Monday, May 31, 2010

Maher Owes Obama an Apology for Racist and Demeaning BP Dig

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

On his Friday May 28 show, Real Time HBO host Bill Maher demanded that President Obama act like a black president and pack a gun when he meets with the BP CEOs. Now Maher should take his own advice and act like a responsible commentator and apologize for his own politically demeaning and racially offensive dig at Obama. Politically demeaning and racially offensive are probably not strong enough characterizations of Maher’s silly, inane, effort to get a laugh. In one fell line, Maher demoted Obama from American president Obama, to black president Obama, complete with gun tucked in waistband. This played to the vile stereotype that blacks are inherent gun toting gang bangers, drive shooters and thugs, and that violence is a natural way of life in black communities. In another fell line, he played hard on the media and GOP line that Obama fell badly asleep at the wheel on the BP spill, has done little to contain it, and has botched every chance to be the strong, commanding president and rein in the oil giant and the oil industry.

Non-funnyman Maher dredged up a textbook perfect bad guy image storm for Obama; a storm chock full of racial stereotypes, and the terrible, finger pointing by much the public and the GOP at Obama for the BP catastrophe. Maher could have hit Obama from any of a dozen angles to get a chuckle about the political straight the BP ooze has put Obama in. He could have cracked that Obama should clamp a wetsuit or a diving bell on the BP CEO, or spray him with an oil can, or even took it the street, and said Obama should kick his butt if he didn’t fix the spill. None of which carried any hint, overt at least, of a racial slam or disrespect for Obama and the office.

But Maher didn’t go there with that. Race stuff is simply too juicy and eye catching. And now in the wake of the BP spill, Maher, like the ever swelling pack of sharks circling their victim in the water, sniff Obama’s sudden vulnerability, and political blood. The hard fact is at this point BP can’t cap the well, and even if Obama did what the new crop of his bashers shout he do and order the oil giant to cap it immediately, it still wouldn’t get done that minute. Obama, then, can expect more blame, finger pointing, and cheap shots, will be heaped on and taken at him. Maher certainly heaped that on him for the wrong reason, and above all in the wrong way. Bill, you owe Obama an apology.

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).
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Friday, May 28, 2010

Sniffing Political Blood in the Oil Spill

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant the BP ooze hit the Gulf’s surface the sniff of political blood was steady and strong. Virtually every reputable scientist, engineer, and technician made the point that given the complexity of the spill, the technical challenges, and constraints on the regulatory power of government’s agencies, the Obama administration has done everything it could to staunch the spill. But the cry still is: Blame Obama for it.

The GOP got its first return on the hit attack on Obama for the spill with a USA/Gallup poll. A majority of Americans say that Obama did not do and say enough about the spill. An even bigger number finger point the government for inaction. This isn’t much of a consolation. Thanks to the drumbeat attack from the GOP, the Ron and Rand Pauls, tea party activists, shrill rightside bloggers, talk jocks and columnists, in much of the public’s mind the government and Obama are one and the same villains. The drumbeat attack on Obama for the spill has been so effective that some top Democrats who should know better buy into it. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell loudly proclaimed that if Bill Clinton were president he would have been in Gulf water in a wetsuit. Rendell didn’t explain how Clinton in a wetsuit could cap a runaway well 5000 feet down. But that’s the kind of mindless idiocy that the bash Obama for BP has dredged up.

The worst part is that a big chunk of the press has beaten the blame Obama for the spill drum. The issue is not what Obama or the government could or couldn’t do, but how to wound Obama. The GOP angles for three big political payoffs in the political blood lust. Stick just enough of the oil tar on Obama to grab a few more seats in the house and senate in November. With many political contests rated horse races, a natural disaster can be massaged, exploited, and twisted to squeeze the maximum political benefit out of it, at least that’s the hope.

