2/29/08 Myrtle Beach Sun News (S.C.) A11
How weird is this presidential election? So weird that I'm about
to give a nod of appreciation (of sorts) to Geraldo Rivera, of all
people - and also to, gulp, Fox News.
On "Fox and Friends" last week, the mustachioed infotainer gave
his take on Barack Obama's borrowing of his campaign chairman's
words: "When I saw that they were the same words that Deval Patrick,
the black guy who won as Massachusetts mayor - as Massachusetts
governor - had used, I said to myself, it seems so premeditated.
It's almost as if they went to a camp where these black geniuses got
together and figured out how to beat the political system. ...
What's the other formula that they're going to use on me?"
Ridiculous? Of course - this is Geraldo, remember. But it's
absurd in a way that's new and refreshing. If Fox viewers are being
invited to entertain the notion of a Black Genius Camp where Afro-brainiacs
are busy plotting world domination, something has changed.
Whether Obama wins or loses, his campaign has made it impossible
for anyone so inclined to cling to certain racist assumptions - just
as Hillary Clinton has blown some old sexist assumptions to
In this day and age, no one can claim to be surprised at
encountering an African-American man of superior intellect. But
whether or not you think Obama would be a good president, his
campaign brings the often-overlooked reality of mainstream black
America into the nation's living rooms every day - and into the
We in the media spend a lot of time and energy covering
African-American dysfunction, and with good reason. Far too many
young black men are in prison. Far too many young black women are
single mothers. Far too many black communities are marred by drugs,
crime and violence.
But that's just part of the story. Since the great civil rights
victories of the 1960s, a huge mainstream African-American middle
class has risen via the traditional path of hard work and education.
This successful black America gets little coverage, for the obvious
reason that good news isn't really news in the traditional sense.
The headline "Family Celebrates Daughter's Graduation from
Princeton" did not greet Michelle Obama when she received her
The Obamas are the real-life version of our first great
illustration of black success: "The Cosby Show." That family, too,
was a picture of upper-middle-class rectitude, ambition and
achievement. The fictional Huxtables, however, lived in an almost
exclusively African-American world. The school Cliff and Claire
attended, and to which they sent their daughter Denise, was the
historically black "Hillman College." The school Barack and Michelle
Obama have in common is Harvard Law.
The Obama campaign hasn't just had success on black America's
terms, but on white America's terms. For all the impact of Barack
Obama's soaring rhetoric, he wouldn't be where he is without a
campaign organization that is second to none. He's the one with more
money and more offices. He's the one who made the better decisions
about where to spend resources. It's as if a black American is
beating white America at its own game.
So when Clinton made an issue of how a passage from a Deval
Patrick speech found its way into a Barack Obama speech, Geraldo
imagined some sort of secret conclave of black geniuses who had
developed a foolproof formula for winning elections. He didn't
envision a basketball camp, or a prison camp; he saw a genius camp,
presumably for African-Americans who had figured out just how white
America works and just what buttons to push. How diabolically
Hey, if I'm trying to catch a taxi late at night, I'd rather have
the cabdriver wondering if I'm secretly plotting world domination
than thinking I'm about to mug him.
And pay no attention to Geraldo's paranoid fantasies.