There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post about some of the racial resistance volunteers for Barack Obama have encountered on the campaign trail. It depressing, and somewhat misleading, as out in the field racist responses are few and far in between. But they do happen, and they happen more often in some regions than in others. A big part of the Post article focuses on Kokomo, Indiana, and it’s no big surprise that there is lingering racism there.
On July 4, 1923, Kokomo hosted the largest Klan gathering in history — an estimated 200,000 followers flocked to a local park.
On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans, according to Obama campaign staffers.
Frederick Murrell, a black Kokomo High School senior, was not there but heard what happened. He was more disappointed than surprised. During his own canvassing for Obama, Murrell said, he had “a lot of doors slammed” in his face. But taunting teenagers on a busy commercial strip in broad daylight? “I was very shocked at first,” Murrell said. “Then again, I wasn’t, because we have a lot of racism here.”
Kokomo is the seat of Howard County, which gave Hillary Clinton 56% of the vote. It lies at the extreme southern edge of Indiana’s Second Congressional District, represented by Democratic freshman Joe Donnelly. Progressive Punch gives Rep. Donnelly a score of 230, meaning that there are only four Democrats in the House of Representatives that have a less progressive record. Nevertheless, Rep. Donnelly has endorsed Barack Obama.
“Today, I am pleased to announce my support for Barack Obama. At a time when too many Americans have lost faith in their government, Senator Obama can move us beyond the politics of stalemate and gridlock that has kept us from meeting the monumental challenges of our time: our dependence on foreign oil, a health care gap that leaves tens of millions uninsured, the steady deterioration of our manufacturing base, and an economy that is not working for working people.
The Democratic Party’s strength comes from its core commitment to the American Dream and from a coalition that is ideologically, economically, geographically and ethnically diverse. Barack Obama will stand with working families while building that coalition so that we can change this country, and that’s why he’s the best choice for America.”
Rep. Donnelly just alienated a substantial portion of the voters that he needs to win reelection in this very tough district. This is leadership. It is moral leadership. In a district where at least some people have no compunction about hurling racial epithets and young black and white Obama volunteers, Donnelly had plenty of incentive to withhold an endorsement, or to endorse Hillary Clinton. I may not agree with how Donnelly votes on a whole host of issues, but he has just earned my respect. Compare his stand with how Bill Clinton is behaving in West Virginia.
“The great divide in this country is not by race or even income, it’s by those who think they are better than everyone else and think they should play by a different set of rules.”
“The people in small towns in rural America, who do the work for America, and represent the backbone and the values of this country, they are the people that are carrying her through in this nomination.”
That’s not moral leadership. That’s a naked appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s an appeal to the mindset of these voters:
Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across “a lot of racism” when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: “White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people.”
Real leadership comes from standing right up to those prejudices, as Joe Donnelly did, and saying:
“The Democratic Party’s strength comes from its core commitment to the American Dream and from a coalition that is ideologically, economically, geographically and ethnically diverse. Barack Obama will stand with working families while building that coalition so that we can change this country, and that’s why he’s the best choice for America.”
That’s the kind of leadership this country needs right now. Joe Donnelly gets it. The Clintons do not.