Barack Obama (and Why I Won't Run for Mayor)

obama.jpgFor those of you that don’t know, Willamette Week is an alt-weekly newspaper in Portland, Oregon. I worked there for seven years as the editor of the film section (which made me the lead film critic), a staff writer and the creative director of a film festival the paper operated during my tenure. In this week’s edition of the paper there is an article entitled “Black Power-Less,” that attempted to explain why Portland is not likely to have a black mayor any time in the near future.

The article took the extremely complex issue of race in a city with a long-documented history of racism, and attempted to simplify it with a few quotes from a few people who fail to either see the big picture, or simply refuse to address it. WW’s explanation of why Portland is not likely to have a black mayor is a bit like saying that the massive destruction Hurricane Katrina wrought upon New Orleans was because it rained a lot.

Needless to say, the article had me a bit upset, and I decided to post my feedback on the WW website. You can read the article and my response to it by following this link.

Immediately following the appearance of my posted comment, I was hit by several emails from people suggesting that I run for mayor of Portland. These suggestions came from close friends, and were not jokes, but they still made me laugh. Mayor David Walker? I don’t think so!

In the late 1980s, while the legendary Bud Clark was still mayor, my friend Bryan and I decided that I should run for office. We joked about it for a long time, but never got serious. About four years ago I was approached—at the Lloyd Center Mall of all places (which is where P-town’s black folks shop)—by someone who felt I should make a bid for office during the upcoming 2004 elections. This conversation was not a joke so much as it was a sad indictment on Portland itself, and the lack of leadership in the black community; because when I seem like a viable candidate for anything, all hope must be lost. This gentleman, who knew me from years ago when I was a stand-up comedian, and now read my section of the paper on a regular basis, felt that I was in a unique position of being recognizable, and that I possessed the skills to articulate myself in a manner that both white people and black people could relate to. I did not argue with him, but I could not help but think that any city that would chose a mayor who was a comedian turned film critic was not a city I would want to oversee. It’s sort of like that old Groucho Marx sentiment—I wouldn’t want to be in a club that would want me as a member.

haysbert2.jpgI went home that night, and for the next days I seriously thought about running for mayor of Portland. Realistically, I knew I had no chance of winning, but I felt that I could at the very least shake things up. That was the same reason I had for deciding to run for President of the United States back during the administration of Bush #1. As some of you may recall, the country was in the toilet back then—kind of sad to look back and realize that things weren’t all that bad by comparison to today—and I felt that what this country needed was a black man to run for president who was not Jesse Jackson, but who could still shake things up and get people talking. I knew that I would be old enough to legally run in the 2008 election, and that was the plan back in 1990 and 1991.

Thankfully, Senator Barack Obama has come along to do what I planned on doing years ago, but never really got around to actually working towards. The thing to keep in mind is that I never planned on winning my presidential bid. My goal was to simply “fuck shit up.” Obama has a slightly better chance of becoming the President of the United States than I would; but considering I would have no chance at all, that’s not saying much.

The sustained popularity of Obama and Hilary Clinton at this early phase of the campaign season is less of an indication of America finally turning a corner in its views of race and sex, and more of a reflection of how sick and tired people are at this very moment. In the political landscape of presidential hopefuls, Clinton and Obama are as far-removed from what has been screwing up this country for longer than anyone cares to admit — namely rich white men of questionable ethics, intelligence and humanity. Obama and Clinton are easy-to-comprehend visible representations of something different than what this country has right now. But when the time comes to vote, it will be interesting to see if America is really ready to make history, or if John Edwards will be the latest member admitted to the clubhouse.

The truth, as it relates to Obama is that he will not be the next president. This is not me throwing some voodoo curse on the man, it is just that he is not quite ready for the office. America, on the other hand—or at least a sizeable portion of the population—is finally ready to accept a black man as president. This not my belief based on some independent poll I read on the Internet, but merely a matter of fact based on what I have seen on television and in the movies.

