Mitchell column: Februay 15, 2007
Skepticism I understand. But when two black male legislators from the Deep South throw their hats in Hillary Clinton's ring at the start of a wide-open election, I want to slap them upside their heads.
Why are these black men so eager to drive Miss Hillary to the White House when Illinois' U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is also a front-runner?
State Senators Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson are considered key black political leaders in South Carolina because they backed John Edwards in 2004 and managed to hand Edwards 37 percent of the vote in a state where half the primary voters are black.
For those of you who don't understand why we keep harping on early primaries, it's simple. If a presidential candidate wins an early primary state -- like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- deep-pocket donors keep funding their campaigns.
The losing candidates are well on their way to becoming also-rans.
So you tell me why Ford and Jackson found it necessary to tell reporters that they were driving Miss Hillary so early in the game.
"It's a slim possibility for [Obama] to get the nomination, but then everybody else is doomed," Ford told a reporter with the Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything," he said. "I'm a gambling man. I love Obama," Ford said. "But I'm not going to kill myself."
This, from a man who claims in his bio that from 1966 to 1972, at the height of the civil rights movement, he was arrested 73 times as a staff member with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
With friends like these . . .
After coming under fierce criticism for comments that sounded a lot like the buzzwords some Democrats have long used to justify keeping African Americans off the top of the ticket, Ford, 59, apologized:
"If I caused anybody, including myself, any pain about the comments I made earlier, then I want to apologize to myself and to Senator Obama and any of his supporters," Ford said.
Jackson, who pastors a large congregation and also refers to himself as a businessman, says he considers Obama a "friend" but considers Clinton "our best shot."
If Jackson calls himself Obama's friend, I'd hate to see what he does to his foes. Why is it these black men, who obviously benefitted from the support of black people in their own political campaigns, like Clinton's chances better than Obama's?
Like any other Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton is dependent upon the black vote to put her over the top, and Jackson and Ford have the resources to churn out that vote.
So why don't they have as much faith in a black man as they do in a white woman?
A story a friend shared recently with me offers some clues. He recalled an incident in which he encountered Obama in the halls of the Illinois State Capitol. My friend was the only black person in a group that was in Springfield to lobby black legislators on a piece of insurance legislation.
Although Obama wasn't on the list, my friend said he passed him in the hall.
"There was a moment when Obama stopped and looked at us and indicated that he was open to talk. I looked at him as if he was just another light-skinned black man in a position of power," my friend said. "That's the thought that immediately crossed my mind. Now, I feel like I owe him," he said.
What does it mean to be black?
Forget that Obama's bid for the presidency will force some whites to deal with any preconceived notions they have about black men. It is forcing blacks to check themselves, as well.
The discomfort some blacks have with Obama has nothing to do with his resume nor his ethnicity, but with the simple fact that he is a light-skinned black man who was able to cross over into mainstream America. The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. couldn't do that. And the Rev. Al Sharpton certainly couldn't do it.
For me, the black experience has been growing up in poverty in a public housing project and overcoming that poverty to achieve a measure of success. For a dear friend, the black experience has been growing up in a solidly middle-class neighborhood -- after her family escaped the armed conflicts that once ravaged Nigeria. In fact, can anyone tell me what it means to be black these days?
The real problem here is that too many black leaders have lost confidence. They've given up on the hope in what they do could improve the quality of life for the people who put them in office in the first place, and it shows in our communities.
Political leaders like Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson are guarding their political turf in the same way drug dealers guard street corners. But worse, they are hatin' on a brother who dares to believe anything is possible.