Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blowing off Tea Baggers as Racist Misses the Point

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The new political article of faith is that tea baggers are blatant or closet racists. MSNBC’s Keith Olberman, Meghan McCain, and Captain Marvel Comics Captain America and his black sidekick Falcon, are the latest to poke fun at and pick a fight with the tea baggers over their alleged serial racism. Although it’s worth noting, Marvel Comics had a second thought about it and promptly apologized for the slam.

It’s true, that the very thought of a black man in the White House turns the stomachs of many tea baggers and they make no bones about that. The cameras caught a few ranting at the tea party convention, their signs, banners, Joker posters, confederate flags, Texas lone star flags, and crude borderline bigoted race baiting misspelled scrawls on signs and posters at their marches and rallies are ample evidence of that. They deserve to be mocked and dismissed as the loony, bigoted, paranoid cranks they are. The endless pack of conservative bloggers, talk show gabbers, websites, and web chat rooms that have made Obama bashing a lucrative growth industry with their endless knocks, crude racist digs, slurs, cartoon depictions have been wildly effective in working up some tea baggers into a fever pitch against Obama.

But the race rap against the tea baggers misses a big point, in fact several points that tell much about why they’ve roared on the scene seemingly from nowhere. And why they’ve caught the fancy of the public and media, triggered a nervous twitch among Democrats and send terror through the GOP mainstream.

Nearly two decades ago the GOP found that the always volatile mix of big government and economics could whip frustrated, rebellious, angry whites (and more than a few non-whites) into a tizzy far better than crude race baiting. Many blue collar white males were losing ground to minorities and women in the workplace, schools, and in society. The trend toward white male poverty and alienation became more evident in the early 1980s when nearly 10 million Americans were added to the poverty rolls; more than half were from white, male-headed families. Two decades later, the number of white men in poverty or among lower income wage earners continued to expand. The estimate was that more a significant percent of white males who voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections made less than $45,000 in household income.

The finger point was at the big, intrusive federal government that tilted unfairly in spending priorities toward social programs that benefited minorities at the expense of hard working whites. This is exactly how hate groups, the anti-Obama web sites and bloggers, and talk jocks craft the reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and by extension Obama. This easily translates out to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government. The vintage blend of anti-government politics, calls defending personal freedom, and was the neo libertarian war cry at the Conservative Political Action Convention and the tea party convention. The neo libertarian big government cry dwarfed the subtle and overt race bait appeals that were seen and heard at both conventions.
Tea baggers rail at Obama, the Democrats, and big government, the elites, and Wall Street. Yet, the baggers also grouse about abortion, family values, gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts, and not race.

Rightwing populism with its mix of xenophobia, loath of government as too liberal, too tax and spend, and too permissive, and a killer of personal freedom and choice has been the engine that powered two Reagan and Bush White House wins. Scores of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons have twisted and massaged wedge issues to win and hold office and to maintain regional and national political dominance. The GOP grassroots brand of populism has stirred millions operating outside the confines of the GOP mainstream. In 2008 many of these voters stayed home. Even Palin wasn't enough to budge them. Their defection was more a personal and visceral reaction to the bumbles of Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment about Obama, the Democrats, and the GOP. They were ripe for the tea party movement, or any movement that keyed their anger and frustration into action.
The supposed prima facie proof that tea party movement is loaded with unreconstructed bigots and driven by race frenzy is that tea bag leaders won’t denounce the racists in their ranks. But that stamps no racial carbon print on tea baggers either. The movement would have to be structured, layered, and regimented with a unitary agenda and program for that to be the case. The all over the map views spouted at the Nashville convention should have exploded that myth. The disparate, disjointed, and scrambled, headless amoeba like character of the tea party movement gives it wallop, and makes it even more dangerous. Blowing off the tea baggers as bunch of closet hooded rednecks misses this point, too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lots of Cooks Prepared the Compton Cookout Racial Insult Stew

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

University of California, San Diego chancellor Marye Anne Fox, the president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, UCSD student leaders, and a bevy of civil rights leaders, and black and minority California lawmakers leaped over each other to lambaste the now infamous Compton Cookout at UCSD as racially insulting, insensitive, and demeaning. On February 24, days after the furor broke, UCSD officials held a campus racial sensitivity teach-in to quell racial tensions on the campus.

