Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm headed home

By DeWayne Wickham

ABOARD PLANE - I won't be in St. Paul when the Republican convention begins on Monday. The GOP turned down my request for credentials to cover their meeting.

The excuse they gave me is that I applied too late, even though I submitted my request to the Republican Party at the very same time I asked the Democratic Party for credentials to cover its convention.

So like many other blacks in this country, I will not be anywhere near St. Paul's Excel Energy Center when the GOP meets to nominate its candidates to be president and vice president of ALL Americans.

But don't worry, the Republican's refusal to let me attend their convention won't stop me from writing about what goes on there - so please keep reading my blog.

McCain's surprise move

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - Thursday night belonged to Barack Obama, but on Friday morning, the edge went to John McCain.

Standing before a cheering throng of 85,000 people inside Invesco Field, Obama sounded like a chief executive and was received like a rock star when he accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

"We meet at one of those defining moments, a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more," the Illinois senator said. "Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less."

Then he drew a thunderous standing ovation with these words: "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than that."

But the euphoria of that moment was dashed as dawn broke Friday and news leaked that McCain had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
That surprise choice of the 44-year-old mother of five put gender back on the 2008 election radar. And for the Obama campaign, this is not a good thing.

In defeating HIllary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, the Obama campaign alienated many female supporters of the New York senator and former first lady. Coming into the Democratic convention, nearly 30 percent of these women said they planned to vote for McCain.

But when Clinton made an impassioned plea during a Tuesday night keynote address for her supporters to vote for Obama, Democrats thought they had largely put the gender problem behind them.

New York Gov. David Paterson told me during an interview that the party's gender wounds were on the mend.

The lingering reluctance of women who sided with Clinton to support Obama was a response to a long history of women being denied political opportunity by both Republicans and Democrats, Paterson said. And while Democrats have done a better job of sharing power with women in recent years, he said, the bruising primary battles between Obama and Clinton upset a lot of Democratic women.

"They know they don't want John McCain, but they just inwardly feel, 'When is this party going to recognize us? When are they going to stop having an old boys' network?' And it gets taken out on Barack Obama," Paterson explained.

Clinton's speech, the governor said, did a lot to heal that breach - or so it seemed. But now that McCain has made Palin his running mate, I think those old wounds will fester - and maybe even explode.

Up until the moment Obama named Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware his running mate, Clinton's supporters were urging him to give her the job. The 18 million votes she won in the primaries (more than Obama's total), they said, amounted to 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that limits opportunities for women.

By picking Clinton, they argued, Obama would create a Democratic Party "Dream Team" that Republicans would find hard to beat. Those hopes were derailed with Biden's selection. But Clinton's strong embrace of Obama in her convention address was thought to have done a lot to heal the party's gender wounds.

Now, as the presidential spotlight moves to the Republican's convention in St. Paul, Minn., the GOP has knocked a good bit of the luster off of Obama's history-making appearance in Denver.

Instead of leaving this Rocky Mountain city on the offensive, the Obama campaign has been put on the defensive by McCain, whose selection of a female running mate proves that the old Navy pilot still knows how to take the fight to the enemy.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Get over it," NY governor says to Hillary haters

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - If you're one of those Barack Obama supporters who is still holding a grudge against Hillary Clinton - even after the speech she gave Tuesday night - New York Gov. David Paterson said you need to get over it.

Paterson, who is legally blind and currently one of only two black governors, told me this morning that people ought to understand the frustration of the woman who were Clinton's core supporters.

"They know they don't want John McCain, but they just inwardly feel 'when is this party going to recognize us? When are they going to stop having an old boy's network?" he believes these women asked themselves.

Many of them took Clinton's defeat personally, Paterson said. And many blacks would have had the same reaction if the outcome of the campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination had been different, he said.

Her supporters had to get over the feeling of being shutout, Paterson explained. He believes they now understand that an Obama victory in November will open up greater opportunities for them, too. And Hillary Clinton's strong call for unity during her keynote address may have increased the Illinois senator's chances of wining the presidency in November.

"You haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership," Clinton said in a pointed call for her supporters to rally around Obama. "No way. No how. No McCain."

Now maybe it's time for the Clinton bashers in Obama's camp to reply: "No hard feelings."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If elected, will Barack Obama be first black president?

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - Shortly before the roll call vote that made official Barack Obama's selection as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, I overheard a white woman put this question to a black companion.

"Why do people keep saying Obama will be the first black president when he is half white?" she wanted to know.

In the early days of this presidential campaign people were fond of saying the Illinois senator transcended race. But now that he is one of two finalists for the presidency, a growing number of whites look at him and see race.

Beneath his cafe au lait complexion they see the white branch of his family tree and demand that it be given equal billing with his African roots. Obama was born to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya and many people see this as proof that he is uniquely different from the vast majority of this nation's blacks. This perception of Obama as not just biracial, but half white, is what causes some people to rail against those who say he would be the first black president.

They need to get over it.

For the vast majority of blacks whose roots in this country are several generations deep, there is a white branch of their family tree. That's a byproduct of slavery and the miscegenation it produced. Ironically when white men were forcing themselves upon black women the children they fathered were given no split racial identity. As a result, by definition, to be an African American is to be a black with some white blood coarsing through your veins.

Barack Obama, who knows better than others the interracial union that gave him life, identifies himself as an African American - which means, if he wins this election, he will be this nation's first black president.

Hillary calls for unity, but was it enough?

