Sunday, March 28, 2010

President Obama Now Looks and Acts like FDR

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The comparison of then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the height of the presidential campaign was hyped, overblown and made mostly to sell magazines, puff up TV pundit sound bites, and by a few carried away with themselves Democratic party campaign boosters. Though undoubtedly flattered by it, candidate Obama did not encourage the comparison to FDR.
This writer as countless others the first months after inauguration did more than just hope that President Obama would inch toward looking and acting like FDR. We relentlessly pushed, prodded, and hectored him to lurch in that direction. There were many days of bitter frustration and disappointment, punctuated by loud grumbling of betrayal.

Obama as FDR knew that he was in a political life and death, take no prisoners war with his political enemies-- the GOP, ultra conservative Democrats, Wall Street, the big bankers and big manufacturers. But unlike FDR for months he soft peddled, coddled, and placated his opponents even as they made absolutely no effort to mask their loath of his policies and presidency, and made it abundantly clear they will stop at nothing to hound him from office. FDR, by contrast, hit back hard at his enemies as obstructionists and economic royalists. He never wavered from his commitment that the workers and farmers, the “common man” came first.
Now President Obama has done the same. His in the trenches fight back started when he admitted what everyone knew and that’s that making nice with the GOP and making futile appeals to them for bi-partisanship sounds good in White House interviews and Congressional speeches but in the ruthless party eat party world of real politick it’s a surefire prescription for an ineffectual, moribund, and hapless presidency, not to mention ridicule as a president sans spine.

In quick succession he’s rammed through a drastically retooled consumer friendly health care reform law that looks nothing like the pharmaceutical and private health insurer goody laden bill of six months ago and with the added FDR touch of beating back the furious lobbying by banks and private lenders to keep their profit first fingers in student lending, and making the government the lender of first resort for student loans. He added millions to back it up, with a special nod toward expanding aid to strapped historically black colleges.
A tweak of the financial reform package that takes a strong first step toward reining in the orgy of Wall Street freeboot speculation, trading, swaps, and scams of investors, borrowers and the government that nearly wrecked the economy. Though the much needed independent consumer agency with full power to oversee and regulate lending practices in the financial reform bill didn’t happen. The new agency will not be under the direct grip of the Fed which would kill any regulation that was perceived as Wall Street and Big Bank unfriendly. Obama has also endorsed enactment of a modified version of the Glass-Steagall act. That’s the tough FDR era bank regulation act.

The watered down and grossly underfunded Senate jobs bill won’t do much to dent the near double digit unemployment. But Obama has strongly signaled that he’ll plough stimulus dollars directly into government run job training programs, job banks, and public works projects. The other FDR touch is to virtually order the banks to lend more to distressed homeowners cut borrowing rates, and terms, and promise more aggressive government intervention to aid strapped endangered homeowners. These are the programs that will do much to help the working class, and the minority poor. It makes the screech that he push a black agenda seem even more silly, ridiculous and self-serving.
Obama ignored the squeals of the GOP obstructionists with appointments to judgeships. And a slew of recess appointments of top flight sensitive, moderate, first class scholars and professionals to diplomatic, commerce, and labor regulatory board posts.
He drew the ire of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by holding firm on his demand to halt renewed Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
On a personal and humane note, Obama magnificent gesture of donating every penny of his 1.4 million dollar Nobel Peace Prize award to solid charities and community help organizations and causes. The Big Bank and Wall Street greed merchants could learn a lesson from this example: fat chance of that.

FDR did not substitute rock star photo op, stagey, high profile media posturing for tough leadership. When the GOP and the press wrote the epitaph for him midway through his second term in 1938 he continued to swing away. FDR took to the airwaves and hit the road to blast the economic royalists and the obstructionist judges and those in congress to his reform program.
In the final stages of the healthcare reform fight and its immediate aftermath, Obama snatched a page directly from FDR and mobilized millions of Americans to fight for real reform. As long as he continues to do that he’ll continue to look and act like FDR.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The GOP Would Cut Its Throat if it Denounced Racism

Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan could have saved his breath when he furiously demanded that GOP leaders denounce the blatant racists among them. The loud chorus from other Democrats, civil rights leaders, and even an on line petition from an advocacy group begging the GOP to speak out against its naked bigots is a good preaching to the choir, PR gambit but it won’t change anything at the GOP top. The GOP would cut its throat if it denounced its racists and racism, and really meant it. The shouts, taunts, spitting, catcalls, joker posters, N word slurs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flag waving, by tea baggers is and has been an indispensable political necessity for the GOP.

