Friday, May 2, 2008

Facing Reality: Racism, American Politics, and the False Mythology of Transcendence


The following is a post that I wrote today to some friends and colleagues on an internet messageboard regarding the article I printed yesterday in this space ("Obama & Wright are Both Wrong: A Classic Case of 'Divide & Conquer' Politics") on the Obama/Wright debacle:

I agree with you all and the basic content of your excellent posts. Clearly Wright is hurting and can continue to hurt Obama if he chooses at this point and he has become a very selfish and irresponsible loose cannon in the process. That is obviously something that should not be happening and I said as much in my earlier post. I'm just as angry as the rest of you about that irrefutable fact because even though I'm sometimes justifiably critical of Obama's approach, I too fiercely support him 100% for the Presidency. Even with his own limitations Barack is by far the best and most honorable candidate running this year.

However my earlier post about the 'Divide & Conquer' dynamics of this entire affair goes back not so much to the mundane and obvious fact that Obama's political enemies and opponents were going to engage in such manipulative tactics because that is indeed the brand of ruthless and corrupt politics that both the Republican Party and the Clinton Machine 'excel' in. What I was and still am deeply chagrined and troubled about is the fact that Obama and Wright didn't have the foresight, concern, and maturity directly after the fabricated "controversy" first broke last month to simply sit down like the brothers and colleagues that they were and calmly hash out a mutually respectful and effective compromise on how they each would publicly respond to the crisis (remember that a real crisis is both a problem to be solved AND an opportunity to solve it-- as the Chinese say).

All Barack and Jeremiah had to do was sit down over a cup of coffee and "agree to disagree" about certain political statements that the Reverend was alleged to have made (again quoted out of context for the most part in the sound bite videos that appeared), and Barack could have simply said to Reverend Wright that he not only strongly disagreed with some of his remarks and would be compelled and duty bound to say so publicly but at the same time assure Wright that he wouldn't disparage and embarrass him personally or dismiss his historical record of service to the church and the larger black community in Chicago. In exchange for these assurances Obama could have then extracted an ironclad promise from Wright that he in turn would not go the national media and either repeat these same statements (the ones Obama openly disagreed with), nor would he say or imply things to the media that in any way suggested that Obama was being dishonest or opportunist in his critical political response to the airing of the sound bite tapes. As long as these mutual requests were made in a straightforward manner that was calm, sober, and mutually respectful of each other's humanity, public reputation, and record of service, the two men could as I said before agree to disagree about certain, specific aspects of their individual political needs, desires, and agendas. This would allow Obama to clearly and unambiguously distance himself politically from some of Wright's statements and political positions but would also make it possible for Obama and Wright to still maintain a reasonably cordial personal relationship.

In other words both men could have and should have come together as mature individuals and mapped out a mutually beneficial strategy (within unavoidable limits of course) that would save the face and reputations of both men whether others agreed or disagreed with one or both of them or not. The truth is that both men were clearly set up and baited in this affair both before and after this travesty and BOTH MEN TOOK THE BAIT. On the street as you well know the ugly vernacular phrase for taking the bait under such contrived and obviously manipulative circumstances is known as being CHUMPED or even more crudely PUNKED OUT. And that regrettably is what happened in this situation. That is not only the absurdity but the TRAGEDY of it all. BECAUSE IT DIDN'T HAVE TO HAPPEN THE WAY IT DID.

Thus both men have to take full and complete responsibility for a media travesty that had Obama and Wright simply relaxed their individual egos, fears, ambitions, and anxieties over what they were being baited about they could have jointly resolved the issue by TRUSTING EACH OTHER enough to approach the mutual resolution of the manufactured crisis i in a way that would maintain the integrity and independence of both men while still addressing the problem at hand. Failing to deal with it in this manner (because fear, opportunism, ambition, selfishness, and resentment took precedence over respect, civil disagreement, and comradely support) only assured that Obama and Wright would BOTH lose in this situation. Of course they may not see it that way themselves at this point but I assure you in the long run that's exactly how their mutual abandonment of each other in this situation will play out.


A great, disturbing, and very accurate piece on racism and its real character in this country TODAY...Stay tuned...


The Trouble With Transcending Race
Why the Double O's are standing on shaky ground.

May 1, 2008 -- They both have unique names and amazing life stories. They have legions of adoring fans who find them inspiring. They have sold millions of books and can fill stadiums like rock stars.

Few black Americans have occupied the rarified status of Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, two "racially transcendent" blacks whom white admirers find appealing and admirable. But it seems the pedestals on which the "Double-O's" have been perched are very wobbly these days. Pennsylvania shined an ugly light on Obama's very real problem with white working-class voters. And, since she endorsed him, Oprah's approval ratings with her adoring white public have dipped, too.

Could it be that because of unpleasant and race-loaded issues like the "scary" and "angry" Rev. Jeremiah Wright (Oprah went to his church, too), flag pins and uppity comments about "bitter" white voters, that Oprah and Obama no longer seem so special or different from, you know, other black people? Are they starting to seem kind of ordinary black?

