Thursday, July 31, 2008

McCain and Obama Must Break Their Silence on AIDS Crisis in Black Communities

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A clearly befuddled and flustered presidential contender John McCain stumbled almost laughingly over a question from an audience member during a townhall talk in Iowa in March 2007. The questioner asked what he’d do to combat the AIDS plague. McCain after several stumbles nervously said that he didn’t know enough about the problem and then tossed the ball to his advisors. He said he was confident that they’d come up with some solutions.
The media had a mild field day poking fun at McCains’ AIDS bumble, but the issue is hardly the stuff of a bad comedy routine. A few months after McCain’s wobble, Obama and wife, Michelle, in a widely shown photo were shown getting their AIDS test. Obama followed this with a public pledge to formulate a national AIDS strategy on AIDS, ramp up government spending on testing, education, and treatment, and expand access to generic drugs in Africa and other poor nations.
This was admirable but unfortunately it was a year ago. He hasn’t publicly addressed the issue since. During the campaign, he and McCain have given countless speeches, made statements, issued reports and position papers on the terrorism fight, the Iraq War, the Iran Missile threat, immigration, the housing and banking crisis, a tanking economy, and affordable health care. These are crucial problems and millions of Americans demand that both candidates tell exactly what they’re going to do about them in the White House. But as devastating as these problems are to many families, they do not pile up bodies and wreak catastrophic havoc on entire communities, mostly poor black communities. The AIDS/HIV plague does.

The Black AIDS Institute in a recent report backed up by statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded a loud alarm that the number of African-Americans afflicted with the disease is now so high that blacks would rank sixteenth among the nations whose citizens are afflicted with the disease. Blacks make up nearly half of all new AIDS cases in the United States. That figure has remained virtually unchanged for the past few years.

The AIDS plague has long been the single biggest health issue that has screamed for massive action by the government and health agencies in poor black communities. This is all the more reason for Obama and McCain to speak out on the crisis and then spell out just what they will do about it. So far they haven’t done that during the campaign. In a campaign position paper Obama has said he will push for more funds for AIDS treatment, education and testing. But much of his emphasis has been on African and other nations. In 2006 Obama did publicly lambast government negligence in the AIDS battle. But the government was the South African government for it’s disgraceful head in the sand attitude toward the mounting crisis in that country.

Bush actually went further and modestly delivered on his promise to increase funds for treatment and education programs and push for greater access of drugs in Africa. The Black AIDS Institute notes that since then the number of AIDS cases have dropped in some African countries. Even more embarrassing, more African-Americans are afflicted with AIDS than persons in Botswana, Ethiopia, Haiti, Rwanda and Vietnam. These are among the poorest countries on the planet and have been wracked by war, civil war, genocide atrocities, and chronic political unrest. Yet they have managed to reduce the numbers of their AIDS afflicted while the number of African-Americans with AIDS continues to rise.
Meanwhile, McCain hasn’t done any more homework on the AIDS crisis since his stumble in Iowa more than a year ago. HIV/AIDS is not even mentioned as an item in the detailed health care plan on his official website.

But even if McCain had boned up on the AIDS crisis and laid out a specific plan to confront the crisis, and Obama had fleshed out more details about confronting the crisis in African-American communities, it’s still no substitute for them speaking out on the campaign stump about the crisis and pushing and proding government, health agencies and private donors to do more to combat the AIDS plague.

Obama or McCain will occupy the White House in 2009 and he will be there in 2010. That’s the target year that the U.S. along with other international agencies have set to prevent seven million more HIV infections. The liklihood is good they’ll meet the target goal. The Bush Administration did play a role in helping some of the poorest of the poor nations dramatically turn the corner in combatting AIDS. But it happened because Bush reacted to the withering fire he got for not speaking out and doing something to help these nations. Presidential candidates Obama and McCain can and should do no less. They should break their silence now.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Connerly’s Anti Affirmative Action Measure Could be a Win-Win for McCain

