Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pick Your Poison

I am such a minority I’m nearly an anomaly: I am an undecided black voter. According to the ABCNews/Washington Post Poll from August 22, 95% of registered black voters have made up their minds—with 88% supporting Sen. Barack Obama.

Neither of the major party presidential candidates holds much appeal for me, but as a black man, there is an undeniably strong urge to vote for the first black president of the United States, in spite of my misgivings about his policies. While “Yes We Can” is nothing more than a jingoistic catchphrase, Obama’s ascension to the presidency would demonstrate to black youths a tangible accomplishment of what they can do is hard to overstate.

I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and went to the first magnet elementary school in the city. But, due to my family moving a few blocks out of the city school district, I was removed from the program and started a new school in the 4th grade. My new school lagged far behind academically and was much less diverse. Whereas my old school had an array of ethnic, cultural, and religious students, my new school was dominated by two very distinct groups: white kids and black kids.

Up to that point of my life, my concept of race was virtually non-existent. That suddenly changed because race was a polarizing factor in my school and neighborhood. Looking back, the most poignant of many experiences was the one time a black classmate asked told me “Wow! You’re the smartest kid in the school!”

Not knowing the difference between education and intelligence, I shrugged and agreed.

And then he said, “And you’re black! That is so cool!”

Such an observation seems innocuous when taken out of context. But over time, I realized that this statement was indicative of how many black students—even by the age of nine—assume a position of (at least, intellectual) inferiority to their white peers. It doesn’t take a sociologist to realize that if a kid doesn’t think he’s as good as someone else—for reasons beyond his control—the odds of that kid succeeding are lessened dramatically.

A black president, while not a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination, could help alleviate the presumption of self-doubt.

But would the net gain in collective self-esteem really offset the potential economic costs of an Obama presidency?

Senator Obama’s views on trade are murky, at best. If he decides to enforce “environmental standards”—i.e., a tax via treaty—consumer prices will rise to the detriment of all, but specifically poorer, Americans. His pronouncements to tax “windfall” profits of oil companies will indeed raise gas prices, thus putting further economic burden on the poor. And for healthcare? Well, while his “voluntary” plan looks better than Hillary Clinton’s mandatory plan on its face (remember that the federal income tax is also “voluntary”)—the results of existing Medicaid-type programs are hardly exemplary and, indeed, sometimes tragic.

But it isn’t as if the alternative is any better. Senator John McCain is a graduate of a service academy, a decorated war veteran, a self-described “maverick,” and has an aggressive foreign policy—all of which, some think, make him qualified to be president. Yet, all the same could be said of George Armstrong Custer—and we all know how well that turned out.

So, I can pick a candidate that fills people—and specifically black people, my people—with a sense of pride as he simultaneously makes us poorer and less likely to overcome the substantial obstacles in the way; or I can pick one that may possibly send young people into bloody confrontations with the reemerging powers of the world at a cost of blood and treasure not yet calculable.

I think I’ll just flip a coin-- Heads: they win; Tails: we lose.

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