In the quest to continue the interracial honeymoon, Obama has always had higher hurdles to clear than Oprah. He is a black man, not a black woman. And his road show is not merely a feel-good gabfest on how to "live your best life." He wants to run the free world. And, in that context, for some, race becomes impossible to ignore. An exit poll conducted during the Pennsylvania primary last week found that 19 percent of all voters said that race played an important role in how they voted, and that 13 percent of those voters where white and voted for Clinton -- or depending on how one looks at it, against Obama..

But in a surprising instance of collateral damage, people's considerations about Obama seem to be hurting Oprah, too. A new national survey shows Oprah's favorability rating among television viewers has dropped noticeably since she endorsed Obama. A widely cited article in The Politico last week tracked several polls over the past 20 years showing Oprah with consistently high favorability rankings – At one time 78 percent of Americans held a favorable opinion of her and in one survey she ranked second only to Mother Theresa – until she endorsed and campaigned for Obama.

"Ten days after she went on the stump for Obama, Oprah's favorability ratings dropped to 55 percent, the lowest level of favorability ever registered for Oprah in opinion surveys," the article states. "Oprah's negatives also spiked, with one in three respondents (33 percent) reporting unfavorable impressions of her."

So what is happening?

If some white people are rethinking their feelings for Oprah and Obama, it's because those people's unrealistic expectations of the two have been betrayed. Oprah and Obama were idealized blacks. They were supposed to be above reproach, neutral on all matters of race, unencumbered by the tiresome legacy of American race relations, colorblind in their politics. They were not supposed to associate with people like Jeremiah Wright, let alone consider them friends.

They were supposed to reflect blackness in the way that made white people comfortable, a blackness that lacked any hint of anger, resentment, or dare we say it, "bitterness." They were also supposed to pretend their blackness didn't matter. Oprah could be the black girlfriend who white women felt good about themselves for having, Obama could be the black candidate they felt good for supporting.

Whites have long felt comfortable with black people entertaining them. Politics is not entertainment – at least not intentionally. Still, it's hard not to wonder if the massive white crowds that came out for Obama's speeches early on weren't also seeing him as some kind of eloquent performer, and now it's sinking in that Obama really isrunning for president and not for American Idol, and that he comes, like all Americans, with some racial baggage. Could this be why so many white people are now asking, more than a year after Obama launched his campaign, if they can really trust him and basing those doubts not on his political record but on the speeches of his minister?

If Oprah's troubles are, indeed, somehow linked to Obama -- and not merely to Ellen DeGeneres' hard-earned hot streak -- it's a sad statement on race in America. Oprah's not seeking keys to the White House. Can the country only stand one transcendent black person at a time? A sampling of recent blog posts suggests that something bigger than Ellen is at play:

"She spent her entire career promoting women, yet for the first time in history, a woman is running for prez, and she rejects Hillary for a man ," said another reader. "…Oprah is a fraud. I lost all respect for her."

"Oprah is a backstabber in more ways than one. So are the rest of the black people who turned their backs on Hillary…..."

"The support of white women made Oprah her billions. While she has every right to vote and campaign for whomever she wants, she stabbed all women in the back. She used her clout against the first viable white woman. Hope she sinks into oblivion. I will never forget."

Perhaps the last comment was the most telling. It reflects the patronizing attitude that white support should be appreciated and met with unquestioning loyalty and gratitude by blacks who receive it.

In this odd political season, nothing is certain. Obama, now emphatically distanced from Rev. Wright, may find a way to connect with those elusive, working-class white voters – and, more importantly, with superdelegates. Oprah for one, unlike Obama, has proven her staying power. She is a billionaire and will remain one even if some of her fair-weather fans stay mad.

But the undeniable truth is that black celebrities and politicians are held to ridiculous standards of acceptability. As long as white people are defining those standards, "transcendent" black leaders will continue to walk a racial tightrope, and everyone is destined to end up disappointed.

Majorie Valbrun is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist.

Also on The Root:

Andre C. Willis on the Double O's religion lite. Martin Luther King Jr. says why he loves Oprah in an imaginary Q&A with Michael Eric Dyson. Jimi Izrael on the Oprah Effect.

Return to The Root Homepage


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why Obama & Wright Are Both Wrong: A Classic Case of 'Divide & Conquer Politics",0,1707691.story

"It is an injustice, a legacy of the racist threads of this nation's history, but prominent African Americans are regularly called upon to explain or repudiate what other black Americans have to say, while white public figures are rarely, if ever, handed that burden."

New York Times
April 30, 2008


The bottomline reality is this:

Both Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright have foolishly allowed themselves to be used and manipulated by their mutual enemies and opponents in this entire fabricated melodrama. It's a classic 'divide and conquer' moment in American politics that does a profound disservice to the politics, reputations, values, and legacies of both men and in the end merely aids and abets the larger reactionary forces of racial division and exploitation that this country's racist and opportunist politicians as well as media routinely use to mislead and manipulate the American people.