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In 1998 Republican Presidential contender John McCain drew howls from conservatives when he opposed Senator Mitch McConnell’s federal transportation bill that would have replaced race- and gender-contracting set-asides with ones designed to help small businesses no matter the race or gender of the owner. But it was a Senate vote, and McCain’s vote passed way under the media and public’s radar scope. Most importantly for McCain, it was not a presidential election year. So McCain didn’t really gain or lose a whole lot by voting to keep racial preferences in place, at least at the federal level.
A decade later things are different, much different. McCain has deftly shifted gears and urges a “yes” vote on Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action initiative on the Arizona ballot in November. McCain bets that this time pummeling affirmative action will do far more good than bad for his campaign. It’s a smart bet. A big opponent of Connerly’s barnstorming state campaigns to dump affirmative action, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary candidly admits that the only way to beat back these initiatives is to keep them off ballots. That didn’t happen in California in 1996, in Washington in 1998 and in Michigan in 2006.
The anti-affirmative action initiatives won by solid even crushing margins in all three states. In the process, they galvanized public opinion, stirred subtle white resentment even anger against anything that smacked of racial preferences, and sent a big message that pushing affirmative action was a politically losing proposition. Michigan proved that. The two GOP candidates for governor and the Senate in the state opposed Connerly’s initiative. Both lost. But even more important the measure did not stir a mad dash by blacks, women, and Latinos to the barricades in Washington and Michigan to defeat the initiative. The lesson from the GOP candidate’s defeat and the relatively mild backlash to the initiative wasn’t lost on McCain.
At one point Connerly talked about taking his anti-affirmative action initiative fight to more than a dozen states. That hasn’t happened. But the number of states where Connerly dumped the initiative on the ballot isn’t important. What is important is the timing for placing the initiative on a state ballot and the states chosen to put it. Three states were picked for November. Nebraska is one. It’s a solid Red state, and almost certainly the initiative will win big there. election year or not. The other two states, Colorado and Arizona, are much more important. Democrats think that Colorado could for the first time in recent presidential bouts be in play for Obama. They think the same thing about McCain’s home state of Arizona. That’s mostly due to the big jump in the number of Hispanic and younger voters in these states. The Connerly initiative is just the thing to counter that by creating a mini wedge issue in both states that energizes conservatives too rush the polls to back the initiative and stick around long enough to back McCain.
That’s one political plus, but it’s not the only one. McCain can have it both ways on the issue. He can insist that he still strongly backs equal opportunity and just as strongly opposes discrimination. He can then make the standard anti-affirmative action pitch that he backs the Connerly initiative precisely because it strikes a blow against discrimination, namely racial preferences. And after all, isn’t everyone, and that even includes more than a few blacks, Latinos and especially Asians, against anything that smacks of racial unfairness?
There’s more still. Democratic rival Barack Obama appears to agree with McCain on this point. At first glance that seems a wild stretch. Connerly says Obama cut radio ads in 2006 hammering his Michigan anti-affirmative action initiative, and unabashedly saying that if it passed it would hurt women and minorities in getting jobs and in education. And he will oppose Connerly’s initiatives. But just as McCain wobbled in 1998 in opposing McConnell’s anti-affirmative action bill when it wasn’t a presidential election year. 2006 wasn’t a presidential election year either when Obama passionately defended affirmative action. 2008 is. He’s slightly wobbling on affirmative actions just as McCain did.
He has repositioned himself as a centrist Democrat and now flatly says he’s against quotas. That’s an easy call, since courts have repeatedly slapped down any affirmative action programs that mandate specific numbers of women or minorities be hired or admitted to colleges. But Obama wobbled even more when he says that the affirmative action measures should not be applied without taking into individual needs, and they should be applied to poor whites. The caution and even shading on how he speaks of affirmative action is a far cry from the ringing endorsement he gave to affirmative action for women and minorities.
It’s no real surprise. McCain aims to make Connerly’s initiative a political win-win for him. Obama aims to make sure that it’s not a total lose-lose for him.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Friday, July 18, 2008