Despite the GOP’s narrow health care defeat, maybe even because of it, the GOP’s programmed racist public ugliness is having some success. Obama's approval ratings, always tenuous at best among white males, have plunged into free fall among them. A bare 35 percent of them say they will back Democrats in the fall mid-term elections, and less than half of white women say they will back Democrats.

The spark to reignite the GOP's traditional conservative, lower income white male loyalists, and increasingly white female supporters, has always been there. The final presidential vote gave ample warning of that. While Obama made a major breakthrough in winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters, contrary to popular perception, McCain (not Obama) won a slim majority of their vote in the final tally. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. Overall McCain garnered nearly 60 percent of the white vote.

The GOP could not have been competitive during campaign 2008 without the bail out from white male voters. Much has been made since then that they are a dwindling percent of the electorate, and that Hispanics, Asian, black, young, and women voters will permanently tip the balance of political power to the Democrats in coming national elections. Blue collar white voters have shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than forty percent. The assumption based solely on this slide and the increased minority population numbers and regional demographic changes is that the GOP's white vote strategy is doomed to fail. This ignores three political facts. Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. And they voted in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks.

The GOP leaders have long known that blue collar white male voters can be easily aroused to vote and shout loudly on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts. For fourteen months, they whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against health care reform. This was glaringly apparent in ferocity and bile spouted by the shock troops the GOP leaders in consort with the tea baggers brought out to harangue, harass and bully Democrat legislators on the eve of the health care vote. These are the very voters that GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, and McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons banked for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.

But the GOP’s best efforts to stir and keep them stirred into frenzy wouldn’t get to first base if millions didn’t genuinely believe that Obama was the anti-Christ (new Gallup poll) and that every Democrat before him had turned government into a Frankenstein monster to tax them out of their gourd to create endless social programs that benefit minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This is exactly how hate groups, the legion of anti-Obama Web sites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks craft the reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.

The GOP’s win with white vote strategy failed in 2008 only because of the rage and disgust of legions of white voters at Bush's horribly failed and flawed domestic and war policies. This 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. Even if the GOP is, as is widely seen, an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue-collar whites this is not a voting demographic to mock, ridicule, sneered at, let alone dismiss, because the numbers are still huge.

The GOP driven by personal instincts, political leanings, history, demographics, and raw political need has masterfully played the race card for a half century to get its way. Asking it to stop now would be asking it to cut its own throat.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

International Women’s Day: Iran and The Global Struggle for Women’s Liberation

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The influence of mainstream media has often made it difficult for Western women to draw parallels between sexist oppression of women in the West and that of Middle Eastern women. Programmed to see Middle Eastern women as the “other,” shackled by backward, terroristic Islamist regimes, many uncritically accept the mainstream media’s portrayal of the “secularist” enlightened West as the liberator of Middle Eastern women. As an activist in the Iranian women’s movement, Sussan Gol has been outspoken in making connections between her struggle and the global implications of women’s oppression. Gol recently traveled to the U.S. to participate in the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8th. She went to high school in L.A. and moved back to Iran after the fall of the U.S.-backed Shah government in
1979. The rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini led to the repeal of virtually all of the civil rights women had begun to enjoy prior to the Revolution. Compulsory implementation of the hijab (a practice which entails modest traditional dress, such as the veil) and the draconian restrictions of Sharia (Muslim law) have severely limited women’s basic mobility, access to education, rights within the family and in the political sphere. During the Shah’s rule, separation of church and state was observed and overt control of women through the hijab was relatively minimal. With the institutionalization of a theocratic Islamic fundamentalist state, women were routinely forced into arranged marriage and treated as the property of their husbands and male relatives. Policed in every aspect of public and private life, women have no right to their own children and are even forced to sleep with their husbands four times a day.

Because of their activism, Gol and her husband were jailed and placed in solitary confinement by the Khomeini regime. In the mid 1980s her husband was executed by the government. She has continued to agitate for women’s rights in an atmosphere that she describes as “suffocating,” holding that Islamist feminists are making a bargain with the devil. For Gol, the relationship between gender equality and fundamentalist Islam is unequivocal. While some Iranian women’s rights activists are interested in reforming Sharia law, Gol believes that any version of Sharia critically undermines human rights by policing women’s bodies, constructing them as property and denying them the fundamental right to control their own lives and destinies. She sees parallels between the struggles of Iranian women and those in the West. Historically there has been a paternalistic divide between women’s rights activists in the West and Islam. Some Western feminists view Islamic fundamentalist oppression of women as the antithesis of Western ideals and values. However, Gol stresses that there are similarities between Muslim women’s experiences and that of non-Muslim Western women. Despite the claim of Western cultural superiority, Christian fundamentalist incursions into reproductive rights, epidemic domestic violence, the near enculturation of sexual assault in American society, inequitable access to child care and gender-based pay inequities continue to imperil women’s right to self-determination.