Neither Obama nor Wright has intelligently or responsibly dealt with the political implications or consequences of their actions in this entire ridiculous episode and neither one has been completely honest and forthright about their personal/political agendas and motivations. As a result they have both burned individual bridges with each other that never should have been burned in the first place (and that can only have negative consequences for both men in the long run), and neither man has fully communicated to the other exactly why each one of them felt (justifiably AND unjustifiably) hurt, misunderstood, betrayed, and abandoned by the other. When this so-called contrived "controversy" first erupted in the media last month (planted no doubt by both the Republican Party and the Clinton Machine) Obama erroneously and rather naively assumed that Wright would simply 'understand' and 'accept' why Obama felt compelled to publicly portray Wright in his now famous 'A More Perfect Union' speech in Philadelphia March 18, 2008 as not only a man that he personally disagreed with on some political issues, but as a fundamentally irresponsible and divisive figure in general whose major views were inherently "wrong" and "destructive" to the country as a whole. While doing so Obama obviously felt that by adding that the distortions of the selected looped 30 second soundbites that the Republicans (and the Clintons) were using against Wright were a "caricature" of his pastor's overall views and his exemplary 40 year service to the African American community of Chicago he was sending a clear signal to Wright that he still loved and respected him. Thus the statement by Obama that he "could no more disown Wright than he could the black community" was perceived by Obama (as it was by many others) that while openly and severely criticizing some of his views he was not cutting himself off from Wright.

However in that same speech Obama also compared some of Wright's views to that of his white grandmother's tendency to express fear and loathing of young black men or use ugly racial slurs. This statement as well as the one made by Obama that Wright was basically wrong about the United States in many of his quoted statements no doubt infuriated Wright because he not only felt the exact opposite way to Obama about many of these same quotes, but more importantly Wright felt Obama was fundamentally disrespecting him and holding him and his overall views up to public contempt and ridicule. Thus Wright felt humiliated by some of Obama's comments and gfelt that his public reputation was being besmirshed. Wright also felt that Obama's speech was not helping him deal with the firestorm of media harassment, and persistent racist death threats on him as well as vile attacks on his character and his church by many white Americans in the wake of the airing of the soundbite videos.

As a result the month long public silence of Wright after Obama's speech on race was apparently taken by Obama and his campaign handlers as a sign that Wright was simply going to let the entire episode pass without comment. But that was not only an absurdly naive and rather dumb assumption on their part but a serious misreading of the political and ideological landscape of African American discourse vis-a-vis the Obama campaign for the Presidency. For Wright was correct to assume that he was now being made a convenient and easy media scapegoat for whatever political problems Obama had or were assumed to have with white voters. Meanwhile Wright's public reputation, historical achievements, and that of his church in Chicago was being assailed and derided in much of this country if not the world because of the constant, relentless focus of television, internet, and newspaper coverage on him, Obama, and their respective views.

Needless to say all this created a very disturbing and isolating experience and environment for Wright who was now being forced to respond by not only the dictates of his own personal pride and ego, protection of his public reputation, and sense of self but by the unrelenting pressures of endless media scrunity, as well as a dangerously reactionary lunatic fringe surveillance of him, his comments, and his personal actions. So it was inevitable that the pressure cooker would implode and Wright would decide to go on the offensive against both his real and imagined enemies. Unfortunately Obama became one of Wright's targets in his new public offensive precisely because Wright (not without some justification) obviously felt that Barack was 'dissing' him via some of his earlier and subsequent critical statements about Wright's views, and that Obama had not done enough to communicate to him DIRECTLY why he felt it was politically expedient to say his now 'former pastor' was a divisive figure to his campaign.

So it was not because of their different politics in some areas that Wright felt distressed and even used by Obama--after all they had always mutually disagreed with each other over certain specific political statements both had made in the past (and again presently)--but because Obama had not done enough in Wright's view to personally reassure Wright that he meant no harm to him by his remarks. Wright however was deeply offended and felt (like Obama did on tuesday) betrayed. This is what led Wright to openly state during both his interview on Bill Moyer's program last friday evening and again this past monday at the National Press Club that "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls." The glaringly obvious fact that Wright happens to be 100% correct about that (at least about 90% of the time) is of course passed over and dismissed by the general media and many others because Wright said it but in this particular instance Obama justifiably took offense to what Wright said by making the following statement in his response during tuesday's press conference: "At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough...What I think particularly angered me was his suggestion, somehow, that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing." However, Obama's disingenuous and rather insipid assertion at the press conference that he is now all of a sudden "shocked" and "appalled" by some of Wright's views and comments at this late date in their 20 year relationship strikes me and even many other supporters as the feeble stance of a scared, hack politician rapidly backtracking and parsing language in classicly sordid Clintonese style. This is not because I or many others think every single thing that Wright has said and done is politically mature, correct, progressive, or necessary--far from it--but because Wright has every right to express his views (many of which are not only not "controversial" but are patently true) completely independent and even critical of Obama's campaign and Obama also has every right--and responsibility--to express his own views and to calmly point out where he and Wright agree and disagree. But it is neither man's right or obligation to tell the other what those views should be or to try to sabotage the other in public which is what they both have essentially done--whether they intended to or not. All of this could have--and should have--been avoided by both men by approaching and dealing with this entire affair in a far more mature and mutually respectful manner. The hysteria around this inherently non-issue was created by others who clearly mean ill will to both men and Obama and Wright should have been savvy and sophisticated enough to see that they were both being used and xploited to take down the other to their mutual demise.

