Obama's gang is more rooted in the black establishment than we thought. They will transform the culture in Washingtonby Martin Walker / December 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
To understand how the culture of Washington is about to change, consider the conference call Obama held on the day before the election. He spoke with some of those African-Americans closest to him. House majority whip Jim Clyburn, a veteran politician from South Carolina, might have been predicted, as would political adviser Donna Brazile, who had run Al Gore’s campaign eight years ago. But there too were the 88-year old Reverend Joseph Lowery, dean of the old civil rights movement, and Obama’s first celebrity supporter, Oprah Winfrey. And the final man on the call was Sean “Diddy” Combs, a rapper-turned-clothing entrepreneur. Diddy had just come from telling Vote Obama rallies in Florida “we have to do it for the people that died for us to have the right to vote.”
Remember that on Obama’s first date with his wife Michelle, he took her to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. And the time he says he got angriest in politics was when his black senate election opponent Alan Keyes claimed that Obama’s African-born father meant he had not shared the African-American heritage of slavery in what became known as the “not-black-enough” debate.
Obama is sometimes seen as “post-racial,” a mixed race man mainly raised by whites who has avoided the conventional routes for a black politician. But blacks formed the core of his first support group in Washington. His first Washington fundraiser was hosted by veteran black super-lawyer (and Bill Clinton’s golfing chum) Vernon Jordan. Other fundraisers included Eric Holder, deputy attorney-general in Clinton’s administration, Larry Duncan, a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin and Mike Williams, vice president for legislative affairs (which means lobbyist) at the Bond Market Association. These guys are the black community’s movers and shakers. Obama may symbolise a post-racial America, but he knows how much he owes to black support.