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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 12, 2007 9:54 AM

Is Obama running just because he's black?

Posted by David Postman

That's what famous California liberal, and former radical, Tom Hayden says. Ordinarily something Hayden says may not seem very important in a presidential campaign. He's the former California state senator who was once married to Jane Fonda. But his name was mentioned by Barack Obama and he responded in a piece at Huffington Post.

Hayden was ticked off by this quotation from Obama in a recent New York Times Magazine profile:

The Democrats have been stuck in the arguments of Vietnam, which means that either you're a Scoop Jackson Democrat or you're a Tom Hayden Democrat and you're suspicious of any military action. And that's just not my framework.

Hayden took it personally.

Barack, I thought Hillary Clinton was known as the Great Triangulator, but you are learning well. The problem with setting up false polarities to position yourself in the "center," however, is that it's unproductive both politically and intellectually.

What jumped out at me most in Hayden's post was his argument that Obama is running based mostly on his race.

Your problem, if I may say so out loud, and with all respect, is that the deepest rationale for your running for president is the one that you dare not mention very much, which is that you are an African-American with the possibility of becoming president. The quiet implication of your centrism is that all races can live beyond the present divisions, in the higher reality above the dualities.

First off, what would happen if it was a conservative Republican, not a liberal Democrat, who said Obama's deepest rationale for running was his race? I can tell you what would happen, there'd be outrage followed by calls for the now-de rigueur apology. But more substantively, is race the reason for Obama's centrism? What then is Clinton's? She after all runs most as a centrist. Is it her gender that underlines her call for Americans to live in the "higher reality above the dualities?" If you read Hayden's full post you see he doesn't like to be thought of as a point on anyone's triangle. He doesn't want to be an extreme.

But he has a point about Obama running against triangulation at the same time he uses it to position himself within the Democratic party. Just yesterday in Iowa, Obama railed against campaigns like Clinton's where candidates "don't answer directly tough questions. You don't present tough choices directly to the American people for fear that your answers might not be popular. You might make yourself a target for Republicans in the general election.

"Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we're worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won't do it."

I wonder what Scoop Jackson Democrats think of being another point on Obama's war triangle? Thoughts?

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