Stop laughing.

morgan-freeman.jpgWhile it may seem far-fetched to some people, my belief that America is finally ready for a black president is based on the acceptance of that very notion being accepted in pop culture. Dennis Haysbert played David Palmer, the first black President of the United States to be portrayed in an on-going role on the wildly popular television series 24. In the 1998 film Deep Impact, Morgan Freeman co-starred as President Tom Beck. It was not a revolutionary film or a revolutionary roll for Freeman, but it was an image and concept that American moviegoers accepted. In fact, in a film that does not exactly go down as one of the more memorable cinematic experiences, Freeman’s performance is one of the things that stand out the most. There’s also the silly Chris Rock comedy Head of State, which may have only earned $37 million at the box office, but still went a long way to selling the idea of a black man as president (as have the films The Fifth Element, with Tiny Lister in the role, and Idiocracy with Terry Crews). And of course, let’s not forget the forgotten 1972 classic The Man, a powerful drama about the first black president, starring James Earl Jones in a film scripted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.

the-man2.jpgAll of this may sound silly to most of you, but stop for a moment and think about Ronald Reagan. He was a second-rate actor who managed to get elected as governor of California because he was recognizable to voters (not unlike current governor Schwarzenegger). From there Reagan was able to parlay what started out as a career in film into the greatest role of his life, President of the United States. Now, if a jackass like Reagan can become president thanks in no small part to his being made recognizable through his work in film, then a similar principal can be applied to the notion that a black man will someday be elected.

Until Obama came along, I was convinced that the first non-white president would be of Hispanic decent, not unlike current hopeful Bill Richardson. The reasons for this is simple: Hispanics are the largest minority in this country, with steadily increasing numbers, they have already managed to become a political force to be reckoned with, and most important, in the right light some Hispanic people can pass for white, which makes them easier to accept by white people.

But with the emergence of Barack Obama, there is finally a black man who—aside from Colin Powell—has what it takes to get enough white people to vote for him and eventually put him into office one day. The thing that Obama brings to the table is the fact that even though he is a black man, and can often engage audiences in a vernacular and style that speaks of his cultural roots, he has wisely cast himself as a “human being” running for office, and not simply a “black man.” This is what defines the current, younger generation of black politicians who appeal to white voters. Men like Obama and the current mayor of Newark, Corey Booker, do not beat the drum of their blackness the way the older generation of Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons have done. They don’t play the race card the same way these older cats have done, and that is a good thing.

Neither the country nor an individual city, state or county needs an elected black official simply because they quote Dr. Martin Luther King or sing “We Shall Overcome.” Black leaders should be elected on the merits of their political ability and intelligence; their blackness should only be a bonus in that it is likely to carry with it a sense of determination to better themselves despite an outside view by others that they are inferior. And as America continues to be looked down upon by the rest of the world, it is important for everyone to understand that this country is now viewed by a growing number of people on the planet with the same sort of disdain that so many white people in this country have viewed blacks throughout past and current history. We, as in all of America, are the niggers of the world. And if we are to ever become more than niggers—more than someone viewed as unworthy of respect or consideration—we must turn to a nigger to help get our shit together.

chris-rock.jpgBy 2016, if he hasn’t burned out or fucked up in some way, and is still interested running this country, Barack Obama will be the President of the United States. That is of course if Colin Powell doesn’t step into the picture, which seems unlikely at this time. Even though nominating Powell as the vice presidential candidate would all but ensure a Republican win in 2008, those stupid GOP motherfuckers are too dumb to realize what a valuable asset they have (not that he would let them use him that way). And whether or not Powell would ever jump over to the Democratic camp is inconsequential because I’m convinced he would not be accepted. But the fact of the matter is that even though he was complicit in feeding the public a series of lies that have led to war in Iraq, Powell is a far better person than anyone else affiliated with the Bush administration or the GOP.

