Obama Settling Into A Niche?
Since his election to the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama has repeatedly said that he was elected to serve all Illinois citizens, and that he will not represent any particular special interest (This great NPR interview from yesterday illustrates that struggle). But the fact that he is the nation's only African-American Senator, and no matter how much he says he's everyone's senator, he will regularly be called from the bullpen to pitch for African-Americans across the country. Yesterday was probably the first clear example of how often he'll be called on to do this job.
During his campaign to save his dying social security reform proposal, President George W. Bush made a stunningly clumsy attempt to reach out to African-Americans by saying, "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed."
Bush's suggestion was that since black men tend to die sooner, they should not pay into social security accounts they'll never benefit from. Instead they should have his proposed "personal accounts", where they control the funds, and can play the stock market.
The real problem though, is that Bush completely ignored the social reasons why black men die earlier, on average, such as through poorer diet, higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease, not to mention higher rates of violent death.
Nobody else in the national media spotlight seemed to get this -- except Obama of course.
"I frankly found the statement that the president made somewhat offensive,'' Obama said at a press briefing with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), focusing on the impact the creation of individual investment accounts would have on blacks.
"There is no doubt a disparity in the lifetime opportunities between white America and black America. And that is something that everybody at this table is committed to closing,'' Obama said.
Barack Obama is clearly shaping up to be a great senator, moderate in approach, radical in thinking. But the secret to long-term success in American politics is to not be too closely associated with any one group. There are examples of senators that do this, Paul Wellstone on the left, and Rick Santorum on the right, but both clearly wanted to stake out the ends of the political spectrum. Obama claims to want to be a moderate unifier. But because most of the nation doesn't like to deal with racial politics, a moderate that leads with racial politics just may not be acceptable -- yet.