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - I don't know if it was a heart-felt gesture or the opening salvo of her next political campaign, but Hillary Clinton did what she needed to do tonight for Barack Obama.

"Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines," she said in the opening seconds of her keynote address to the Democratic Party's convention tonight.

And if that endorsement of Obama wasn't strong enough - and it probably wasn't for some - she followed up with this broadside at John McCain.

"This is a fight for the future. And it’s a fight we must win. I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women’s rights at home and around the world . . . to see another Republican in the White House squander the promise of our country and the hopes of our people.

"And you haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership.

"No way. No how. No McCain."

That line got a standing ovation from the party faithful who packed the Pepsi Center to hear Clinton's much anticipated speech. But it's too early to tell if what Clinton said was enough to get her diehard supporters to vote for Obama. Some of these PUMAs (Party Unity, My Ass) showed up on television interviews shortly after Clinton finished speaking and said they're still wavering over whether they will vote for Obama.

Earlier in the day I spoke with former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and he expressed great frustration over the slowness of Clinton's supporters to back Obama. "I don't know what else he has to do," Wilder said of Obama's outreach to Clinton's camp. "We've got an election to win."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle Obama's speech is another leg of long journey

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - As I listened to Michelle Obama's speech Monday night I heard the voices of other black women. Not the celebratory tones of those who were inside the Pepsi Center when she gave her keynote address. I'm not talking about them.

The voices I heard were from another time. They were the voices of black women who like Obama were forced to assert their own humanity, or defend that of black men. While they lived in different times and their lives took widely differing paths, they were all products of an "improbable journey" like the one that made Obama the most anticipated speaker on the opening night of this historic political gathering.

"I come here tonight as a sister blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend," she said. "I come here tonight as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president. I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world. They're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. Their future and all of our children's future is my stake in this election."

Ringing in my ears as I heard this were the words of Sojourner Truth, the 19th century abolitionist and women's rights activist, who in an 1851 speech challenged a white man to think of her as a woman.

"I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me," she said, and then followed with the question that is laced throughout this famous speech: "And ain't I a woman."

On Monday, Obama spoke proudly of the men in her life. Her husband. Her brother. And the doting father who died an early death. "My dad was our rock," she said. Her love of these men made me think of a time, 108 years earlier, when Ida B. Wells - the journalist and anti-lynching activist - risked her life to speak in defense of black men.

"If a colored man resented the imposition of a white man and the two came to blows, the colored man had to die, either at the hands of the white man then and there or later at the hands of a mob that speedily gathered. If he showed a spirit of courageous manhood he was hanged for his pains, and the lynching was justified by the declaration that he was a 'saucy nigger.' "

When Obama spoke of her love of country, I heard the voice of Mary McLeod Bethune.

Obama said she left a high-paying law firm job for a public service career because she wanted to give back to this country, which has given so much to her. In 1939, McLeod prophetically urged the nation to give blacks a much greater chance to serve it.

"We have helped to build America with our labor, strengthened it with our faith and enriched it with our song," she said on a radio broadcast. "We have given you Paul Laurence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, Marion Anderson and George Washington Carver. But even these are only the first fruits of a rich harvest, which will be reaped when new and wider fields are opened to us."

And that was the underlying theme of Obama's momentous address. She wants Americans to give her husband the chance to add to this rich harvest when they go to the polls in November.

Seating depends on stand

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - At this gathering of Democratic Party faithful, where you sit doesn't depend so much on where you stand as it does on what it will take to get your state to take a stand in support of Barack Obama's White House campaign.

The best seating in the Pepsi Center is located on the floor of the arena just in front of the speaker's podium. Those seats, understandably, have been given to the delegations from Illinois and Delaware, the home states of Obama and his running mate Joe Biden. The next best seats, on either side of that section, are reserved for delegations from the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Indiana, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Michigan.

Apparently the thinking is that giving these delegations such a prominent position before the television cameras might excited voters in their home states to join the Obama bandwagon.

Getting a few of these states into Obama's win column on election day could determine where he will sit in the nation's capital after voters go to the polls in November.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Record number of black delegates

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - Forty-four years after a challenge to an all-white delegation from Mississippi roiled its 1964 convention, the Democratic Party has a record number of black delegates attending its quadrennial meeting this year.

Blacks are 24.5 percent of the elected delegates at this convention, an increased of 4 percent over 2004. There are 1,087 black delegates here in Denver, nearly a ten-fold jump over the 120 who attended the Dems 1964 quadrennial meeting in Atlantic City, N.J.

"It shows how the Democratic Party is a big tent that reflects what America is all about," said Patricia Wheeler, the Democratic National Convention's press manager for African American Media.

It was at the Atlantic City convention that Fannie Lou Hamer's Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the state's all white delegation. After a heated debate a compromise was reached that gave at-large seats to two members of her group, a small victory for Hamer's who once famously said of her struggle for racial equality that she was "sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Payne: Black journalists should be watchdogs, not lapdogs

By DeWayne Wickham

DENVER - Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Les Payne cautioned black journalists covering the Democratic National Convention that they should not abandon their watchdog roll is covering the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

"My charge to the black that if you're so friendly disposed toward Obama that you find yourself relating to him as though he's a rock star; that you find yourself so favorably disposed towards Obama that you look upon him with some reverence, then I think you should say 'I cannot cover him,' " he told New York radio station WWRL during a telephone interview from the floor of Denver's Pepsi Center arena.

Payne, a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said the watchdog role of journalists forces political candidates to answer tough questions while they are campaigning "and then once they get elected we have to hold them accountable."