This must be the most riveting presidential race ever, and one in which I am not eligible to vote. Yet I can’t take my eyes off it. I stayed up through the night (UK time) for the Iowa results. Hillary Clinton was so demoralised on learning she had lost to Barack Obama, she looked, and sounded, deflated. She rambled on and on, to the extent that the Sky News commentator hit a sympathetic note when he explained with something like: “Senator Clinton is tired”. I sat up through the night again when a rejuvenated Clinton took New Hampshire.
The night of the Iowa primaries, I finally saw what they’ve been saying about Barack Obama. God, the rhetoric. Not many could compete with that. Obama gave one of the best speeches I’ve heard in years that night. And Lord knows I’m a sucker for words beautifully strung together and delivered with the rhythm to awaken the tone deaf. One can see why people are getting carried upon this wave of “hope”. The other day I watched with a couple of young people the YouTube video of Obama Girl; and we spent the rest of the day involuntarily bursting into song: “I got a crush on Obama”. By the end of the day, one of those young people, who had adamantly wanted Hillary Clinton to win, had a change of mind, and said: “Now I want Obama to win.”
How’s that for an election winner? A silly though catchy video by a pretty girl, and minds are changed. This is the presidential candidate as a rock star. It’s cool to be on Obama’s train. He’s packing stadiums, and more than ever, the young want to vote, and vote Obama. And what of the celebrities? The list is as long as a California freeway: Toni Morrison (who calls Obama the man for this time); Kerry Washington; Stevie Wonder; Robert De Niro (the great actor whose preference in wives and girlfriends, is black).... and on and on and on.
Today I saw another video, a ‘We are the world’ type one by Will.i.am featuring an endless cast of cool celebrities including Scarlett Johannson, John Legend, Common... and on and on and on. All saying “Yes We Can” vote Obama.
What will have worried Clinton the most, are the cruise missile endorsements that Obama has garnered to himself. Oprah Winfrey may single handedly produce the next President, with her campaigning for Barack. “I’m not voting for Barack because he’s black; I’m voting for Barack because he’s brilliant!” the goddess of the talk show said to a roaring crowd. With Iowa in the bag (“Aint no black people in Iowa,” Michelle Obama reportedly said, taking on the fact that the Iowa voters were overwhelmingly white – to the annoyance of the admittedly small numbers of blacks in the state), the dream endorsement came – from the Kennedys. Caroline (the sole survivor of Camelot) described Obama as “A man like my father”, thereby invoking the spirit of JFK. Joining her onstage was the family patriarch, Edward aka Ted, the last of the Kennedy brothers. Watching the old warhorse fired up as he spoke was quite something. Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “mesmerised”, even Republicans “swooned”. And who could blame them? Ted Kennedy spoke in such a way that, if he were running, it would have been enough to win. Ted’s son, Patrick, completed the triple whammy of golden endorsements on the day, ahead of voting in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts. Ouch! The Clinton campaign must have been reeling. Then Obama compounded it by snubbing Hillary in Congress.
Then there was California, the world’s fifth largest economy and the biggest election prize of them all. California is headed by the Republican Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife Maria Shriver, is JFK's niece. Jackie Kennedy Onassis never cared for Schwarzenegger’s right wing views, and for years I’ve wondered how a daughter of the Kennedys could betray every value of her background to be by his side. I wonder no more, for Barack Obama’s candidacy finally settled the matter and allowed Maria Shriver to show that, where it matters, she is a true Kennedy. In a stunning stance that pitted her directly against her husband (who endorsed Republican front-runner McCain) – Shriver came out for Obama. California’s first lady was rehabilitated in my eyes, though I didn’t agree with her choice of candidate. One UK newspaper played on the famous line from the Terminator movies with the headline: I’ll be backing someone else.
Caroline, Oprah and Maria (let’s not forget the glamorous Michelle Obama) romped away at a euphoric rally in California. The goal: Stop Hillary. As we now know, it didn’t happen. In Massachusetts and California, Hillary Clinton pulled off stunning victories. A Clinton aide was able to say on camera about Kennedy’s backyard Massachusetts, “We took on Ted Kennedy; we beat Ted Kennedy.” The lesson? Endorsements can only go so far.
In the end, the Kennedy with the right instincts turned out to be RFK’s son, Robert Jr (whose mother Ethel endorsed Obama). Robert Kennedy Jr is not nearly as well known as Caroline or Ted, but seeing his adverts for the Clinton campaign - his weathered presence, his trembling voice, his earnest eyes – one got a sense of his integrity. Robert Kennedy Jr could not be accused of jumping on a bandwagon, but the other Kennedys almost certainly did.
