Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After Obama, The Stock of Black Leaders Is Great


Before the vice presidential debate last October, conservative pundits learned that the moderator, the well-known journalist Gwen Ifill, also had a book on Sen. Barack Obama conveniently due Inauguration Day. A few such as Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin howled. The question of Ifill's objectivity soon dissipated as Sarah Palin stole the show and the election continued.

Ifill, in her new book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, does not deal directly with the rise of President Obama, but the rising crop of young, black politicians ready to change the landscape of American politics.

Similar to early worries about Obama's candidacy -- he was not "black enough," he was "too black" or he was too green -- the politicians featured by Ifill share a few commonalities. All are young, highly-educated and grew up in middle-to-upper class surroundings, yet they are able to cross socioeconomic and cultural-mixed racial environments.

In an election as historically unique as 2008, where an African-American and female senator fought as front-runners throughout the campaign, it is interesting to learn Ifill's thesis that the civil rights movement has produced a deep reserve of talented black politicians.

Among them is Congressmen Artur Davis of Alabama, who will likely attempt to make Obama-like history by becoming thar state's first black governor. Davis, incidentally, graduated in Obama's class at Harvard.

Ifill also profiles the first black governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, Stanford alum and mayor of Newark Cory Booker, and the scion of the civil rights movement Jesse Jackson, Jr. The inclusion of Jackson may be the least likely of the group, since it was revealed during the sting that rounded up Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich that he had been a government informant for years.

While the stock of rising black leaders is strong, the names of up-in-coming women in government is perhaps less-so. Aside from new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palin, I find it difficult to conjure up many women other than Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was a contender for Obama's VP slot. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is a strong female voice , but her ambitions won't include the White House, because she was born in Canada. So, why are blacks hitting the highest levels and stealing the spotlight from the women?

Ifill does not explicitly say this, but one reason gleaned from the book is the fact that this new crop of black politicians was forged from of a distinct political movement that was highly organized and direct. By contrast, the women's movement does not have a center, does not have a rallying point such as Selma, Alabama, had for the civil rights movement. Coincidentally, the strong campaign of Hillary Clinton aimed at progressive women and the unique political talents of Palin to conservatices could be the impetus for the rise of significant female candidates in the next 10-15 years.

Undoubtedly the election of Barack Obama is a turning point in this country's history. If you were able to fast-forward a few decades into the future, it is quite conceivable three of the next four leaders of our country could be a mixture of women and minorities.

1 comment:

mooncat said...

Artur Davis actually graduated Harvard a year or two after Obama, but they did meet there.