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Barron Backs Barack

Yesterday, Barack Obama picked up the endorsement of Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron. Tellingly, the first words to come from an Obama spokesperson were these:

Sen. Obama disagrees with Councilman Barron’s statements on several issues, but this campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences.

It’s understandable that the Obama campaign would seek to distance itself publicly from Barron, a former black panther. Barron’s history is littered with disgraceful behavior, the latest incident being his defense of a staffer, Viola Plummer, who threatened to kill a City Councilman (a particularly serious outburst considering the murder of Councilman James Davis, gunned down on the floor of the City Council chamber in the summer of 2003). Barron’s support for Plummer’s assassination threat was altogether unremarkable considering the fact that Barron is a long-time supporter of Robert Mugabe—a man who actually does kill his political opponents.

Endorsements are somewhat over-hyped occurrences in presidential campaigns, and there’s no reason to think that Obama shares the more controversial viewpoints, or approves of the outrageous tactics, of Charles Barron. Indeed, Obama has distinguished himself, in his rhetoric, from racial hucksters like Barron, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson (who in September complained that Obama was “acting like he’s white”). But this is the second controversial endorsement Obama has had to endure in just the past few weeks. His campaign recently invited the “ex-gay” gospel singer Donnie McClurkin (who has claimed that gays are “trying to kill our children”) to perform at a gospel concert in South Carolina. Obama stated that he does not agree with McClurkin’s views, but nevertheless has not disowned the performer’s endorsement.

Though Obama has tried to put some distance between himself and these disreputable figures, he must know how useful they might be in attracting black Democratic voters (who are, at the moment, overwhelmingly supporting Hillary Clinton). Obama’s acceptance of these endorsements doesn’t mean he’s a racist or homophobe. But endorsements are nonetheless useful in making educated assumptions about the policies a candidate might pursue, and values he will reflect, if elected. These two recent ones suggest that for all of Obama’s talk about his purported wish to “unite” people and his supporters’ claims that his “campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences,” he can (or wants to) play partisan identity politics with the best of them. If Republicans constantly are vilified for the endorsements they garner, there’s no reason Democrats shouldn’t face the same scrutiny.



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