Monday, July 6, 2009

Pennsylvania Primary Aftermath

PA Primary Aftermath

As the dust settles on the campaign trail, what did we really learn?

In the smoldering aftermath of the primary process, the first thought that comes to mind is "be careful what you wish for." As the campaigns leave this state and move on to Indiana and North Carolina for the next contests - what Guam doesn't get a rally or two? - I look at the state of the race now and ask are we better off than before? After Texas and Ohio had their day, I was pleased that this was going to continue into Pennsylvania. We would get to take center stage in the Political saga that is shaping live and in real time on television and the internet. Yet, the debate was not elevated, but stripped to the barest core of new age politics and the citizens of this state were the perfect audience.

The racial tensions here are as bare as I ever felt walking with my African-American girlfriend in rural Georgia during my military service. From my black friends, there is a definite sense in my very city of a racial divide and disenfranchisement - even within the African-American community. Also, I have white associates who have expressed very racially charged and ignorant beliefs and prejudices that pervade their thoughts and dealings on a very fundamental level. I am not going to go into specifics, but there are some racial issues that we need to address. Did Barack Obama lose Pennsylvania because of some racial prejudices? It may have played a role.

Political talk had swept up the city in these past six weeks. Those that normally stand silent at the bus stop or in the lunchrooms across the state suddenly began engaging each other. First it was talk of how liberal they feared Obama was going to be and the fact that a few of those I talked to did believe he was a "secret Muslim." Yet, as the weeks went on we stopped discussing who could best defend the nation or what defined relevant experience and began discussing the usage of the word "cling" and rolling our eyes at the Bosnia misstatement and finally getting down to Jeremiah Wright and by extension angry black folk.

A woman that works for a University in downtown Pittsburgh wondered why there was still so much anger in the black community. She was discussing the Martin Luther King, Jr. documentary and how much had changed in just forty years. She tried her best to atone for the sins of her forebears and yet felt as though it was not appreciated. The polls were skewed, but the media and local talk radio wasn't. It was full of rich white people commenting on the state of race relations in this country. For every person who feels as my University friend does, there are three or four who have some level of resentment. It is a resentment that stems from a sense of hopelessness and some unspoken guilt and something that must be considered in the greater racial discussion. The angry and the, some might say, bitter must all be respectfully brought in and with temperance and sensitivity included in the progress.

Pennsylvania had some of it's dirty laundry aired, but this is only for those who are looking at the glass as half-empty. Record numbers of people registered to vote and to get into the process. The electorate is awake. The real concern is the type of information we are using to make our decisions. Are the e-mail forwards, the pundit analysis or actually analyzing the candidates' words for ourselves the best way to determine our choice? On the subject of our problem with race, there is no simple answer. Senator Barack Obama's pastor made a speech at an NAACP dinner that spoke to some of these racial discussions on the theme of "different is not deficient." Yet, I wonder if the discussion that follows will be on the substance of the speech or just a springboard to play "goddamn America," on a loop again?

We may never truly know if it was the race factor that played a role in the primary results, positive or negative. The greater lesson is that for brief periods we pay attention to these issues, but now they only seem to be able to last the news cycle. Perhaps we will all be talking about them again come November, but the real challenge is to hold accountable the politician we do choose to elect to keep his or her word and deliver on their promises to the constituency. After they move on to the next campaign stop, we seem to go back to business-as-usual, waiting until our concerns and opinions become relevant once again.

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