Friday, April 23, 2010

Arizona Anti Immigration Law Puts President Obama on the Spot

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Obama wasted no time in denouncing Arizona’s hard-nosed anti-immigration law. He called it misguided, irresponsible and a threat to civil liberties. Obama’s right. The bill is wasteful, unenforceable, and more ominously virtually a license for police to engage in racial profiling. But it’s also popular in Arizona and judging from polls and underground sentiment of millions of Americans on immigration, popular with them too.

Arizona official’s claim they had to act in large part because the federal government has dithered, stalled, and back pedaled countless times on enacting comprehensive immigration reform. This in effect dumps the immigration reform issue squarely back in Obama’s lap. In the coming days immigration reform leaders, Hispanic activist groups, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus almost certainly will ratchet up their demand and efforts to get Obama to get the ball rolling on a reform bill in Congress. The demand couldn’t come at a worse time for Obama.
The loss of thousands of jobs, with official unemployment still nudging double digit, African-American joblessness far higher, and with low wage American workers bearing the brunt of the downturn presents a wedge for immigration foes. They will again hammer that undocumented workers snatch jobs from needy American workers. The charge has been hotly disputed but it still touches a raw nerve.
There’s still the loose network of anti-immigration organizations, and the legions of right wing talk jocks, Tea Party activists, and Fox News Network talking heads who can stir the troops to oppose any reform. The stock attack charge that any immigration reform bill is a de facto reward for breaking the law still ignites anger and passion in many Americans. Arizona governor Jan Brewer tied her signing the bill into law into another issue that ignites even greater passion and anger. And that’s crime. She flatly said that the law would help protect her state from crime from Mexico. The governor cited no evidence to show that immigration has bumped the state’s crime rate up. But then again she didn’t have to. The frightening shots of bullet riddled, hacked up bodies that have become regular news features on American TV screens from the low intensity warfare in Mexico between government forces and the drug cartels and with each other is more than enough to stir nightmare terror in many Americans that a wave of illegal immigrants flooding the country will turn America’s streets into blood drenched streets.

Immigration reform also can’t be separated from partisan politics. The two special elections slated in May in Hawaii and Pennsylvania are toss ups and a loss of either of the seats to Republicans would further add to Democrat’s fears that the three hammer blows they suffered in losing a revered Senate seat in Massachusetts, and governorships in Virginia and New Jersey were not aberrations. With November mid-term elections fast approaching and the real danger that Democrats could lose big in them, picking a fight that’s bound to be even more contentious and divisive than the health care battle is just too great a risk.
Obama has a major fight on his hands to get a financial reform bill passed. There’s the risk that the concessions he and Senate Democrats made to Republicans to quickly get the bill passed could alienate many liberal and progressive Democrats who want to see the toughest possible consumer protections in place against the ravages of big banks and financial houses. They were the driving force behind his election win and the White House banks on them their numbers and passion to help blunt the momentum of Tea Party activists in the fall, and beyond.

Obama gave immigration reform short shrift in his State of the Union back in February, and this rankled immigration reform backers. They loudly protested that the president reneged on his promise to them to make comprehensive emigration reform a centerpiece of his agenda. In the months since then they have hammered at Obama to make good on the promise with the vague hint that if he doesn’t, more than a few Latino voters may just be tempted to stay home in the fall and beyond.
Arizona may have taken the option of watch and wait caution off the White House table. And that puts Obama on the spot.

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, April 20, 2010

Recycling the Angry White Male

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A recent New York Time/CBS poll confirmed the obvious. Tea Party activists are overwhelmingly white, male, conservative, lower income, and GOP leaning. Nearly all passionately believe that President Obama is shoving the country to socialism. All lambaste the federal government for giving the company store away to the poor. The poor in this case are blacks. That race lurks perilously just beneath the surface with Tea Party activists is beyond dispute. To many the equation is government programs equal hand outs to undeserving blacks and the poor and that in turn equals money snatched from the pockets of hard working whites.

