A Series on the Impact of Race on the 2012 Presidential Election Commentary
Monday aftern0on before the media began covering candidate Romney‘s latest gaffe, I saw a posting of the clandestine tape of this private Romney speech on Facebook during which he expressed his disregard for 47% of the American voting population. Many of us were quick to express our righteous indignation about his having been “caught ” red-handed dissing a large part of the population.
I could not imagine how the mainstream press would handle this or what his own party would say. It quickly became clear that no matter Romney’s intent at the point that he actually made the comments, he was going to need higher help with the explanation of these comments if he is ever to dig himself out of this faux pas.
In the aftermath of only 48 hours, this topic has been picked as dry as the proverbial chicken bone by the professional pundits much more efficiently than I am capable of doing. But last night, the President was asked about Romney’s comments on Late Night with Dave Letterman. And I can tell you, I was not surprised at all by his response.
In framing his response to questions about Romney’s statements, the President ”… told Letterman before the live audience that he cares about all Americans and believes a president should work for everybody – not just for some. Putting the Romney-47% of Americans quote in perspective, Obama said that 47% of Americans voted for John McCain in 2008 but he still work(ed) for them.”
What can you say to that response, other than the Romney-as-presidential candidate seems unable to envision the collective “We” of a leader. I mean, you would expect a responsible leader of a free country to talk about we with a capital W. We are human beings first. We all bleed the same color. We all have the same basic needs. We should all have the same rights. President Obama, without resorting to who might belong to this 47%, modeled the higher level thinking he wants voters to internalize and associate with his leadership with his comments. This is no accident.
The President refuses to talk race in a specific way. Neither will he allow an interrogator to pigeon-hole him narrowly on the basis of his race. So I am asking, is he like my friends who refuse to experience society as racial? For example, two of us walk into an empty luggage store. My friend and I, along with two sales people are the only ones present in the store. Neither sales person acknowledges our entry. No “hello.” No “Let me know if we can help you.” The stand-off begins and though no one says anything, I am interpreting their behavior as being more about their preconceived ideas about race.
I wait to see if they will acknowledge us. They wait to see how long it will take for us to leave. We leave without interaction. When we finally leave, my friend says they probably simply thought we did not need help while as I said, my interpretation is their behavior is 95% about race. But this is not a conversation we can actually have without tension and discomfort, so there is NO conversation. And I think the same is true in society. Talking about race makes people uncomfortable. When it happens, the feeling is that someone must be blamed for this bad behavior.
I think this is also why the President does not discuss race in his speeches. He cannot fist pump into the air that he is a brother because in his life, he is a brother to every man. I realize, some people feel negatively that the President does not take society to task about the inequities suffered by black, or brown or yellow people in the specific. But I am convinced he has chosen consciously to address race and societal inequities more philosophically. He does not talk specifically about the high numbers of poor black people, but he talks about a class of people living in poverty causing many folks to ask, ” Even though I support you, what have you done for me lately?” And when you seek to answer this question for your own life, maybe your own response gets a little fuzzy?
Tell me, have you had any open conversations about race and the upcoming presidential election; and if so, was it a congenial environment?