Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Obama, Wright & Racism

I've taken my time since last Tuesday's Obama press conference in which he disowned his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to stand back and gather my thoughts about the entire episode because the issues involved are more complex than they've been presented in the media (and because I've had a tough week health-wise - which makes it that much harder to think).

The conclusion I've reached is that no one is blameless in this affair: not Obama, not Wright, and not the media. Further, none of those involved has completely accepted responsibility for their part in what happened. And that guarantees that the situation is not over.

Let me start off by saying that I agree with much of what Glen Ford wrote at Black Agenda Report and some of what Bill Moyers had to say after Obama's latest proclamation.

Here are my thoughts on the situation:

Barack Obama knew some of Wright's rhetoric would be a problem if presented to the greater public back when he did not invite Wright to appear at his campaign kick-off. He then apparently thought that out of sight meant out of mind, even though he appointed Wright to his African American Religious Leadership Committee. Obama cut his teeth in the Chicago political scene but, perhaps since he didn't have to fight his way up the ladder, he naively thought he could get away with stuffing Wright into a position that he thought nobody would pay attention to. Wrong. Obviously. Anyone running for president ought to know that absolutely everything about their life is on the table the minute they announce their intentions.

Where the media failed (or perhaps succeeded, depending on which political faction of the media you refer to) was in playing the endless loops of the most damning Wright soundbites but you'll note that when that same media endlessly looped Wright's damning statements about Obama last week after his press club appearance, you didn't hear one peep from Obama about the fact that they had just done exactly the same thing to Wright. Of course not. Because, this time, Obama was "the victim".

The victim of what, though? What most "outraged" Obama was that Wright had said he was merely acting like a politician - saying things politicians need to say to get elected. Now, unless you are one of the many Obama kool-aid drinkers who inhabit the media and the so-called progressive blogs, how can Wright's opinion be denied? Obama is a politician. Of course he'll say what he needs to to get elected.

Obama claimed that perhaps didn't know him as well as he thought. I wonder aloud if perhaps Wright knows Obama better than he knows himself because what those of us without blinders on know is that although Obama's Philadelphia speech was all about supposedly beginning a dialogue on race in America, he did absolutely nothing after that to actually facilitate one. No town halls. No media appearances about race or racism. No mailings. No promise to focus on issues of importance to the African-American community. No. And the AA community can't count on that kind of leadership coming from Obama since he's neutralized their issues (see Glen Ford's piece linked above).

Obama is what Shelby Steele calls a "bargainer". Wright, on the other hand, is a "challenger". He's the kind of black person who is not afraid to place AA issues on the table - right in your face - in the style of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And that makes people feel uncomfortable. Dog forbid that anyone be made to feel uncomfortable about the continued oppression of blacks and other minorities in the Good Ole US of A. That's why, after Obama's Philly speech, I knew that this 'dialogue on race' wouldn't be happening - and it isn't.

Instead, what's been going on is the misuse of the racism issue by so-called progressives to attack Hillary Clinton and anyone who dares to support her (or McCain, for that matter). As I was telling a friend today, when I wrote about the Israel/Lebanon war daily on my blog, I knew that telling the truth about the IDF's actions would see me tarred as being "anti-semitic" - a ridiculous charge - and what some of Obama's most radical supporters have now managed to achieve is to propagate the same kind of extreme reaction ie. "you're a racist" if you write or say anything critical of him or his campaign. Keep in mind, these are the very same people who've decried the right-wing kool-aid drinkers - those Bush 28 percenters - as being out of touch with reality. They've now become what they loathed the most. Neitzche was right: "If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you." And for some, it consumes them. Here's yet another example of what happens when you cross Obama supporters. Is that the "new" politics of changeyhopeiness that he speaks of? No. But some of his supporters are so afraid that he'll be "denied" the nomination that they're willing to stoop to what are commonly Rove-approved political tactics.

There's no doubt that there are radical Hillary supporters as well but what's different is this need some people have to protect Obama at all costs. That weakens him. They just don't see it. And they obviously don't have enough faith to believe that his message is what the voters will buy. Instead they seem to think they have to force feed it by stuffing it down peoples' throats. It's a very strange dichotomy - the antithesis of his rhetoric.

