At some point I began to associate performance poetry with kidney stones and traffic court. Apparently, I'm not the only one.
Lest you be lulled into thinking that the year would end quietly, we have this wonderful bit of gift-wrapped shade out of Chicago. I don't have time to give this the full Timberland it deserves but offhand I think you have to give Blagojevich credit. This is a clutch player. With time running out in the year and all other cynical dealers exhausted, this is the guy you go to.
Taking a routine case of retail politics and turning it into a matter of racial indignation -- that's a guy with a complete game.
As for Bobby Rush, watching politicians age is only slightly less painful than watching boxers get old. With virtually no chance of Burris actually making it into the senate seat but a huge chance for this to become precisely the kind of racially tinged drama that Obama does not need this was a bad move all around.
Blagojevich has virtually no capital to spare and Rush won't win any points even if he did manage to cram Burris into Obama's seat. And his explicit appeal: "There are no African Americans in the Senate" is possibly the most politically tone-deaf moment since, well, last week or so. That argument might've carried (limited) weight on November 3rd. At this point the logical rejoinder is "And there are no white people in the Oval Office."
Rush has not lost all the old reflexes though. Like a journeyman heavyweight there are some elements of the game that remain with you for the duration. In this case its the knowledge that when dealing the race card, it's best when done from the bottom of the deck..
Who said it had to come from abroad?
Kim Pearson from Blogher just put me up on this environmental disaster in Tennessee. The short of it: 400 acres of land now covered in toxic, radioactive coal ash.
No real word on it from the MSM but this is Al Gore territory. Please tell me we're not starting out with our own Inconvenient Truths.
Clean coal anyone?
Coates over at The Atlantic is wondering whether there will actually be an electric slide on the mall. As I point out in my comments, this was not a case of me being hyperbolic (since I would never, ever be guilty of using hyperbole about black political behavior.)
I witnessed the mayor of Atlanta and the minority leader in the Ga. House doing the hustle in Mile High Stadium -- and that was just a NOMINATION.
An inaugural warrants full-on pop-locking by Clyburn while Deval Patrick does windmills on a piece of cardboard in the background.
I'm a historian so I'm accustomed to looking backward for insight, but I'm going on the the record with a prediction that we will catch some mass impromptu group-dancing shot on MSNBC and/or distinguished figure in drop-it-like-its-hot mode.
Just shoot me the links when you see it.
We know by anecdote and statistic what a Reagan Democrat is. They are the white working class voters who broke with the DP in order to support Reagan. We've been treated to various explanations for the Republican Obama supporters, the so-called Obamacons. But what occurs to me is a more basic question: what exactly is an Obama Democrat?
Bill Clinton managed to get elected on the strength of his Democratic Leadership Council centrism, along with elements of the old coalition but he didn't have nearly the pull -- or debt -- with the grassroots party activists that Obama does. In the past few weeks we've seen him roll out a cabinet of more or less centrists, many of them heavily indebted to Bill Clinton for their present political standing. So are they the face of Obama Democrats -- meaning that Obama Democrats are just fresher versions of the Clinton ones?
He has brought an influx of seldom-before and never-before voters into the fold, people whose engagement with the political process is attributable almost entirely to his campaign -- are they the Obama Democrats?
Or maybe the 3.5 million donors or the 12 or so million people in his voter database?
Are they the party and issue activists who ensured that his unlikely campaign would outflank the Clinton machine?
This is not abstract speculation since what we're talking about here is Obama's key constituency, the people whose needs, at least theoretically, rank the highest. The people who will give or deny him a second term.
Perhaps the key question is -- does this category even exist?
It's too early to know how Barack Obama will govern which is why each of his cabinet appointments has been followed by rounds of tea-leaf reading by pundits, pols and regular folk . But I think that his selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inaugural, maybe more than anything so far, highlights one of the central problems that Obama will face as president.