Obama’s energy plan, cap and trade, and climate control is also the target. Cripple them, or kill them, and then the GOP can wave the victory flag and claim that it rescued alleged flawed, business and energy industry unfriendly plans from being hoisted on Americans. A cynical dividend from this is that Obama embraced ramped up offshore drilling before the BP spill. The GOP’s mantra was drill, baby, drill. It relentlessly carried oil industry’s bucket for it and waged a two decade war against environmentalists to open up Alaska, and the coastal waterways, for drilling. Another cynical dividend is that the GOP gets to knock Obama for supposed lax regulation and oversight of the oil industry, the very things that it always regards as a plague on big business.

The GOP will paint Obama as weak, ineffectual, and clueless in the face of a major crisis. During campaign 2008, Republican presidential foe John McCain and mate Sarah Palin pounded him as an untested, greenhorn novice on terrorism and foreign policy. When the first major crisis hit, supposedly he’d come unglued. The crisis McCain and company had in mind was a major terrorist strike on US soil. That hasn’t happened. But BP did, and it’s as good a substitute as any for the GOP to ream Obama as inexperienced and frozen in place when it comes to taking decisive action to confront a crisis. It wasted no time in trying to plant the vision in the public mind of a comatose Obama reacting the way Bush did to Katrina. The vision hasn’t stuck mostly because the comparison is bogus, and the public hasn’t bought it.

The BP spill, though, does pose a grave political danger to Obama. The longer it takes to fully cap the well, the door stays wide open for the GOP to rivet public attention on the damage, spin it as the greatest environmental disaster in American history, and stoke public anger at Obama and the government’s supposed ineptitude. The Bush administration was hopelessly crippled after its gigantic Katrina bauble. The GOP banks the same thing will happen again and that voters will misconnect the political dots and punish incumbents in November for the perceived weakness or incompetence of the administration in power in dealing with a horrific disaster. In this case, the administration is Obama’s and the incumbents targeted are Democrats. More than a few Democrats have taken the cue, and remained stone silent on the crisis.

Obama has acted diligently, responsibly and professionally in dealing with an unexpected crisis that would have caught any administration off guard. A significant number of Americans understand this and even those critical of Obama for his handling of the spill still tag BP as the real bad guy. Still, no matter how well managed, disasters carry political risks, the BP spill is no different. The GOP will do everything it can to tag it as Obama’s disaster.

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).
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

GOP’s Calling Gulf Spill Obama’s Katrina Bogus

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

This one could have been mailed in. Sarah Palin predictably knocked President Obama for as she put it in garbled colloquialism failing to “dive in there” and solve the Gulf spill disaster. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and a rash of GOP senators were slightly more grammatically intelligible but still pounced on Obama for being too cozy with BP and not pulling out all stops to staunch the spill. The GOP’s political attack plan is crude and transparent. Compare the Gulf spill to Bush’s Katrina bumble, liken Obama to Bush and heap the same blame on him.

It won’t fly. Before Katrina hit, government tracking systems, weather satellites, and countless news reports warned that the hurricane potentially posed a grave threat to New Orleans and the Gulf. Bush administration officials well knew this. They also knew that the sea walls there were in terrible shape and could give way. When the storm hit, Bush hesitated, dithered, and minimized the immediate impact of the storm, and made no effort to counter the wild, sensational and thoroughly false reports of looting, rape and vandalism. The colossal loss of property, the thousands dead and injured, the horrendous displacement of residents were the direct result of government ineptitude. Five years later thousands remain uprooted, and whole neighborhoods remain gutted. New Orleans and the Gulf are still paying the high price for Bush’s abysmal delay. After an international army of volunteers and donors sped aid and relief to the area, Bush eventually recovered and kicked relief efforts into high gear.

Obama’s response to the Gulf spill stands in stark contrast. He sent cabinet secretaries, and an armada of homeland security, Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA and Coast Guard personnel, engineers, scientists, technicians and clean-up workers to the Gulf; more than 20,000 responders in all. There are multiple staging areas, and ships in the area involved in the clean-up. Nearly 2 million feet of containment boom, and a million gallons of chemical dispersant have been used to fight the spill. Obama has asked Congress for $130 million for clean-up operations. The White House has churned out reams of releases, statements, and reports to keep the public updated on the progress and problems in containing the spill.

