Should a White Person Get Hillary’s Senate Seat?

by on December 10th, 2008

Now that Hillary Clinton is set to become the next Secretary of State, who should New York Gov. David Patterson choose to replace her in the U.S. Senate? What if a white congressman from New York insisted that Patterson select a white person because Hillary is white? I bet there would be outrage from all parts, and rightfully so.

However, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush, a former member of the Black Panthers, is pulling a similar stunt and few seem to be complaining. He says Illinois’ governor (possibly the successor of current governor Rod Blagojevich, who is now facing federal corruption charges) needs to select a black person to move into the vacated Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.

His rationale? Obama is black, so therefore his replacement must be black. That’s because, in his view, a white person couldn’t possibly carry on Obama’s Senate agenda and be true to his legacy the way a black person could. Rush is not merely suggesting that Obama be succeeded in the Senate by an African-American, he’s demanding it. He’s even launching a petition drive.

I find it rather ironic that Rep. Rush’s race bating comes in the wake of one of the most historic presidential elections in the history of our republic. Obama’s election shattered the political glass ceiling for black people in America and demonstrated that race is no longer a major consideration for most Americans when they go to the polls.

But Rush appears to want to have it both ways. While acknowledging the momentous significance of Obama’s victory, Rush seems to still view race as a primary determinant of how one will conduct himself or herself in public office. So much for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream that people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Of course, all of this could soon become a moot point if Blagojevich is not removed from office and refuses to resign. Since one of the two corruption allegations against him involves his supposed offering of Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder, Illinois lawmakers are likely to enact legislation to strip him of his authority to pick Obama’s successor and give that decision to the state’s voters in the form of a special election. However, that still wouldn’t make Congressman Rush’s demands any less egregious.

No matter how the decision is ultimately made, the most qualified available candidate should be selected to serve out the remainder of Obama’s Senate term, regardless of that person’s race, ethnic background, gender, or religious affiliation. As a nation, we’ve taken such a giant leap forward. Now is no time to be turning back.

Terry Mitchell