Ted Kennedy may have been given a slap in the face by Massachusetts and California, but he is not giving up easily, and was busy campaigning for Obama last weekend, when the Illinois senator swept through 4 states, putting Hillary Clinton in serious trouble.
Another Obama backer, the actor George Clooney had the good sense to know that going on the campaign trail for Obama had the potential to hurt his preferred candidate. One could add to that the potential that endorsers could end up hurting themselves even, as Ted Kennedy (and Obama’s other Massachusetts endorser, John Kerry) found out. Oprah would be the last person to admit it, but she may have been hurt too. She has come under a stinging attack from a certain Reverend Manning (a black church leader) for her endorsement of Obama.
Points to ponder for another touted Obama would-be endorser, Al Gore, who is reportedly wrestling with himself on the quiet: Do I go public or not? Nothing for a Nobel Peace Prize winner to gain from partisan endorsement, much to lose if he does.
Back to Oprah Winfrey, who comes on the political trail for the first time ever, endorsing and campaigning for Barack – and it’s not because he’s black. What cannot be doubted is the impact her words have had. I’ve spoken to white individuals who told me they support Obama because “Oprah likes him.” Many swoon as they repeat her “brilliant” statement. It is pretty much settled. No questioning entertained.
The great race – ‘race’ being the operative word here – is really the great unadmitted factor of this presidential – there’s that word again – race. Journalists have been asking black voters especially: did you vote for Obama because he’s black? A tempting question but ultimately a stupid one. How many people who vote along race lines are going to admit to the fact? Overwhelmingly, and unsurprisingly, nearly 100% of black voters say: NO. As Oprah would say too. She voted because he’s “brilliant”. Care to be more specific, Ms Winfrey?
I have more respect for the stated views of Spike Lee who supports Obama and heralds a sea-change in the African-American vote because of “unfinished business”. Kudos even to the unnamed black woman who in a no-bullshit interview told Bill Maher, “Honestly, I’m voting for the black guy, ‘cause he’s black.” Respect too, to Whoopi Goldberg who voted on an issue close to her heart: the ending of tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas. Whoopi was going to vote for Obama because he made the pledge on the campaign trail. “Well, come to find out,” she explains, Hillary Clinton said it first, way back in May 2007. Whoopi Goldberg voted for Hillary Clinton. The clip of Whoopi explaining her change of mind was one of YouTube’s hits of last week.
No one as far as I’m aware has abused Whoopi for her reasoned choice, for not voting along racial lines. Probably because Whoopi would abuse them back and tell them where to stick it.
Others have not fared so well. On Bossip, a black-oriented gossip website where words like “ho” are regularly thrown around, and where the Senegalese Hip-Hop star Akon has been mocked for being ‘too dark-skinned’ (imagine the self-hatred, on a ‘black’ site) – one post about him in a night club asked how the ladies could see him in the dark... and where news like Heath Ledger’s death are broken with the insensitive header: 'In White Folks’ News'... black public figures who support Hillary Clinton are ridiculed and insulted daily, as “hos” or “sellouts”.
Jesse Jackson pointed out that John Edwards (now out of the presidential race) who set up his campaign HQ in Katrina-hit New Orleans was the only candidate to address issues of poverty; that all candidates had ignored “the plight of African-Americans” (Some 2.2m US citizens are in jail; one million of them are African-American). Jackson noted that no candidate joined thousands of African-Americans to march for the Jena 6. Bossip said Jackson was part of an out of date, out of touch civil rights era. They are 'subservient Massa worshippers'. In short, rights don’t matter, just vote Obama. The Illinois senator, who never speaks directly to black issues, judged the mood right.
Andrew Young is similarly dismissed as a “ho”, part of an “over the hill” gang, for being on Hillary’s side. They are “Clinton clit riders”; they are “old-time chittlin’ civil rights negroes.” As is BET founder Robert Johnson who is also a “sellout” – as is Magic Johnson. For the rapper 50 Cent, “ho” will do (though, given the times he’s sung about “hos”, one can hardly feel sorry for him). Hillary Clinton supporters, all.
In the underground media of Black America, you’re worse than scum if you don’t vote along racial lines. Every black person must fall behind the great black hope (never mind that Obama is in strict terms half white, which – let’s face it – accounts in part for his massive crossover appeal at the polling booth; not for no reason did the Obama campaign release photos of him with his Caucasian mother Ann Dunham ahead of Super Tuesday).