Obama correctly points the blame finger at BP and oil executives for their duck and dodge of full responsibility for the spill, and their inability to successfully contain it. They deserve the blame. But as environmental disasters go, off shore drilling spills are rare. The industry’s forty year safety record on drilling has been fairly good. But the BP mess shows that all it takes is one drill disaster to cancel out the industry’s record and paint the industry as a greedy, safety plagued, environmentally irresponsible menace.

The spill should be a wake-up call on the potential and real hazards of ultra deep water oil drilling, and the urgent need to devise new and better safety and equipment standards and controls. The Obama administration has been hands on in supervising BP’s efforts to stop the spill. This provides it with terrible but needed teaching moment on the need for the government to ramp up oversight and monitoring of the industry. And beyond that for the Obama administration to rethink and reexamine the potentially devastating environmental hazards and drawbacks of expanded off shore drilling as well as its potential to dent America’s energy dependent shackle.

Public opinion polls now show that more than half of Americans say they disapprove of Obama’s handling of the disaster. An even bigger percentage says they have no confidence in the government’s ability to prevent another spill. The public’s heightened jitters over the spill are understandable given the nightmare environmental messes that the oil industry has at times made in the past. The public is also right to be deeply suspicious and outraged over the far too lax and cozy relationship between government regulatory agencies and the oil industry.

The Gulf spill, though, is not solely an environmental catastrophe to Palin and the GOP or even a matter to them of government officials in bed with an industry. If that was there real concern they’d point the same blame finger at themselves as they do at Obama for their sweetheart relation with the oil industry. According to the Sunlight Foundation, BP has dumped six million in campaign contributions to congresspersons in past years. Seven of the top ten recipients of BP contributions have been GOP senators and congress persons, and one of the principal recipients has been GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But the facts are irrelevant. The Gulf spill is simply too juicy a political opportunity for the GOP to pass up to ream President Obama for a disaster that he could not foresee, did not make, and has made a best effort to solve. What better way to drive the political nail in the box than to call the Gulf spill the politically loaded Obama’s Katrina. It’s a bogus call.

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).

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dubious Company Rand Paul May Keep

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Kentucky GOP senate nominee Rand Paul took withering heat for knocking the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul's kind of, sort of recant further fueled fierce debate over whether he is a homegrown bigot or a principled libertarian. It's worth noting that Paul said much worse about civil rights in a May 2002 letter to the editor in response to the Bowling Green Daily News editorial on enforcing the Federal Fair Housing Act. He rapped the editorial, "Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate."

As bad as his 2002 letter affirming the right to racially discriminate there's a Paul issue that's even more ominous. That's the dubious company that he may keep. It's an odd ball and dangerous assortment of fringe gun nut, bible spouting home schoolers, global conspiracy theorists and abolish government organizations, all backed by fundamentalist race and gender baiting preachers. The groups are linked directly and indirectly through the unofficial Paul related takebackkentucky website. Here's a list and a short take on some of the choicest organizations in the unofficial Paul network.

( This is a group that believes that the United States uses weather control to assail and control other nations, and that the country is under the direct control of the United Nations - without any real sovereignty of its own. This links to ( This is a group which appears to believe that the concept of "sustainable development," (both economic and environmental), are actually plots to deny the "liberties" of the peoples of the world, and exert sinister control of population growth movement of sovereign nations. For a representative sample of their literature see ( The subject of the publication refers to a deliberate "dumbing down" of America in preparation for a "socialist" takeover.

This site connects directly to the Take Back Kentucky/Kentucky Taxpayers United site. It is ultra-religious and seeks to directly influence the outcome of local and national elections. It provides a storehouse of information about politicians involved with these organizations. ( This is the URL to register for the site ( Also on this page is (, which discusses punishments for "Hate Crimes." The American Family Association of Kentucky considers it to be inappropriate to tell ministers that they cannot discriminate against homosexuals or other unchristian individuals.