It was during his trip to Asia after the tsunami, when he was still Secretary of State, that Powell did something no member of the Bush administration has done—he revealed himself to be a human being. Powell’s emotional breakdown in the midst of all that mass destruction and carnage set him apart from his comrades, and it is no wonder he soon left office. It was also in that moment that he showed himself to be a man that could lead this country, despite his past affiliations.

What could easily carry Powell into the office of vice president and perhaps president, and what, given time, could carry Obama to the same office is that they understand the need to appeal across class lines, as opposed to race lines. Racism is the smoke screen that is used to divert attention from classism. To appeal to enough white people to garner the votes needed to win a national election, a black candidate must speak to white voters in a language that they can easily understand. The problem, of course, is that white people don’t have to think along class lines because they have the luxury of being white, while blacks seldom think along those lines because they have no luxuries. But the reality is that it is the lines that divide the various classes that create much larger gaps and inequities than race can ever provide. The only difference between a poor white family that can’t pay the bills and a poor black family that can’t pay the bills is that the white family—by virtue of the privilege being white—has a better chance of moving up the socio-economic ladder. But they still don’t have much of a chance because when you get right down to it, the rich ruling class doesn’t want some uneducated, white trailer-trash dining at the big house any more than they want some black folks.

fifthelement.jpegBy now you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with me running for mayor of Portland. Clearly, I’m not a complete idiot, and I’ve thought some things through, and I understand part of the process. I may be right in my beliefs of what it takes for a black candidate to win an election where a majority of the voters are white (although I could be wrong).

What it comes down to are two simple things. First, I don’t want to be mayor. Second, and on a very realistic level, I have too many skeletons to run for public office. Sure, I prefer to keep my skeletons strewn about the floor, as opposed to most people who hide them in the closet, but they are enough to keep me from ever mounting a serious campaign that could not be sunk in a matter of minutes. As a writer I have said many things that have left me labeled as being a sexist, a bigot, and a misogynist. And there’s a certain amount of truth to all those charges. White people do in fact make me sick to my stomach, black people make me even sicker, and women both frustrate and confuse me to the point that I frequently find it easier to sexually objectify them rather than identifying with them as human beings. And that’s just the tip of the very complex iceberg that is David Walker.

When it gets right down to it, I don’t want to have to explain why I never say the pledge of allegiance, or why I don’t sing the National Anthem. It is nobody’s business that the only time I step into church it is for a wedding or a funeral. And no campaign I could ever mount for elected office would add up to much more than me saying, “You know, who I fucked and what I smoked twenty years ago is none of your damn business, and has little bearing on how I would perform the duties I would be expected to perform. If you have any questions about my performance ability, I can give you the number of some chicks that will vouch for me.”

So, while I hate to disappoint anyone out there hoping that I might be able to help get the city of Portland in better shape, or maybe even help lead this country into a new era of enlightenment…sorry, but that shit ain’t gonna happen.

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3 Responses to “Barack Obama (and Why I Won't Run for Mayor)”

  1. jamiesrich Says:

    I’ve long felt similar things about the class divide in this country and how the powers that be have used other issues (racism, religion, etc.) to cover up the fact that if we all stopped and asked who has the money, we’d realize the same thieving hands are in all of our pockets. Nice to read someone putting that idea into a well-constructed essay with this kind of context.

  2. Boogaloo Baby Says:

    Nice article Walker… But I gotta say as soon as I saw the title of your article I pretty much ascertained that among other things it was due to said “skeletons” that you wouldn’t be jumping at the chance to run for any office.

    Shoot the imagery of the article you wrote in which you described getting a rim job from a dog alone I think would pretty much ruin your chances… I just can’t imagine that we could see someone keeping it real and not on some old fakery image shit in most any office during our lifetime
    BB

  3. Chief Scalpum Whiteman Says:

    I wouldn’t run for mayor if I were you. Everyone knows you’re a flip-flopper.

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