Andrew Young, a civil rights veteran and former United Nations ambassador, should stay away from microphones.
In videotaped comments that have taken the Internet by storm, he says this: "I want Barack Obama to be president … in 2016!"
Obama, the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, is too young and too lacking in a support network to be pursing the White House this time around, says Young.
In the video interview posted on NewsMakersLive.com based in Atlanta, where he used to be mayor, Young praises Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Young says that her husband, Bill, the former president, is "every bit as black as Barack."
As the audience whoops and laughs, he quips, "He's probably gone with more black women than Barack."
Young quickly adds, "I'm clowning." I'm sure he was. In case you couldn't guess, Young supports Sen. Clinton. He's even hosted a fundraiser for her. But with supporters like Young bringing up her least favorite part of her husband's presidency, Sen. Clinton doesn't need critics.
And, please, Mr. Ambassador. The line about Bill Clinton's being our first black president is wearing a little thin, especially when his wife is running against someone whose African side is more visibly apparent.
It is worth noting that Young's remarks were taped in early September. They predate Obama's recent surge in the polls in the three early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The remarks did not draw much attention until this past weekend, just as Oprah Winfrey led rallies for Obama in those three states. The two crossover stars in front of cheering crowds made Young's remarks sound like the grumpiness of an aging crusader whose mind is still stuck in the '60s.
Nevertheless, Young's quips have a serious side. His ominous outlook for Obama appeals to a gloomy view that I find remarkably common in black conversations.
It is a surprisingly grim, willfully pessimistic view that endures despite Obama's recent surge in the polls.
It is a view that says Obama can't win because "they" won't let him.
Who is "they"? Take your pick. The Republican smear machine. The FBI. The CIA. Crackpot assassins. Or maybe just "The Man." There's always that old standby devil, institutional racism. In this view, popular with barbershop philosophers and the academic intellectual set, America is too saturated with white supremacy to ever give a black presidential candidate an even break.
Or, if any actually does make it, well, he or, someday, she must be a sell-out. An Uncle Tom. An Oreo. Black on the outside and you-know-what on the inside.
Pick your paranoia, it will show up as a very real presence in somebody's mind. After all of the hard-won opportunities that the civil rights movement opened up, I am disappointed by this gloomy outlook, but not surprised.
Neither is Michelle Obama, the senator's wife. She attributed the hesitancy she hears in some African Americans to "the natural fear of possibility."
Such fear is a natural byproduct of our historical memory as an oppressed people whose hopes too often have been dashed.
I'm old enough to have heard the same pessimism expressed by my Roman Catholic friends about John F. Kennedy's chances in 1960. I heard similar pessimism expressed by some of my Jewish friends when Sen. Joe Lieberman ran in 2000. I hear it from countless women about Hillary Clinton's chances now. If you expect the worst, many figure, you won't be disappointed.
"I freed thousands of slaves," Harriet Tubman, the great conductor on the Underground Railroad, is quoted as saying. "I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves." Many of us today are slaves to the past and don't know it.
That presents a special challenge to Obama. Like other racial pioneers, he finds that he must run more than an ordinary campaign. He has to build a movement across racial lines that can tap into the same spirit of possibility that energized the civil rights movement.
I don't know if Obama can win any more than anyone else does. My crystal ball isn't that good. But, with help from spiritual revivalists like Oprah, he can build that new movement, especially if leaders of old movements get out of his way.