Robert Novak, that’s not nice

By Guest Columnist Jul 25, 2007

Pardon me for being a little behind but I had such a mess of reactions to this bit of news that I simply had to share it. Did y’all hear about Robert Novak’s comment on how the Democrats move to run a woman or black man for President gives Republicans hope? I assume you all read tnews more than me, but in case you missed it: "During all-white-male Meet the Press panel, Novak claimed "woman or an African-American" Dem nominee would give GOP "hope". "During a panel discussion of the 2008 presidential election on the July 15 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, syndicated columnist Robert Novak asserted: "Republicans are very pessimistic about 2008. When you talk to them off the record, they don’t see how they can win this thing. And then they think for a minute, and only the Democratic Party, with everything in their favor, would say that, ‘OK, this is the year either to have a woman or an African-American to break precedent, to do things the country has never done before.’ And it gives the Republicans hope." Neither host Tim Russert nor any of Novak’s fellow panelists, Bloomberg News Washington managing editor Al Hunt, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum — all of whom are, like Novak, white men — commented on or challenged Novak’s assertion. As Media Matters for America documented, the four Sunday-morning talk programs on the broadcast networks, Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, feature guest lists that are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. "A breakdown of the guests on Meet the Press from 2005 to 2006 shows that 76 percent of the guests on the program were white men. Read July 15 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press here. So…I read this as I’m catching up on my post US Social Forum emails and the message reverberating in my mind is the still radical suggestion that another world is possible and another U.S. is necessary. The message is compounded by bits of proof that people can and do behave differently when given the space to deeply engage with each other and liberating information – the type of information that shifts perspective in a way that makes one realize that if one new perspective is possible, perhaps another, and another, perhaps a 360 degree perspective is even possible, and with that sort of vision perhaps any dream could be realized. This is my mindset reading this piece, and my reaction was so multi-layered. First, how dare you say that Robert Novak?? The idea that running a woman or a black man for president is a stupid move, rather than the most likely way people will be able to recognize a different leadership coming is so WASP-normative. Unfortunately, similar words have crossed my lips behind some closed doors recently. Just discussions – with people who are working on Hillary and Obama’s campaigns, people that are Green, people that are done with voting (again), people who think this is the Big One (again). Not that the woman/Black move isn’t strategic, not that I ever want to give Republicans hope without a deep analysis shift before, none of that. More based on my fear of what I have known so far in this country. More based on this angst in my belly I often get around national politics, around this particular nationalism where the majority of people don’t believe enough in women or Black male leadership to pay us anywhere close to equal wages but we expect to see a female or Black male president who isn’t merely a masked iteration of WASP-normative culture? Hearing Bob say what he said, or rather reading that he’d said it on a morning show surrounded by other white men who didn’t challenge him at all, because he said what they all believe, makes me really want to examine what I believe, and what the people around me think. Well, first it makes me like, no he di’in’t!! And then it makes me want to test the strength of that conviction on the left that Obama’s inspirational touch will overcome the active racism still at large in this new-old America. I know Hillary is raising a lot of money, building a machine behind her…I still can’t see it: this nation electing Hillary. I have met some folks who are very into Hillary, all of them women of the generation before mine, who see Hillary as president as the answer to the feminist movement’s long-sounded call. Over half of them have confided in me that they also think Obama is ‘so handsome’ and have implied that behind closed doors they might cast their vote for him no matter what their husbands would think. Which is also complex. The tone of voice with which WASP-normative people of all backgrounds speak of Obama is somewhere between person-of-color awe, ‘he’s so articulate’, and ‘McDreamy!’…I have read up on his background, he has the history of a community organizer and that excites me. He’s a bit more grandiose rhetoric than concrete plan and that is how to win in this country. Being in a room when he gives a well-crafted universally moving speech is electrifying. And my inner purist pops up immediately like "Yes, but what’s his feeling on Palestine? What’s his feeling on immigration?" Though I know better than to expect perfect platforms in an imperfect democracy. But under it all I hear my own little voice saying, but he’s Black. And his name is Obama. In a nation where Blacks are being incarcerated, murdered and/or left to wallow in preventable illnesses at rates comparable to the slavery and Jim Crow eras; where people suspected of being Muslim are targeted, disappeared, maligned in mainstream media and assumed allies of an Axis of Islam (Iran, Syria, Iraq; where non-Muslims are swallowed by the stereotype of the Arab enemy). During the 2004 elections I was traveling a lot, explaining that if we wanted to see a certain type of values reflecting at the federal level, we needed to organize our communities and use electoral strategies to get there. I still believe that, though I see more than ever a need for action as a necessary component of all of that organizing. But the value alignment has to be deeper than it is currently. Surface progressive movement building yields splintered or absent responses to real challenges to our long-term sustainability and self-determination as a species.