Lawmaker dismisses Obama's attraction

April 1, 2008 6:13:27 PM PDT
A congressman backing Hillary Rodham Clinton says white voters are supporting Barack Obama based on the view that he is articulate and his election would allow the nation "to get this boogeyman called race behind us."

Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who is black, told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Obama "is articulate. In the black tradition, he would probably be mediocre."

"For White Americans, it's like, this guy can speak," Cleaver said in the radio interview. "If you put him on a level with a lot of other African-American public speakers, he may not even measure up."

But Cleaver also conceded in the interview that he thinks Obama will win the White House.

"If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say Barack Obama is going to be the next president," Cleaver told Canadian public radio in an interview first aired on Sunday. "I will be stunned if he's not the next president of the United States."

Cleaver has remained a strong supporter of Clinton despite pressure from other black leaders and many of his constituents to switch allegiance to Obama. He was not immediately available on Tuesday to discuss his comments.

Some black members of Congress, such as Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, have changed their allegiance from Clinton to Obama in recent weeks.

In the interview, Cleaver insisted he would not back away from his endorsement of Clinton. He claims much of the support for Obama is driven by a sense that his election will prove the country has solved its problems with race.

"I think for many white Americans, they are looking at Barack Obama and saying 'This is our chance to demonstrate that we have been able to get this boogeyman called race behind us,'" Cleaver said. "And so they are going to vote for him, whether he has credentials or not, whether he has any experience ? I think all that's out the window."

Yet Cleaver asserts that Obama as president could actually hamper efforts to curb racial injustice. He said future concerns about race "would be met with rejection because we've already demonstrated that we're not a racist nation."

Cleaver represents a majority white congressional district in Kansas City where Obama won a majority of the vote in Missouri's presidential primary. He is the only ordained minister in Congress and still preaches every Sunday at his mostly black Kansas City church.

Cleaver said he was "outraged over the outrage" at the controversy over Obama's former pastor, who was criticized for making racially charged comments in church sermons. Cleaver praised Obama's Chicago church for having a "long and rich history of being involved in the betterment of the Chicago Black community."

Last year, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., was criticized when he called Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Cleaver compared his continued support for Clinton to his loyalty in rooting for his hometown football team when it plays a better opponent.

"Even though I don't expect the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Indianapolis Colts, I cheer for the Kansas City Chiefs," he said.