Next there's ( This is the site of the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky. They have waged a ferocious fight against state mandates and controls on how home schooled children are educated by their parents. The emphasis is on a Christian education, which includes the concepts of dispensationalism (their term), American exceptionalism, and strong opposition to secular institutions.
The list wouldn't be complete without the obligatory links to rightwing gun lobby advocacy groups. The prime gun group listing ( is based in Virginia.

It's one of the most outspoken rightside pro gun groups in the nation.
The link to ( links to all manner of websites. It has links to Jewish extremist sites, sites advocating direct confrontation with progressive groups, vigilante sites, and sites linked directly to vigilantes and militias.
Some organization listed express a genuine fear of what is known as "Real ID Tags." These are proposed radio tracking devices that these organizations fear the federal government will require be worn by all Americans at some point in the future. The language employed by these organizations in describing their fears in this area is something best described as "panic speech."

Then there's ( where the Reverend Matt Singleton holds forth on such enlightened topics as whether the supposedly mythological creatures of the Bible match the fossil record. Singleton also appears to believe that the Catholic Church is on course to take over America.
For the curious here's the complete list of recommended and affiliated groups on the "unofficial" site.

Rolling Thunder(National)
Greasy OnlineGun Owners of America
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
Armed Females of America
Legally Armed
Women Against Gun Control
Citizens committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Second Amendment Foundation
Law Enforcement Alliance of America
Second Amendment Committee
Keep and Bear Arms
Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed
Save the Guns
Kentuckians for the Right to Bear Arms (KRBA)
Take Back Kentucky
League of Kentucky Property Owners
Jefferson Review
Congressman Ron Paul
Take Back Florida
Sovereignty International, Inc.
Libertarian Party of Kentucky
Meade County Citizens for Better Government
Kentucky Motorcycle Assoc. / K.B.A.
Take Back Maryland
These groups are among the most extreme, xenophobic, homophobic and gender and racial hostile groups in the country. Paul has not publicly said that he supports or receives support from any of these groups. He doesn't have too. He's their champion and the takebackkentucky site makes that amply clear.

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).
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter:

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).
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why Didn’t Rand Paul Fire His Racially Suspect Spokesperson?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The news hit last December that there was a racially inflammatory picture of the lynching of a black man next to a smiling cherubic picture of three young happy go lucky whites captioned “Happy N….Day” on senate campaign spokesperson Chris Hightower’s myspace website. Rand Paul issued this statement. “I have never heard a single utterance of racism from this staffer nor do I believe him to have any racist tendencies. However, it is impossible to present the ideas and reforms we need in this country with this controversy present. Therefore I have accepted his resignation."

What’s wrong with this? Where to begin? The racially vile picture was posted on the site on January 2008. It’s irrelevant whether Hightower posted it or not (and he didn’t say) or by a nut case prankster. It stayed there for nearly two years was viewed and commented on by countless site visitors and many others. It was removed only after a mild furor about it. The furor became a furor only after Paul emerged as a serious contender for the GOP senate nomination in Kentucky. So the ancient question again is what did Paul (or Hightower) know about the posting and when did he know about it? And if he didn’t know anything about it which we still don’t know for a fact, why didn’t he know about it? Hightower was not some low level campaign grunt. He was Paul’s main spokesperson.

Now there’s Rand’s statement on Hightower’s resignation. Note carefully that he remorsefully and regretfully accepted it with the obligatory denunciation of racism. But Paul did not fire him. He did not even reprimand him. He did not promise a sweeping, thorough investigation of how this kind of blatant racist taunt could filter into anything that remotely touched on his campaign. Nor did he publicly threaten to ban in Boston anyone who remotely allowed the use of a site connected with his campaign to post or spew racially vile material. A few libertarian sites took Paul to task for his muted response to Hightower and questioned whether Paul took the issue seriously enough. They chided him for not taking a more aggressive stance against it. It was indeed a teaching moment that Paul could have used to make it clear racism has no place in his campaign, and anyone that goes there with that will get the swift boot.