The Warren pick is exactly the kind of move you'd expect from a figure who rose to national prominence in 2004 by telling the country that there is not a black america, nor a white america, but the United States of America (that may be the single most italic-worthy sentence of the current millenium.) The problem is that it is not true. We want it to be and more than any politician in recent history, Obama is the beneficiary of a vision of America that we believe in but which does not exist. At least not yet.
But there is a flipside to the kind of political ecumenism that Obama is advocating, one that Clinton raised but (as with many of her critiques) failed to gain any traction. The short version is this: there are things we will have to fight about and we can have change or we can have national unity, but probably not both.
There is one pole in American politics in which figures like Rove and the late Lee Atwater flourish, the one in which the country is fractured and deliberated pitted against each other, where the term "wedge issue" isn't even considered a pejorative.
At the other extreme is a kind of touchy-feely centrism that glosses over real differences in the name of unity -- and that "unity" is often a disservice to groups/causes with legitimate grievances. Given that we've been at the first pole for eight years we may be rushing toward the opposite one.
It's been my observation that change usually begins on the political margins and has to fight its way to the center. Organized labor was considered a bunch of un-American radicals for decades before the Wagner Act in the 1930s. Civil Rights groups sat on the fringe for a half-century before gaining enough influence for Truman to denounce lynching and integrate the military. Domestic violence was once a fringe issue.
Groups advocating "change" whether of the FDR sort or the Reagan doesn't usually come from the center (unless maybe the "change" is realizing that there actually is a center.) The most important changes of the 20th century -- social security, civil rights, legalized abortion -- have evoked huge controversies and lasting divisions before they came to be generally accepted (that has yet to happen with abortion but it probably will.)
So we get to Obama's fundamental paradox: how do you preserve national unity and institute change simultaneously? That's a hard trick to pull off.
As per Warren, Obama was elected by people who are by and large at least moderately pro-choice and he had the benefit of high levels of support from the gay and lesbian community. For the latter folks, legalized marriage is "the change we need." On the other hand Obama's invitation to Warren is meant to convey a kind of just the kind of post-partisanship that he promised.
I always find the Sunday political shows interesting when, in the name of decorum and public relations, people with radically different agendas share a kind of chummy, cozy friendship of old college friends. The implications are "Yes, I know you support a war in which hundreds of thousands of people will die for reasons that remain unclear, billions will be recklessly spent, and American prestige will crater but that doesn't mean you're a bad guy."
In the name of national unity, the liberal Adlai Stevenson chose the segregationist John Sparkman as VP on the 1952 Democratic ticket. Black Democrats were rightfully furious. Unity is just as often a buzzword for those quiet periods where little changes.
Rick Warren's invitation is not as bad the Sparkman choice -- he's making a prayer, not policy. But it raises the memory of groups being left in the cold in the name of unity.
Barack can have change or he can bridge the divsions in American politics. It's possible but highly unlikely he -- or we -- can have it both ways.
There have been a ton of comparisons, it seems, between Obama and Lincoln, Obama and Mandela, and yes, Obama and Roosevelt. But there's one important point that's been overlooked -- what FDR's status as the first disabled president might tell us about what's in store for Obama as the first black one.
Among the many plot twists in the 2008 campaign has been the return of Franklin Roosevelt as a political icon. After suffering years of disparagement as the architect of big government, the deepening economic crisis has given many Americans a new appreciation for the 32nd president. Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama are reportedly reading up on New Deal policy, and Time magazine recently featured Obama on the cover in a remake of the famous top-hat-and-cigarette-holder image of FDR.
There are obvious reasons for the comparison between Barack Obama and Franklin Roosevelt, not the least of which is the trying economic and military circumstances Obama will inherit. There are other connections between the two men: Both men owe their elections in part to unpopular Republican administrations accused of mishandling and underregulating the market. And both elections marked turning points in the political history of African Americans. FDR's New Deal broke the old GOP coalition by successfully attracting African Americans who had previously been loyal to the "party of Lincoln" for over a half century. Obama's selection as the first black president of the United States strengthened the fraying bonds between African Americans and Democrats for years if not decades to come.
