Barack Obama won’t win the presidential election. He just can’t win. He’s too black. He’s too white. Whatever you want to say, he is one thing: he’s a living cappuccino, and it's why he won’t win.
For some reason or another, Americans demand that people have concrete, divisible, political stances: either you’re for or against a particular political policy, mandate, proposal, or result. Americans, it seems, do not like people who are too ambiguous with their political ideals, and it might have something to do with a perception that if a person can’t take a political stance, then they somehow lack the courage and conviction to be a politician, let alone president. President George W. Bush might be an idiot, but at least we all pretty much can know what to expect from him based on his political values. With Obama, nobody knows who he is, or what he represents.
If you look at Obama's official Senate website, you’ll notice that he hardly mentions anything about civil rights. One section even outlines his political issues and explains what he believes regarding the war in Iraq, illegal immigration, and ethical issues. But the issue of civil rights is notably absent with one minor and important detail: at the end of his biography, he notes that he was the first African American to be president of the Harvard Review. He wants us to acknowledge that and he also wants us to acknowledge that he is not resting on his civil rights laurels, if he even has any. For all we know, he may very well have obtained his political standing simply because he was an African American playing the “game” in a white-dominated world. For that, we should give kudos, he says, as evidences of his statement regarding the Harvard Review.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Obama continues to border between “too white” and “too black” in terms of his political views. He seemingly has a maddening inability to take a concrete stand on the racial issue, which seems to beg more criticism heaped upon him because he is, after all, a racial minority. If he can’t be a civil rights leader, blacks seem to say, then he is just simply “too white.” If he can be a strong civil rights leader, many blacks and whites will complain that he is “too black.”
The guy can’t win. And he won’t.
His meteoric rise will be his ultimate downfall. Here is a man who overcame odds of some sort to become a powerful minority within the political system. Some part of his success came because he was black; some of it can be attributed to his work ethic; and still, aside from innumerable variables, a little luck probably helped too.
But, liberals seem disenchanted with him because he doesn’t have the political resume of a Rev. Jesse Jackson (and his 100 children out of wedlock); he doesn’t have the political charisma of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; and he certainly doesn’t have the civil rights convictions that Jackson or even Al Sharpton seem to have with regard to political issues. Many African Americans would be calling Obama an “Uncle Tom” if it weren’t for the fact that he’s the first viable black presidential candidate since, well, Rev. Jackson in the early 1980s.
Conservatives feel Obama is merely pretending to be white and not “black enough.” He doesn’t seem to lay political issues with open segues for racial issues and doesn’t do enough “civil rights” advocacy through litigation or legislative action. In short, Obama may be a great black politician having overcome huge and long odds to reach the pinnacle he’s reached now, but conservatives may only deem him as a “token” black presidential candidate to keep the masses of blacks satisfied with the political status quo of racial progress as defined by the number of black presidential candidates.
This reminds me of the recent student strikes at Gallaudet University, the nation’s primary deaf institution. In the mid 1980s, President I. King Jordan ascended to the school’s presidency after students complained the previous president wasn’t “deaf enough.” When President Jordan announced his impending retirement in early 2006 and named a presidential suitor in Jane K. Fernandes, students revolted because of an impression that Fernandes wasn’t “deaf enough.”
Fernandes, you should know, is deaf and uses sign language. But people within the deaf community decried that Fernandes didn’t use the “language” of deaf people (American Sign Language) and doesn’t support ASL-driven deaf culture because Fernandes believes deaf people by and large need to move away from accepted models of disability and deafness. But, that didn’t matter to the students – all that mattered was that they wanted someone to agree with what they wanted, and when things don’t go their way, they resorted to strikes. (Fernandes was eventually forced to resign by the board at Gallaudet, and Sen. John McCain abruptly resigned from the same board in protest of the student strikes.)
Obama would do well to learn from Fernandes and should start picking a racial stance and sticking with it until the end. But until he does that, he will forever be labeled as a cappuccino – neither too white, nor too dark. Like Fernandes, Obama has some support from multiple groups – blacks and whites – but he is in danger of being swamped by civil rights issues, which is something he has hardly addressed.
Ironies of Starbucks being next to my gym aside, I can’t help but feel sorry for Obama. Here’s a man who overcame long odds, and played the “game” quite masterfully – too masterfully, in fact – and has the potential to be President. It’s just that the way he came to prominence will be his undoing, and that is also ironic.
Still, I can’t help but remember the immortal words of Louis Armstrong in his song, “What a wonderful world”:
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you.
I just want to know, is cappuccino a color of the rainbow? (Rev. Jackson, please take note.)