Thus, although the U.S. and Europe are often regarded as the models for women’s political agency, Middle Eastern feminists like Gol emphasize their solidarity with the struggles of disenfranchised women in the West, particularly that of women of color. Sex trafficking and prostitution as a form of capitalist commodification of women’s bodies is a common thread. Due to the Iraq War, sex trafficking of Iranian women has exploded. In some instances poor women are “exported” to countries like Dubai and sold into kingdoms as sex slaves and prostitutes. Because of the gender wage hierarchies imposed by the West, the inability of unskilled female laborers to find living wage employment to support their families has made sexual slavery a desperate final option for some women. For example, in the absence of job opportunities, young African American women may turn to the sex trade or be “pimped” into prostitution by predatory male hustlers. Gol also points to the pervasiveness of international sex trafficking in the U.S. and Eastern Europe as examples of how women’s bodies and sex work have continued to be valuable commodities in the global marketplace.

These regimes of patriarchal exploitation and control have been exacerbated by U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Driven by the U.S.’ strategic interest in controlling Iran’s oil reserves, Iran has historically been caught in the crosshairs. According to Women for Peace and Justice in Iran, U.S. intervention in Iran “postponed the advancement of rights in Iran for decades,” undermining “secular and left opposition to the rule of the Shah and bolstering the superiority of the Islamic forces when the revolution was eventually won.” Over the past several years, the mainstream media’s portrayal of the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq as a democratic mission has been exposed by human rights and anti-war activists as nothing more than imperialist propaganda.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration has renewed its predecessor’s commitment to this agenda. Consequently, Gol condemns the U.S.’ deployment of 70,000 more troops in Afghanistan. She views U.S. occupation as destructive to progressive social justice change in the region. As many Middle Eastern activists have noted, U.S. occupation has been a major catalyst for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. However, Gol cautioned, “Islamic fundamentalism hangs on its ‘death to America’” rhetoric as a means of legitimizing and reinforcing nationalism. In some regards, poor people in the region see no other viable alternative to Western imperialism besides Islamic fundamentalism. Tragically, some Iranian feminists and intellectuals also buy into this line. And it is for this reason that Gol faults the activists of the Iranian Green Movement for their failure to challenge its leaders on the issue of nationalism and women’s rights.

Global women’s liberation is undermined by cultural binaries that weave a narrative of Western enlightenment versus Middle Eastern fundamentalism. In their pursuit of human rights for women in Iran, Gol and her feminist allies provide important global context for shared struggle and justice.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a contributor to KPFK’s Some of Us Are Brave and WBAI NY’s Women's Collective.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Torrance California Police Stop Again Casts Ugly Glare on Racial Profiling

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The throng of angry whites jeered, catcalled, and spat out borderline racial insults at the small group of mostly black protestors. This wasn’t a march against Jim Crow in Montgomery, Birmingham, Jackson, Mississippi, or Cicero, The year wasn’t 1963. The charged racial confrontation happened on March 14, 2010 in the self-billed All-American, mostly white Los Angeles suburban bedroom city of Torrance, California. The march was called to protest the unwarranted stop, search and harassment of Robert Taylor, a prominent Los Angeles African-American minister and civic leader by two white Torrance police officers on March 4. Following the stop, there were hundreds of outraged letters many filled with vile, crude, and profane racist pot shots at blacks, in local newspapers blasting Taylor and civil rights supporters.
The Taylor stop fit the all too familiar pattern of many unwarranted stops of black and Latino motorists. Torrance police officials claimed that he and the car he drove allegedly fit the description of a suspect and car involved in a robbery and assault a day earlier.

