clintonism is famous for “putting people first” in rhetoric, but putting “supercapitalism” first in reality. This issue – among others – must be pursued, particularly in terms of how the interests of black America are affected.

When Jesse Jackson ran for the presidency there were constant conversations in the black community about the Jackson option. In 1984, the choices included Walter Mondale, representing the old-New Deal wing of the party; Gary Hart, introducing a form of neo-liberalism; and Jackson, whose candidacy was premised on creating a black empowerment wing of the Democratic Party. In 1988, the dialogues centered on Jackson’s Rainbow philosophy; Al Gore, who ran as an anti-Jackson DLC-centrist; and Michael Dukakis, another old-New Dealer. At every church, on every campus, in every black media outlet, black people talked about which candidate best represented our interests.

Currently, in South Carolina, an early primary state with a large black voting population, the Obama/Clinton debate has been very intense. The question – Is it “Hillary’s time” or do we have the opportunity to elect a black president and to “turn the page” – is thrashed out from the barbershop to the barbecue. But in New York there is a strange silence. No doubt Hillary staged her endorsement rally at the state capitol with 400 lawmakers as a show of force to intimidate any wayward politicians, church leaders, and ordinary black citizens and to prevent them from even considering an Obama option. This is a very unhealthy situation, particularly at a moment when there is a viable black candidate who has raised over $50 million. Some say that Bill Clinton was America’s first black president. We should at least be considering if we want a second one – and maybe even one who is actually black!

A recent article in the Daily News featured Sharpton’s proclamation that if Giuliani becomes the Republican nominee he will travel the country “beating up” on Rudy and telling voters about his record of divisiveness in New York. While the Daily News is prone to writing about Sharpton any time he burps, this particular piece of non-news coverage was revealing. Black voters are trying to evaluate their choices in the Democratic primary, so the idea that the Daily News is covering Sharpton’s position on Giuliani without seriously pursuing where he stands on the Obama/Clinton question, is pretty ridiculous.

True, Reverend Sharpton noted that he intends to endorse in the fall. But he is far from neutral, even now. He suggested that Obama’s candidacy is merely “symbolic” and raised questions about why Obama hasn’t gotten “more traction.” The answer is that the Clintons, in conjunction with black Democrats and the media (not to mention Sharpton himself) are creating an environment where there can be no real debate, much less traction. We just saw an uncensored example of what Hillary thinks about open debates. After the NAACP forum in Detroit where Bill Clinton was criticized by Mike Gravel for supporting NAFTA, she and John Edwards had a “private” conversation – picked up by open microphones – about the need to throw the insurgent candidates out of the presidential debates.

It’s time for the black community to speak out. We can’t allow the Clinton-allied black Democrats to “suck up all the oxygen.” We need to challenge those black leaders who are participating in this by demanding that there be a real public dialogue on the choices. In 1992, I stood up on a chair at Harlem Hospital to confront Bill Clinton about his refusal to support open debates. He got very pissed off and said “Dr. Fulani, the world doesn’t resolve around you.” I never thought it did. Nor did I think the world would resolve its problems “around” him – and I was right. Clintonism was eight years of aggressive pro-corporatism, while “triangulating” to get elected. Is it any wonder that George Bush came next? His so-called “compassionate conservatism” was barely distinguishable from Clintonism.

Let’s have a forum at the Apollo where Senator Clinton and Senator Obama discuss the issue of how to open up and expand political dialogue in the black community. Let’s make sure the people, not the politicians, decide the 2008 presidential election.

Lenora Fulani is a developmental psychologist and a member of the Independence Party’s State Committee. She can be reached at 212-962-1699

Monday, July 23, 2007

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