Whenever I want to better understand New Orleans politics, I turn my radio to WBOK, 1230 AM. The station is the city’s oldest broadcaster, targeted at the black community. Its current slogan leaves no doubt about its niche, "talking back and talking black."
Throughout the day it offers a mix of talk shows. From what I have heard, one of the best talk segments is an afternoon show hosted by veteran commentator, Paul Beaulieu. In the days following the presidential election I was especially curious about what was being said. The black community felt empowered in a way that it had never felt before. The question was how to respond to it.
Talk radio can be slippery, and it’s always susceptible to a passionate discussion being suddenly shifted by a caller wanting to know where to find a good mechanic. Last week, though, no force could stop the discussion from reverting to the impact of the election.
One afternoon Beaulieu was joined by political cartoonist John Slade and an older-sounding gentleman whose name I missed. There were several callers. As a listener without the aid of a visual image, it was sometimes difficult to discern who was saying what. And because I was mostly driving while listening, it was impossible to write exact quotes. So what follows are comments drawn from recall of several different segments.
There was a caller offering a defense of Jessie Jackson, reminding listeners that Jackson had been on the scene in the early days when times were tougher. The caller seemed to be responding to suggestions that the election had made the reverend, and the early civil rights leaders, less relevant.
Later in the day there was a discussion about how "dumb" white people in the South were for always voting Republican. I would have argued that those who voted Republican were not all necessarily voting anti-Obama, and certainly not against skin color, but were voting their pocket book. They see Democrats as representing tax and spin and detrimental to business. It is as genuine of a concern as those who always vote Democrat because they see Republicans as representing selfishness and insensitivity. Truth is, the nation would be in severe trouble if one party would ever dominate for very long.
"How about New Orleans?" I wanted to yell to the radio. The city voted heavily for Obama and at least half of the voters are white. To my relief, one of the three men in the studio brought up the question and made the same observation. If verification was needed, I could have mentioned my precinct in the Third Ward where voters went for Helena Moreno over William Jefferson 130 to 58 in the congressional runoff, yet in the presidential race Barack Obama beat John McCain 158-48. Obviously many white voters switched over, especially those who felt it was inconsistent to vote for Obama – because they wanted "change" – yet to re-elect Jefferson.
"There is New Orleans and there is the rest of the state," one of the men on radio said. He was right. White New Orleanians, even those of the same party, tend to vote more liberally than those in the suburbs. One reason is that by choosing to live in the city they accept a more diverse lifestyle. Another is that they have long been used to having black elected officials. And the other is that there are more college-aged students who generally tend to vote more to the left.
By then the conversation had moved on and became most introspective when the discussion centered on what the nation’s black community should expect of Obama. "I was wrong," the older man conceded. He explained that last January he had had a chance to interview Obama. "The first question I asked him," the man recalled, "is what he could do for black people." The man remembered that Obama seemed uncomfortable with the question and talked instead about helping all Americans. "I was wrong to ask him that," the man reiterated. The three men all agreed that by serving the nation first, Obama would also be helping people of his race and that nothing extra should be demanded of him.
Another of the men, I think it was Beaulieu, made a prediction: "In six months," he said, "there will be some black leader complaining that Obama is not paying enough attention to blacks." Neither of the other two disagreed.
That comment reminded me of Ray Nagin when he was a popular, newly elected mayor. At first he enjoyed the support of both the black and white middle class. But he seemed to wilt after a minister proclaimed, "Ray Nagin is a white man wearing a black man’s skin." From then on when the mayor tried to talk the talk to blacks; i.e., "Chocolate City" – he alienated whites, but then, since Katrina his black support has eroded too. The radio men were right. We owe it to all our leaders to allow them to govern for the common good.
Opinions on talk radio bounce in many directions and what I heard reflected just the slices of time that I was listening. (Full disclosure: I host a weekly radio show on WIST, 690 AM.) I did find most of the conversation to be to be quite thoughtful. Last week was a powerful moment for the nation’s black community and there were good minds trying to come to terms with events.
My favorite comment came from a caller, a black man who identified himself as a small business owner:
"Tomorrow before I go to work," the man said, "I am going to go buy an American flag and put it outside my business because I am proud to be an American."
I am too.

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