The problem is Taylor is not even remotely close in appearance to the description of the suspect. The picture circulated was of a short, stocky dark complexioned 30ish black male. Taylor is tall, in his 60s, and light complexioned.
Predictably, as in most racial profiling allegations, Torrance police and city officials hotly denied the profiling charge. They justified it with the stock story that crime is on the rise in the city, but offered no compelling stats to back up that claim. Taylor’s stop would have likely ignited the usual finger pointing, charge swapping, and then faded fast except for one thing. Torrance has been slapped with a Justice Department lawsuit, civil rights lawsuits, court settlements, and hundreds of verbal complaints over the years by black and Latino motorists, shoppers, African-American mail carriers some in full uniform that work at postal stations in Torrance, and residents such as Taylor who allege they were racially profiled.

Torrance is hardly unique. The past decade, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and other big and small cities have repeatedly been called on the carpet for alleged racial profiling. In an address to a joint session of Congress in 2001, then President Bush blasted racial profiling, "It’s wrong and we will end it in America." It hasn’t

The refusal to admit that racial profiling exists by many public officials and many in law enforcement has done much to torpedo nearly every effort by local and national civil rights and civil liberties groups to get law enforcement and federal agencies not only to admit that racial profiling happens but to do something about it. The throng of white protestors that harangued the blacks and other supporters who protested the Taylor stop in Torrance was ample proof of that.

A perennial federal bill served up by House Democrat John Conyers to get federal agencies to collect stats and do reports on racial profiling hasn't gotten to first base. A similar racial profiling bill met a similar fate in California in 1999. The bill passed by the state legislature mandated that law enforcement agencies compile racial stats on traffic stops. It was promptly vetoed by then Democratic governor Gray Davis.
Despite Davis’s veto, nearly 60 California city and county police departments, the California Highway Patrol, and University of California police agencies either through mandatory federal consent decrees or voluntarily collect date on unwarranted traffic stops of motorist and contacts civilian to determine if there is a racial bent to the stops. Torrance is not one of those cities.

Nationally, 46 states collect data either voluntarily or compelled by state law on unwarranted pedestrian contacts and traffic stops. Most police officials, as in Torrance, loudly contend that good police work is about the business of catching criminals and reducing crime, not about profiling blacks and Latinos. If more black and Latino men are stopped it's not because they're black or Latino but because they commit more crimes. The other even more problematic tact used to debunk racial profiling is the few statistics that have been compiled on unwarranted stops. In this case not by police agencies but based on citizen responses. In two surveys, the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics took a hard, long quantified look at racial profiling using information that it got from citizens. Both times, the agency found that while whites are stopped, searched and arrested far less than blacks or Latinos, there was no hard proof that the stops had anything to do with race.
This has done even more to damp down a public outcry to get police agencies and legislators to admit that racial profiling is a fact on many city streets and highways and then to take firm action to eliminate it.

The arrest last July of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gate's touched off a brief furor over racial profiling. Taylor’s stop and search has done the same in a bedroom Southern California city. It has again cast the ugly glare on the always troubling problem of racial profiling.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard public issues talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles Friday 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles Saturday Noon PST.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Vile Fascination with the Monkey Image of the Obama’s (and African-Americans)

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The worst thing about the CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association Walt Baker’s silly, sick, demeaning depiction of First Lady Michelle Obama as a chimp ironically is not the depiction. It’s Baker’s clueless defense. The instant the storm broke, and Nashville’s mayor, the state’s GOP leaders denounced him, and the contract was summarily yanked from his marketing firm, Mercatus Communications, to help promote the city's new convention center, Baker predictably wailed that he’s not a bigot, racially insensitive, and the cartoon was nothing but political humor.
He fervently believes that. He just as fervently believes that lampooning Michelle Obama, and President Obama as a monkey, ape, gorilla is just can’t you take a joke fun and games. He and the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, and of late, college frat parties, and student websites that ridicule the Obama’s (and African-Americans) in assorted off beat, crude, vile cartoons and always with the vile depiction as monkeys or apes is by now standard fare. It’s no accident that it is.

The long, sordid and savage history of racist stereotyping of African-Americans has been the stock in trade of race baiting and racial ridicule and for more than century. A few grotesque book titles from a century ago, such as The Negro a Beast, The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization, and the Clansman depicted blacks as apes, monkeys, bestial, and animal like. The image stuck in books, magazines, journals, and deeply colored the thinking of many Americans of that day; that day?
In the movie version of Rudyard Kipling children’s classic, The Jungle Book, the Disney Studios in 1967 graduated from the other standard animal depiction of African-Americans as black crows to depicting African-Americans as the Monkey like jive, gibberish blathering King Louie. The film was remade in 1994.

