Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Race and Beyond: The Race for the White House
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RELEASE: Race and Beyond: The Race for the White House

Read the full column here.

By Sam Fulwood III

Given the confusing and crazy history that we Americans seem incapable of rising above, I suppose it was preordained that nearly every conversation about the first black president would devolve to an examination of its racial elements. From the moment then-candidate Barack Obama declared himself a contender for the White House, the ghost of U.S. race history has hovered over him, trying its best drag him into some otherworldly realm.

For better or worst, President Obama is what every president before him was—a very good politician. Nobody gets elected president without being so. As such, President Obama must play the political game as deftly as each of his predecessors did, despite having the racial narrative as a backdrop to his remarkable story. That race-is-everything storyline is a distraction to everyone, save the president who seems to ignore it at all costs. For good reason, too; he can’t afford to be distracted by it, if he expects to win—again.

Still, that doesn’t stop others from throwing down the race card whenever they attempt to discuss whatever he does. It becomes a facile argument, one that provides a simple-minded explanation for a sore-spot subject that most Americans prefer not to think about very deeply. By offering up a race-based explanation to any and all discussion of the president, the illogic of U.S. attitudes toward black and other ethnic success stories can be discharged without much comprehension or reason. After all, there can be no denying that he is, ahem, black.

This is unfortunate largely because the race excuse is often wrong, allowing otherwise intelligent people to be caught up in the maddening web of deception that holds the less informed in a paranoid state of ignorance. A recent case in point is Eleanor Clift’s mistaken post on The Daily Beast. The sometimes-perceptive Clift, an erstwhile Newsweek columnist and now an online blogger, succumbed to the popular delusion of mad crowds, arguing that President Obama is unlikely to face a challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination because—yep, you guessed it—he’s an African American president.

To be fair, Clift didn’t say this in her own voice. Actually, that would be gutsy. Wrong, nonetheless, but courageous on her part to own up to such a ridiculous assertion. Rather, she finds others—pollsters, Democratic insiders, and college professors—to say that no one in the president’s party wants to be “responsible for costing the first African- American president his reelection.”

It’s still early, time enough for some make-a-statement candidate from the far-left fringe of the Democratic Party to get into the race. True enough, some very liberal Americans are disappointed that President Obama hasn’t been the expected champion of their specific causes. And, it’s equally true that the national economy and high unemployment has hit the poor and ethnic minority communities the hardest, creating the appearance of an opening for a strong progressive challenge on president’s left.

Indeed, eternal presidential spoiler and gadfly Ralph Nader has made sotto voce noise about fielding primary challenges to President Obama as a way to push him more to the left. But I don’t think he or any other challengers will ultimately decide to do so—and the reason has little to do with race and everything to do with political reality. Read the full column here.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP-Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.

To read additional Race and Beyond columns visit our Progress 2050 page.