McCain to Seniors—Let Them Drink Beer

By Sikivu Hutchinson

At 79, living in a subsidized senior apartment complex near USC which takes a quarter of her $2,000 a month Social Security check, my grandmother is one of the lucky ones. Though budgeting fiercely with coupons to make ends meet she does not yet have to take a late-in-life job to supplement her tiny check like many seniors. At 72, the Republican senior presidential candidate, who regularly trots out his 90-something mother to show his genetic inheritance of longevity, kicked seniors to the curb this week by proclaiming the funding of Social Security a “disgrace.” In John McCain’s world younger workers really shouldn’t be burdened with the obligation of paying into a system that won’t immediately benefit them. Like Bush in 2005 McCain is toying with the idea of privatizing Social Security by allowing workers to invest in private accounts. Bush’s failed plan was roundly rejected by senior’s rights groups and attacked as an abuse of what little remains of the American social safety net. Adherents of Adam Smith’s invisible hand are advised to check out Britain’s disastrous pension privatization system in which worker contributions were swallowed up by maintenance fees and more elderly citizens were ending up homeless. The British have since returned to government oversight.

The notion that Social Security is a radical encroachment is part and parcel of the conservative assault upon the very New Deal entitlements that contributed to economic stability for white Middle America. Due to the wealth gap that exists between whites and people of color, seniors of color are among the most vulnerable to rising food prices, soon to be $5.00 a gallon gas, mounting mortgage debt and exorbitant rent. McCain’s hypocritical disdain for the funding mechanism of Social Security and for the livelihood of seniors is not surprising coming from a politician whose ascent has been bankrolled by the beer empire of his multimillionaire wife. As McCain and his wife Cindy enjoy Gilded Age dividends on their investments, the disappearance of defined benefit plans and living wage jobs has made Social Security a virtual life raft for older working class and middle class Americans increasingly employed in service work as clerks, cashiers and custodians.

Elderly women in particular, due to their lower wages and less time in the workforce than men, are more likely to rely on Social Security for basic subsistence than are men. For most black women, all but invisible in such low wage occupations as food service, airport baggage handling or daycare, remaining on the job or returning to work past sixty-five is not an option but a necessity. Frequently entrusted with caring for grandchildren or other dependents, including those who are in and out of foster care, older women of color are on the frontlines of both the sub-living wage and child care crisis.

While Barack Obama’s job creation plan is nebulous, McCain’s is nonexistent; his prescription for growth consisting of a fiscally insane array of tax cuts headed by a decrease in taxes for corporations, a pipe dream panacea for job growth which would ultimately boost the bulging portfolios of wealthy seniors like himself. By indulging McCain’s monomaniacal emphasis on foreign policy the mainstream media has let him slide by without addressing how average and poor Americans dumped on by the mortgage crisis will benefit from his oligarchy-enriching tax plan. For my grandmother and the rest of America’s spendthrift seniors lapping up their transportation, food and utility bill expenses from the public trough, McCain has a hale and hearty message—let them drink beer.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 F.M.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Forget Apologizing to Obama Jackson Should Apologize to Blacks for His N Word Hypocrisy
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

On November 26, 2006 at a press conference in Los Angeles guess who said this: "We will challenge and urge all artists and comics to stop using this (n) word. What other group is subjected to such a degrading terminology?"
And then guess who called for this action: We will go after TV networks, film companies and comedians and demand that they stop using the word. We will boycott sales of the DVDs of Seinfeld’s seventh season TV show. The speaker of course was Jesse Jackson. The offender who dared utter the dreaded N word was comedian Michael Richards.
Now we hear that Jesse did a Richards like imitation with the N word in his infamous unguarded open mic dig at Obama on Fox.
Jackson’s pound of Richards and saber rattle of the entertainment business was strong stuff. In fact it was vintage Jackson; a denunciation of the N word, railing against the entertainment industry and entertainers for their racial insensitivity, and, of course, a threatened boycott. Jesse was riding tall on his moral and racial high horse at the time and had thousands revved up to go after Richards and anyone else who used the N word.
The problem is that the “anyone else” Jackson had in mind was not simply, a white bit part comedian, and some off color comics and filmmakers, but any and every black that used the word. Jesse would settle for nothing less than a total ban by blacks on the N word.

