On Fearing for Obama’s Safety

25 02 2008

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama is fond of invoking many of America’s greatest heroes and icons. He announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, the birth place of Abraham Lincoln, praising the nation’s 16th president wisdom and courage for understanding that we could not be a country that’s half slave and half free. His admiration for John F. Kennedy can be seen in how Obama has incorporated his famous maxim “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” into his stump speech.

And when asked if his candidacy is in anyway too premature he says he believes in what Dr. King call the fierce urgency of now, or the belief that change for the better should not be delayed indefinitely. That is to say, it is entirely possible that one can be too late when waiting for the right moment.

Of course, each of those key figures in American history share one thing in common — they were all assassinated. Many of Obama’s supporters are acutely aware of this fact and have feared for his safety long before his win in Iowa. I am sure any black barber shop can inform you as to how certain people can carry out such a plan. Other supporters the Illinois Senator have chased those very worries out of their minds as soon as they creep in because they want to believe America is better than that.

One expert on assassinations in American history summarized the persistent worry among so many people in today’s New York Times:

“Barack scares those of us who think of the possibility of an assassination in a different way,” Mr. Posner said. “He represents so much hope and change. That is exactly what was taken away from us in the 1960s.”

This exactly the type of fear and set of anxieties that Michelle Obama has tried to quell several months ago.

Noting that Obama could be killed at the gas station does not offer me much solace, but I do understand Michele Obama’s point in saying that we cannot live our lives in dominated by fear. However, that’s not the same as acknowledging that threats to his personal safety not only exist, but also are much higher for him than other candidates because of how close he is to becoming the first African-American president.

Mississippi Congressman Bernie Thomspon reportedly took it upon himself to write to the Secret Service about wanting to see Obama security detail improved, considering the big crowds the Illinois Senator was attracting early on in the campaign. Rep. Thomspon told Jeff Zeleny of the NYT:

As an African-American who was witness to some of this nation’s most shameful days during the civil rights movement, I know personally that the hatred of some of our fellow citizens can lead to heinous acts of violence. We need only to look to the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 1968 presidential candidate Robert Kennedy as examples.

Perhaps Rep. Thompson’s views are much closer to those of most black folk in the country, but it may be the Obamas are concerned about the consequences of publicly acknowledging such concerns. It may embolden those who already issued threats to his life, or even result in pigeon holing him as a black candidate among certain voters since it would draw attention to say some white nationalist or terrorist group plotting to eliminate him. Either way those concerns stand in tension of his much more appealing message of hope which is responsible for so much of his cross over appeal.

But at the end of the day fear is a poor adviser. And again few have made this point more persuasively than Michelle Obama. In fact, as she pointed out in a speech she made in Western Iowa this summer it is indeed the politics of fear that has had a paralyzing effect in American political life this past few years that has led us to make some rather tragic mistakes.

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