The message according to Bossip, which boasts 4 million unique hits daily. Now let’s compare with Perez Hilton, the most successful gossip website on the net. Its patron saint is that most vacuous of empty heads, Paris Hilton. Perez gets 10 million and more hits on days when Britney freaks out; he uses irreverent doodles on images to ‘out’ whoever’s in the closet sexually, whoever’s a cokehead, poo-poos Jessica Alba for being a self-hating Latina... But Perez Hilton can be surprisingly level-headed when it matters. Perez Hilton endorsed Mrs Clinton but that’s not what’s important here; what is important is how he did it, the respectful-of-all-views sobriety of it.
Quoting Perez Hilton
“Not that our opinion matters (any more than yours). Nor do we expect that we will influence your vote in any way, but… Today is Super Tuesday and we feel it is our duty to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton... Hillary wasn't our fist choice. We were initially swayed by the promise of change and the inspiring messages of Barack Obama. But that's not enough! After careful consideration and much research, we have come to the informed decision that Hillary is the right candidate for us. We feel more confident with Hillary's abilities to lead and her proven track record of experience. But, more so than that, HER plans for universal healthcare, education reform and emphasis on equality for all are more aligned with what we want in the next President. Whether you agree with us or not, please go out and vote today.”
Any chance of such on Bossip? Sadly, no. With the role super-delegates may end up playing if the race remains tied, the site has published images, names and telephone numbers of black super-delegate supporters of Hillary who may end up, in Bossip’s words, costing Barack Obama the White House. These “negroes” are “plantation-minded officials” who are voting for Clinton for their own gain (is it not possible then to countenance that Obama endorsers may be seeking after their own gains and interests too? Or in the case of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry & Co, people with scores to settle with the Clintons?). Readers are urged to bombard the super-delegates’ phone lines and let them know they will be voted out of power if they don’t support Obama now.
Intimidation is one word for it. Witch-hunt is another.
Toni Morrison once labelled Bill Clinton "America’s first Black President”. Michelle Obama predicted last year that “Black America will wake up” from their love of the Clintons. Faced with a real black candidate, they have. Toni Morrison endorsed Obama in words which quite frankly cannot be faulted. Neither can one fault the words of Maya Angelou who went the other way and endorsed Hillary as “My Girl” in radio adverts.
But Bossip does not allow that black super-delegates, public figures or voters – any black for that matter, should have their own minds. The site faulted Maya Angelou in a post titled, “Ho Sit Down”.
Kerry Washington (a new break-through African-American actress who’s already a dab hand at unabashed straight and gay sex scenes) – often derided by Bossip as part of the “something new” club (for dating white men) is suddenly the site’s darling for her support of Obama. As is Usher, and Ne-Yo (whose metrosexuality is a cause of consternation for sites like Bossip). But Maya Angelou, a woman beyond legend, a potent symbol of the African-American experience, is insulted in the basest language. The sacrilege made the often apathetical and flagrantly unserious readers wake up, and there was an outcry (on the comment boards at least). But Bossip is going strong. After Barack Obama’s recent victories, the site gleefully announced that he’s “making it rain on these hoes.”
This is the underside of Obamamania.
As California and Massachusetts show, you can invoke the Kennedy magic to no avail. That said, the Kennedy thing has caught on, and Obama is now frequently compared to JFK, rightly or wrongly. Someone has suggested that this is a movement he’s leading, rather than a political campaign. And as in the nature of movements, he seems unstoppable.
But it ain’t over till it's over, and I’m sticking with Hillary who could "have stayed home and baked cookies" but didn’t. In the words of one pundit, she’s “an absolutely solid candidate who aint gonna go crazy on ya.” Some hate her "pant suits" (that's 'trouser suit' if like me you're not American); Anna Wintour criticised her for not wanting to be seen as too feminine; while others hate her for just that - being too feminine - and staying with Bill through thick and thin. Can she ever get it right? If she got it right, would they care? Probably the most maligned woman of these times. Some even say she’s the devil. I say: better the devil you know. I’ve known Hillary long enough,frankly, to know. This blogger is not for turning.
Which doesn’t much matter, since I am not a voter in the amazing elections that have already thrown up the phrases: Bi-Candidate & Suicide-Voters. On to Amber Lee Ettinger, Obama Girl herself, who in fact did not vote! Says something about Obamamania, if you ask me (although it could be argued that Obama Girl with her video did get thousands more to vote for the man to whom she sang: “Baby, you’re the best candidate”).
I return to Oprah, who apparently has been told (presumably by white women) that she’s being a traitor to her gender by siding with Obama (the women thereby making gender a greater determinant than race; who knew?). She said:
"Every part of me believes in the empowerment of women. But the truth is I'm a free woman. Being free means you get to think for yourself and you get to decide for yourself what to do."
Uncomfortable as I am with the role of the great O in this campaign, I actually welcomed her statement above. Because the converse is also true. I am free as a black person to support Hillary Clinton if I want.