This is nothing new. It’s just a recycle of the media buzz depiction of the angry white male. The term was coined by political analyst and then GOP strategist Kevin Phillips during Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968. Nixon stoked the fury of blue collar, white ethnics, rural voters with his slam of the Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and fostering a culture of anything goes permissiveness, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor. The crude thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey. The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack play book for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush used it to ease their path to the White House. In the mid 1990s, Newt Gingrich and ultra conservatives recycled the strategy to seize Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax and spend Democrats, and soft on crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. It touched the familiar nerve with white males.

The volatile mix of big government and economics that can whip frustrated, rebellious, angry whites (and more than a few non-whites) into a tizzy far better than crude race baiting, magnificently for a reason that goes beyond race alone. 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 from white, male-headed families. Two decades later, the number of white men in poverty has continued to expand.
Hate groups, anti-Obama Web sites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks can craft this as the prime reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama while convincing themselves and the public that this has nothing to do with race. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government. The vintage blends of anti-government politics and calls defending personal freedom were the neo-libertarian war cries heard at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the tea party convention. Protests over big government dwarfed the subtle and overt race-baiting appeals that were seen and heard at both conventions.

Tea party activists hammer Obama, the Democrats, big government, the elites, and Wall Street. Yet, they also grouse about abortion, family values, gay rights, and tax cuts -- 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 has been the engine that powered Reagan and Bush White House wins. Scores of GOP governors, senators and members of congress have used wedge issues to win office and maintain political dominance. The GOP grassroots brand of populism has stirred millions operating outside the confines of the mainstream Republican Party. In 2008, many of these voters stayed home. Even Sarah Palin wasn't enough to budge them. Their defection was more a personal and visceral reaction to the bumbles of George W. Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment. They were ripe for the tea party movement -- or any movement that keyed their anger and frustration into action.

The supposed proof that the tea party movement is loaded with bigots and driven by race frenzy is that tea party leaders won't denounce the racists in their ranks. That won’t happen. One the movement would have to be structured, layered, and regimented with a unitary agenda and program for that to be the case. It's the disparate, disjointed and scrambled headless amoeba that makes the tea party movement potent, appealing and dangerous. But it won’t happen because the for more than foru decade history of politics the dangerous blend of big government, undeserving, crime prone, poor and minorities, and put upon whites has been so deeply encoded in the political thinking of millions of whites, that it’s the government not race that matters, true or not.

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).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Jackie Robinson Baseball Won’t Remember

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was effusive when for the second year he called on the baseball world to remember Jackie Robinson and his achievements. To honor Robinson, Selig required every player, coach and umpire to wear Robinson’s old Number 42 for one game as tribute. Selig’s gesture and the player’s compliance were genuine and heartfelt and again recognized that Robinson’s smash of the color bar in 1947 was a tipping moment for race relations in America. The irony is that Robinson then and in the years after he left baseball didn’t see the game and America quite the way Selig nostalgically remembers it and him.

When Robinson nervously stood at second base in his first game in the majors he later said that he was "uneasy" and far less hopeful that his feat would change American attitudes toward Blacks. Twenty-five years after that historic day in 1947 Robinson's unease became bitter doubts. In his autobiography, I Never had it Made he unapologetically declared: "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a Black man in a white world. I never had it made." This is the other story Robinson repeatedly told in his autobiography, letters, and columns in the New York Post and the Amsterdam News.

In 1949 Black singer/activist Paul Robeson made an ill-timed, and much distorted statement that Blacks were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Robinson was pressured to testify before the witch-hunting House Un- American Activities Committee to refute Robeson. Robinson did not want to be used as a Black pawn to attack Robeson.
In his testimony he opposed Communism, criticized the Committee for its "partisan politics" and fiercely attacked racial discrimination: "We're not going to stop fighting race discrimination in this country until we've got it licked." Years later he did not regret his testimony but he told why he "would reject such an invitation" today: "In those days I had much more faith in the ultimate justice of the American white man than I have today."