Fifteen years later, New York Post Cartoonist Sean Delonas ignited a firestorm with his casual depiction of President Obama as a monkey. He did it precisely because that image didn’t die a century, half century, a decade, or even a year ago. In 2007 Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young, and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.

The overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants, and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images, were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.

This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial, and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.

First Lady Michelle Obama is a woman, a black woman, and a soft target for the frustrations and even scorn of the Obama loathers. During the campaign Obama opponents eagerly latched onto out-of-context statement she made at a campaign rally in which she allegedly questioned her faith in America, and made a supposedly less than reverential reference to the flag. They brutally tarred her as a closet anti-American, race-obsessed, black radical. That made her an instant campaign liability. For weeks she virtually disappeared from the campaign trail.

She has played a relatively low key role in the White House, and has succeeded in pretty much staying out of harm’s way from the hits of hubby Obama’s avowed enemies. That is all except when it comes to the image assault from the eternal animal mockery of blacks, an image that Baker and legions of other see nothing wrong with. It’s an image that the First Lady and the President haven’t seen the last of it. It’s just too juicy, vile and hurtful to die. It’s been that way for a century.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles Friday 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles Saturday Noon PST.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Obama Still Must Tread Carefully on Immigration Reform

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Obama is walking a slender tightrope on what’s still the most volatile, contentious, and potentially politically life threatening issue to Democrats. That’s immigration reform. At first glance, the political stars seemed to be aligned for him to do what Bush failed twice at and that’s get a deal on immigration reform.
The light trial balloon that he floated on reform punched the right buttons. He has respected GOP South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham on board and working on a reform package with key Senate Democrats. This drew barely a ripple of comment and ignited no loud denunciations from anti-immigration foes. The Federation for American Immigration Reform which whipped anti-immigration sentiment up to a fever pitch three years ago barely mentioned the Obama proposal on its website. The group issued no impassioned action alerts demanding that the immigration talks be stopped in their tracks. The Minuteman groups that made a clownish spectacle of themselves with their gun toting antics at the Mexican border are long gone.

There is no visible organized Senate opposition. The majority of Democrats in Congress backed reform bills in 2006 and 2007 and will back an Obama immigration reform bill again. The Latino vote is big, vocal, active, and getting antsy that no progress has been made on immigration reform. Latino leaders repeatedly demand that Obama back up his campaign pledge to push a reform bill through. They’ve also saber rattled Republicans that they can again kiss Latino vote’s good-bye if they dig in their heels and stonewall reform again.

The guest worker plan that infuriated anti-immigration activists in the previous failed bills was yanked from the current proposed bill. Obama and the Democrats have gone even further and given the GOP senators pretty much what they demand as the price for getting a bill through. Undocumented workers must pay hefty penalties, pay all taxes, learn English, and wait for an extended time before attaining citizenship. Obama must also assure that any bill mandate failure to comply could result in deportation. Obama must also pledge to hermetically seal the border to stop the flow of immigrants.
A December America’s Voice poll found that a majority of voters and that includes Independents and Republicans, back comprehensive immigration reform. The number who said that undocumented workers should get the summary boot from the country has plunged. But there was a cautionary note in the poll, as with other similar polls. A majority are just as adamant that undocumented workers should not be given an easy stroll down the pathway to citizenship. They also demand strict enforcement of the provisions that undocumented workers pay taxes, and a penalty, be English proficient, patiently wait for approval, and that the borders be secured.
There’s also much devil in the details in the plan Graham and New York Democrat Charles Schumer have outlined so far. It’s the vagueness in those details that can be twisted and mangled by immigration reform foes to again try and torpedo reform. The foes have not totally disappeared. There’s still the loose network of anti-immigration organizations, and the legions of right wing talk jocks, tea baggers, and Fox News Network talking heads who can stir the troops to oppose any reform. The far right Christian Life and Liberty Net sent out a panicked alert mocking Graham as Grahamnesty and railed against him for backing amnesty for illegal aliens. The stock attack charge that any immigration reform bill is a de facto reward for breaking the law still stirs anger and passion in many Americans.
The loss of thousands of jobs, with official unemployment still nudging double digit, and with low wage American workers bearing the brunt of the downturn also presents a wedge for immigration foes. They almost certainly will again hammer that undocumented workers snatch jobs from needy American workers. The charge has been totally debunked but it still touches a raw nerve.
Immigration reform can’t be separated from partisan politics. The November mid-term elections are months away and Democrats have already suffered three hammer blows in losing a revered Senate seat in Massachusetts, and governorships in Virginia and New Jersey. Many Democrats will be squeamish about the risk of more losses if immigration opponents gather steam and again turn immigration into a finger-pointing, contentious, and polarizing issue.
Obama still has a major fight on his hands to get a health care reform bill passed. The bill is not on life support, but there’s still no guarantee despite the towering concessions Obama and Senate Democrats have made to get a bill, any bill, passed that that will happen. To risk stoking the same voter fury over immigration as health care has would be political folly.

