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Why Obama Can't Get Mad

As much as we want Obama to go off on McCain, angry black men don't become president.


I'm sick of folks yapping about how Barack Obama needs to do a war dance on John McCain's head.

Sure, McCain and his GOP allies are telling lies and appear to bear no cost for repeatedly doing so. And, yes, the Democrats' response has been, to say the least, lame and tepid. I understand; it's maddening to witness McCain and his right-wing, populist running mate Sarah Palin deep diving into the muddy waters, only to watch Obama stay aloof, safe and clean on the shore.

Predictably, natives of Obama Nation are restless. Some, like columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington, implored the cool and collected Obama to show some passion. Get veins-popping-and-eye-bulging angry, she wrote recently on The Huffington Post Web site.

"Being likeable is obviously a good thing in politics," Huffington wrote. "So is being analytical and thoughtful and composed. But the last seven-plus years demand more than detached analysis—and certainly more than a beaming smile. They demand indignation. Outrage. Fury."

Even here on The Root, Terence Samuel vented his frustration at Obama's approach, writing, "This is not a civics seminar; it's a knife fight, and the McCain camp is bringing automatic rifles. Right now it is not about the American people getting it. It is about Obama getting it. He's getting hit over the head with a baseball bat and looking like he wants to file an amicus brief about it."

But if Obama wants to get elected president of the United States, getting mad is the last thing he can afford to do. He may be the Democrats' standard bearer, but he is still—as the McCain camp consistently points out with their unsubtle "not like you" messaging—a black man.

This is a struggle that black men—especially those of us who work in professional settings and want to remain there—grapple with daily: Showing our anger, no matter how justified, is a death sentence. We feel outrage. We want to say and demonstrate our daily frustrations, but we don't dare because we know that the release of our pent-up emotions can't ever be explained after the fact.

And so it goes for Obama in his quest for the highest prize in all of America. We won't know whether the nation is ready to cast aside enough historic prejudices to elect a qualified, smart, articulate and family-oriented black president until after all the votes are cast. For the first time in U.S. history, the possibility exists.

But, let me assure you, there's no need to hold the vote if Obama blows his stack before then. It might satisfy some Obama supporters to see him put McCain-Palin in their places, call them out John Wayne-style and pummel them into submission. For a quick, exhilarating minute, it would feel like the 21st century equivalent of Joe Louis' 1936 knockout of Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling.

But it would be political suicide.