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American Politics has always been rich in surprises, but surely none has been as great in recent decades as the sudden emergence of Barack Hussein Obama as the Democratic nominee for the presidency - and, if one is to believe the American media, the virtually consecrated victor in the November election.

Obama's stunningly rapid journey from extreme obscurity - until about four years ago he was a fairly junior state senator in the Illinois legislature - to worldwide prominence sheds considerable light on changes that have taken place in the nominating process over the past four decades, as well as the secret turmoil that has afflicted the Democratic party since Bill Clinton left the White House nearly eight years ago. It also brings to light the crucial role of the African-American electorate in selecting Democratic candidates, and forces almost to the surface some of its hitherto somewhat private ideological notions.

First, the selection process. Before the 1970s Democrats chose their candidates for president and vice-president at a national convention, where the delegates were largely elected officials who had already proven their vote-getting abilities. A handful of states did hold primary elections, but in those days their results were generally not regarded as necessarily significant indicators of broad party or public support. (The one exception was John F. Kennedy's victory in the primary in West Virginia, because, as a Catholic candidate, he was shown to be able to carry an overwhelmingly Protestant state. Even so, Kennedy's father's money, generously distributed among West Virginia's indigent, helped things along nicely.) Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was the last candidate to be selected by a convention - in 1968, and not without considerable resistance from the more militant "bases" of the party.

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Mark Frankel
October 22nd, 2008
3:10 PM
Falcoff underrates Obama's personal qualities. Colin Powell says Obama has both style and substance. Falcoff says Obama would never have been a competitive candidate for the nomination were he not black. This is speculation. If Hillary is as unpopular as he says, then any half-decent alternative candidate would have been preferable.

October 2nd, 2008
3:10 AM
Excellent article. Neatly puts together everything I've been feeling and saying about the "racial" dimension of B.O's candidacy.

September 30th, 2008
4:09 PM
"An informal but vital network for getting people to the polls." Oh dear. As someone who did poll watching in largely African-American districts, I think I've just found my lipsticked pig for this election cycle. Politely put.

September 29th, 2008
5:09 PM
how did you know? as a black american I can tell you every word you said is true. We want Obama to win but his victory will not make us let up one bit on condemnation of the US. Every critisicm of his presidency will be taken as racism. And if he loses, black people will become even more disgusted with the US - and believe it or not that is possible. I became what many people call a conservative in the wake of 9/11. Call me naive, but I really was astonished and dismayed to find so many black people exultant over the attack. I thought that we could be on our country's side at such a moment. I was wrong. for many of us, Obama's statements about how much he loves the US and will defend it is regarded as just so much nonsense that he must utter to convince whites to vote for him. If we thought he really meant all of that, we would despise him as we despise black conservatives. We have suffered in the US but others have suffered all over the world. We have more freedom than most people and the opportunity to do as well as asians or any other group. It is unfortunate that we do not appreciate it and that we expend so much psychic energy in resentment. It is unfortunate that so many of us cannot bear to admit that there is anything to like about the US. as this article points out, the racial makeup of the US is changing. It is not likely that the other "minorities" will feel any white guilt so there will have to be a major change in our approach to politics and everything else. I hope by that time the country is mostly "minority" we will be able to, as this article puts it, replicate success from one generation to the next. No more special considerations will be forthcoming from white people or anyone else. Of course, this is assuming that success will be possible in the new US. There is the horrible possibility that it will just become another fractured third world nation. In that case, the prospects for everyone and especially for black people will be bad.

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