Jackson’s press conference tirade against the N word was hardly the first time he had hit the warpath against the word. He had spent years lecturing, hectoring, and admonishing blacks to dump the word from their vocabulary.
So that makes his N word slur even more unpardonable than if it come from a rapper or comic. They’re trying to make a buck off of using the word as cutesy shock value so at least there’s logic, commercial and twisted, but logic nonetheless to their spew of it. In Jackson’s case that doesn’t apply.
He committed two serious offenses in casually and recklessly using the word. Though he didn’t call Obama the word, by knocking him (“cut off his n…ts”) and tossing in the word to describe blacks who Obama allegedly offended, Obama by inference became an N… too. Jackson’s bigger offense was his tar of blacks with the word. If a white celebrity, personality or politician slandered and disrespected blacks with the word, guess who would be the first person to charge the barricades demanding their head and then that they banned in Boston for perpetuity. The chances are pretty good that Jackson would have gotten their head and the ban. But in this case, the famed personality that offended with the word is not a white notable but Jackson.
So what should we do about him? He’s already apologized to Obama, and since Obama wasn’t the target of Jackson’s loose lip slur, Jackson should immediately apologize to blacks for not only trashing them, but also apologize for his hypocrisy. That’s not all. Since Jackson called for a boycott of the DVD’s of the Seinfeld show for Richards N word offense, then turn about is fair play. In this case, listeners to Jackson’s national radio show should consider a brief tune out of the show to show that the N word no matter whether it drips from the lips of a tired white comedian, gangster rapper, blue room black comedian, radio shock jock, or a one time civil rights icon, is just as offensive.
Jesse has taken a much deserved hit for his intemperate personal rap of Obama. Now he should take an even bigger hit for his far worse racial rap of blacks and in the process himself.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

McCain’s NAACP Appearance Is Not a Lose Lose
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Republican presidential contender John McCain learned a lesson from G. W. Bush. That is from GOP presidential candidate Bush, not president Bush. In 2000, Bush braved the political chill and addressed the NAACP’s annual confab. There was absolutely no possibility that Bush would get anything more than a polite listen from the convention goers. They were nearly all generic Democrats, and would give Democratic presidential rival Al Gore the ritual ninety percent of the black vote. But Bush wasn’t trying to win friends at the convention he was trying not to make enemies. The last thing that he wanted was for blacks to see him as a white Southern, fundamentalist bible thumping, anti civil rights hard line conservative, but rather a racial moderate, and a compassionate conservative. If blacks saw him as a hard liner, it would virtually guarantee that they would treat the presidential campaign not as a campaign but a crusade and stampede the polls in big numbers to vote against him.
McCain’s foray to the NAACP is designed to do pretty much the same thing. He, of course, has got a far tougher act to follow with his Democratic rival Barack Obama than Bush had with rival Gore. The passion, even sheer thrill that blacks feel at the chance to back the first black presidential candidate with a legitimate shot at winning the White House is off the charts. Black voters have flooded the polls in near record numbers in some states to back Obama. Many were unabashed in saying in exit polls that race was the big reason they turned out. That feeling was very much in evidence when Obama preceded McCain to speak at the convention. Many gushed that Obama embodied what the NAACP’s near century struggle for racial parity was all about. That is to make it possible for an African-American to attain the top elected spot in the land.
But McCain’s point in appearing at the convention was still the same and that was not to antagonize blacks, and maybe, if he was lucky his and the GOP’s pet minority vote issues, school choice, business supports, faith based programs, increased HIV/AIDS funding might have resonance with some independent and conservative leaning black voters.
Still it seems a steep uphill for McCain to get even minimal traction among black voters. A May 30 Gallup Poll found that McCain’s unfavorable rating among blacks has leaped more than 25 percentage points since last June. But poll numbers in and of themselves don’t tell the whole story about how elections are won or lost.
The more important thing is whether a GOP candidate can get a small percentage of the black vote in the must win battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. In his two general election victories, Bush didn’t need to get a major bump up in black support to win, he just needed a marginal increase in the key swing states. He got the few percentage points he needed in those states and that made a difference in his wins.
McCain starts with something that Bush never had among black voters, and that’s a much higher favorability rating. The Gallup poll that showed McCain‘s unfavorable rating jump also showed a slight uptick in his favorability rating among blacks. It isn’t much, but it’s just enough for McCain to bet that by spending some time and resources in courting the black vote he could do what appears to be the impossible and actually win a small but significant percentage of their vote in some key states to make a difference.
McCain made that bet last September. He was the only major GOP candidate to agree to participate in a GOP presidential candidate’s debate on race and urban issues. He ultimately backed out but only after the other major candidates also declined to appear. Since then, McCain braved boos of the crowd at the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration in Memphis in April, and even managed to turn the boos into applause when he did a public mea culpa for opposing a state holiday for King in Arizona. He then traveled to Selma to speak at the Edmund Pettis Bridge where civil rights marchers were mauled by police in 1965 to commemorate the Voting Rights.