Now, getting back to Jeremiah Wright. I really don't have a problem with much of what he's preached, although his stance on the US gov't planting the AIDS virus is not something I agree with. I have to say though that Wright was wrong when he proclaimed that an attack on him was an attack on "the black church". There's no such entity as "the black church" just as there's no such thing as the "white" or "Asian" or "Latino" church. Has there been an attack on Black Liberation Theology as it's been presented in the media? Yes. Have Wright's preaching style and mannerisms been attacked? Absolutely. Is he getting more attention just because, as Moyers said, he's a black preacher? I'd say not necessarily.

The public is quite familiar with the extremist evangelical white male preachers and while they make outrageous, jaw-dropping, hateful statements, that fact just isn't "news". We're used to it. But Wright, in his black evangelical style which many find just as extremist, became a novelty to many who had never witnessed that type of preaching before. It didn't shock me, however, as someone who worked in the past for a Jamaican reggae magazine in Jamaica and who had studied Rastafarianism (beyond just smoking the ganja) - a faith that is all about black repatriation to African roots. Anyone familiar with the roots reggae scene has had a glimpse into those beliefs. So, "black liberation" beliefs ought not be news either. But, because, there still is so much racism and intolerance in America, ideas like those expressed by Wright were seen as threatening and unpatriotic. Why? Because America still won't have that "dialogue on race".

Around and around it goes.

Anyone clinging to the idea that Obama is the new mix of MLK and Malcolm X is just fooling themselves and the fact that Obama has been quite comfortable to be that "blank screen" on which everybody can project whatever they want him to be on his vague persona (while at the same time complaining that people don't really know him) while he talks about coalition building with anybody who's willing to join up (Republicans included) shows that his idea of getting rid of "divisiveness" is just to congeal everybody's needs into one big unity ball. Life doesn't work that way. Neither does politics. It's messy and trying to be all things to all people ensures one thing: failure.

I've wondered what bloggers and the media would say if Hillary Clinton consistently received 80-90% of the female vote. I have no doubt that women would be painted as unthinking automatons if that was the case. Yet, the fact that Obama receives such massive support from the African-American community is justified as just being expected. After all, blacks have waited centuries to have one of their own as president. I don't doubt that's true for many but I would hope that that's not the only explanation. I haven't seen anyone in the media attempt to address that reality but there have certainly been strong opinions expressed along the lines of Hillary not being able to win over that voting bloc. That's just one of the many reasons America needs that "dialogue on race". And maybe while they're at it (tilting at windmills here, I know), they could actually talk about the rampant sexism that's been directed towards Clinton. It's been absolutely vicious online but apparently that's okay because Hillary deserves it - or some such nonsense.

I'll tell you one thing: this race has brought to light the ugliest side of so-called Democrats and progressives online and off. Some Obama supporters now want to talk about "healing" the party. There's been a plethora of those diaries over at Daily Kos since they crowned Obama king after Tuesday's results. The response? Overwhelmingly negative and juvenile. There will be no "healing" until Hillary disappears, as far as they're concerned. But don't let that fool you either. There are still numerous people over there still obsessed with the Lewinsky scandal. These are people (Democrats, supposedly) who will hold grudges for decades. Healing? Not bloody likely. Meanwhile, McCain maintains decent poll numbers and could actually win in November. What's wrong with that picture?

I don't know if the party is hopelessly divided, as some seem to think. What I do know, however, is that Democrats have a helluva lot of growing up to do. That is glaringly obvious. And those who call themselves "progressives" (a term which no one has ever been able to define for me as it relates to the Democratic party - that mainly centrist entity that panders to the military-industrial complex, big corporations, big money, and lobbyists) ought to be thinking damn hard about their behaviour if they want to win this election in November. As it stands right now, I sure don't think they deserve to. And, when the only other viable alternative is yet another Republican, I can't even begin to conceive of what America will look like the next 4 years. It will be only slightly different, I'm convinced, but how that manifests itself is an open question.

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