Democrats, civil rights leaders, and a wave of commentators have gotten hoarse screaming at the tea party leaders to speak out against the party’s unabashed bigots and the displays of racial hate. The pleas have fallen on deaf ears the tea party top. The simple reason is that it 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 party activists is and has been an indispensable political necessity for the movement.
Just as Chris Hightower about that. Paul for sure didn’t.

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).
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Will Race Trip up Rand Paul Too?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Kentucky GOP senate candidate Rand Paul may or may not learn what his father Ron learned. And that’s when you pop off on the always thorny issue of race there’s a consequence. The horrid thing is that the consequence might not be the same for Rand as it was for dad. The senior Paul and his backers went apoplectic during presidential campaign 2008 when it was amply and correctly pointed out that Ron Paul’s official newsletter was stuffed with oft color unabashed racial jibes and barbs. It bashed Martin Luther King Jr. as a "pro-Communist philanderer." It declared that the 1992 L.A. riots petered out “when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." And it branded black males as "the criminals who terrorize our cities -- in riots and on every non-riot day.” And then assured the reason for that is they were genetically engineered “to hate whites and to steal and loot as much money from the white enemy as possible."

An outraged Ron Paul vehemently denied that he uttered the vile racial slurs and claimed that he did not know they were said or written by him or anyone else in his camp. The colossal problem with his denial was that the racial bile appeared in his officially approved newsletters. There was no evidence then or later that he wrote a correction, issued a clarification, or even as he hinted they were written by someone else, and, if so, that he publicly disavowed and fired that someone else.
Ron Paul had to denounce the racially loaded quips in 2008 because for a brief moment he was deliriously embraced by thousands as the populist alternative to the supposedly hopelessly corrupt, bought and paid for, corporate interest Democrat and Republicans presidential candidates. Paul’s fanatic backer’s mix of blind adulation and desperation meant more media and public scrutiny than Paul had ever gotten. That in turn meant that his past, or alleged past words, were now wide open for public dissection and accountability. The senior Paul knew that he had to indignantly deny he wrote or uttered anything that could be construed as fanning racial bigotry. The issue quickly faded mostly because Paul’s presidential candidacy quickly faded.

Things may be different with Rand. There’s his widely quoted smoking gun interview with the Louisville Courier Journal in which he blew off the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a slap against private businesses’ right to racially discriminate. He had a second and third chance to eat his words in two separate interviews after his primary win. He blew both. He did the obligatory disavowal of racism, but did not back away from his belief that the Civil Rights Act went way too far in telling private businesses that they couldn’t racially discriminate. Junior Paul, unlike dad, is suddenly a national figure and counted on by legions of revved up tea party activists to carry the party flag into battle against President Obama. Rand hasn’t disappointed. He made it clear that he’ll pound Obama and his agenda at every turn.
Even if Rand, as his dad, didn’t trash the Civil Rights Act, his odd mish mash of ultra conservatism and libertarian pronouncements would mark him as racially suspect. A cornerstone of the jumble is his view of government and what it should or should not do about civil rights. Rand, as Ron, holds that government should have minimal or better still no role in civil rights laws and enforcement. The government passed and enforced civil rights laws, did nothing to solve the country's racial ills, and worse, fueled even more racial polarization, he says. That old, worn, and thoroughly discredited view warms the hearts of the packs of closet bigots who pine for the old days when racial and gender discrimination was the American norm and government did little to protect black and gay rights.

Rand pretty much said the same thing in the Courier-Journal interview. Any other time and place in recent American politics that would instantly make him unfit to hold any state or national office. And those who defend his view would be branded as bigots and crackpots. But this is not any other time or place. Rand, unlike Ron, has the most inviting and vulnerable target in President Obama to level his fire at. He has the cheers and backing of untold numbers who share his belief that the President is leading the country to social and financial ruin. They will do everything they can to drive him from the White House.