The Compton cookout, of course, was the bone headed stunt by a handful of white and non white students at an off campus to mock, poke fun at, and revel in what’s presumed to be the sway and swagger of ghetto life. There’s a problem, actually, two problems with this. The air head students couldn’t conjure this up from whole cloth. They aren’t that imaginative. They lifted the wording for the invitation for the cookout from the online urbandictionary web site. The site has parlayed an online commercial empire out of irreverent lampooning of slang words and phrases, and then hustling some slang laced products at a pretty penny. There are nine Compton cookout mugs, banners, tee shirts and mouse pads scrawled with inscriptions and jive talk on the items, some with a hefty price tag. There’s also evidence that the UCSD racial spoofery is not isolated, that students at other campuses have had their own versions of Compton Cookouts.
“Naw, `hoe’ is short for honey.” (Dr. Dre, “Housewife”)

That’s the minor problem. The bigger problem is that urbandictionary, as the UCSD students, couldn’t conjure up the Compton Cookout inanity from whole cloth either. They’ve had overgenerous help from the endless parade of gangster rappers, some black filmmakers, and comedians continue to routinely reduce young black women to “stuff,” “bitches” and “hoes.” Their contempt reinforces the slut image of black women and sends the message that violence, mistreatment and verbal abuse of black women are socially acceptable. Despite lawsuits, protests and boycotts by women’s groups, gangster-themed films and rap music still top the popularity charts. Hollywood and music companies rake in small fortunes off them, and so do a few rappers.
“Bitch choose with me” (50 Cent, “P.I.M.P”)
The verbal demeaning of black women and the pile on of stereotypes of young black males as gang bangers, drive by shooters and dope dealers has made them the scapegoats for many of the crisis social problems in American society.
Some blacks cite a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes and abuse, to excuse the sexual abuse and violence (both physical and rhetorical) by top black male artists. These explanations for the misdeeds of rappers and singers are phony and self-serving. The ones who have landed hard on a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional, poverty types. The daunting puzzle, then, remains why so many blacks storm the barricades in fury against a handful of harebrained students at a college, but are stone silent, or utter only the feeblest of protests, when blacks bash and trash. Or even worse, tacitly condone their verbal abuse. There are two reasons for that.
“Watch Your Bitches” (Beanie Sigel “The Reason”)

Blacks have been the ancient target of racial stereotypes, negative typecasting, and mockery. This has made them hypersensitive to any real or perceived racial slight from whites. That’s totally understandable, and civil-rights leaders are right to criticize the Don Imus’s, the Rush Limbaughs, and the legion of celebrities, politicians and public figures for their racial gaffes, slips or broadsides.
But many also fear that to publicly criticize other blacks for their racial attitudes, such disagreements will be gleefully twisted, mangled and distorted into a fresh round of black-bashing by whites. This is a lame reason for not speaking out, and speaking out loudly, against blacks who either out of ignorance or for profit, or both, routinely commercialize racial and gender trash talk.
Such failure fuels the suspicion that blacks, and especially black leaders, are more than willing to play the race card, and call white people bigots, when it serves their interests, but will circle the wagons and defend any black who comes under fire for bigotry—or anything else, for that matter.
“Can U Control Yo Hoe” ( Snoop Dogg, “R&G: Rhythm and Gangsta: The Masterpiece”)

The same standard of racial accountability must apply whether the racial and gender offender is a Snoop Dog or UCSD students. When it doesn’t, that’s a double standard, and that always translates into hypocrisy. The UCSD officials, lawmakers, and civil rights leaders were right to condemn the students for their blatant racial insult. However, be mindful that urbandictionary and the offending UCSD students aren’t the only cooks who prepared the Compton cookout racial insult stew.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiger Digs a Deeper Hole

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Nice try Tiger but it won’t work. Simply gazing into the eye of a lone camera, taking no questions from reporters, and then making a terse plea for privacy, a promise to be a better Tiger, and dropping a hint that he’ll return to golf, won’t buy forgiveness or peace. It will do just the opposite. By saying so little, it still gives the legion of Tiger loathers plenty more ammunition to gossip, speculate, bad mouth and character assassinate. The record of course still reads that the only bodily damage done from his ill fated car crash was to himself, an agreed rupture with his wife, the flight of some top dollar sponsors, and the obliteration of his fraudulent, manufactured Wheaties Box All-American image. The injuries have healed, the wife has split, the sponsors remain in flight, and his made-up image is unsalvageable. But then again, it probably wouldn’t make much difference if Tiger prostrates himself in front of Barbara Walters or Katie Couric with millions watching, flagellates himself with horsehairs, and blabs about every sordid detail in his alleged trail of pay for sex play romps.

It matters little not because a sex, celebrity gossip, rumor and innuendo starved and obsessed mainstream media, and an equally sex, celebrity, rumor and innuendo gossip starved and obsessed public salivates at the prospect of scandal and titillation at the mishaps of celebrities. Nor because his repeated pleading that his personal life is his business, and his alone.