As a result what we now have at the end of this entire political 'dirty tricks' encounter (egged on and enabled by typically racist media) is a serious strategic and tactical undermining of Obama's campaign by both the Republican rightwing and the Clinton Machine which can only hurt Obama's chances in the long run race for the Presidency, and the serious dismissal of, and bitterness toward, Jeremiah Wright by not only many white Americans but many African Americans as well who not only see Obama's chances being negatively affected, but also Wright's once stellar reputation in Chicago's black community being openly criticized, attacked, and dishonored by what he has done and failed to do with respect to Obama's candidacy throughout the country.

As for Barack Obama himself this episode has for the first time exposed a serious weakness in Obama's campaign style and focus that needs to be honestly acknowledged and addressed--that the so-called 'racial divide' in this country--caused for the most part by institutional and systemic racism--is a major social, economic, cultural, ideological, and POLITICAL question and reality that no amount of "transcendent" rhetoric can or should obscure. The sooner Obama takes complete and unequivocal responsibility for clearly understanding and concretely dealing with that fundamental fact of American life in his campaign and his politics the better--Reverend Wright or no Reverend Wright.


After Break With Ex-Pastor, Obama Tries to Move On
New York Times
April 30, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS — Senator Barack Obama sought on Wednesday to set aside the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and steer the conversation in the Democratic presidential campaign back to the economy.
One day after forcefully breaking with Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama returned to Indiana for a series of events intended to highlight his proposals for tax cuts for the middle class. With six days to go before crucial primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Mr. Obama is trying to retake control of his message, which had been overshadowed by incendiary remarks made by Mr. Wright and by Mr. Obama’s response.
Still, campaign aides conceded that the subject of Mr. Wright’s views and his relationship with Mr. Obama were hardly going away. Mr. Obama sat on a picnic table Wednesday afternoon in Garfield Park in Indianapolis, surrounded by a few dozen voters, with the idea of answering questions about the economy. The first question was about high gas prices, but the second was from a voter who wanted to know “how much of a toll” the Wright controversy had taken on Mr. Obama.

“The situation with Reverend Wright was difficult, I won’t lie to you,” Mr. Obama said, speaking slowly and solemnly. He restated his denunciation of the incendiary remarks made by Mr. Wright, calling them “unacceptable” and adding that it was “important for the American people to know who I am, what my values are.”
But Mr. Obama tried to turn the conversation back to the issues affecting voters’ lives, saying: “What we want to do now, though, is to make sure that this doesn’t continue to be a perpetual distraction.”

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, were scheduled to be interviewed together on network and local television on Wednesday. Those appearances will be the first opportunities for Mrs. Obama, who also was close to Mr. Wright, to address what the pastor has said in a series of public appearances.

As the Obama campaign dispatched other high-profile surrogates to tamp down the potential political fallout from the controversy — Caroline Kennedy was scheduled to make appearances in Indiana, for example — both contenders in the race for the Democratic nomination continued to aggressively pursue superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders who get automatic seats at the national convention.

Representative Baron Hill, Democrat of Indiana, announced his support for Mr. Obama Wednesday morning, and Representative Bruce Braley, Democrat of Iowa, intends to do the same today, a spokesman said, while Bill George, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in Pennsylvania, came out for his opponent, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Both candidates are campaigning in Indiana on Wednesday, with factory visits on each candidate’s itinerary.

Mr. Obama used a news conference in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Tuesday, before leaving for Indiana, to denounce the remarks that Mr. Wright made in a series of televised appearances over the last several days, in an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that had enveloped his candidacy at a critical juncture.

In tones sharply different from those he used on Monday, when Mr. Obama blamed the news media and his rivals for focusing on Mr. Wright, and far harsher than those he used in his speech on race in Philadelphia last month, Mr. Obama tried to cut all his ties to — and to discredit — Mr. Wright, the clergyman who presided at Mr. Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters.

In the appearances, Mr. Wright suggested that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism against other people, and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against minorities. His remarks also cast Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in a positive light.

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday, his voice welling with anger. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.”

The Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, less than a week away, are being closely watched by party officials as a gauge of which candidate would be the stronger nominee. With Mrs. Clinton having shown particular strength among working-class white voters in recent big-state primaries, the racial overtones of Mr. Obama’s links with Mr. Wright have been especially troublesome for the Obama campaign, calling into question his ability to unify the party.

