Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Obama Backtrack on Affirmative Action?

Barak Obama raised eye brows in a recent interview on an ABC Sunday morning news program when he suggested his daughter's were "pretty advantaged" and should be seen so by college admissions committees. Adding grist to the mill during the interview was the suggestion that class be added as a consideration thereby including disadvantaged and working class whites.

Could it be that the Illinois presidential hopeful is backing away from supporting affirmative action? Given Obama's past statements on the issue, this conclusion seems unlikely. However, as the presidential campaign heats up and Obama attempts to expand his reach and base, pressure will continue to build to soften positions. Does such accommodation mean capitulation?

Already some are questioning what the new star of Democratic Party politics stands for, suggesting he wants to be everything to everybody, an odd critique in this writer's opinion, given the nature of US politics. Indeed might it not be said that being "everything to everybody." is what the fight for the fight for the presidency is all about?

Once several years an old man suggested as much. "Becoming president," he said. "is about offending the least number of people." "In fact" he continued, "it might the essence of the question." That gave reason for pause.

But what about principle, platform and program, I wondered? What about it? This is bourgeois politics. And the game will be won or lost based on their rules of the game. Different ruling class candidates approach the matter in different ways, but the underlying principles are the same. Richard Nixon for example used to say the winning Republican tactic was to run as far to the right as you could in the primaries, and then back to the center in the general election. Clinton-style Democratic Leadership Council candidates use another variation "triangulation" and "the politics of the vital center." According to the rules of the game, the "center" is where the action is.

Some might argue this is a sad commentary on the sad state of US politics. And they'd be right. However, being right doesn't change a damn thing.

At this juncture, the "movement" isn't strong enough to force a different strategic paradigm, the way Harold Washington did when he ran for mayor of Chicago. There, program and platform, merged with "movement" in the form of a massive voter registration drive, that turned out the working-class African American, Mexican American and white vote. Washington maintained his principles and won and election. Despite the dramatic defeat of the Republican right in 2006, a defeat organized around basic "issues," no such movement is yet galvanizing around any of the Democratic challengers. Don't like it? Go out and build the movement. Street heat will help reinforce platform and change the rules of the game.

But what about affirmative action? Curiously, Obama's position seems to be drifting toward center right stances, most recently articulated by some Republicans. Given the nature of US institutionalized racism, it's doubtless that Obama's daughters should remain beneficiaries. And so should their daughters, daughters. Income is not the issue. Family background, experience and preparation is the issue. Black middle class families, most of whom are first generation college graduates, have got a long way to go before there is a level playing field. They are not nearly large enough, nor have nearly enough "background" in terms of educational and financial capital." And this is doubly true for the Black working-class and poor.

With affirmative action on the ropes, after the November election – it was the one issue that went down to defeat – it would be a huge mistake to buy into the "Black middle-class-has-made-it argument.

And what about poor whites? It's an important issue that needs to be addressed. Unity requires the fight for an expanded pie. But let's equate the two problems and treat them as if they are the same.
joe sims

No comments: