We all know the old adage, "Look before you leap." When looking at new potential strategic positions, Sun Tzu's strategy evaluates three dimensions called distances, obstacles, and dangers. The "dangers" dimension consists of positions that get you stuck. This means that getting out of them is difficult or dangerous. The only time to avoid a dangerous position is before you get into it, but danger is often difficult to foresee. In this recent article
billionaire businessman Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, comments on the Obama campaign pointing out how dangerous it has become, saying:
"Geraldine Ferraro said it right. The problem is, Geraldine Ferraro is white. This campaign has such a hair-trigger on anything racial ... it is almost impossible for anybody to say anything."
In trying to get beyond race with the Obama candidacy, we are in danger of getting embroiled in it. If Obama loses the nomination, there will unquestionably be charges of racism, but the Democratic Party's position as the party of the black community may give it a degree of insulation. However, if Obama loses the general election, especially in the type of close elections we have seen now for decades, the charges of racism could turn uglier that the "election stealing" charges we heard after Bush's elections. And, if Obama was elected, the problem doesn't go away either, unfortunately. If as Johnson says now, "it is almost impossible for anyone to say anything," what does this mean for political opposition after the election? Is anyone who opposing a black president automatically a racist?
This is a dangerous situation for Obama and he would be wise to defuse it rather than play to it. Making race a non-issue is the philosophical core of his campaign. Instead of attacking Ferraro, he should have sympathized with her point of view and defended her against attacks of racism, making it clear that race is an issue but that he will work to make it a non-issue.
Strangely enough, this problem has less to do with Obama's race than the potent combination of party and philosophy. Obama can control that philosophy. If a black, conservative candidate ran as a Republican and lost or won, race would almost certainly not be an issue. As Clarence Thomas can attest, conservative blacks are not defended in the same way by charges of racism. Instead they are attacked as somehow insufficiently racial.