Asked how voters would react, Mr. Obama said on Tuesday: “We’ll find out.”
At a minimum, the spectacle of Mr. Wright’s multiday media tour and Mr. Obama’s rolling response grabbed the attention of the most important constituency in politics now: the uncommitted superdelegates — party officials and elected Democrats — who hold the balance of power in the nominating battle.

Eileen Macoll, a Democratic county chairman from Washington State who has not chosen a candidate, said she was stunned at the extent of national attention the episode has drawn, and she said she believed it would give superdelegates pause.

“I’m a little surprised at how much traction it is getting, and I do believe it is beginning to reflect negatively on Senator Obama’s campaign,” Ms. Macoll said. “I think he’s handling it very well, but I think it’s almost impossible to make people feel comfortable about this.”

The derisive remarks about the United States government made by Mr. Wright, a former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, have become a fixture of cable television. Mr. Obama said that he was “shocked and surprised” to read the transcripts and watch the broadcasts of Mr. Wright’s public appearances on Monday, and he felt compelled to respond more forcefully than he had before.

“I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”

Fielding questions from reporters, Mr. Obama appeared downcast and subdued as he tried to explain why he had decided to categorically denounce his minister of 20 years. It was at least the third time he had sought to deal with the issue, including his well-received speech on race last month in Philadelphia.

“The fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday.

Bob Mulholland, a superdelegate from California, said the difficulties Mr. Obama had experienced put a premium on results in the remaining contests.

“We’ve got nine elections to go through June 9,” Mr. Mulholland said in an interview. “I’ve never been involved in a successful presidential race where the candidate had no trouble in the primary. It’s challenging to him. He is a young man, and this is the first time he’s run for president. I see this as a learning experience.”

Asked how he thought Mr. Obama was doing, Mr. Mulholland paused before responding. “Getting better,” he finally said.

The appearances by Mr. Wright, which began Friday and concluded Monday, were anticipated by the Obama campaign, but aides said they were taken aback by the tenor of the remarks. Mr. Wright’s first interview, with Bill Moyers on PBS, offered few hints of what he intended when he arrived at the National Press Club on Monday.

“At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough,” Mr. Obama said at the Tuesday news conference. “That’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”

Mr. Obama became a Christian after hearing a 1988 sermon of Mr. Wright’s called “The Audacity to Hope.” Joining Mr. Wright’s church helped Mr. Obama, with his disparate racial and geographic background, embrace not only the African-American community but also Africa, his friends and family say.

Mr. Obama had barely known his Kenyan father; Mr. Wright made pilgrimages to Africa and incorporated its rituals into worship. Mr. Obama toted recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons to law school. Mr. Obama titled his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention “The Audacity of Hope,” and gave his next book the same name.

As Mr. Wright’s more incendiary statements began circulating widely, Mr. Obama routinely condemned them but did not disassociate himself from Mr. Wright. In his speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama tried to explain his pastor through the bitter history of American race relations.

Five weeks later, the men seem finished with each another.
“Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. More importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people.”

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting from New York.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

April 30, 2008
Mr. Obama and Rev. Wrigh

It took more time than it should have, but on Tuesday Barack Obama firmly rejected the racism and paranoia of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and he made it clear that the preacher does not represent him, his politics or his campaign.

Senator Obama has had to struggle to explain this relationship ever since a video surfaced of Mr. Wright damning the United States from his pulpit. Last month, Mr. Obama delivered a speech in which he said he disapproved of Mr. Wright’s racially charged comments but said that the pastor still played an important role in his spiritual life.

It was a distinction we were not sure would sit well with many voters. But what mattered more was the speech’s powerful commentary on the state of race relations in this country. We hoped it would open the door to a serious, healthy and much-needed discussion on race.

Mr. Wright has not let that happen. In the last few days, in a series of shocking appearances, he embraced the Rev. Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. He said the government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill blacks. He suggested that America was guilty of “terrorism” and so had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself.

This could not be handled by a speech about the complexities of modern life. It required a powerful, unambiguous denunciation — and Mr. Obama gave it. He said his former pastor’s “rants” were “appalling.” “They offend me,” he said. “They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.”

He said he was angry that Mr. Wright suggested that he was insincere when he previously criticized the pastor’s views. “If Reverend Wright thinks that that’s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well,” Mr. Obama said. “And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.”

In March, Mr. Obama tried to walk a fine line — seeking to dispel any sense of a political relationship with Mr. Wright, while trying to preserve a personal tie that was clearly important to his religious development. On Tuesday, he abandoned that.

“I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this,” he said, adding that if Mr. Wright speaks out again, he will not represent the Obama campaign.

It was the most forthright repudiation of an out-of-control supporter that we can remember. We would like to say that it will finally take the racial charge out of this campaign. We’re not that naïve.

It is an injustice, a legacy of the racist threads of this nation’s history, but prominent African-Americans are regularly called upon to explain or repudiate what other black Americans have to say, while white public figures are rarely, if ever, handed that burden.

