Friday, May 30, 2008

Obama’s 2006 choice not to transcend race: From small problems do big ones grow?

Transcending Race in 2004

This journalist and many others have written and spoken glowingly of Senator Obama as someone who transcends race and politics. That seemed especially to be the case in the run-up to his big win in the 2004 Illinois U. S. Senate Democratic Primary. In that contest, Obama was an extremely talented, smart and charming candidate who happened to be black. Clearly, he did not run as the “Black candidate.” As Barack said frequently during the campaign, he may have been "rooted in the African-American community, but he was not limited to it." He promised to be competitive in every demographic of the State and he was.

Did the media turn a blind eye to Obama’s weaknesses?

Those were the days of pre- Rev. Wright, pre-Tony Rezko and pre-Bill Ayers, or at least those problems had not yet been discovered by the media. Not to mention uncles in Auschwitz (that didn’t exist) and 872 days since visiting Iraq. In short, that was an Obama who didn’t make mistakes. Or, if he did, the media seemed not to notice or care. These days, of course, are very different. With Big-time losses in Ohio, Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky, Obama is backing into the Democratic Presidential nomination, and the media have noticed his problems with working class whites, especially those earning less than 50K per year, Hispanics, Seniors and various female subgroups.

Not Transcending race in 2006

But, one act of political cowardice, if not a political mistake, that Obama had made before he began his Presidential run was his decision to sit on the fence when he could have effected reform in March, 2006, in his own backyard, the County of Cook.

Claypool falls on his sword

Last Sunday, the victim of that act of cowardice by Obama, Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, fell on his sword and told us that "politics is complex," when taping next week’s suburban edition of “Public Affairs,” [Watch here, and read about the issue, generally, here].

Comm. Claypool, a member of the Obama Presidential Campaign media team, may have been protecting his boss/friend or he may really believe what he said. But, you have to wonder if Obama had transcended race by supporting Claypool for Cook County Board President, might he have also been more likely to have chosen to separate himself from Rev. Wright and Father Phleger and then he wouldn’t have to back into the Democratic Presidential nomination. Of course, he would have also then been a much stronger candidate in the general election against Senator McCain.

Think about what might have been as you take a listen to Commissioner Claypool:

Jeff Berkowitz: You were reform, [John Stroger] wasn’t and Barack Obama could have been extremely influential in that decision that people were making whether to support Forrest Claypool or John Stroger, [Barack Obama] stayed out of that. He didn’t endorse you [for President of the Cook County Board]. He didn’t endorse John Stroger. Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. [did] the same thing. People [including this journalist] have said Barack Obama transcends race. He transcends politics. He does the right thing. Here was a case, putting it bluntly- people were saying-- Barack Obama, maybe to be fair, Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. [too], obviously knew you, liked you, supported many [if not all of] your ideas, but, they are black [and there is] a tremendous cost to supporting a white person over a black person in the black community. Is that what was going on there?

Comm. Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago): Well, I think actually the fact that they were both neutral in that race and had positive things to say about me, publicly, and worked with me publicly on various issues in that campaign I think actually made a strong statement, given John Stroger’s long and pioneering history in the African-American community, so I thought that actually spoke more volumes than anything else.

Jeff Berkowitz: That they said nice things about you. But, why couldn’t [Obama] go that extra length. And, you know Barack. And, you’ve worked with Barack and you helped elect him to the U.S. Senate. So, it’s not like he just knew you as a reformer. You folks—you’ve worked with David Axelrod’s firm [Axelrod is Obama’s chief strategist on the Obama Presidential campaign]. You helped start David Axelrod’s firm, AKPmedia, right?

Comm. Forrest Claypool: Correct.

Jeff Berkowitz: In 1984-85, and you worked closely with Rahm Emanuel, you knew Axelrod, you were sort of the Three Amigos, and maybe the fourth amigo was Barack Obama, why couldn’t [Obama] go that extra length and endorse you? You could have been Cook County Board President. You could have seen reform [enacted]. You could have done a great many things that I know Barack Obama would like to do to improve health care and so forth for people in Cook County. Why couldn’t he make that move?

Comm. Forrest Claypool: I don’t know. I mean, look, politics is complex. People have multiple relationships and they do the things they have to do and believe in. Like I said, he was, like I said, neutral in my race. I thought that was a major statement, given the fact that the entire establishment was behind John Stroger and he was a three term incumbent. And, like I said, we worked closely together on other issues in that campaign, and with Jesse Jackson, Jr., as well, on the Peotone airport and on healthcare. And, I remember, at the end, it was a real tragedy—that last week when John Stroger had the stroke—and I think people, you know, I think everyone was very respectful of what [John Stroger] had done, his pioneering status as a leading African-American and had overcome discrimination and other things. The entire environment, at that time, was a difficult and sensitive one, for everybody and you know, so, I’m proud of the race we ran and I’m proud, you know, to have the things that they said positively about me in that campaign.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox, Next week's show in the suburbs with Comm. Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), This week's show in the Suburbs with State Rep. Candidate Joan Solms (R-Aurora) and shows with many other pols at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs Youtube page include This week's show in the suburbs with State Rep. Candidate Joan Solms (R-Aurora), next week's show in the suburbs with Comm. Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) on the Obama Presidential campaign, and many other pols