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Obama disproving ‘Bradley phenomenon’

I write this column the day after the Iowa caucus vote and before knowing what the New Hampshire primary will tell us about the various presidential candidates.

My first observation is to note how grateful we Americans should be for a political process that, no matter how skewed it often becomes, is still the world’s beacon as to how a democracy should function.

In the Democratic primary in Iowa, I hoped John Edwards would succeed, but, recognizing that he had a high hill to climb, my second choice was Hillary Clinton.



I like Barack Obama. His insistence on change appeals to me. I admire his intellectual capacity. He is a Harvard Law School graduate with honors. His political career, though short in time, has been impressive. He was a member of the Illinois state Legislature before becoming the U.S. senator from Illinois. He is a spectacular orator, and his victory speech was eloquent and compelling. And I am conscious of the difficulties he had to overcome in his successful journey thus far in American politics as an African-American.

But I am 83 years old. Sadly, my generation appears to have not yet fully accepted the possibility of an African-American holding the highest office in the land. Many who are not at all racist still have not progressed to the point that Obama’s campaign would get their approval. And others, though not limited by racial discomfort, fear a return of the “Bradley phenomenon.”



Tom Bradley’s campaign for governor of California in 1982 provides some understanding of the reluctance then prevalent and, perhaps, still evident, to vote for an African-American for high office. Bradley was the African-American mayor of Los Angeles who was nominated by the Democrats to become governor. His nomination signaled a historic advance in setting aside racial divisions.

Polls indicated Bradley would beat his Republican opponent: a little-known state senator, George Deukmejian. But the election proved different. When prospective voters were asked by pollsters their position as to Bradley’s campaign, a majority of those responded affirmatively. But when a great number of those were in the privacy of the voting booth, their problem accepting an African-American for governor caused them to vote for Deukmejian, who won handily.

I want a Democrat to be elected president – strongly. So, I reasoned, that though I admired Obama, I still believed the time had not yet come to nominate an African-American as president because the Bradley phenomenon would take place again. How wrong I was!

Iowa demonstrated that the new generation of voters in America has gone further in accommodating racial differences than had their predecessors. Obama’s Iowa victory rewrites the rules. When white voters were polled, the majority said they supported Obama. And when those same people cast their vote in the Iowa caucus, they picked Obama. There was no Bradley phenomenon that night.

Obama’s greatest strength was among voters younger than 30, and they were almost 100 percent white. His weakest group of voters was those of my generation, 65 and older. Obama’s unexpected victory in Iowa reflects the strongly felt view shared by those young voters and independent voters that the ugly mess in Washington is desperately in need of cleaning up. That decision, made by an overwhelming majority of white voters, appears to have been made with no concern, plus or minus, about Obama’s racial background.

I think the dramatic change in America’s racial views demonstrated in Iowa is incredibly positive. Few limitations in a person’s beliefs are more debilitating than to believe in racial superiority.

— Jerome Waldie is a former U.S. congressman and a Placerville resident.


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