Senator John McCain has continued to embrace a prominent white supporter, Pastor John Hagee, whose bigotry matches that of Mr. Wright. Mr. McCain has not tried hard enough to stop a race-baiting commercial — complete with video of Mr. Wright — that is being run against Mr. Obama in North Carolina.

If Mr. Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee, we fear that there will be many more such commercials. And Mr. Obama will have to repudiate Mr. Wright’s outbursts many more times.

This country needs a healthy and open discussion of race. Mr. Obama’s repudiation of Mr. Wright is part of that. His opponents also have a responsibility — to repudiate the race-baiting and make sure it stops.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


Praying and Preying

Published: April 30, 2008

New York Times

Barack Obama has spent his life, and campaign, trying not to be the Angry Black Man.

Early on, he wrote in “Dreams From My Father,” he discerned the benefits of playing against the ’60s stereotype of black militancy.

“I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he said. “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”

Obama and his aides often brag about his Zenlike serenity. “I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

The next morning, he was hurtled into the worst political crisis of his life. On Tuesday, the Sort Of Angry Black Man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by The Really Angry Black Man.

Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke. “When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it,” Obama said. “It contradicts everything I am about and who I am.” He said that the riffs of the man he prayed with before his announcement speech give “comfort to those who prey on hate.”

Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.

He’s back on the tricky path he faced as a child, navigating between two racial cultures. At Trinity, he may have ignored what he should have heard because he was trying to assimilate to black culture. Now, he may be outraged by what he belatedly heard because he’s trying to relate to the white lunch-pail set.

Having been deserted at age 2 by his father, Obama has now been deserted by the father-figure in his church, the man who inspired him to become a Christian, married him, dedicated his house, baptized his children, gave him the title of his second book and theme for his presidential run and worked on his campaign.

At the very moment when his fate hangs in the balance, when he is trying to persuade white working-class voters that he is not an exotic stranger with radical ties, the vainglorious Rev. Wright kicks him in the stomach. In a narcissistic explosion that would impress Bill Clinton, the preacher dragged Obama into the ’60s maelstrom that he had pledged to be an antidote to. In two days worth of solipsistic rants, the man of faith committed at least four of the seven deadly sins — wrath, envy, pride and greed (book and lecture fees?) — while grandiosely claiming he was defending the black church.

He was certainly sore at Obama, after helping him get connected in Chicago politics, for distancing himself. But he was also clearly envious that Obama has been hailed by his flock as the halo-wearing Redeemer of America’s hope.

If Obama was going to co-opt his role as charismatic evangelist, why couldn’t he morph into a spinning politician? Obama’s anger, an unused muscle, had to be stoked by his advisers, who pressed him with drooping poll numbers and the video of Wright at the National Press Club. He again heard the preacher turning Farrakhan into an American idol, and his flame-throwing assertions that the U.S. government had infected blacks with the AIDS virus and had brought terrorist attacks on itself by practicing terrorism abroad.

But in the end, it was Wright showing “disrespect” by implying that Obama was a phony that sparked the candidate’s slow-burning temper. “What I think particularly angered me,” he said, “was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing.”

For some, Obama didn’t offer enough outrage. “He talks about Reverend Wright violating his core beliefs as if he is detailing why he doesn’t like cheesecake or cream cheese,” said one Hillary Democrat. “He’s more passionate about basketball.”

The Illinois senator doesn’t pay attention to the mythic nature of campaigns, but if he did, he would recognize the narrative of the classic hero myth: The young hero ventures out on an adventure to seek a golden fleece or an Oval Office; he has to kill monsters and face hurdles before he returns home, knocks off his father and assumes the throne.

Tuesday was more than a Sister Souljah moment; it was a painful form of political patricide. “I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency,” Obama said.

In a campaign that’s all about who’s vetted, maybe he should have.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Independent Citizen Groups for Obama: A New Mass Movement for Democracy


There are many independent citizen websites throughout the country who are vigorously supporting Senator Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States. The great majority of these sites are not officially sponsored by or directly affiliated with the Obama campaign itself, yet have done a tremendous job of politically educating and mobilizing millions of both actual and potential voters to exercise their constitutionally protected democratic franchise and to hopefully cast their ballots in both the primaries and the upcoming national election for Obama. These highly creative, hardworking, and passionate advocates and eloquent defenders of community based grassroots democracy in action are some of the most committed and sophisticated political organizers in this country since the advent of the legendary 'New Left' activists in the 1960s and 1970s which ushered in such important mass participatory oriented groups and organizations as SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), MOBE (National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam}, Public Citizen (popularly known as [Ralph] "Nader's Raiders"), BSU (Black Student Unions), The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and the Black Panther Party.

These organizations and many more during that volatile and dynamic era were all seriously engaged in fighting for political, economic, and cultural democracy at the grassroots level of community participation and became a historical template for many people of how to organize for both mass-based radical and reformist political objectives and social/economic policy changes in this society.