The black vote in every election since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Goldwater in 1964 has not been in play for any GOP presidential candidate. That’s because with the arguable exception of Bush in 2004 they haven’t done anything to get it. McCain says this time he will. He won’t shake their massive support for Obama, but he doesn’t have to. He just needs a few more black votes in the right places to make the difference. The NAACP convention was one of those places.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Yorker Depicted Obama Horribly Wrong, but Got It Horribly Right about the Slanders
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

New Yorker Magazine’s under fire cover illustrator Barry Blitt says his infuriating cover was intended only to show that the incessant rumor that Obama is a closet terrorist is preposterous and ridiculous fear mongering. Team Obama’s rage at the inflammatory cover was beyond ballistic and nearly everyone with eyes and an opinion about it, and that included Republican rival John McCain, expressed the same ballistic anger at the New Yorker. But Blitt’s point that the ridiculous rumor mongering, gossip, slurs, and flat out falsities about Obama’s religion, patriotism, birth, and, of course race, are deep and widespread is horribly true. Even more frightening is that those slanders may touch a nerve in an unknown but frighteningly large number of voters. That danger was there from the start and there were packs of website ready to deepen that danger.

Obama had barely finished his announcement on the steps of the State Capitol at Springfield, Illinois in February, 2007 that he was in the hunt for presidency when the site Barack Exposed popped up on every search engine. The website was a put up job by Human Events, a fringe, ultraconservative outfit. It promised to expose the "truth" about Obama, from his alleged role in corruption scandals to doubletalk on the issues, and of course the signature hit item, his patriotism. At the time, it was rightly laughed off as a typical smear and slander by one of the pack of ultra-conservative hit squads.

The laughter didn’t last long. Obama’s breakout win in the Iowa Caucus in January instantly marked him as the potential Democrat's presidential go-to guy. It also set off alarm bells among the blog hit squads. Here’s a check list of the biggest, best known, and most virulent Obama dirt dealer sites that sprouted up after Iowa:

The anti-Obama bile, complete with the scurrilous and phony doctored photos of Obama as a Muslim terrorist is the staple on many of the sites, and is repeated as a sickening mantra by the Obama character maligners. Obama’s White House bid has virtually breathed new life into the unabashedly white supremacist group Stormfront’s site ( The group claims to get about 40,000 hits a day

Google belatedly realized that its engine was rapidly becoming a top conduit for spreading the anti-Obama rumor mongering hate and shut down several of the more blatant anti-Obama sites. It sternly warned that any site that engaged in lathering Obama with vicious personal slurs would be promptly shut down. This drew some mild criticism that Google was stifling free speech, but the right to propagate malicious slander and lies hardly qualifies as a free speech protection, let alone legitimate political criticism.

