Friday, January 23, 2009

Race in the RNC Race

According to a recent article on, the race for Republican National Committee Chair is heating up - and race has become the number one issue.

"[Race is] where we got killed in the presidential [campaign]," said Illinois RNC Committeeman Pat Brady. As a result, the GOP is moving strongly in a direction to court back some minority voters.

Racial symbolism is where Republicans believed they lost in 2008 - succeeding with a dismal 4% of the black vote against an African-American Democrat. A black Chairman of the RNC, they hope, will help correct this.

The two big African-American contenders are former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele. The other four are trying hard to define themselves as minority-friendly leaders.

One strong RNC candidate - South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson - has even had to downplay his southern party-base credentials to appeal to RNC members concerned about racial symbolism.

So far he has come under some major fire.

"And more recently, his opponents have sought to damage his candidacy by circulating information about remarks he made at the University of South Carolina in 2003. In his comments at a seminar there, Dawson described his entry into politics as a reaction against 1960s-era school busing policies, telling students: 'Government reached into my life and grabbed me and shook me at the age of 15.'

"Dawson dismissed the latest wave of below-the-radar attacks as 'slash-and-burn politics.'"

Dawson supporters have tried to counter that with his actual African-American support. "There are three African-Americans on the national committee, and two of them are supporting Katon" according to one.

Will reshaping the Republican identity around racial symbolism reboost the GOP?


Not only will President Barack Obama be a much more visible political figure than the Chairman of the RNC, but the GOP has a history of antagonism to minority progress. In years past it has been mounting an ideology of social conservativism in response to desegregation and (more recently) immigration. In recent years it has also been the GOP's neo-conservative ideology hindering the alleviation of urban poverty.

If this will indeed be the direction of the Republican Party, then two things will happen. One, the party will quickly learn that symbolism is not what minority Americans are looking for in politics - they are looking for real progress. Two, the GOP will significantly turn off its traditional white populist base and (like they did in 2008 with immigration-reform-supportive Sen. John McCain) fail to bring these individuals to the polls.

We have already said the GOP is in serious trouble on the national scene. This current path will only accelerate their current and future difficulties.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama and the First 100 Days

Since the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Americans have sought to judge their Commander-in-Chief by the number of important actions he takes within his first 100 days in office.

So what can we expect from President Barack Obama?

Actions Taken Already

Within hours of the new President taking the oath of office, the White House made their intentions to close the prisons at Guantanamo Bay clear. The military tribunals ceased yesterday and today President Obama has signed an executive order to close the prisons (within a year) and stop tribunals at "Gitmo", along with another executive order to ban the use of torture.

In addition, Obama signed a third executive order prohibiting lobbyists to work for the White House in a role which they once lobbied and denies his staff from lobbying the White House after they leave public office

Economic Stimulus

The most pressing issue President Obama will seek to act on is the weakening economy. After the confirmation of Treasury Secretary Tim Giethner, prospects for a stimulus package look brighter.

"We have to do everything in our power and Congress does too to get that package moving, to get that money into the economy ... to give the American people some confidence going forward," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at the first White House Press Conference of the Obama Administration.

Many expect an economic stimulus bill to be on the President's desk early next month.

Open Government Directive

The new President said today that he has asked his senior aides to draft an "Open Government Directive" with specific actions to be implemented in order to increase government transparency. He is giving them no more than 120 days.

Backburner Democratic Legislation

For years the Democrats in Congress have tried to pass several pieces of legislation, but have either been blocked by filibuster or denied by a Bush veto. Now with a nearly filibuster-proof Senate and more progressive President, they are ready to make these bills law.

SCHIP expansion passed the House yesterday with overwhelming approval. The Senate will now take it up within the next few days. As one of the principle pieces of legislation that Democrats have hoped to pass, this can be expected as among the first President Obama will sign.

The Lilly Ledbetter Bill to grant pay equity to women also passed the House yesterday and will also soon come before the Senate. Obama is expected to sign this into law as well.

The Employee Free Choice Act may not be signed within 100 days - but it will certainly be law soon. Obama has stood by the bill previously and the unions will be sure to pressure Congress to pass the card check legislation as soon as they can.

Other bills that Obama has vowed to support - particularly gay-rights legislation such as the Employee Non-Discrimination Act and expansion of what constitutes a hate crime - will probably stay on the backburner for a little while longer due to their controversial outlook in Congress. Nonetheless, we would expect them to be signed in this term.

In the end, the number of actions taken in the first 100 hours does not typically define a Presidency - and it would not be prudent to judge Obama by his first 100 days at this point in history.

But by the actions he has already taken and the decisions we expect to see him make soon, he is making it fairly obvious that the tides have changed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day

Today we conclude our series on Why Obama Won. We have seen many good points made, and are grateful to our panelists.