The hole that Tiger dug deeper with his self-interview was dug years ago. The whispers, innuendoes, and back biting began the instant that he exploded on the golf scene. He wasn't black enough. He was too black. He was too arrogant. He was too aloof. He was too selfish. The more Masters Tournament winner’s jackets that he draped on his torso and king’s ransom riches he piled up from tournaments won, the undertow of carping about him roared unabated. There were the personal and race tinged digs and cracks that golfer Fuzzy Zoeller (“fried chicken”) and Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman (“lynch him”) made about him.

Woods graciously and diplomatically shrugged off the inanities and kept doing what he does best and that's win tournaments. It didn't stop the gossip mongers. Woods was simply too big, too good, and too rich for the tastes of a wide swath of the public and the celebrity crazed media.

Despite Woods careful and cautious downplay of race, for another swath of the public he was still a black sports icon who dominated what for decades was a gentlemanly, high brow, near sport of kings, white man's game. The price a black sports icon, even one that flees that straightjacket designation as Woods did, pays for resting on that high perch can be steep. One misstep and he or she can become the instant poster child for all that's allegedly wrong with celebrity, sport and society.
The oft repeated argument in Tiger’s defense is that he didn’t do anything more or less sordid than other celebrated, revered, and just as hypocritical sports icons have done and probably still do, and then tossing out a few names of some big name golfers to prove the point, cuts no ice. They aren’t gatekeepers for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of a sports crazed public as well as advertisers, sportswriters, and TV executives in desperate need of vicarious escape, titillation, excitement, and profits. Woods was. Many of Woods’ golf competitors, who have demons and goblins in their past and present lives, wasted little time in taking their own pot shots at Woods for supposedly disgracing the game.

Woods got the rap from his golf buddies not because he was golf’s marquee name celebrity. He was also a bigger than life human being to them too. This carries the bigger the life responsibility and the even bigger than life special burden to please all and be all things to all people at all times on and off the links.

It’s not clear why Woods agreed to interview himself at this juncture in his personal and image rehab. It’s unclear whether the idea to face a lone camera was his idea or it was foisted on him by an image remake agency or his handlers. All that counts for the moment is that millions will see Woods’ mug again on their screens. This will be more than enough to set the tongues wagging furiously again. All Woods wants is to get back on the circuit with as little fanfare as possible and to bury the past. The problem is that most of the tongues that will wag about the self-interview won’t have much good to say about him. The moral of all this for Tiger is forget the apologies, just play golf and let it go at that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Palin is Obama’s Secret Weapon

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Sarah Palin may turn out to be Obama’s greatest political asset. Polls show that Obama is the most polarizing Democrat since Truman. Palin, in turn, is the most polarizing Republican since Lincoln. That makes her the perfect distraction, foil, and ultimately, perfect perverse Obama ally. Palin’s inanities, idiocies, and cartoonish utterances are now legendary. She is the butt of SNL laugh lines, giddily mocked and ridiculed by Democrats and the pundits, groaned at by the GOP regulars, and shunned by the man who plucked her out of the Arctic tundra and made her a household name, John McCain. Polls show that her approval ratings are dreadful, and the overwhelming majority of poll respondents say that she’s not fit to be president. But this only makes her even more bizarrely appealing.
She sells papers like crazy, and a Palin piece on web sites invokes pages of comments. She jumped Oprah’s rating to the highest in two years when she appeared on her show to hawk her book. The crowds that wildly cheered her during the presidential campaign and just as enthusiastically cheer her on her self-promotion jaunts around the country haven’t slacked up one bit. The networks stumbled over each other to cover her tea party convention speech. CNN, especially, sniffed a ratings bonanza in Palin and dispatched an 11 person crew to the convention, and then carried her mostly canned, standard bromide laced speech live.

The GOP regulars sneer and pretend to shun her. Democrats mock and poke fun at her. But in a year when the party pols are about as popular as the mumps, and Obama’s approval numbers have plummeted faster than the Hindenburg, Palin is the perfect every person’s anti-candidate. McCain certainly knew that. He gambled that her homespun matronly stump style, Down Syndrome challenged son, and Bible spouting, gun toting appeal would be tonic for his sagging campaign. Since winning elections is still as much about which candidate can win the hearts not the heads of the voters, Palin was the one to tug at the religious conservative’s heart strings.
If McCain had played it close to the vest and picked say Mitt Romney as his VP mate, it would have left him wide open to the rap that the best the GOP could do was put up two aging, multimillionaire white party warhorses. With the financial meltdown and public rage over Wall Street conniving and manipulation, along with the Bush administration's bailout plan that thumbed a nose at desperate homeowners, cash strapped small businesses, and down on their luck workers, Obama almost certainly would have routed that pair on Election Day.

