- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Presidential candidates must reach out to all Americans and understand the issues they care about most, branching far beyond their own personal concerns, but that is exactly what irks many black leaders about Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign, black political insiders say.

Illinois’ junior Democratic senator has been touring Iowa, Texas, California and his home state the past two weeks to talk to Americans about what his leadership will bring.

But for some, Mr. Obama is straying too far from identifying himself with blacks, prompting questions about his “blackness.”

“I don’t understand why black people do this, but I don’t think it is widespread. In fact, it is a small segment or group of people, whether it is for political reasons or otherwise, who want to make this a political issue when it isn’t one,” said Paul Braithwaite, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mr. Braithwaite said the reality is that the majority of black people want their children to grow up thinking that they too can succeed like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, lead a state like Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, run a major corporation like Young & Rubicam Brands Chief Executive Officer Ann Fudge “or run for president.”

“The interesting fact is that there are more candidates running for president in 2008 than all of the black people who have ever run in 232 years, so I think it’s the uniqueness of black candidates running that spurs this unnecessary and trivial conversation,” Mr. Braithwaite said.

On the same day Mr. Obama officially announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., his commitment to blacks was questioned by philosopher Cornel West and several others because he did not appear at the State of Black America Conference in Hampton, Va.

And just days later, South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, a Democrat, said his candidacy would drag down the Democratic Party and “every Democratic candidate running on that ticket would lose because he’s black and he’s at the top of the ticket.”

Mr. Ford has since apologized for the comments.

But conservative political analyst Armstrong Williams said the comments speak to the ignorance of the black liberal leadership — those that think blacks have a defined specific role as political lackeys for Democrats that they cannot hope to step away from.

“These criticisms about his blackness have nothing to do with his ideology. It is his racial heritage, and they are saying he is not one of us. It is the new racism,” Mr. Williams said.

He said Mr. Obama has faced this kind of “new racism” before, when he ran against Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat, in 2000.

The Democratic primary election was close, and near the end the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. endorsed Mr. Rush. Both questioned Mr. Obama’s connection to working-class blacks.

“Obama is good for all of America because he challenges us all to look at this so-called authentic black,” Mr. Williams said.

Former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts said there are glaring similarities between the criticisms Mr. Obama is facing and the criticism he faced when he arrived in Washington as the lone black Republican.

He said in the end, black supporters and detractors of Mr. Obama have to “be honest” and let him run for president of the United States and not president of black America.

Mr. Obama’s case has more to do with him being the “new kid on the block” and getting more attention than older, more experienced politicians, Mr. Watts said..

“When I came to town as the only black Republican, I got a whole lot more attention than I deserved, and there were a lot of people who had been here longer than me looking at me saying, ‘who is this guy?’ and I understood that,” Mr. Watts said.

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