For more than a decade Robinson gave speeches, helped raise funds, and made generous contributions to the NAACP and the SCLC. But in 1967, he resigned from the NAACP's board of directors accusing it of being "insensitive to the trends of our times, unresponsive to the needs and aims of the Black masses—especially the young—and more and more they seem to reflect a refined, sophisticated, 'Yassuh-Mr. Charlie' point of view." His criticism foreshadowed the identical charges made by dissidents that would nearly wreck the NAACP almost two decades later.

Many Blacks called Robinson an "Uncle Tom and "sell-out" for supporting the Republican presidential bid of Richard Nixon over Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960. Robinson did not receive any money or political favors for supporting Nixon. His sole litmus test was how strongly a candidate supported civil rights: "I was not beholden to any political party. I was Black first."

But the Nixon of 1960 wasn't the Nixon of 1968 who inflamed law-and- order sentiment, and pandered to racist white Southerners. As Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon vigorously fought for the civil rights bills of 1957 and 1960 and for stronger action against racially- motivated violence. The Kennedy of 1960 wasn't the Kennedy of 1963 who took forceful civil rights action. As a senator, he voted to water down a section of the Civil Rights bills of 1957, and actively courted racist Southern Democrats. Robinson promised that if his candidate betrayed him on civil rights, "I'll be right back to give him hell." He did. He denounced the political mean-spiritedness of Nixon and the Republicans. "Every chance I got I said plainly what I thought of the right-wing Republicans and the harm they were doing."
Like many then, Robinson at first regarded Malcolm X as an anti-Semitic, race-bailing demagogue and criticized his approach to racial problems. But in time he came to respect and admire Malcolm: "Many of the statements he made about the problems faced by our people and the immorality of the white power structure were the naked truth."

He staked his career and reputation on making black economic empowerment a reality. He believed; "There were two keys to the advancement of Blacks in America—the ballot and the buck. If we organized our political and economic strength, we would have a much easier fight on our hands."

Robinson got the break of the century when he was chosen to crack the color bar in baseball. He was courted by politicians, showered with persona] honors, and attained a measure of financial success. Yet at the end of his life he realized that many Blacks had continued to lose ground: "I can't believe that I have it made while so many of my Black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity, live in slums or barely exist on welfare." Robinson until the end insisted, he never had it made. He’d likely say the same today. That’s the Robinson baseball won’t remember.

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, April 13, 2010

Why the GOP Plays the Slavery Card

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The Democratic National Committee wasted no time in blasting Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for being the second Southern governor to blow off slavery as a non-issue. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell drew much heat from the White House on down when he whited out slavery from his Confederate History Month declaration. McDonnell made a tepid, half-hearted, after the fact apology. The DNC also demands that Barbour apologize. Barbour is unrepentant, and that’s not likely to change. Slavery is just too tantalizing and enduring as a race card for Barbour and the GOP to snatch it off the table.

When Ohio Congressman Tony Hall introduced two resolutions in 1997 and 2000 asking Congress to officially apologize for slavery, he was blasted from pillar to post. Irate whites filled the airwaves with long denunciations of the resolutions as wasteful and even racism in reverse. Virginia, ironically, in 2007 didn’t back-peddle from the issue. Both houses unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery. The resolution was mild, innocuous, and ultimately toothless, but at least it acknowledged the monstrous wrong of slavery. But it went no further than that and for good reason. To continue to talk about it, and back it up with special initiatives to deal with failing education, high rates of joblessness, and incarceration among blacks, all very much legacies of slavery, would have been to risk a full scale political backlash

The passage of a health care reform that conservative and tea party activists loathe and use to whip their troops in frenzy, another Supreme Court pick, the recent stirred up Southern Republican confab dominated by tea party shill Sarah Palin, and the top heavy racial divide on Obama makes this the perfect time to play the slavery card. Apologies notwithstanding, it’s a no-cost code signal to millions of whites, South and North, that loathe Obama’s policies and Obama that Southern whites, especially white males, are still the party’s bread and butter.

