David Sirota brilliantly spotlighted a paradox for African-American candidates: to the extent that they discuss class issues in clear, lucid terms, they somehow get labeled by the media as race-oriented candidates.
I recall a Feb., 1988 incident in Kenosha, Wis. where Jesse Jackson was about to speak to some (overwhelmingly white) 10,000 Chrysler workers and supporters about a looming plant shutdown. The Kenosha mayor, obviously unaccustomed to speaking before such a huge crowd and live on all the area TV stations, got flustered and introduced Rev. Jackson as a "spearchucker for justice!" Jackson ignored the racial slur, embraced the mayor, and gave a spellbinding speech to thecrowd shivering in near-zero temperatures.
When reporters tried to get Jackson to comment on the racial slur, he laughed it off. Similarly, I heard him speak with pride about marching with striking workers through poor-white Milwaukee neighborhoods with Confederate flags in the windows but "Jesse Jackson for President" posters stapled to the front porch.
Jackson deeply tapped the sentiments of white workers, farmers, and miners, and remarkably seemed to view some expressions of white racism as basically reflecting a lack of contact with African-American humanity rather than deeply-rooted hatred.
Yet the mainstream media portrayed him at the times as "the black candidate," and depicted him as always touchy on any matter of race. The media’s recent recollections of Jackson’s candidacies in 1984 and 1988 have been even worse, neglecting to mention the electrifying impact that he had on whites who were victims of "economic violence"–plant closings, outsourcing, and the growth of agri-business at the expense of small farmers.
So Barack Obama must walk a tight-rope. The adoption of Jesse Jackson/John Edwards-style populism will likely bring on accusations that he is stirring up "racial" resentment.
Yet unless Obama directly speaks to the issues of economic polarization, outsourcing, a blatantly pro-corporate and pro-rich tax system, he can be marginalized as "too Ivy League" like John Kerry.
A couple final responses to pro-Clinton comments above: 1) She has been virtually silent on campaign finance reform and the ending the system of legal "payoffs" and policy "paybacks," unlike Edwards, who called for full public financing. 2)Clinton’s sincerity about re-thinking corporate globalization must be challenged in light of statements like one she made in India: "There is no way to legislate against reality. Outsourcing will continue."
Roger Bybee, Milwaukee.