Two of the most impressive independent grassroots groups organizing around the Obama candidacy are Black Women for Obama (BWFO) and Asian Americans for Obama (AAFO). The following articles from their respective websites (see links and articles below) indicate why they are so important and representative of an extraordinary new wave of mass based political and social activism generated by American citizens in response to the democratic potential of the Obama campaign. What these sites and many others involved in this national mass movement reminds us is that there will not and cannot be any real, genuine democracy without the masses of citizens engaged at every single level of the political process and that ultimately the Obama campaign is not about him as "public personality" or based on his "success" as an individual candidate or politician but on what we are all able to do as citizens to actually fundamentally change the very form and content of the American and global political economy "on the ground" from one of rank corporate exploitation, social oppression, and structural inequality to a system that advocates, defends, and organizes for the progressive advancement of mass democratic principles, programs, values, and institutions.


Asian Americans for Obama

Asian Americans for Obama is a grassroots organization founded to help organize the Asian American community to elect Senator Barack Obama the next President of the United States

April 24, 2008
After Pennsylvania: What Really Matters?

Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania and now all the pundits ponder the meaning of 10 points--the new numerology for the new millennium. Some try to read the minds of the "bitter" white working class. Some conclude that there is a winning magic in the dark arts of negative campaigning. Some dismiss Clinton’s victory as an illusion and others praise her miraculous comeback onto the stage. Frankly, after spending last week away from the elections and marching 28 miles with thousands of different workers in Los Angeles, I find this whole show to be really ridiculous. It is too easy to be caught up in this superbowl of elections and its recent devolution to “kitchen-throwing” game play and forget what this race is really about. For some of us, this election is not about whose more electable but something deeper.

Last week, janitors, hospital employees, teachers, homecare workers, iron workers, machinists, dock workers, actors and actresses, probationary officers, security guards and many others trekked by foot over 28 miles through Los Angeles over 3-days from “Hollywood to the Docks” to fight for good jobs. Over 350,000 workers in Los Angeles have union contracts expiring this year. The march ended with thousands of workers rallying around the ports. I walked with them under the sun across the expanse of the Los Angeles region. Along the way, different people shared their stories with each other. Joe, an Asian American actor, commiserated with David, a Latino iron worker over the tenuous nature of their jobs. Joe and his pregnant wife had to turn to Medicare for healthcare benefits despite the fact that he possesses a Masters degree and has appeared in a number of plays and films. The web world of downloadable films has left him and many actors and film crews behind with no right to residuals. David, an ironworker, found himself without a job as the economy entered recession with few opportunities for those who build with their hands. They walked in step with Theodore, a Korean probationary officer, who wants to continue helping the next generation and remembers a young man, a former juvenile on probation, who approached him: “ He came up to thank me for what I did for him. I was happy to see him on a path to success.” They and many other workers took turns pushing my 7-year old daughter Mina in a stroller who begged to join the march because she wanted to be around a large group of people who deeply cared for her. Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor knelt down next to her and told her that we all really love her.

We all knew that the march would not automatically lead to better working conditions but we all appreciated the new community nurtured across age, race, gender, and jobs. We all understood the power of creating new community and regular people taking control of their lives. This was the first time in LA history that all these different workers and unions joined together for something that was not strike support or election mobilization. We knew we would be there for each other and the future. We knew we were making history by crossing the lines that have long divided us.

Like the emerging camaraderie of the historic 28-mile march in Los Angeles, I saw a similar synergy in the coalescing of new voters around the Obama campaign. For some of us, this presidential primary is not about who can beat McCain by any means necessary but how we can rebuild our sense of community as a nation again.

By the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, it cannot be doubted that Hillary Clinton positioned herself as the candidate who knows how to work the status quo but not change it. She cast herself as “Republican-Lite” by arguing that only big states count, justifying negative and divisive attacks as a necessary evil to vet the best candidate to take on McCain and exploiting the fears of people. In a sense, she has become a faint shadow of McCain. She has made herself to be, to quote community leader Eric Mann’s words, the “anti-hope candidate.” To applaud her victory in Pennsylvania, we not only overlook Obama’s success at shrinking her 20-point lead in a state we expected Clinton to win but we are saying that we accept “the way things are” and the same way we have been doing politics for the last several decades—the same approach that has alienated young people, new voters and the wider electorate who have usually sat out of the elections. The last time we had large numbers of young people, African Americans and independents coming out in large numbers our country witnessed an emerging Civil Rights Movement and dramatic changes in our national consciousness.

This primary election is not just about Clinton versus Obama but how do we want to do politics. Like the actor, ironworker, probationary officer and many other workers who walked through Los Angeles, we want to create the community that will support my daughter and future generations. We need someone who is willing to help us challenge ourselves to walk one step further and risk saying “ we will not accept the way we have always done things.”

Posted by John Delloro at 12:39 AM | Permalink

Hope Changes Everything!
April 4, 2008
By Patricia Wilson-Smith

Hope really does change everything, doesn’t it?