This is no accident. Polls show that the GOP's relentless Obama bashing complete with borderline racial appeals to white males is having some success. Obama's approval ratings have flat-lined or dipped among lower income whites and independents. Among white males in the same bracket they've plunged into free fall.

The spark to reignite the GOP's traditional conservative, lower income white male loyalists 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, Republican presidential candidate John McCain (not Obama) won a slim majority of their vote in the final tally. 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. It's true that 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 major factors in voting patterns. 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 vote in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks.

Most importantly to the GOP brain trust, blue collar white male voters can be easily aroused to vote on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts. GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons banked and still bank on these voters for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.

The GOP is, as is widely seen, an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. But that's not a demographic to be totally sneered at, because the numbers are still huge.

The GOP driven by personal instincts, political leanings, history, demographics, and raw political necessity will do what it has done for decades, and more times than not successfully. And that’s use every political card at its disposal to batter an African-American president, and inflame its base with racially loaded code appeals. Slavery more than fits that bill. The DNC's accused Barbour of sending a strong message that slavery was a trifle. That was idea.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of How Obama Governed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Obama Can Now Pick a Judge with a Heart

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In 2005, then Illinois Senator Barack Obama was unequivocal. He said he wanted a Supreme Court justice with a heart. By that he meant someone who was not just a top legal scholar and rendered flawless legal opinions and rulings, but who had real compassion for the needs and suffering of people. In a fiery senate floor speech on September 22 that year Obama hammered Bush’s high court pick John G. Roberts as being dismissive and insensitive to race and gender discrimination.
Four months later Obama went on the attack again. He lambasted Bush’s next high court pick Samuel A. Alito as a shill for the powerful and uncaring about the rights and protections of the powerless, poor and minorities. He slammed Alito for backing prosecutors over the rights of defendants. He felt so strongly that Alito was not the right sort for the court that he joined in a futile and short lived filibuster against him.

He didn’t stop there. At a presidential campaign appearance in 2007 he said: "We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize, the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old." There was that reference to heart again.

Obama wanted and expected a Supreme Court justice to be a guardian of the people’s interests, to be cut squarely in the proud tradition of Hugo Black, Thurgood Marshall, Earl Warren, and yes, on his best days John Paul Stevens. Obama saw absolutely nothing wrong with a justice being a legal scholar, judicial expert and an activist. He firmly rejected the GOP’s and conservative judicial watchdog group’s phony, politically self-serving strict constitutional constructionist litmus test for judges. Court ultra conservatives Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and William Rehnquist were unabashed judicial activists and ideologues, and conservatives heap praise on them, and abuse on any jurist that doesn’t agree with them.
Four years later and a second Supreme Court judge pick in the waiting, nothing has changed. And since it hasn’t, Obama has the enviable chance of a president’s lifetime to do what he proclaimed in his attacks on and senate votes against confirming Alito and Roberts. That’s the chance to follow his heart and pick the kind of judge he made clear that both Bush picks weren’t and pick a judge who will protect the rights of the powerless, minorities, and women. He has absolutely nothing to lose. GOP senators, Tea Party leaders, Rush Limbaugh, the pack of shrill rightwing radio talk jocks, Fox News Network, and the hodge-podge of conservative judicial watchdog groups will stick to their hit plan on him no matter who he picks to replace Stevens.

His pick will be too liberal, too activist, too pro victim's rights, affirmative action, civil liberties, and for the more rabid, a closet identity politics baiter. The GOP tactics in pounding Obama’s pick is unchanged. They will scream, shout, bully, cow, and badger the court pick on the same tired hit points. The goal is unchanged and that’s to insure that she or he toes the conservative legal constructionist line not solely before the Senate Judiciary panel, but more importantly on the bench.
A slip or a too confrontational pose by the pick during the hearings will instantly be pounced on and held up by conservative attackers as proof that he or she doesn't have the right stuff to be a fair and impartial judge.
He or she will be under tremendous pressure to assure senators that they’ll play it strictly by the moderate and conservative playbook on any and all decisions that even remotely touch on race and class issues on the bench, as well as abortion and other issues that are traditional conservative causes.
None of the attack points about Obama’s pick as too liberal, activist, and therefore judicially suspect will be true. He or she will have played it close to the vest in their decisions, rulings and opinions in their stints on the various appellate courts; so close that not one of the picks will likely raise a whimper of criticism or protest from any impartial legal or judicial organization.