There were early warning signals of the on-line ugliness that could come. Talk show gasser Rush Limbaugh took the first real swipe when he derisively sneered at Obama as the Magic Negro. Limbaugh kind of sort of backed away from it. But the message was that Obama was not exempt from a racial dig. That was much evident in the short-lived furor over Obama's former Southside Chicago church, and the controversial outbursts of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

The inference was that Obama's guilt by membership and friendship with him made him a closet radical and a race baiter. But long before the Wright controversy broke in the national media, more than a few of the above mentioned anti-Obama sites had a field day lambasting him and Wright.

The nitpicking continued on the most trivial things such as his chain smoking, his admitted flirt with drugs, and pokes at his wife, Michelle as outspoken, bossy and domineering, and America hating. This slander against her has been almost as popular on the sites as knocking Obama as unpatriotic and inferring he’s a closet Muslim terrorist.

The great danger is that the lies and maliciousness the Obama slander sites busily fan could or has had some resonance with some voters, especially the much fought over independents. They make up about one quarter of American electorate, and the overwhelming majority of them are white, and centrist to conservative in their views.

The fear that the rumors could hurt prompted Obama and the campaign to take the unprecedented step of putting up an anti-smear website to counter the lies. It also prompted Obama in January to do a teleconference call with Jewish reporters to refute the rumors that he was a Muslim.

New Yorker Magazine’s editors may well as the claim depicted Obama and Michelle as flag hating, unpatriotic, violent terrorists to show the absolute vileness and absurdity of the rampant slanders. But the magazine which is the nation’s staid, bastion of highbrow culture and thinking inadvertently or deliberately imprinted the damaging slanders in the thoughts of an even more unknown number of voters. The same as the legion of dirt dealing Obama blogs have done.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why Jackson Has an Obama Problem
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A plainly irritated Jesse Jackson obviously didn’t mean that he would cut Obama’s n…ts off. The crude, salty street talk was simply an unguarded moment’s outburst from a frustrated Jackson at Obama’s recent political somersaults. Jackson, of course, took much deserved heat from his son Jesse Jr. and just about everyone else who has an opinion on him, his language and Obama.

But what is lost in the leap to beat up on Jackson is this: Is he right to be frustrated by Obama, and is there anything new about his frustration with him?
Jackson has always had a mix of puzzlement, wariness, and frustration with and toward Obama from the moment he announced that he would run for the presidency. Jackson and the other old guard civil rights leaders and old line black Democrats didn’t know what to make of Obama.

Jackson took a long wait and see before endorsing him. And even then the endorsement was more of a kind of, sort of endorsement than a ringing declaration of Obama’s possible presidential assets. The ubiquitous Jackson; that is the Jackson who prided himself for two decades on being any and everywhere there was a civil rights or political battle to be fought and commented on was suddenly the disappeared Jackson whenever the subject was Obama and his much touted historic breakthrough for African-Americans. There were brief Jackson sightings here and there but always it was to make a veiled knock of Obama. Jackson rapped him for not speaking out on the Jena 6 racial case in Louisiana and coupled it with a public muse about whether he was black enough. The customary denials and apologies followed when Jackson took some flak for the knock.

But Jackson’s Obama problem is not solely the pique of an aging, and increasingly bypassed civil rights icon, who has had his day, and is envious of Obama for stealing the media and public limelight. The problem is the profound gap between Jackson and Obama over how civil rights and racial battles should be fought in America.
Obama doesn’t look, talk, or act like a black leader or civil rights activist should look, talk and act. He does not march, picket or protest racial wrongs and injustices in the streets. How could he? He wasn’t around in the 1960s when Jackson and company did. He talks political and racial moderation, conciliation, healing and harmony. But even more galling than the notion that he hasn’t paid his civil rights dues, is that he also talks about being multi-racial. This sent up the red flag that Obama’s adherence and allegiance to blackness is deeply suspect.

Jackson and the old guard civil rights leaders could never hope for the rush by corporate donors to bankroll Obama’s campaign, the swooning embrace he got from Democratic Party regulars, the rapturous tout he got from blacks, and the starry eyed celebrity adulation he got from whites and other non-blacks. So it was no surprise that Obama’s rap of black men and his cheering of Bush’s faith based initiative was the last draw. It confirmed Jackson’s worst fear about Obama, and that is that he’s a deal making, Beltway Democrat who will say and do anything to get elected, even if that means tossing racial ideals as Jackson defines them under the bus.