Obama gave immigration reform short shrift in his State of the Union. But he’s put it back on the nation’s table. That’s a good thing. Now that he has the watch is on to see how hard or light he’ll tread on the issue.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Good Reason Blacks Give Obama A Racial Pass

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The undeniable fact is that President Obama has gotten a racial pass from blacks. This tormenting fact ignited brief finger pointing between the Reverend Al Sharpton and talk show host Tavis Smiley. It’s hardly the first time that blacks publicly and more often privately have wrung their hands over Obama’s absolute unwillingness to say and do more for blacks. This prompts even more hand wringing over why blacks still give him an irrevocable pass. The hand wringing is as pointless as the demand for Obama to embrace a black agenda. It’s not going to happen, in fact it can’t happen.
Obama etched that in stone from the first day of his presidential campaign. In his candidate declaration speech in Springfield, Illinois in February 2007, he made only the barest mention of race. The focus was on change, 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 would have had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, let alone the presidency, if there had been any hint that he embraced the race-tinged politics of Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. His campaign would have been marginalized and compartmentalized as merely the politics of racial symbolism.

Obama will cling tightly to the centrist blueprint Bill Clinton laid out for a Democratic presidential candidate to win elections, and to govern after he won. The blueprint requires that the Democratic presidential candidate tout a strong defense, the war against terrorism, a vague plan for winding down the Iraq War, while escalating the Afghan conflict, mild proposals to control greenhouse emissions, limited tax reform for the middle class, a cautious plan for affordable health care, pro business solutions to joblessness, and make only the most genteel reproach of Wall Street, and then stick to this script once in the Oval Office. Race talk is nowhere to be found on a Democratic president’s must list. The only time that changed was midway through Clinton’s second term. With no reelection cares, Clinton made a mild, tepid, public relations glossed stab at setting up a race panel to talk about the plight of black America. The panel talked, and talked and talked some more, made a few half hearted recommendations for change, and then promptly forgot about them.

But that didn’t matter. Blacks still swooned, gushed, and reveled in the Clinton magic and mystique. In polls, he ranked even higher than Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan as the “black” leader blacks most liked. It’s no different with Obama. He’s a Democrat. For the past half century a Democratic presidential candidate has been guaranteed an automatic 85 to 90 percent of the black vote. Blacks have been the party’s loyalist foot soldiers even as blue collar whites, and a significant number of Latinos, and Asians defected to the GOP. The withering assault from assorted racists, kooks, cranks, zanies, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, tea baggers, and GOP ultra conservatives further guarantees that blacks fear if they utter the most bland and meek criticism it will give aid and comfort to the enemy, and earn a slap as a race traitor.

But Blacks also sincerely want him to succeed. That’s not solely out of a mix of race pride, the eternal thirst for positive black male role models, and his eloquence. They’re fervently convinced that he truly has their interests at heart, and even though he can’t spout a “black agenda” he’ll work hard, quietly, behind the scenes to improve conditions for the black poor and needy. Then there’s the horrific alternative of a GOP takeover. Blacks are in stark terror that a resurgent GOP will mean a sink back to greater impoverishment, political disempowerment, racial polarization, and even racial violence.

Obama has repeatedly protested to the black critics that he’s not the black president, but the president. He’s pulled and tugged hard by corporate and defense industry lobbyists, the oil and nuclear power industry, government regulators, environmental watchdog groups, conservative family values groups, conservative GOP senators and house members, foreign diplomats and leaders. They all have their priorities and agendas and all vie hard to get White House support for their pet legislation, or to kill or cripple legislation that threatens their interests.
If he gives the company store to Wall Street, waters down health care reform, and further bloats a bloated military, that’s the price anyone who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office, must pay to govern. The rules of presidential governance demand no less. Sharpton, the NAACP, Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus, have at times lightly chided Obama to do and say more for blacks, but they’re also realists. They’ll push him to work through the back door to increase spending and expand education, health care, and job creation programs for blacks. That’s more than enough reason they and most other blacks are willing to give him a racial pass.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.