If Rand and company have to reach back nearly half a century and dredge up a monumental piece of legislation that totally remade the racial map in America to fire up the faithful, then so be it. After all, why let a little thing like racial bigotry trip a Paul up. Ron tipped around it. Rand will do the same. The frightening thing is that he may get away with it.

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).
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies” Are Devouring the GOP Not Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Sarah Palin recently told an anti-abortion activist group that “mama grizzlies” will eat up the Democrats in November and shove the country back into the GOP’s arms. Her home grown, home state animal kingdom analogy would have been more apt and frightening a year ago when the Tea Party first gathered steam. Then GOP leaders banked that the Tea Party would be their back channel hammer to pound Obama and the Democrats in November. Things went well in the beginning. The party’s angry protests, marches, and parades, the passion, zealotry, their sloganeering, name calling, their anti-tax, anti big government, and defense of freedoms code word racism boded well. President Obama seemed the perfect made-in-heaven foil. He's a moderate, African-American, Democrat who they recast as a closet unpatriotic, race baiting, socialist.

The set script, though, has suddenly radically changed. In quick succession, GOP stalwarts in Utah, Florida, Kentucky, and Maine, and John McCain in Arizona have either been knocked out the box or are under withering fire from Tea Party activists. The white hot anti-incumbent rhetoric in Tea Party circles is almost totally aimed at the GOP incumbents and candidates. Any hint from a GOP incumbent in their words, actions, or voting record of making nice with Democrats and Obama guarantees a tongue lash from Palin, and relentless hectoring, harassment, and even physical threats from street level activists. GOP leaders have slowly woke to the recognition that Tea Party activists will settle for nothing less than a full blown exorcism of any trace of moderation or compromise from the GOP.

The danger looms for the GOP that 2010 could be 1964 all over again. That was the year that a right insurgency powered by ferocious Deep South and Western opposition to the civil rights movement, legislative and court ordered desegregation, and pending civil rights rights bills rammed the GOP to the hard right and in that year’s presidential election, to political disaster. The GOP suffered mightily in the aftermath of LBJ and the Democrat’s landslide sweep. But the crushing defeat did not totally transform the GOP into a hard core rightwing opposition party. There were many conservative Republicans who were still willing to compromise, conciliate, and work when necessary with Democrats.

The best case in point is McCain. Pre-presidential candidate Obama’s ascension, he was widely held up as the standard model of the responsible, pragmatic, Republican conservative who was willing to reach across the congressional aisle to get things done. It’s a far different story in the Obama White House days. McCain’s sprouted wings on his heels in his mad dash to the right to keep his Senatorial job. His rush to the right typifies the GOP’s Catch 22 dilemma. He can’t win, or at least the perception is that he can’t win, by ticking off Tea Party activists. Yet, catering to them types him as a pandering, captive of the loose jointed right, shill.

Either case scenario poses the grave threat that the GOP could be a fractured, unhinged party months before the November showdown. Polls and surveys show this potentially chilling scenario. In a Pew survey 40 percent of Democrats say they have no faith in their elected representatives in Congress. That’s an all time low in the history of the Pew survey. But even fewer Republicans say that they have any faith in their congressional representatives. That’s a crushing load the GOP could drag into the fall elections. A pack of hard right candidates that carry the GOP banner will be a powerful turn-off to thousands of politically crucial independent voters. In past polls, many of them registered disgust, frustration and anger at Obama and the Democrat’s policies and signaled a willingness to shift back to the GOP. This could be out the window.

