2/25/08 Chi. Sun-Times 25
Just ask the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, U.S. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, John Lewis, Charlie Rangel and Jim Clyburn, and a bevy of other bona fide members of America's Crabs in a Barrel Society.
Most of these folks leaped on the caboose of the Hillary Clinton locomotive long before it left the station. They weren't ready to get off the plantation. Perhaps they will never be. Obama is the engineer of change, and change is anathema to this crowd.
Now the New Black is on his way to the White House, and black politics will never be the same. After her failed 1972 presidential bid, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm blasted her fellow black politicians for eschewing her history-making bid. They are "like crabs in a barrel," she famously proclaimed, "crawling all over each other, so nobody gets to the top."
Since then, African-American elected officials and so-called black leaders have been clawing their way to the rim. They won't hesitate to smother the competition or ride the coattails of white politicians on the way up.
The New Black didn't have to do either.
Obama's story has a singular significance for the future of black leadership. His first volley into the presidential contest was not on a "black" issue, or a "civil rights" issue. It was his opposition of the Iraq war -- a broad-based, urgent policy issue.
In the past, most black politicians seeking the presidency started with the black vote in their pockets. Then they begin to flail and flutter. They put down no roots, raise little money and rely on rhetorical flourishes and spin.
The Obama candidacy reflects a newfound maturity that acknowledges the pragmatic need to build beyond the base. No candidate gets in the door of the 21st century White House without three basic building blocks: money, organization and the Internet. Obama is the first black presidential aspirant to master all three.
The battle against the Iraq war is the political electricity that is powering the American left. Obama's dramatic early anti-war stance captured that lightning in a jar. He became a poster boy for the left, which has always had a testy relationship with black voters. Ironically, many leaders on the left saw Obama as a powerful entree to a war coalition between blacks and the left. It suited the lefties to lock arms with Obama.
Electoral maturity means realizing you can't talk your way into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Obama's critics say his campaign is about speeches and rhetoric. They don't want to talk about the finely tuned campaign that has coupled keen Washington insiders with savvy grass-roots organizing from the 'hoods to college campuses across America. Along for the ride went a new generation of black pols, such as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. They all know know you don't get a chance to govern unless you organize. Sloganeering won't get the garbage picked up.
Then there's the money, honey. And I am not talking about Maria Bartiromo. Traditionally, black candidates lag in political fund-raising. Last week, Obama's campaign reported that it raised $36 million in January -- more than any candidate in the history of American politics.
The black Clinton apologists have gone tone deaf to their own constituents. The voters are leaving them behind. Obama has been pulling 85 to 90 percent of the black vote in recent contests. This racial and generational sea change is swamping the Hillaryites and fence-sitters into the political backwaters of history.
I can't wait to see who washes ashore.