Archive for July, 2008

Moving to the Center to Win

July 5, 2008


Barack Obama has been accused of “flip-flopping” because of how he has chosen to finance his campaign for president of the United States. He is being vilified for first supporting campaign finance reform, and rejecting the process in order to be free to raise the money he will need to defeat John McCain, and the Republican machine he will face between now and November.

Obama is also being criticized for his more pragmatic than idealistic explanation of starting the process of disengagement of American servicemen and women from the current wars in the Middle East. For those of you who are somewhat rattled by this evidence of “drift”, I feel your pain.

 However the truth of the matter is candidates for president traditionally move o the “center” to win, and smart candidates for lower offices move to the center, or “right” to win. My formal education as a political scientist which I received at Tougaloo College in Mississippi between 1966 and 1970 a time of transition for the fragmenting civil rights movement, tells me politicians move to the center because that’s where the people are. In other words there really are a core set of values written someplace in the consciousness of the American body politic that says….”when the shouting is over these are the boundaries I will accept to my freedom, there are the sacrifices I will make for my country, these are the risks I will assume for my country’s security, and these are the values I hold dear for the survival of my life, my family, and my planet.”

The problem for all the folk who are in shock is that they haven’t been reminded by the TV pundits often enough that the people who Obama was reaching out to during his campaign to be the nominee of the National Democratic party was not those folks. The message necessary for success in Mississippi was not the message for success in Iowa.

Here is another example of different messages for different times. When I learned of the death of Jesse Helms the “Right Wing” senator from North Carolina I remembered a call from my friend James Meredith in 1989 when I was working as a host/producer of a news magazine on WEAA-FM radio in Baltimore called “News Now”. Meredith was whom I had known when both of us lived in Jackson, MS after he had integrated Ole Miss and I was a reporter at WLBT-TV wanted to do a show with me about “you know” which was a kind of private joke between us. It was a kind of code for our ongoing “riff” about whatever was going on with Black people at the time, first in Mississippi and then in the nation as a whole. We laughed set a date and the show as on. But, what surprised me most of all was when I asked James what he was doing he laughed and said, “I am working for Jesse Helms.” I was stunned for a moment, Jesse Helms I said, you must be kidding? “No”, said James, ” and I am free to do might work, he doesn’t bother me and he is the best employer I could have at this time in my life.” I was flabbergasted by the idea and the statement. fast forward to the reporter who spoke of interviewing Helms in his office and when time came to take Helms’ photo he first removed the photo of a Black man on a mantle behind him because he did not want his core constituents to be confused. At the time it was not historically expedient to display Helms’ core empathy and compassion for all people regardless of color.

So as we experience this extraordinary season of politics in which a true battle for “the brass ring” is played out let us not forget that the ultimate goal is to win and both candidates for the presidency will be moving to the center in word and deed because there in lays America’s real “mother lode.”

John Milton Wesley