Then there’s Palin. She poses absolutely no threat to Obama’s solid or lukewarm Democratic base. The mere mention of her as a possible presidential candidate is more than enough to terrorize disappointed liberal Democrats out of their Obama inertia. The real damage that she can do will be to further confuse, rile up, and split Republicans. Polls show that while voters in general say Palin's not presidential timber, a huge minority of Republicans say that she is. This could translate into a stock of disgruntled, frustrated voters who would be sorely tempted to push, prod and hector the GOP to give Palin her due as a possible presidential candidate. This kind of talk will propel even more independents away from the GOP.
Palin can talk all day about “mama grizzlies” ousting Democrats from power in November and beyond. But the stark political reality is that so far the only ones who have been threatened or devoured wear the GOP tag. This wasn’t in the GOP mainstream’s script for Palin and the Tea Party.

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).
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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Kagan’s Affirmative Action Achilles Heel

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will plop an issue back on the nation’s table that hasn’t been seen or heard from or about in what seems like ages. And that’s affirmative action. Even before her nomination the word furiously circulated in some circles that during her six year tenure as dean of Harvard University Law School, Kagan had an abominable record on recruiting and hiring minority professors.

At first glance, her record indeed looks atrocious. There were 29 new hires. They were 23 white men, 5 white women, and one Asian American woman; not one black or Latino professor in the bunch. When the dismal figure was released, the White House quickly pushed back. It issued a detailed fact sheet that essentially said that her zero hire of a black or Latino faculty member was grossly misleading. That Kagan had offered several African-American and Latino candidates visiting offers; visiting offers meaning invites to be a visiting lecturer. That’s not the same as a permanent offer for faculty spot. But the inference was that a visiting offer, if accepted, could lead to an offer of a permanent faculty position. That didn’t happen. The visiting offers were not accepted. That in itself is not a prima facie case to say that Kagan deliberately pushed diversity to the back burner at Harvard. Or even that she did not make a sincere effort to recruit minority faculty members. There are always factors, big, little and unseen in the business of faculty hires at major, even prestigious, universities. But Kagan’s motives and the effort she may have made to get a diverse faculty at Harvard Law in the end or a moot point.

Her record on minority hires still stands-- 29 faculty hires, and no black or Latino hires. This is hardly a moot point. There are two major reasons that President Obama nominated Kagan. The first is pragmatic politics. She already went through the confirmation wars as the administration’s solicitor general and is widely considered as a consensus building, judicial moderate. That’s least likely to ignite a prolonged, heated, and divisive fight over her nomination. The second reason is just as crucial. She is the supposedly the breathing embodiment of diversity.

At a presidential campaign appearance in 2007 Obama was emphatic in demanding that a Supreme Court pick be someone who had empathy for the poor, minorities, disabled and old. In the Senate he ferociously attacked and voted against the confirmation of Bush nominees John J. Roberts and Samuel Alito again precisely because they were hardly cheer leaders for diversity. In their views and rulings they were hard line conservative ideologues who did everything possible to subvert diversity. Obama promised there would be no ideological litmus test in his court picks. However diversity seemed clearly a prime consideration in his choice of a high court judge.
This is not an academic numbers balancing act to get the requisite black, Latino and women on the court. The issue of diversity is a fierce battleground in law and public policy. There are countless cases that invariably wind up contested before the high court on gender, age, disability, and racial discrimination, abortion, the death penalty, prisoner and victim rights, and corporate practices. The issues are highly complex, raise important legal and social questions, and are always contentious. Kagan will be in the thick of the court debate on these cases for years to come.
Conservative judicial watchdog groups know the importance of the diversity battle in court rulings better than any other group. They watch hawk like all potential Supreme Court picks, and they wage endless war in their journals, news articles, on blogs, and in position papers on the need for strict constructionist, diversity neutral judicial picks. They have and will continue to rush to the barricades in their fight to insure that a high court pick will be free of any leaning toward opinions and views that tilt toward a bias for minority rights. They will rally public opinion and Senate Republicans to battle against any such judicial pick.
The irony is that Kagan’s blurred record on diversity faculty hiring at Harvard Law School may be a plus and actually keep her out of harm’s way from conservative critics at least on the issue of affirmative action. This will and should trouble liberals and progressives who want and expect that President Obama’s high court nominee take a stand, a firm stand on the one issue that matters a lot to them and from the president’s oft spoken words to him as well, and that’s a solid commitment to diversity. The jury is still out on Kagan on this one.