The great irony in this is that Jackson for a brief time was looked up to with the same starry eyed swoon by many blacks and whites, was the unbridled darling of the media establishment, and could command his fair share of dollars from corporations and wealthy philanthropists. There was even a time even when the cry of “run Jesse run” for president bounced off the lips of thousands.
There was sheer delight when Jackson instantly heated up a crowd with a timely slogan, catchy rhyme, or well-timed phrase and he had the instant ear of presidents and heads of state.

Those days are long gone and Jesse is left with fast fading memories, and the frustration of having to look with a jaundice eye at a guy who’s doing what he once hoped to achieve, but doing it in a way that he could or would never do.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Obama Never, Ever Said No to Bush on Iraq
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year — now."
Senator Barack Obama said that on December 12, 2007 in a speech in Clinton, Iowa. At the time he was still one of the pack of Democratic presidential candidates jostling and elbowing trying to get a knock out edge over the others for the Democratic presidential nomination. That included first and foremost Hillary Clinton. He mercilessly pounded her then and afterwards in speeches for backing the war and dutifully voting for war appropriations.
Nine months later things had radically changed. Obama was no longer jostling with Hillary and the others for the top Democratic presidential nominee spot. He was now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and he said this: "I have always said I would listen to the commanders on the ground. I have always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed.
His very public record of his very public pledge to end the war NOW in stump speeches the year before he said that had changed, and his words and voting record on the war had changed too. This has caused much grief, anguish and disappointment among fervent Obama backers. The war was the single biggest reason why many of them bought his sale that as president he would do what no other Democrat or Republican in the White House would do and that was to immediately end the war. That was more than enough for them to flock to his banner, lustily cheer him on, and furiously hector anyone who dared poke at his twists, turns, shifts, and deep knee bends on Iraq.
But even the most cursory look at Obama’s words, votes, and campaign pirouettes on Iraq paint a far different picture of a candidate for which Iraq was never the clear cut issue that many believed, or maybe wanted to believe. The Iraq flips started long before his Iowa pledge to get out now. It started even before he was in the Senate. At a Democratic forum outside Chicago during his Senate campaign in 2003 and 2004, Obama lambasted Bush for waging the war. He flatly said that if he had been in the Senate he would not have voted for $87 billion more to bankroll the war. Or, as he put it in an earlier speech, we have to say 'no' to George Bush." Once in the Senate that no quickly became yes.
He promptly voted for four separate war appropriations that totaled more than $300 billion. A year before he pledged in Iowa to get the troops out now, he opposed a proposal by Senator John F. Kerry to withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by July 2007. Obama didn’t just cast a quiet vote against Kerry’s troop removal proposal he added the veiled chastisement that an "arbitrary deadline" could "compound" the Bush administration's mistake. A year later he joined with Republicans and backed their resolution that the Senate would not cut off funding for troops in Iraq.
But money and votes aren’t the only issue in which Obama sent a different message then the impassioned get out of Iraq now speeches he still thundered before audiences. The other issue was when to withdraw. Obama backed up his end the war now rhetoric with another public demand that a firm timetable be set for withdrawal. In fact, a timetable with a specific withdrawal date was set by a Democratic senator. But that senator wasn’t Obama. It was Kerry. His bill set the goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq by the end of March 2008. In contrast, Obama’s withdrawal plan did not set firm deadlines and would keep troops in Iraq if the Bush administration and the Iraqi government met a laundry list of benchmarks.
March has long since passed, the troops are still there and big buck spending with the Senate’s approval continues with no visible end in sight to it.
Meanwhile Obama has added yet another wrinkle to his Iraq drama and that’s that he’ll go to Iraq and listen to what the commanders on the ground and military brass there have to say about where we need to go with the war.
This sounds less like the hard line one time verbal antiwar advocate named Obama speaking then a certain Republican presidential rival named McCain speaking. But then again Obama has been consistent from the start on one thing on Iraq and that’s political expediency.
Incidentally, some things at least rhetorically don’t change. An excerpt of Obama’s Iraq antiwar speech (cleansed of his Iraq war removal now call) is still on his official website.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).