There are odd parallels between their Republican predecessors—for instance, both of them were tied to the mishandling of national catastrophes: the Bush administration's ineptitude in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath was the biggest domestic failure in decades; Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, oversaw the Mississippi Flood of 1927, where black sharecroppers were rounded up and forced at gunpoint to repair breached levees.
But the most-telling connection between Roosevelt and Obama may be one that we tend to overlook—their membership in groups that have historically suffered from discrimination. Roosevelt—stricken with polio at age 39 and eventually confined to a wheelchair—and Obama, the first African-American president, are tied together on the level of symbolism and metaphor.
At least since his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Barack Obama has been viewed as a harbinger of the post-racial society. Shortly after he won the general election, the Wall Street Journal said that his victory would end "the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement." It's easy to see why the post-racial idea gained traction. If millions of white Americans are willing to vote for a black presidential candidate, it makes you suspect that we really are beyond the race issue. But we aren't, at least not yet, and Roosevelt's experience as the first disabled president can shed light on this moment.
Disability and blackness were understood in surprisingly similar ways in American history; both as physical markers of difference and inferiority. In the 19th century, skin color was intricately connected to a network of biases and superstitions. Republican Thaddeus Stevens, for instance, attributed his lifelong support of black causes to a deformity that provided him insight into what it felt like to be ostracized on the basis of arbitrary physical characteristics. While African Americans witnessed the rise of Jim Crow, hopeful immigrants at Ellis Island were being screened to weed out those with disabilities and birth defects.
Given that history, the existence of a wheelchair-bound president would seem to mark a leap forward for the cause. It was … and it wasn't. The complexities of Roosevelt's situation provide insight into our own social landscape in the wake of Barack Obama's stunning victory. In fact, Roosevelt's experience seems to point to a kind of uneven progress where we move forward as a society but not uniformly. In that light, the presidency may actually be ahead of other segments of American society in terms getting beyond bigotry.
In short, we shall overcome—but certainly not all at the same time.
There's also a kind of symmetry in the way that Roosevelt had to manage his disability—many Americans weren't aware of it at the time—and Obama's careful management of race as a topic during the campaign. The fact that the disabled and African Americans could be represented in the White House marked an undeniable breakthrough, but neither Roosevelt nor Obama could afford to dwell on that fact in their campaigns.
Many worried, for instance, that the Jeremiah Wright affair during the primaries had turned Obama into "the black candidate" in a way that his skin color and ancestry previously had not. That dynamic was present in 1997 when the Roosevelt memorial was built on the National Mall. The image discreetly obscures the fact that the president is confined to a wheelchair. The decision to literally cloak his disability generated so much criticism from advocates of disabled rights, that a second sculpture of him in a wheelchair was constructed.
Barack Obama's election does not automatically elevate us beyond race any more than Roosevelt's automatically erased our biases against the disabled.
The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president gives us a clear indicator that racism has greatly diminished in this society, but it's not dead yet. Last year, the EEOC received 30,510 racial discrimination complaints that resulted in $67.7 million in monetary benefits for plaintiffs—not including monies awarded through litigation. Amid our euphoria over this accomplishment, it seems almost distasteful to bring up the nagging racial disparities in health care, life expectancy, income and within the criminal justice system, none of which seem poised to disappear on Inauguration Day.
In coming years, there will be endless debates on the meaning of Obama's election—just as there were debates over the meaning of Roosevelt's disability on the National Mall. But history seems to suggest that we should congratulate ourselves after the Obama presidency: Grand moments of symbolism are important, but the real victories come in the incremental steps to ensure that opportunity filters down to every corner of society, not just 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Ok, this is what you get when you write about politics while watching Batman: The Dark Knight:
"Nations, like religions and superheroes, lean heavily on their creation myths."
(From: Change Has Come: Barack Obama & the New Black America)