Obama’s pick won’t alter the still suffocating conservative tilt on the court. But a stand tough progressive can go toe to toe with the very judges who Obama felt did not embody the true spirit of what the Supreme Court should be about. That’s empathy and sympathy for the downtrodden, poor and minorities. A solid progressive pick would be a model for the type of law and justice the court in time can and should represent. Best of all, it would show that when he had the chance Obama dared put a judge on the high court with the heart that he wants.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of How Obama Governed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why Michael Steele Won’t Go

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Michael Steele has bungled money and staff, regularly mugs and grandstands on network talk shows, brags about being hip, a street guy, and even complains that he, as President Obama, is also subject to a racial double standard. He has more detractors than any GOP leader this side of W. Bush, and that includes legions of Republican leaders. A handful of them publicly, and even more so privately, call for him to step down. That won’t happen. There are good reasons why.

The RNC still needs Steele for the very reason he was plucked for the lead role in the first place. In the wake of Obama’s smash White House win, he was the best hope to prevent a battered, beaten, and demoralized GOP had from being shoved to the netherworld of national politics. The GOP was widely ridiculed and dismissed as an insular party of unreconstructed bigots, Deep South, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. Steele gives the party an image sheen that is anything but white, rural and Deep South.

Obama’s win underscored the changing voter demographics. In the decade and a half between Clinton's presidential win in 1992 and Obama's win in 2008, the number of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters soared to nearly one quarter of the nation's electorate. At the same time, blue collar white voters shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than forty percent. Obama handily won the Hispanic and Asian vote and crushed Republican presidential rival John McCain with the black vote. He split close to even with McCain the votes of college educated whites. In the next four years, the number of non-white and youth voters will continue to climb and the white electorate overall will continue to decline. The Democrat's expanding core base of voters, like Steele, is more moderate, socially active, and mildly pro government; the diametric opposite of what the GOP purports to stand for.

The knock against Steele is that he burns money, and he does. But he can also raise money, and fundraising is still a big part of the RNC’s mission. An even bigger part of the mission is winning elections. Steele put his fingerprints all over the GOP’s Massachusetts’ senate and New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial wins. They effectively got the party off life support and made it even more war like in hammering Obama. And now there’s the very real possibility that the GOP can wrest one maybe two House seats from the Democrats in two bellwether special elections in Pennsylvania and Hawaii in May. Dumping Steele now would resend the terrible signal that the GOP is in disarray.

The RNC’s financial hijinks are not deal busters for the GOP. It has too many other ways to raise and funnel money to candidates and incumbents, as well as to expand and energize its voter base. The Republican Governor’s Committee, for instance, has raised tens of millions of dollars. And a newly formed GOP outfit, American Crossroads, announced that it will raise tens of millions more dollars too elect GOP candidates in the fall elections. Also, donors can give money directly to local and state campaign committees, as well as directly to the candidate campaign committees. With the GOP grassroots aroused, enraged, and in a frenzy over Obama and his policies, the many GOP fundraising committees will have little problem raising the cash they need to be competitive in the fall elections.

Steele has dual value to the GOP. In addition to being the moderate, free-wheeling, shoot from the lip, non-traditional Republican, that excites many and give the party a different look and feel, he’s comfortable at tea party rallies, and aggressively courts tea party leaders. GOP mainstream leaders may shrink in red faced embarrassment at Steele (and in a recent poll by the National Journal seventy percent want him out), the RNC sex club fiasco, its high living, jet setting ways, and feign even more embarrassment at the borderline racial antics and slurs, digs from some tea baggers, and ultra conservatives. But they know that the GOP would fall flat on its face without them. Their passionate belief in God, country and patriotism, little to no government, passionate defense of personal freedoms, is the political oil that has fueled the GOP’s machine for four decades, and assured the White House for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush.

