Race in the race | Bleader

Race in the race

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Democratic consultant Delmarie Cobb is a veteran--in 1996 she was the press secretary for the Democratic National Convention, and over the years she's managed campaigns and dispensed advice to a long list of local and national politicians, including Jesse Jackson, former Illinois gubernatorial candidates Roland Burris and Dawn Clark Netsch, and congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Bobby Rush.

Over the last few months Cobb has been in an interesting and sometimes frustrating place. As an African-American from Barack Obama's hometown who supports Hillary Clinton, Cobb has been pulled into the national conversation on race, gender, and bare-knuckles campaigning. This afternoon she shared a few of her thoughts in an interview.

You’ve done a lot of work with local politicians and religious leaders. How representative of local black churches is Trinity? Is it really way outside the mainstream, as it’s been portrayed?

I don’t think it is. And Jeremiah Wright is very well respected and very learned. He can draw on foreign policy and make it relevant for today. What black preachers do is try to take social commentary and match it to biblical teachings.

Being a Hillary Clinton supporter, I don’t know why you have to tear down one person to be in favor of someone else. That’s the overall problem I have with this entire campaign. It’s not just been Jeremiah Wright—it’s with so many of Obama’s supporters. There’s the need to attack supporters of everyone else, and to make them into racists. You can’t sit up there and have a speech about having dialogue on race, and then when someone else brings up something about black and white, they’re a racist.

But Hillary Clinton also brought up Jeremiah Wright—and with him, it seems—race.

First of all, she didn’t say anything for awhile. Then she finally said something—in response to a question, she said, “He wouldn’t be my pastor.” What the Obama campaign has done is this: if I have a black candidate and I’m trying to get to the White House, and my biggest obstacle to getting to the White House is a white candidate with a good relationship with black voters, then I need to shut her down. And in effect the Obama campaign has shut the Clintons down. I think it’s horrible what’s been done in this campaign, quite frankly. There are so few white people who will stick their necks out for black people, and President Clinton stuck his neck out.

But the Clintons also have a reputation for doing anything they can to win.

Because that’s the way the media paints them. They’ve tried to paint them from the very beginning that they’re sneaky, conniving, will do anything to win. Coming from Chicago where politics is rough- and-tumble, I had two reporters call me about the 3 AM phone call ad. And they were trying to argue me down, saying the 3 AM commercial is negative. I said, “Well, that’s what you do in a political contest—she’s supposed to say, ‘I’m the best.’ What’s she supposed to do, say he’s the best?”

I hear a lot of people saying, “Hillary’s a bitch.” It seems really difficult for a female candidate to be aggressive and strong without getting that kind of reaction.

You’re right. The overall thinking is that it’s acceptable to call Hillary a bitch, but we wouldn’t dare use a racial slur about [Obama]. Even as a female consultant, I have male clients who are patronizing to me sometimes. When I did Dawn Clark Netsch’s campaign, I had an argument with [other consultants] over the motto they came up with: “Not just another pretty face.” And I was insulted.

It’s always difficult for a woman the higher up you go. And this is the ultimate. That’s the sad part—we’ve allowed Barack to run just as a candidate, and not a black candidate. Hillary has been a woman candidate the whole time, and she’s had to try to prove she’s not a bitch.

It seems to me that the church controversy is about Obama’s critics reminding voters he’s black.

Yes, that is what the conservatives are going to try to do. Hillary has actually pulled her punches; the Republicans won’t. If anyone thinks the party of Willie Horton and swift boats isn’t going to do this, they’re nuts. The Republicans have already shown us they don’t need black people to win.

How’d you think Obama handled the Wright flap? Would you have advised any differently?

No, he did what he needed to do [by giving the speech on race]. I always tell my candidates that the way to do it is Crisis Management 101—attack it, nip it in the bud. I only wish President Clinton had done the same thing when they tried to paint him as a racist—give a speech and say, “Look at what I’ve done for people.”

What [the media has] decided is that [Obama] is a new black person who doesn’t make race an issue. This is someone we can accept. But this is a fight in the black community—it’s between the black people who’ve been fighting their whole lives for civil rights and the people who’ve been the beneficiaries of that fight. When Barack said Jeremiah Wright was part of the old guard, that’s what he meant. But that diminishes and minimizes those people who did all the fighting, because the fighting hasn’t stopped. I mean, the news yesterday was about all of our high school dropouts. That’s not progress.


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