Friday, July 04, 2008

Denver Singer’s Black National Anthem Switcheroo Was a Risky Act for Obama, and Black Americans
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Heaven only knows what black Denver singer Rose Marie was thinking when she stood at the microphone and belted out the lyrics of the black national anthem instead of the agreed on Star Spangled Banner. The event was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s annual state of the city address and confab. Marie was engaged at no pay to sing the customary opening Star Spangled Banner. The black national anthem penned by civil rights legend and songwriter James Weldon Johnson a century ago is a beautiful, lilting, and powerful expression of black pride and dignity. It has been a virtual staple at any and every kind of black gathering down through the years. And that’s where it’s appropriate to sing it. The Denver Mayor’s event wasn’t.

Marie’s tortured explanation for switching songs is take your pick: it was a matter of artistic expression, her way of showing her pride in being black, a veiled protest against racial mistreatment and discrimination, and her personal statement against the alleged racial hypocrisy of America. Her explanations are facile and self-serving and just about everyone with an opinion on the issue appropriately blasted her and demanded a formal apology which she hasn’t as yet given. She should apologize publicly, and do it now.

Her ill-timed, totally inappropriate act has been fodder for speculation that it could have a possible backdoor blowback on Obama. Obama immediately rapped Marie for her wrong headed switcheroo, and said that there’s only one national anthem. Obama had to move fast and knock the singer’s act. The Democratic convention will be in Denver in August and Obama can ill-afford to have even the slightest hint that he approves anything that could be construed as an act that disrespects America’s number one, time tested emblematic expression of American patriotism, especially from a black singer. And even more especially given that Colorado with a Democratic controlled legislature, and rising numbers of younger voters and Hispanic voters could be ripe for the picking from the GOP orbit in the fall.

The bigger reason is that Obama more than any other presidential candidate in recent times is hyper sensitive to the patriotism issue. Republican rival John McCain has been scrupulously careful not to stoke any doubt about Obama’s patriotism. But others have. Conservative websites, chat rooms, and some writers have feasted off impugning Obama’s patriotism. They have slandered and ridiculed his name; dumped on his wife Michelle for her off the cuff, repeatedly clarified in context, comment about her lack of pride in America, and the one time absence of an American flag from the lapel in his suits.

This line of attack can’t be easily shrugged off as a below-the-belt slug by fringe ultra conservatives or professional political hit specialists. Despite his recent slog to the center, even right on some positions, Obama is still widely regarded by moderates and conservatives as a liberal Democrat. As failed liberal Democratic presidential contenders from Michael Dukakis to John Kerry have found out the hard and painful way, they are subject to ruthless, and sustained attack for being too liberal, and allegedly too willing to waffle and compromise on everything from crime and punishment to military preparedness, and especially national security. This always loosely translates out to doubt about the fervor of a liberal Democrat’s patriotism. A prime McCain campaign attack point against Obama is that he can’t be trusted to be the tough guy against foreign enemies and threats.

Conservatives have long since seized the high ground on the issue of what is or isn’t true patriotism and cast themselves as the protectors and defenders of the flag, the national anthem, and their read and interpretation of American traditions against the liberal defilers.

Obama has one more albatross that white liberal Democratic presidential contenders didn’t have. He’s African-American. There’s the inherent suspicion among some that African-Americans are eternal rebels, and chronic social malcontents who undermine conventional American values and traditions. It’s a short step from that false and bigoted notion to see blacks as less patriotic than white Americans.

Unfortunately this ridiculous tar of Obama as somehow less of a true patriot because of who he is and what his votes and stances on the issues have been is not just a taint him in the minds of some. Those same minds tar blacks with the same, broad unpatriotic brush. Marie was probably oblivious to the implications of her rash act. In a follow up remarks, she blithely blew it off as simply being a risky artistic act. It was much more than that. It was a risky act for Obama and African-Americans.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).