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).
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Black Tea Party Activists Say Don’t Call Us Traitors

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There was mild surprise when a small contingent of black tea party bloggers and writers screamed loudly that Georgia Congressman John Lewis made up that he was spit on and called the N word as he left the Cannon office building across from the Capitol in the hours before the final vote on the health care reform bill. The black tea party activists demanded that Democrats produce the tapes to prove that Lewis was attacked.

The black tea partiers were lambasted as Uncle Toms, Oreos and worst of all, traitors. They’ve heard all this before, many times before. Some of them have turned the smears into a badge of pride, and say that more blacks should, and even quietly do, back the tea party’s avowed goal of tax cuts, small government, and defense of individual rights. Their claim is a tough sell, mostly because tea party leaders have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly by saying and doing nothing about the Confederate flags, Texas Lone Star flags, and the borderline racist signs and slogans that are waved and brandished at tea party rallies. This further feeds the deep suspicion that the tea party movement is chock full of unreconstructed bigots driven to hysteria by the mere thought of a black man in the White House.

Then there’s the GOP. Its relentless, take no prisoners, four decade war with civil rights leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, and now Obama has further deepened fear and loathing among blacks of anyone and anything that carries the Republican stamp. The black tea party activists in almost all cases mark themselves with that stamp. But blacks and the GOP and now the tea party is not a total oxymoron.
Blacks have always been either in or on the fringe within the GOP during its metamorphosis over the last half century from the multi-racial party of Lincoln, champion of federal protections, and civil rights to a white man’s party that touts states rights, promotes racial division, and that uses championing small government, defense of constitutional freedoms and individual rights as hidden racial code words.

The motives of the blacks that have stayed loyal to the GOP are varied. Some have found the GOP a good hustle. They’ve been showered with political favors, money, and PR promotion. For others the GOP is a contrarian fad to boast that aren’t part of the nation of sheep pack that pay blind allegiance to the Democrats and President Obama. Then others sincerely buy the tea party claim that taxes and big government hurt blacks too.

The seed of their attraction to the tea party movement was planted six years ago during the presidential campaign of 2004. Bush through an adroit mix of emotional appeals, political messaging, and faith based largesse to a select few high profile black evangelicals stirred the hard feeling of many blacks toward abortion, gay rights, and their defense of family values. This paid big political dividends in the must win states of Florida and Ohio. The double-digit bump up he got in the black vote padded his comfort vote margin to bag both states and the White House.

It didn’t last. Bush’s colossal Katrina flub turned the grumbles from those blacks who defected to him during the election into a stampede away from him and the GOP. The still strong current of religious evangelicalism, and anti-gay, anti-abortion, sentiment and the targeting of government as the villain behind them, coupled with mounting economic insecurity, still struck a small chord among some blacks. The off the chart black vote for Obama didn’t entirely change that. Their vote was in part a general contempt and loathe of Bush policies, repulsion at the marginal thinly veiled race tinged appeals, and Sarah Palin, and in part a rally round the brother.
Republican National Chair Michael Steele paid some initial lip service to the need for greater diversity in the GOP but that didn’t last either. He was quickly regarded as a comic mouthpiece for the GOP’s non-stop pound of Obama. This insured that any black that uttered even a faint word of sympathy for the GOP would earn the tag of traitor.

The tea party, though, seems to be another story. It’s loose, disjointed, populist pitch with seemingly no direct tie to the GOP mainstream seems a safe haven for some blacks to vent their opposition to big government and high taxes while declaring disdain for Democrats. The record 37 blacks running as Republicans in the fall elections in majority or heavily white vote districts bank that they can rally tea party activists to their banner. That may be delusionary thinking. But the fact that they’re willing to try is their way of saying don’t call us traitors for our political beliefs. They have a point.

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).
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