Palin was the only possible antidote to that. She sent the signal for McCain that his administration would not simply be a recycled four more years of Bush policies. Few bought that, but with the deck seemingly stacked hopelessly against him anyway, Palin did just enough to make the final popular vote respectable for him.
Palin on the loose in 2012 would potentially render the same aid to Obama. Progressives, liberal and moderate Democrats will dutifully vote for Obama, vote unenthusiastically for him, or pay some lip service to Third Party challenges, and then grumble as they pull the lever for him. Palin poses absolutely no threat to his solid or lukewarm Democratic base. The mere mention of her as a possible candidate will terrorize disgusted Democrats out of their Obama inertia. The real damage that she can do will be to confuse, rile up, and split Republicans. Polls show that while voters in general say Palin’s not presidential timber, a huge minority of Republicans say that she is. That could translate out into millions of disgruntled, frustrated voters who would be sorely tempted to push, prod and hector the GOP to give Palin her due. Many would be just as sorely tempted to vote for Palin as a maverick candidate, or if her name is not on any ballot, stay at home. This would be tantamount to a vote for Obama.

Palin’s strength is playing on and stoking popular rage and frustration with tin ear politicians who’ve turned voters into invisible men and women. But much, of course, can change in the next two years. A sharp upturn in the economy, the disappearance of the much loathed by Palin’s cheerleaders of Obama’s health care reform package, the fade in public fury over Wall Street’s free booting wheeling and dealing, a wind down in the Iraq War, and the semblance of stability in Afghanistan, would make Palin an amusing, if not regrettable trivia question. For now, a mesmerized media, titillated public, and legions of Palin loathers, have made Palin the talk of the land. That talk is just fine for Obama.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Obama Won’t Pardon Jack Johnson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The head of USA Boxing recently announced that its centennial anniversary celebration of the famed Jack Johnson and James Jeffries fight in July, 1910 will be a national extravaganza. It will feature showings of the fight film, tours of the fight site and training camps, appearances by past heavyweight champions and live boxing. The centerpiece of the gala will be their "Jack Johnson Pardon Dinner. At the dinner, the promoters hope to announce that President Obama will grant a posthumous pardon to Johnson. At least, that’s the hope.

The Johnson-Jeffries fight is firmly etched in history as the fight that stood sport and race relations in America on its head. The brash, outspoken black champs thrashing of white contender Jeffries ignited nationwide racist panic and hysteria, and loud calls to prosecute Johnson for violating the Mann Act. The law made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. Many contend passing the act was a thinly veiled effort to nail Johnson for cavorting with white women. The anti-Johnson throng got their wish. In 1913, he was imprisoned for violating the Mann Act. To right the blatant racial wrong against Johnson, Republican Sen. John McCain and House Rep. Peter King last year pushed a resolution through the Senate and House of Representatives urging Obama to pardon Johnson.

The Justice Department quickly said no, saying that it does not traditionally pardon the deceased and that the president’s focus should be to pardon persons "who can truly benefit" from it. Obama can ignore the Justice Department and pardon Johnson but the odds he won’t. Presidential pardons for the dead are virtually unknown. Bill Clinton and George Bush are the only presidents who ever granted one. In 1999 Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was wrongly accused of embezzling commissary funds. In 2008 Bush pardoned Charlie Winters for illegally selling decommissioned bombers to Israel during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Winters was convicted and served 18 months in prison. He died in 1984. Obama has yet to grant a pardon or commute the sentence of anyone living. He’s been one the slowest presidents ever to grant clemency.

Though the racial controversy that ensnared Johnson is a century old, and Johnson’s been dead more than a half century, a pardon for him is still a racial and political minefield for Obama. McCain and King don’t face that risk. They are white, conservative, Republican, and do not occupy the White House. Even if Obama quietly pardoned Johnson, he would likely not be hailed for righting a historic wrong but for playing race with a deceased black man who in his day flaunted the law and the moral code of society. Race and politics simply can’t be separated even when the recipient of justice is a dead man.

Obama acknowledged the peril of race in December when the Congressional Black Caucus saber rattled him to take special action to help chronically jobless young blacks and financially strapped minority businesses. Obama made it clear that he couldn’t and wouldn't do anything special for blacks.

