One of the inevitable themes of Barack Obama’s re-election was race, given that he was a black, or rather an African-American. However, he was inherently atypical in that he had no slave ancestry.
The main reason why the USA has a black population, and a race problem, is that very institution of slavery. It was because of slavery that the USA had a civil war, which still poisons race relations.
It has also made sure that blacks form an economically-deprived class, with (on average) shorter lives, more broken homes, less education, and greater chances of committing a crime and going to jail.
However, Obama is the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, and is thus a product of another form of American economic exploitation, imperialism. Obama’s father came to the USA as a student, reflecting how the USA colonises the rest of the world, by being the recipient of what is known as the ‘brain drain’.
Obama’s re-election was narrow, reflecting a surprising reluctance by the American people to renew his mandate. The pattern has been for relatively narrow wins to enter office, succeeded by more convincing wins to renew the mandate.
The first time Obama became President, the win was narrow, but the re-election was also narrow. The mention of the race factor was itself unusual, because one of the shibboleths that have gone up about it is that it should not be mentioned.
One of the main problems has been about what to call the members of the oppressed race, because the words used for them carried negative connotations. However, while the stereotypes had been denied public space, they had been driven underground, and in the 2012 campaign, the Republicans showed a racist streak.
The doubts about Obama’s birthplace, even his religion, were actually reminders that he was black. Romney had no doubts raised, as if there were different burdens of proof for black and white.
However, Obama won, albeit narrowly. That shows that this black man was elected President by the votes of white folk. Being black and Democrat means a retention of black votes, which are traditionally cast for Democrats, not Republicans, rather than any gain. Still, in a close election, such manifestations of racial solidarity as a higher turnout for Obama among black voters in swing states was particularly helpful.
Latino voters also showed this commitment to Obama, which meant that his race made him a focus for the racially oppressed. That the oppression shows in economic deprivation might show the flaw in the capitalist system.
However, Obama has helped defend that in his first tenure. Not only has he kept George Bush’s wars. But he has continued his bailouts. This too shows that he is a ‘coconut’, street slang for a black who is ‘white on the inside’.
That he is called a black at all is a sign that the USA is a racialist society.
Technically, he is a mulatto, a mixture of a white mother and an African father. However, in the USA’s racially-charged society, such a mixture leads to identification as a black. Blackness thus becomes a taint, not just a part of the person’s identity.
Obama avoided becoming, like Jimmy Carter, or the elder George Bush, a one-term President. As the examples of Presidents of both parties have shown, Americans prefer to re-elect sitting Presidents. Herbert Hoover faced the beginning of the Great Depression, and had the 1929 Wall Street Crash occur in his first year in office. He was not re-elected in 1932, but his successor, FDR, kept on winning re-election till he died in 1945, causing an amendment to be passed placing a two-term limit (before his phenomenal run, the limit had been there, but only as an unwritten convention). After that, only Carter or Bush lost the election after they first won. (So did Gerald Ford, but the series of events by the President and Vice President re-elected in 1972, that led to his becoming President, is so improbable, that Obama should not be compared with him.)
Agnew was the first former Governor of Massachusetts to be on a major-party ticket as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate, and his Vice President. That was not the first time Massachusetts provided a national figure, with John F. Kennedy only recently having been President, after having been a Senator for Massachusetts. However, Mitt Romney, also a former Governor of Massachusetts, would not like the comparison, because Agnew had to resign because of tax problems.
It was, perhaps, fortunate that he did so before Nixon’s own resignation over the Watergate scandal, because the idea even now, of a President Agnew also having to resign, causes tremors.
Romney may prefer to be placed in the company of Michael Dukakis, another ex-Governor of Massachusetts, who was a major-party national nominee and who lost to the elder Bush in 1988 as the Democratic candidate.
That the 1988 election may resonate with both Obama and Romney because of Jesse Jackson, who challenged Dukakis unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination. Like Obama, Jackson was a black. Like Romney, Jackson was an ordained minister.
Jackson was not the first black to run for President. That was Rep. Shirley Chisholm, whose run for the Democratic nomination was so spectacularly unsuccessful in 1972. But Jackson almost won the nomination, and thus set the stage for Obama. He was also an ordained minister, something he took to after entering politics as a black activist. This was part of an ancient African-American tradition, dating to the slave era, when churches were the main, very often the sole, means of organisation for the parishioners, and church leaders had to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement.
Romney is also an ordained minister, and the first on any major-party ticket. He is a Mormon, again a first, which raised some Kennedy comparisons of its own. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic, and questions were raised of his independence. The first Roman Catholic to head a major-party ticket, Alfred E. Smith, was beaten in 1928, when he lost to Herbert Hoover.
Romney would not like to be mentioned along with the last Mormon to seek major-party nomination, Senator Gary Hart, who gave a strong run for the Democratic nomination in 1984, until embroiled in a sex scandal.
Obama belongs to Illinois, as does Rev. Jackson, whose son Jesse Junior has been representing a Chicago constituency in the Congress. And it is a strange coincidence that Chisholm represented a constituency in New York, where Obama’s main opponent for the Democratic nomination in 2008, his Sectary of State, Hillary Clinton, was a Senator.
That indicates where the Democratic party is headed. In 2016, it will have to find a fresh face. Vice President Joe Biden is the leading contender, but it means going back to the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) candidates of the past. The alternative would be a woman candidate, and if Secretary Clinton leaves the Obama Administration, it would only be for a presidential bid.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of TheNation. Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk