April 18, 2007
Obama and cynicism
Senator Barrack Obama raised some eyebrows several weeks back when he worked a terrorist angle into a familiar campaign stump speech at a reception at an AIPAC policy conference: "The biggest enemy I think we have in this whole process ... it's not just terrorists, it's not just Hezbollah, it's not just Hamas -- it's also cynicism".
I certainly do not share his idea that cynicism is an enemy on equal footing with terrorists. However, I do not completely discount a level of cynicism that exists - and is warranted - in the political climate in America. From real scandals, to ginned-up scandals, to personal failings, to institutional failures, there is much to be cynical about.
The imbroglio involving Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team presented Obama with an opportunity to confront a large source of cynicism today. He was positioned to offer a unique voice in the controversy - as a black US Senator, a prominent candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, and a veritable media star - not viewed primarily as a part of or beholden to the traditional voices of the race-baiting lobby led by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Obama could deliver a clear, strong and constructive voice.
What did Obama do?
First, he waited five days before responding, and even then he was forced to respond to a question asked in an interview unrelated to the Imus situation. By never directly and proactively speaking about the controversy, he gave the appearance of someone wanting to sit the whole thing out. He waited for the situation to develop and for others to formulate their responses so that he could respond in a safe manner.
He then extended his views in a speech in South Carolina on April 13, where he denounced the larger context within the black community where rap artists use equally vile language. Even then, however, his observations were markedly soft and shallow. He said at one point that the rap artists were "degrading their sisters. That doesn't inspire me".
Even here, Obama made his speech after others paved the way. One such example was Jason Whitlock writing in the Kansas City Star on April 11, where he not only denounced the rap artists, but those in the black community who overlooked their transgressions while attacking Imus.
Thank you, Don Imus. You've given us (black people) an excuse to avoid our real problem.You've given Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson another opportunity to pretend that the old fight, which is now the safe and lucrative fight, is still the most important fight in our push for true economic and social equality....I ain't saying Jesse, Al and Vivian [Stringer, coach at Rutgers] are gold-diggas, but they don't have the heart to mount a legitimate campaign against the real black-folk killas.
Obama again proved himself a follower, letting others take the risk of making the bold statement while he followed with something much more tepid. In an interview on Tucker Carlson, Whitlock took it even a step further, saying, "Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are domestic terrorists lighting fires and picking everyone's pocket on the way out of town."
The beautiful convergence, was now set up perfectly for Obama. He could re-work his stump speech on cynicism: "The biggest enemy I think we have in this whole process ... it's not just terrorists, it's also cynicism, including cynical domestic terrorists, like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson".
A man of great audacity might be up to the challenge. Yet, I have little hope that Obama is that man.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps. Most likely, I am just being cynical.