The purpose of this post is really to bring attention to a couple of posts by others that offer a slightly different take on some of the tensions between Senators Clinton and Obama and the demographics they're appealing to in the primaries.
Raphael Dalleo, a colleague of mine, wrote a piece for "The Root" (which will soon be added to the blogroll) which asks why Hillary Clinton, who came of age in the stormy 60s, and whose early political philosophy was certainly molded by the struggles of that period, is running away from those arguments now. He frames the differences between Obama and Clinton this way:
Obama made the case that Wright expresses a perspective on the U.S. that is too static, too stuck in the battles of the past to be able to recognize the present's potential for social change. In refusing to disown Wright, however, in describing him and the tradition he represents as "family," Obama acknowledged the Sixties project of advancing equality and democratizing American society as his inheritance. It is an inheritance that Obama knows he cannot turn his back on.I'm not sure that she's unwilling to acknowledge the complexities so much as she's unwilling to get into them in a campaign context. I'm sure that if you sat down with her and had a conversation about these things, she'd be quite articulate and far-reaching in her opinions. But that doesn't generally come up in a political campaign, especially when we're dealing with a generational divide the way we are now.
The debate on April 16th explicitly framed the candidates' different relationships with the Sixties. When Hillary Clinton attacked Obama for his relationships with Rev. Wright and William Ayers, she mentioned both in the context of 9-11. By portraying both men as un-American, Clinton overtly rejected the movements behind their rhetoric–the Black Power Movement and the Weather Underground. These certainly are two of the more controversial sides of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam Sixties. It may be depressing, but it certainly isn't a surprise that the Democratic presidential hopeful who actually came of age during the Sixties is unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of the militant aspects of Sixties' struggles.
Publius, writing at Obsidian Wings, deals with this generational divide a bit more in detail.
Personally, I think younger people were a bit baffled about why the Jeremiah Wright controversy had such strong legs. I mean, they knew what the newspapers said, but they couldn’t feel the controversy in their bones the way Baby Boomers probably could.I fall into that middle generation a bit--I came of age in a post-Vietnam, late-Cold-War period, where there were fewer protests and more discos, and where the accusation of "communist" still carried some weight. Obama is only about 7 years older than I am, but he spent a lot of his youth outside the country, so he's closer to my generation than the one before mine, I believe.
That’s because Jeremiah Wright brings out old scars from battles we never fought. While it’s hard today to truly understand the intoxicating idealism of the civil rights era, it’s also hard to truly understand just how bitterly venomous the white backlash to these developments was.
Wright, then, isn’t a controversy because of what he said about 9/11 (though it’s tempting to think so). He’s a controversy because he represents in older white people’s eyes everything from busing to urban riots to black nationalism. If anything, Wright’s 9/11 comments give license to air what is essentially race-based animus lying beneath. For me, though, these issues have less resonance because I wasn’t around fighting them.
Clinton, however, was born the same year my mother was, and she came of age in the aftermath of the McCarthy hearings and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the racial violence in the Civil Rights movement and all the negative memories and angst that came out of that period. Factor in that from a political perspective, Clinton no doubt remembers that for all the energy the counter-culture brought to the electoral process, they brought very little electoral success--Nixon won in 1968, remember--and it's no surprise that Clinton may, consciously or subconsciously, be deliberately rejecting that complexity because of the negative feelings it causes to well up in a large segment of the population. We're talking about Baby Boomers here, the largest segment of the population, and the one that most reliably votes. It's not a bad electoral strategy when looked at that way.
Obama has built his lead by getting more people from outside the traditional electorate involved and motivated, especially young people. Clinton has appealed to those groups who are tried and true (which makes her comments regarding Moveon make a little more sense). Both are appealing to who they relate to more, which is why there's been relatively little separation between them in terms of votes and delegates.
There have been some really good pieces written over at Shakesville dealing with the lack of real progressivism from either Obama or Clinton, and if you're a member of what passes for the American left, that can get really frustrating at times, but this generational difference may be part of the reason why lots of younger people who style themselves progressives find themselves so firmly in Obama's camp. It's because when we hear Jeremiah Wright's tirades, we're a little more open to them because we weren't formed in the crucible that caused those feelings to bubble up in the first place, and so we can be a little more dispassionate about them.
Raphael Dalleo and Elena Machado Saez are the co-authors of The Latino/a Canon and the Emergence of Post-Sixties Literature.