The president’s bluntness on race was no surprise. In his candidate declaration speech in Springfield, Illinois in February 2007, he made only the barest mention of race. Obama talked about change, but change for everyone. He had little choice. The institution of the presidency, and what it takes to get it, demands that racial typecasting be scrapped. Obama got a bitter taste of the misery that race can cause a president him when in an unscripted moment he spoke his mind and blasted a Cambridge cop for cuffing and manhandling Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. The loud squeals that he was a bigot, racist and anti police for siding with Gates bounced off the Oval Office walls. A chagrined Obama back pedaled fast and asked all for forgiveness.

Obama’s tight adherence to a race neutral script is not unique. Bill Clinton in the White House and Al Gore and John Kerry on the presidential campaign trail in 2000 and 2004 followed the same script to the letter. The script requires a Democratic presidential candidate to win elections, and if they win to formulate a moderate agenda on civil rights, poverty, failing inner city public schools, the HIV-AIDS crisis, and the racially skewed criminal justice system in written policy statements. And then say little, and do even less about them in the White House. If Gore or Kerry had won the White House, the likelihood is they would not have made these problems priority items in their White House.

Johnson tragically was a victim of American racial hysteria. His hounding and imprisonment was a grave historical wrong; a historical wrong that still screams to be righted. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely it will come with a White House pardon.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bail out Could Cost Taxpayers Thirty Times more than Reported

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In 2008 and 2009, 50 separate Federal programs offered $23 trillion in loans, grants, or asset guarantees to the financial sector. Huh! This item was buried in paragraph 11 of 12 paragraphs in a joint statement that California Senator Barbara Boxer and Virginia Senator Jim Webb issued demanding taxing TARP monies executives used to compensate themselves. That’s more than 30 times more than the official $700 billion that Congress authorized to bail out the big banks and failed Wall Street financial houses. The $700 billion figure tossed out quickly became etched in financial stone. Then President Bush, President Obama, Congress, and the Wall Street and banking industry and every financial pundit cited the $700 billion payout as the maximum that taxpayers would be stuck with. Now almost as an afterthought, Webb and Boxer casually toss out the $23 trillion number.

Boxer and Webb made mention of it in a press statement to bolster their call for passage of the Taxpayer Fairness Act. This would levy a one time 50 percent surtax on bonuses on amounts over $400,000 in compensation and bonuses that the big banks and firms ladled out to their executives. Don’t hold your breath on this one, though. Boxer, Webb and the Senate was unwilling to impose this tax on the obscene bonuses that the big bank execs paid each other as a condition of getting the TARP money. The only thing that’s changed since then is that public fury at the non-stop record bonuses they pay each other has risen to fever pitch. And even if there was a congressional epiphany and payment required, the big banks that got the taxpayer cash will argue as they have every time a squawk is made about their obscene money that they’ve paid the money back.
Boxer and Webb’s move smacks of yet another empty gesture by two Senators feeling election heat to tap into popular rage at the bankers by appearing to be anti-Wall Street crusaders.
The outrage, though, should be over whether Boxer, Webb, the White House and Congress have come clean over how much the banks and financial houses dinged taxpayers for. One, two, or three federal agencies involved in the fed giveaway is one thing but fifty different agencies is another. The agencies that may have shoved more money to the banks and houses were known as early as April, 2009. In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tarp’s Inspector General listed the agencies and the projected dollar amounts.

Federal Reserve 6.8 trillion
Treasury –Non-Tarp 4.4 trillion
National Credit Union, Veterans Affairs, the Government National Mortgage Assn, the Federal Housing Administration, Federal Housing Finance Agency
7.2 trillion
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) 2.3 Trillion
US Treasury 7.4 trillion

Several house reps screamed loud then that the treasury was mute silent or had stonewalled every effort made to find out exactly how much of the cash that the treasury actually doled out to the banks and financial houses. Nearly a year later they still really don’t know. The issue from the beginning has been transparency or the absence of it by the treasury. Congress has failed to force the federal agencies to tell what they have spent, and how they spent it. At the time of his congressional testimony last April, the Tarp inspector general had 35 criminal and civil investigations of banks and financial houses for accounting fraud, securities fraud, insider trading, mortgage service misconduct, mortgage fraud and public corruption false statement and tax investigations going. This wasn’t enough to trigger bells and whistles that treasury had grossly low balled the figures on the bailout.

Boxer and Webb had ample opportunity to demand and fight that the treasury and other federal agencies fully open their books on the amounts that were being spent. The White House and Congress have repeatedly publicly assured that bail out money ladled out came in way under the official $700 billion that Congress authorized, and that much of the money has been repaid. That still doesn’t tell what other help the big banks and financial houses got in the form of loans, grants, insurance or asset guarantees, and what federal agencies were involved. Boxer and Webb haven’t told us that either.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).