If you’re like me, you remember the early days of the Obama campaign, when hope was all we had. We were Obama supporters before being Obama supporters was cool, back when it was one thing to know that we saw in him a quality that was unmistakably presidential -and quite another thing to think that one day he would be on the brink of actually becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee.

But we had hope. Hope that the nation would one day see what we saw, hope that neither his race, nor his age, or any other superficial deterrent would get in the way of the Senator’s rise. Hope that the greatest political machine in our nation’s history could somehow be neutralized in order to fulfill our dream of an Obama presidency. Hope.

But the hope went far, far beyond just the Senator’s electibility. As we, the soldiers of the early days made our way from house to house in the hot South Carolina sun, or stood in line waiting to see Senator Obama speak long before stadiums were necessary to contain the crowds, we also hoped for a new unity, one born of the need to move our nation in a different direction; away from failed Bush policies for sure, but also, away from a divisiveness that our partisan politics and class-warfare had only made far worse.

And so we met up with other Obama soldiers, and we planned, and we worked. Black women stood shoulder-to-shoulder with young white men and painted signs; elderly black men rode vans with Asian college students, and traded stories, sang songs. And slowly but surely, we realized (as Senator Obama put it), that we were in fact not nearly as divided as our politics would suggest.

It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s not over yet. Black Women for Obama has made a small mark on the political landscape, by proclaiming early and often that there was no moratorium on our vote, and that we believed even before the rock-star receptions on college campuses that Barack Obama was and is destined to become the next President of the United States. Not because he is a rock star, but because he’s rocked our collective political worlds, by teaching us how to look to the future as a truly united nation, and how to begin the work of leaving the past that still haunts us where it belongs - as a reminder of where we’ve been, but no deterrent to what we can become.

I have fallen madly in love with Senator Obama - sorry Michelle, it had to be said. He has renewed my faith in politicians, men, basketball players, and religion. He has reminded me that it was in the black church that those who came before me found the strength to fight for the liberties I now enjoy, and made me realize that it’s okay to “do me”, and not cling to the crutch of past racial injustices as I make my way in the world. But most importantly, he has taught me that I actually do have a voice, that can grow as loud as I dare dream for it to. He has deepened my appreciation for democracy, and reaffirmed my belief in what’s possible in this nation that I love so much. He deserves my undying love for that reason alone.

And so, let’s face it - this journey nears it’s end, and through the light at the end of the tunnel, I can see a huge, red, white, and blue sign that reads, “Barack Hussein Obama, the 45th President of these United States”. And each day that the Senator’s opponent fudges the truth, fakes the numbers, and continues to play transparent political games, my view of that sign grows a little clearer. And so hope, in practice with works and faith, becomes a vehicle for change, real honest to goodness change. And all I can ask myself as I sit here happily typing away is, “When the inauguration is over, and it’s time to get down to brass tacks, what will this nation dare to hope for next?”

Patricia Wilson-Smith for Delegate, Georgia’s 7th Congressional District
April 19, 2008 in Commentary, Did You Know?, Politics, The Campaign

Dear Fellow Obama Supporters!

This evening, I received something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

This evening, I received an email that contained a letter of endorsement from Senator Obama himself for my candidacy for Delegate from Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. This is an honor that is beyond description, and it proves that Senator Obama and his campaign are steadfast in their belief in the power of the engaged individual.

Tomorrow, April 19th at 10am sharp, voters from all over Georgia’s 7th Congressional District will be casting their votes for the delegates that will represent not only them, but Senator Obama in August in Denver. I’m writing to ask you to come out and vote for me, Patricia Wilson-Smith, delegate from G7.

Why? Because things will get tough in Denver, and we all know why. Senator Obama will need only his strongest supporters on the ground, and I have worked tirelessly over the last year and a half to build Black Women for Obama, a professional grass-roots organization with 20+ chapters around the nation. I have traveled to Texas, South Carolina, and canvassed and worked hard in Georgia to help the Senator win crucial primaries. I have devoted a major amount of time on my talk show, “Talk It Out” spreading the word about Senator Obama and openly debating his detractors, and most of all, I have written a myriad of op-eds discussing my views on issues from the campaign as they have arisen, many of which have been featured in the AJC, The New York Times, and The London Daily Telegraph.

But most of all, I’d like you to support me, because if you do, you can rest assured that I will fight to the political death on the convention floor to ensure that Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee - believe that.

The caucus will be held at the Destiny Ballroom, 150 Athens Hwy, Loganville, at 10am. Doors open at 9am. Please bring your drivers license and voter ID card, and bring as many other registered voters from your area as possible. I am also asking that you support two other strong Obama Supporters - Steffini Bethea, and Steve Deak.

Thank you for your time and consideration - Senator Obama WILL be the next President of the United States, and with your help, we can get him one major step closer tomorrow.


Patricia Wilson-Smith, Delegate Candidate
Georgia’s 7th Congressional District