Some thought the victory was due to the poor strategy of John McCain - others believed it was the good strategy put together by Plouffe and Axelrod. Some pointed out Obama’s strength with the youth vote - some said that Americans simply weren’t going to elect another Republican after Bush.

A few were right to point out the unique spirit of this particular campaign - built more on hope than any previous presidential campaign in memory.

Yet every panelist agreed that there were indeed a great many factors involved in this historic victory. Demographics shifting came just in time for an inspiring candidate with a team of genius campaign strategists, as well as the collapse of the financial market and a careless opposition - it all created the perfect storm for an Obama win.

There will be a lot to learn about this particular election cycle in the years to come - 2008 was an incredible year for the study of campaign politics.

Yet today we will honor the man rather than the accomplishment, and soak up the spirit of this Inauguration.

In the words of our friend, Sherwin Hughes, God bless our new President and God bless America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Optimism on MLK Day

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech over 45 years ago. Since then he has come to represent the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, he has been properly lionized by blacks and whites alike, and is even remembered once a year with a celebration of his birthday.

And every year on this day the nation looks itself in the mirror as millions of citizens continue to ask “has his dream yet come true?”

Even after 45 years, after some time of thought on the subject, the answer usually comes out “No - it’s closer - but still unrealized.”

There are plenty of good reasons for such conclusions. For decades now, studies have shown that Americans are pessimistic about race relations. Even after President Clinton made the giant leap to direct Americans to talk about the state of race relations, these studies have demonstrated that most citizens are typically uncomfortable talking about what still needs to be done to achieve the Dream.

Until recently.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, President-Elect Barack Obama has been “an omnipresent icebreaker” in what psychologists call “interracial anxiety”.

"Cross-racial discussion about the topic of race seems to have become more common, and somewhat less fraught, with the rise of Mr. Obama, according to historians, psychologists, sociologists and other experts on race relations, as well as a number of blacks and whites interviewed around the country.

"‘All this exposure to this very counter-stereotypical African-American has actually changed — at least temporarily — what is on the tip of the tongue,’ said E. Ashby Plant, a psychologist at Florida State University and an author of a new study examining the impact of Mr. Obama on the attitudes of whites. ‘It may have very important implications.’

"…The unpublished study found that the answers revealed little evidence of anti-black bias, in sharp contrast to many earlier studies (including one by Dr. Plant) showing that roughly 80 percent of whites have some degree of bias."

According to one individual the Times interviewed “there’s a more readily accessible conduit into the conversation about race if it begins with Barack Obama.”

But Barack Obama alone is obviously not the cure-all to the poor state of race relations in the United States. Obama himself said in a speech last year that it was na├»ve to think “we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy… [race relations are something in America] that we’ve never really worked through”.

And he’s right. A recent poll shows that while only 34% of whites believe that race relations in America are bad, over 60% of blacks agree.

Furthermore, psychologists are showing the new tensions among people of different skin colors. “Strategic colorblindness”, for example, is a way that whites try not to seem racist by going to great lengths to pretend they don’t even recognize race as a factor in their relationships (see Stephen Colbert). Furthermore, two studies showed that African-Americans often view this tactic as prejudice.

And of course, there is the socio-economics: roughly a quarter of minority individuals in the United States live below the poverty line - compared to less than 10% of whites.

Despite these shortcomings, however, optimism that King’s Dream will come true is at an all time high.

"Polls have captured increasing optimism among Americans about the future of race relations. The day after Mr. Obama was elected, a Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans believed a solution to black-white racial problems would eventually be worked out. Gallup said that it had been asking the same question for four decades, and that a poll last summer also reflected substantially more optimism than previously."

So while the Dream may not yet be a reality, these recent studies and polls do give us hope - as did the man who will take the oath of office as the first African-American President tomorrow, as well as the man whose birthday we celebrate today.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why Obama Won - By Dan Weinberg

One answer is that Hillary Clinton dropped out and she gave all her voters over to Obama. People who thought in 2007 that Obama 'wasn't Black enough' changed their tune once Clinton dropped out.

Another reason Obama won was that in states like Indiana voters who hadn't voted in years or had voted Republican evolved into voters for Obama. The Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in Indiana was a huge factor.

Another reason that Obama won was that his rhetoric sped light years beyond what McCain could offer. Speeches and economic analysis that were intelligent, comfortable, and realistic gave Obama a push to the final prize.

The last reason that Barack Obama won is that he wanted it more. From his kindergarten essay to the November 2008 election he was like an eagle at the top of the food chain. Obama had his eyes on the White House for a long time.

Do you agree or disagree with Dan? Be sure to leave a comment!

Dan Weinberg is a librarian at Gary Public Libraries in Gary, IN. He lives in Chicago and is a staunch political observer.