Steele’s job is to keep the frontline troops engaged, keep the cash coming, and give the party a new free swinging, even confrontational style. GOP regulars will grumble about Steele’s antic, and the media will have a field day with them and him, but as long as he keeps winning elections, the self-designated hip chairman won’t go.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of How Obama Governed.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Obama Makes it Official: He’s African-American

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Obama unequivocally and unhesitatingly made it official: he’s African-American. That may sound silly and facile to say that but his checking the box “African-American” on his census form did two things. It made meaningless the incessant chatter of whether Obama should be called mixed race or African-American. It recognized the hard and unchanging reality that race relations and conflict in America are still framed in black and white. The one-drop rule in America renders anyone with even a trace of African ancestry in their genealogy as black. The delusion that calling oneself mixed race, no matter how light complexioned they are, will not earn them a pass from the lash of racial persecution.

Obama has never gotten a pass despite having one of the world’s most recognizable names and faces and power positions. As other blacks, he could fume at being bypassed by taxis, racially profiled by police on street corners, refused being showed an apartment by landlords, followed in stores by security guards, denied a loan for his business or home purchase, confined to living in a segregated neighborhood, or passed over for a corporate management position.

The roughly six million or 2 percent of Americans who checked the biracial census box may take comfort trying to be racially precise, but most also tell of their own bitter experience in feeling the sting of racial bigotry in the streets and workplace. Obama has related his racial awakening in his best selling bare-the-soul autobiography “Dreams from My Father.” He self-designated himself as African-American, and took pride in that then, and that hasn’t changed.

A mere check of the biracial designation on his census form would not spare Obama from any of the routine petty racial harassments and annoyances – the subtle and outright forms of discrimination. The biracial box is a feel-good, paper designation that has no validity in the hard world of American race politics. The venom and relentless, vile that From the moment The instant that Obama tossed his hat in the presidential ring in February 2007, and through his relentless, hyper pressurized presidential battles, the vile, venomous, racial pounding has been non-stop. The Joker Posters, the Confederate and Texas Lone Star flags, the racial taunts, digs, cracks, insults, and slurs, the ape and monkey depictions of he and First Lady Michelle on tens of thousands of web sites is horrid testament that even a president is not exempt from racial loathing, bi-racial or not.

Despite the real and feigned color-blindness of many voters, nearly 60 percent of whites still did not vote for him. Most based their opposition to him on Republican political loyalties, ties, regional and personal preferences. But a significant minority of white voters did not for him because he's black, and they did not hide their feelings about that in exit polls in the Democratic primaries and the general election. Tagging him as multiracial or biracial made absolutely no difference to them, let alone changes their perception that he was black.

Even though Obama has never called himself anything but African-American, and now has made it official on the census form, the sideshow debate over whether Obama is the black president or the biracial president still creeps up. The debate is even more nonsensical since science has long since debunked the notion of a pure racial type. In America, race has never been a scientific or genealogical designation, but a political and social designation. Anyone with the faintest trace of African ancestry was and still is considered black and treated accordingly.

Blacks were ecstatic over Obama's candidacy and his presidential win. They were unabashed in saying that they backed him with passion and fervor because he is black. Many would not have cheered him with the same passion if he touted himself as a mixed race candidate.

The thrill and pride for them was that a black man could beat the racial odds and climb to the political top; substituting biracial for black would not have had the same meaning or significance to blacks. The talk about Obama being anything other than black infuriates many blacks. Their anger is legitimate. If Obama doesn’t run from his black identity then the biracial card appears as a naked effort to snatch Obama’s history-making presidency from them. It’s also an implicit denial that an African American can have the right stuff – the smarts, talent and ability to excel in any arena.

