CBC Members Reflect on Obama Nomination
When Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) takes the stage tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High, it will seal a stunning achievement that many of his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus thought impossible at this time last year.
That Obama will become the first African-American presidential candidate of a major party on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.s I Have a Dream speech only adds emotional punch to the moment.
But some black lawmakers are also nervous that demonstrating their pride too loudly could imperil Obamas candidacy. On the brink of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement, they are taking pains to downplay its significance and keep the focus on Obamas promise as a global leader.
Its not a black thing, its an American thing, CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said. I dont want to make this a black thing. … It doesnt fit there, and well lose if we do that.
Exactly how Obama will fit the anniversary of Kings speech into his own tonight is not clear, though he is expected to note the nations progress since that time. CBCers said they dont think Obama will, or should, dwell on the topic of race an issue that has proved both a boon and a burden for him. black voters mobilized in record numbers to help him secure the Democratic nomination. But the scandal this spring over controversial remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obamas former pastor, threatened to derail his candidacy and prompted him to give a speech on how he views race relations in America.
The issue reared up again a month ago, when Sen. John McCains (R-Ariz.) campaign accused Obama of playing the race card after he said Republicans would try to sow doubts about him by reminding voters he doesnt look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the $5 bills.
CBCers said to win the White House, Obama must transcend the racial divide a task they indicated they are loath to complicate by highlighting Obamas ethnicity. Dwelling on his race, they said, diminishes his strength as a leader.
I dont think were nominating a CBCer. I think were nominating a capable, competent, qualified person who just happens to be from Chicago, who just happens to be a member of the United States Senate and just happens to be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) said. But I didnt come here to nominate a CBCer. I came to nominate a capable, competent and qualified candidate who just happens to have some other qualities that I have something in common with.
Kilpatrick said CBC members obviously are most proud of Obamas achievement. Its obviously historic for us, she said. But she said Democrats lose his total value if they focus on it.
One aide to a CBC lawmaker said the African-Americans in Congress are steering wide and clear of an its our turn now message, which is divisive and polarizing.
Theyre obviously excited you can see it in their faces, the aide said. But they are also nervous. No one in this party thinks this thing is in the bag.
Not every member of the caucus is shying from a celebration. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the nations highest-ranking black official and a veteran of the civil rights struggle of the segregated South in the 1960s, has publicly discussed how emotional he was when Obama sealed the nomination in June. Addressing the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday, he said Obamas nomination is an outgrowth of the the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
I talk about what it means to me as a 68-year-old African-American who spent a lot of time in pursuit of the American dream, Clyburn said in an interview. To come to this point, and see this party, my party, which has been accused by the media of always taking African-Americans for granted, about to give an African-American the highest, the biggest, greatest prize this party has, to be in a position to be the No. 1 leader in the free world, that is important to me.
As for the threat that Obamas race could ultimately keep him from winning the presidency, Clyburn said he is not worrying.
Race is obviously a problem for us in this country. We know that, he said. I dont fret over those things. You recognize theyre real, but you keep going.