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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fear Itself: A Photo's Thousand Words

I don't know who circulated the Photo.

It's to my own advantage to give the Clinton campaign the benefit of the doubt, because I've never tried to fuel my enthusiasm for Barack Obama with anger for Hillary Clinton.

There was a burp during the South Carolina race when Bill Clinton made a remark about Jesse Jackson--clearly, in my view, an attempt to derail the Obama freight train by trying to marginalize him as a "black" candidate--and I felt the first tendrils of anger. In a sudden flashback, I remembered how my joy at shaking Bill Clinton's hand on the campaign trail in 1992, and my profound sense of inclusion while I watched Maya Angelou recite her poem at his Inaugural, had been hammered down to much less warm feelings by the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency. Oh, yeah, I thought. NOW I remember....

Right after South Carolina, I got an email from a white Obama supporter, a friend of mine, and I could feel his disappointment and dejection that a conversation had begun from which he felt excluded, that the "race thing" was coming up. Neither of us was happy about it, and suddenly we seemed stuck on two sides of a fence. I realized then that it was a brilliant ploy, if the Clinton camp could pull it off. House Divided, and all that.

Luckily, they couldn't pull it off. Luckily, voters saw through it, so the tactic backfired. And after my husband and I attended the Democratic debate in Los Angeles, we walked out with a euphoric sense of party unity, dreaming of a Dream Ticket, and all was forgotten. Hillary might have been a fine president, we agreed, if only she hadn't run head-first into Barack Obama and the New Politics he created out of thin air. If only the last campaign of the 20th Century hadn't been rendered obsolete in the face of the first campaign of the next.

It's a classic case of bad timing. "The times, they are a-changin'..."

Then the Photo appears, just when the Clinton campaign must be feeling at its most desperate. It's easy to understand, Drudge Report aside, why Obama's campaign would assume that the dissemination of a photo of Obama in Somali tribal garb was the work of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. After all, nothing else has worked.

Cries of plagiarism seemed lame after a couple of news cycles--and in the midst of listening to Obama's audio version of Dreams from My Father, I've realized that Obama is a wiser writer than I am, and a better wordsmith than a good number of political candidates combined, past or present--and Clinton herself seemed to suffer a mental schism at the conclusion of the Texas debate, bracketing her clunky "Xerox" jibe with words that rang of John Edwards and Bill Clinton. As if she herself was eager to put the whole silly plagiarism charge to rest.

Clinton's sudden burst of anger over the Obama campaign's flyers about her health care proposal didn't seem like a good fit for her either. Sure, it's fodder for the debates, but voters won't buy the notion that Barack Obama is running a campaign that smacks of Rove. (Obama has re-imagined this process in ways that have stunned Democrats and Republicans alike.)

The worst thing anyone seems to be able to say about Obama is that his supporters like him TOO much, as if his oratory has somehow drained us of all sense and logic. That we sacrifice TOO much to send him money as often as we can, and we're TOO inspired to help make this nation as great as we know it can be.

But even that charge is only borne of Fear: If you don't "get" Obama, then somehow the rest of us must be under a spell; some kind of voodoo trickery. Obama must have a secret plan to lead us all chanting "Yes, We Can!" to the brink of some kind of crypto-Muslim-Black supremacist-hippie-socialist Apocalypse.

**Sigh** I feel sorry for those scared folks too. I hope they'll find out otherwise soon, once President Obama has taken his leadership skills and vision to the Oval Office and the world stage. And in the end, it's best to get what Obama called "silly season" out of the way--for his campaign to sharpen its claws swiping back at the ugly attacks that will await him from the party that has learned to rely on "Swiftboating" and fear-mongering rather than leadership.

But I still can't help wondering why and how the Photo appeared. It's true that candidates can't always control overzealous participants in their campaigns. No, Obama's campaign has not been perfect. "I'm not a perfect vessel," he has said. (But as we know, he learns pretty dang fast.)

Maybe the Photo of Obama was disseminated by Republican strategists who realized they could have a two-for-one shot: It makes Hillary look desperate, and it speaks a thousand words: "Be afraid. Be afraid. Be afraid. Be afraid." We've lived under that refrain for seven years. But the Clinton's campaign denial of involvement seemed so anemic--and came so late in the day--that I'm left to wonder...

And then there was Clinton's statement in Dallas: "But let's just stop and ask yourself: 'Why are you - why is anybody concerned about this?' ... You can find dozens of pictures of me in different parts of the world. You can find me wearing African outfits, Latin American outfits, Asian outfits ... when you travel to foreign countries, it's a sign of respect. What does that have to do with anything?"

It's one thing to deny circulating the photo, but another (to claim) not to understand the fuss. Do you think, Hillary, that those costumes might look different on you if you were black? If your father hailed from Kenya? Or if there had been an underground campaign (not, God forbid, by your opponent's own operatives, I'm sure) to paint you as a "secret" Muslim? If recent history hadn't taught us how easy it is to prey on fears of the Other?

I don't like wondering. I don't like feeling angry. I'll give the Clinton campaign the benefit of the doubt.

But for her sake, I'll be glad when the Democratic primaries and caucuses are over, when voters have made their message for Obama heard loud and clear. Afterward, I hope there will be no way to mistake or spin the voters' will. For Clinton's sake, I hope her campaign won't inject poison into the political process by trying to subvert the will of the voters at the Democratic convention. That's the kind of politics I thought we had all learned to despise.

And in the end, when the speeches are over and she has able to sleep late a few days in a row and gain solace from her friends and family, I hope Hillary Rodham Clinton will still like the woman she sees in the mirror. For her sake, I hope she won't find herself staring into the face of a stranger.

Only then will she truly have lost.

© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due


Demon Hunter said...

This photo was a futile attempt to stop this wonderful cadidate from succeeding.

As I told you before, I live in South Carolina, and most people didn't like what was said. In any case, he won! And in this state---I was ecstatic because I live in the only state that has that stupid flag still flying.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what I'm feeling. I was once a huge Bill Clinton supporter, and would become furious whenever I heard Kenneth Starr's name. I look at the way Hillary (and Bill) Clinton have chosen to go about campaigning, and it saddens me. I am now a full supporter of Barack Obama, and I am delighted that so many people are behind him too. I hope the Clintons get over their fear (and envy) of Barack Obama, or at least just get over the fact that he isn't going to go away. He is the best man for the job of President, and I intend to use my vote to help get him there.