Obama’s presidency was and still is a significant step forward for black and white relations in America, not mixed-race relations. The nagging racial slights and indignities that many African Americans suffer, and the racial ridicule that Obama is routinely subjected too, is an eternal reminder that race still does matter, and matters a lot to many Americans. Obama’s self-designation of himself as African-American made what’s painfully obvious official.

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, April 02, 2010

Playing The Obama Socialist Card Again

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The GOP is playing its tattered Obama is a closet socialist trump card again. The aim is to tar President Obama as a radical out to soak the rich, hamstring private business, and radically redistribute wealth downward to the poor. In quick succession, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, GOP congressional leaders, rightside talk jocks, and any and every tea bagger groping for something, anything, to blast Obama with following their crushing defeat on health care reform law, claim the rich will bear the burden of paying for the reform. The law marginally hikes taxes on higher income earners, and even that is phased in over several years. Even if upper income earners had to pay much more, they would still come nowhere close to the paying the top tax rate of ninety percent the upper income paid in the 1960s. Prior to the Reagan tax cuts in 1986, the rich paid upwards of fifty percent in taxes.

The knock that Obama hammers businesses, especially small businesses, is no more credible. Obama proposes no increase in the estate tax in 2011. Even then only a minuscule number of smaller businesses are big enough to pay this tax. The Bush tax hikes that are set to expire this year will have no impact on the overwhelming majority of small businesses. There is absolutely no evidence that the marginally higher tax rates are inherent business killers.

But facts be darned, branding Obama a socialist, Marxist, Bolshevik, and wealth hater is a set piece in the GOP arsenal, mostly because it works. A recent Harris poll found that 40 percent of Americans say he’s a socialist. And even if there’s much to dispute in the poll sampling and methodology, the ugly truth is that a lot of Americans believe the smear. They aren’t just the usual suspect fringe right-wing bloggers, chatters, talk radio gabbers, and tea baggers but they also include some who should know better. The Harris poll found that a small percentage of Democrats and a slightly number of self-described liberals buy into the Obama the socialist lie.

There are millions of references, quotes, quips, comments, and notations on Obama as a socialist on Google. And there are a million more references and comments on Google to the dopey Obama as Joker poster. The sheer mass of anti-Obama slanders from the right, the fringe and the GOP opponents has forced much of the mainstream media and respected commentators, analysts and bloggers who also should know better to spend time and space arguing the cons of the claim and refuting it. This just gives back-door credence to the absurd charge.

Painting Obama as a socialist is not done simply out of fury over the health care reform defeat, or out of a desperate search for any slander to toss at him. It's a loaded term that always touches a raw nerve with most Americans who are clueless on what socialism is and how it works as a system. To many a socialist is someone who is pro-union, pro-increased government spending on health and education programs, and pro-civil liberties and especially civil rights. This always drew fire from the right.

The mildest criticism of big business and the wealthy, though, is a surefire way to raise the hackles of many Americans. The American economic sacred cow is that laissez faire wealth is tantamount to a divine right of kings, and any attempt to touch it is economic heresy. Politicians know that's it is a kiss of death to be seen as an advocate for tax and income fairness. That invites being plastered with the socialist tag.

GOP presidents and presidential candidates ritually play the 'tax and spend' card to brand their Democratic rivals as dangers to middle-class wage earners. This stokes fear that underneath the Democrat's supposed taxing and spending the rich will be slammed and the poor will be the beneficiaries. The wealth taking scare has worked in the past precisely because wealth and income iniquities are so great, and the notion that there's nothing wrong with those iniquities is so deeply entrenched in tax policy, philosophy and politics.

It has worked to the extent that it has because millions of middle and working class wage earners dream that they will be rich someday and are horrified that they can have their imagined wealth downsized by a tax and spend Democrat or worse a Democrat who's branded as socialist leaning.

The Socialist slur of Obama taps into the deeply held belief--and even fear--that Obama can and will actually mug the rich and by extension those who fantasize about being rich. The small tax bump up for the well-to-do in the health care reform law gave the GOP attack dogs just enough of an opening to again scream socialism and sow more doubt and create havoc among far too many Americans about the law, and worse still, Obama.

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.