What a difference a few (political) days makes. Several days ago Reuters reported that former President Bill Clinton smilingly — and pointedly — didn’t answer when pressed by reporters whether he’d endorse Democratic presumptive Presidential nominee Barack Obama. But things happen and change in politics.
Perhaps the Reuters report raised some eyebrows (and perhaps some voices) in Democratic party elite circles: today it was announced Bill Clinton supported Obama.
Curiously enough, however, the announcement came through Obama's spokesman rather than from the former President himself. Journalists from the Washington Post to the LA Times have speculated that Clinton is less than enthusiastic in offering support, perhaps still angry over the way the Obama campaign portrayed him and his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, during her campaign against Obama for the Democratic nomination.
The move to show support for Obama by the Clintons is seen as one to reunify the Democratic party, which has shown signs of severe fracturing during the Clinton/Obama race for the party nomination. Several pro-Hillary sites are still showing their dismay at the treatment of Senator Clinton by the party, and are urging their followers and Clinton supporters everywhere to vote for Senator McCain in November.
This is not good news for the Obama, who has offered himself up as the candidate, of "hope, change, and unity." Nor does it bode well for Obama that a growing number of members of the Muslim community in America are equally disenfranchised with the candidate of hope and change.
As recently, or as long ago, depending upon your perspective, as December of last year, the Obama campaign began showing a growing trend of snubs at the Muslim community. At an event scheduled for that month, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the nation's first Muslim to be elected to Congress, was eagerly anticipating showing his support and offering his help to the Obama campaign, offering to speak on behalf of Obama at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the nation's oldest Muslim enclave. The trip, however, was cancelled by the Obama campaign, with the reason given of that it might stir too much controversy. Ellison is quoted afterward as having said, regarding the visit to his office by an Obama aide, "I will never forget the quote. ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ”
It would appear that this tightly wrapped message excludes the Muslim community from playing a part in Obama's appearances and campaign stops.
When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace.
While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations — unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts — have been ignored. Last week, two Muslim women wearing head scarves were barred by campaign volunteers from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit.
In interviews, Muslim political and civic leaders said they understood that their support for Mr. Obama could be a problem for him at a time when some Americans are deeply suspicious of Muslims. Yet those leaders nonetheless expressed disappointment and even anger at the distance that Mr. Obama has kept from them.
“This is the ‘hope campaign,’ this is the ‘change campaign,’ ” said Mr. Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. Muslims are frustrated, he added, that “they have not been fully engaged in it.”
Hope, change, and unity.
Obama aides, of course, have denied allegations that the Senator has kept the Muslim community at arms length, pointing out television and radio messages in which Obama has reached out to Muslims, and his support in a radio spot for Indiana's Representative Andre Carson, the second Muslim to be elected to Congress, and the May meeting with the leader of a mosque in Dearborne, Michigan, which is the home to the largest population of Muslims in the United States. According to Ben Labolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, “Our campaign has made every attempt to bring together Americans of all races, religions and backgrounds to take on our common challenges”
Given the number of appearances that Obama has made at churches and synagogues across the country, one could speculate that this bringing together of all races and religions as one big happy family would be the equivalent of bringing the Muslim community into the family as step-children. This second-class citizen approach by the Obama campaign is fueling feelings of resentment on a daily basis. According to Safiya Ghori of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, "“The community feels betrayed.” Added into the mix are the strong denials by Obama that he is secretly a Muslim, which further enflames the Muslim community. According to a Pew Research Center poll, ten percent of voters believe that Obama IS secretly a Muslim no matter how strongly he denies it. A new section of Obama's site reportedly calls such claims "a smear."
Hope. Change. Unity.
Perhaps it is fitting that former President Clinton should be boarding the Obama bus at the same time that it is running over the Muslim community. President Clinton is used to a bumpy ride, and as the campaign progresses, the bumpier the ride is getting for the Senator from Illinois on his road to the November general elections. Given all the help that Senator Clinton gleaned from having her husband stumping for her, I'm sure that Bill's involvement in the Obama campaign will be precisely as productive as it was for his wife.
Just remember, for those of you who may think about getting off the bus at the next stop, to tip the driver. Senator Kennedy is a natural behind the wheel of this bus, don't you think?
Once and Always, an American Fighting Man