There is “Mecca” we all know in Saudi Arabia. It is the Islamic Holy City, where once every year millions of Muslims trek for a Holy pilgrimage.
Then there is “The Mecca,” Howard University, the place known in Black educational and cultural circles as the center, the capital, the headquarters–The Mecca.
Howard, therefore, was the ideal place for theÂ second Presidential candidate’s debate at an historically Black university (An earlierÂ presidential candidates debate was heldÂ already this season on April 26 at South Carolina State, another historically Black university).
More than 1,000 of Black America’s elite were there to witness the ceremony featuring all eight Democratic candidates, which seems as though it should have been the investiture of Sen. Barack Obama as the one and only Black presidential “sweetheart.”
Radio/TV host Tavis Smiley was undoubtedly the “Best Man,” and he reveled in the role. His No. 1 Bestselling book “The Covenant” was the bouquet, but Sen. Obama seemed to leave his “A-game” at home and did not seek to grab it or run with it. Two of his rivals–Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) stole all the thunder with the “highlight reel” comments of the night.
Sen. Clinton has an advantage with Black voters. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, was dubbed the “First Black President” by author Toni Morrison.Â Clinton brought many of the women in the audience to their feet when she responded to a question about the HIV-AIDS world pandemic, and Black folks.
“If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of White women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country,” she said bringing on the ovation. She also finessed the biggest joke of the evening. When Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd went over the time limit to answer a question, Mr. Smiley cut him off. He tried to laugh it off, but Mr. Smiley corrected him again: “If you were Paris Hilton, you’d get an hour” to speak, the moderator said.
Blonde-haired (like Miss Hilton) Sen. Clinton was next. She smiled and laughed and went on never missing a beat, never losing her footing.
For his part, Rep. Kucinich brought his steadfast opposition to the war in Iraq to the table as often as reasonably possible. If the U.S. were not spending more than a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq, Kucinich argued, funds would be available to provide early child care, free pre-kindergarten, and fully funded state-college tuition to help America’s disadvantaged youth prepare for jobs and productive lives. “Stop funding war, and start funding education,” he said to a rousing cheer.
If the U.S. health care system were converted to a not-for-profit system that covered all Americans, the financial burdens and denials of service to upwards of 100 million uninsured or under-insured citizens would be lifted, Kucinich said at another point. The crushing financial costs that are making many U.S. companies non- competitive would also be eased, with health-care reform, he insisted. “Michael Moore is right about this – take the profit out of the system.” Kucinich co-authored legislation (H.R.676) with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) early this year for a national health insurance plan that film-maker Moore recently endorsed and is promoting.
The policies which Kucinich advocates are popular among Black, but he has no prominent Black supporters. They will come to his campaign as Black voters get to know him better, he told this writer. A prominent former Clinton administration official, who is not yet committed to any candidate told this writer that if Rep. Kucinich were “six inches taller and a little better looking,” he would be a favorite among Black voters.
Perhaps Sen. Obama did not drape himself in the ceremonial Red, Black and Green bunting at The Mecca, because he was projecting (or listening to focus groups) beyond the Black audience at Howard and the Black focus of the forum. Perhaps.
His supporters at the event–including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Princeton Professor Cornell West, and Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree–said that the Illinois senator was emphasizing Black self-help, self-reliance, and not just blaming the government for the solution to all the Black problems.
Sen. Obama’s goal, it seems, is not to be the “Black bride,” pride of The Mecca, but to be the nominee of all the Democrats, and eventually the bride (President) of all Americans, Black and White, the big prize.