Sunday, May 06, 2007

Obamaphobia + Sarko Wins

I originally wrote a longish post about what might be termed Obamaphobia, prompted by this Digby entry about Senator Barack Obama (at left, photo by Michael Moore--Keene Sentinel via AP), and naturally Firefox froze and the whole entry vanished. The old Blogger, now consigned to defunct servers somewhere, used to have a restorative button, but Google's version, which temporarily disappeared my blog last year, as some J's Theater readers will recall, does not, or at least I'm not aware of it. I know I should periodically save entries as drafts, or maybe type them out in Word or another program--though the hyperlinks don't transfer properly--before posting, and I have periodically done this, but the usual result is that I don't ever complete those posts!

So perhaps I can reconstruct it at a bit....

I began by pointing out, as Digby does, citing Dave Neiwert, that has had to shut down its comments section on articles about Obama because of the toxic sludge of racism that has burst forth:
Today informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

"It's very simple," Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for, told me. "We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won't tolerate it." does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to "the volume and the persistence" of the objectionable comments.

There has been a fierce debate about how news outlets should handle reader comments.'s Jim Brady, whose site, like, does not have the resources to filter comments in advance, told Howard Kurtz that he'd "rather figure out a way to do it better than not to do it at all."

But Post reporter Darryl Fears told Kurtz that comments should be eliminated if they can't be pre-screened for offensiveness.

"If you're an African American and you read about someone being called a porch monkey, that overrides any positive thing that you would read in the comments," he said.
Neiwert, who on his Orcinus blog writes extensively* about the extremist right, anti-Semitism, religious fanaticism, and the entire fetid sociopolitical-ideological constellation in which they all mutually co-exist and cross-pollinate, in fact notes that

It really shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that Barack Obama's run for the presidency is bringing out innate racism of so many right-wingers these days. After all, so many of them have had to suppress their Inner Theodore Bilbo for so many years now, it's bound to come squirming out when given the opportunity -- and nothing draws them out like liberal blacks running for political office. Making it the presidency drives them into another sphere altogether.

So far, we have been regaled with the oft-repeated "Hussein" note, the Fox smear of Obama's Muslim background, followed by Limbaugh's astonishing riff on "Barack the Magic Negro". That these reflect a barely concealed racial animus mixed with general white xenophobia should be obvious, and notably, these are all occurring on a national scale, within ostensibly mainstream media sources.

For right-wing audiences, cues like this signal just how far they can take things themselves. So on the public level, the result of this kind of talk is a regular outpouring of old-fashioned racist bile, permission having been granted by leading right-wing voices.
Did someone say Limbaugh? Because he's the broadcaster on whose show the President, Vice President and numerous prominent Republicans have repeatedly appeared over the last eight years, and whose rhetoric has is so blatantly over the top it can't easily be subsumed by diversionary chatter about hip hop and rap's effects or attributed solely to his history of drug abuse:

The Rush Limbaugh radio parody "Barack the Magic Negro" is picking up speed on the Internet with lyrics that mock Sen. Barack Obama's popularity with white voters and portray African-American activist Al Sharpton as sputtering with jealousy of the younger black politician.

Dissemination of the parody, which has been airing on the conservative radio host's show for a few weeks, renews in a new context the contentious American conversation about race in politics and society.

Obama's status as the first African-American with a realistic chance of winning the presidency highlights the ambivalent state of racial tolerance in the country: Even as he attracts massive and adulatory crowds, he also inspires hateful remarks and threats that carry distinct racial undertones.
The controversial parody got its start in March shortly after the Los Angeles Times published a provocative column by a black writer calling Obama the "Magic Negro." The article said Obama fits the prototype of the black cinematic figure who arises to "assuage white guilt over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history."

Columnist David Ehrenstein suggested Obama is running in the public imagination for the office of "Magic Negro"—a kind of benign African-American figure who is there to help and for whom even mild criticisms are waved away "magically."

The term "Magic Negro" in cinematic circles dates to the 1950s.

Not long after Ehrenstein's column was published, Limbaugh began to air "Barack the Magic Negro," sung to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon." The song was familiar to his listeners before critics began to pick up on it in recent days.
But it's not just the right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, because the mainstream media have repeatedly been laying the stage for the kinds of extremism that have exploded on As I noted back 2 days into the new year

Last month I reported on the mainstream media's nascent campaign against Illinois's junior Democratic US Senator, Barack Obama, one of the presumptive leaders in the 2008 campaign. In addition to members of the media fixating on Obama's Arabic middle name, "Hussein," and joking about how close "Obama," his Luo family name is to "Osama," CNN's Jeff Greenfield compared his style of dress to that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a right-wing columnist, Debbie Schuessel, in a fit of bizarre pseudo-psychoanalysis, suggested that he might be a Muslim Manchurian candidate. After a series of critical blogabaloos, most, though not all of the offenders apologized or feinted as if they had. But of course it wasn't over. We've got a year and 11 months to go, and Obama's fame and popularity aren't waning, they're waxing.

So it didn't take one day to pass in the New Year before the media, in this case CNN, started up its hijinks again, running the tag line "Where's Obama?" over an image of Al Qaeda's unaccountably still-free leaders Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden during Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room show. As soon as I saw this on DailyKos's site, I fired off an email to CNN's "Situation Room" site, and apparently enough other people did that both anchor Soledad O'Brien and Blitzer himself apologized on air to Obama today.

Jeff Greenfield, Jonathan Alter, and others--not considered "right wing" among the punditocracy--have all participated in this madness (one could draw an analogy, absent the issue of race, with the "mainstream" media's "War Against Gore" during the 2000 campaign). My reading is not simply that these people are racists (at least not consciously so), but that they are invested in a particular narrative and outcome, which is that Hillary Clinton be the nominee (and the misogynistic commentary about her would deserve another entry), which appears to be what the leadership of the Democratic Party, as well as corporate and business interests, and many on the Right, who are convinced that a Republican candidate could defeat her, most want. (This also brings to mind Dr. SWEAT's quotation a while back about the steady, powerful and negative effects of daily non-spectacular racism, which rarely receive much commentary, but which create the conditions and contexts in which more overt and spectacular forms occur.)

I had some other thoughts, but can't recall them now. They led me to link to this pricelessly racist-but-she-doesn't-realize-it post by Washington doyenne Sally Quinn, which articulates what a great deal of the punditocracy are thinking, and which is receiving criticism across the blogosphere:

I was reminded of [her feeling good about herself because she hadn't thought of the "color" of a Bahian professor she met during a Carnaval visit there shortly after Nixon's resignation] the other day watching Barack Obama. I realized that when I look at him, I don't see a person of color. I see a really smart, appealing, thoughtful person. There is something about his manner that seems to demand that he be seen for who he is and not for what color he is.

Of course, Obama has many attractive attributes. He is charismatic and has a youthful exuberance. He is a new face and connects with both young people and key Democratic constituents. But there's something else going on here as well.

Is it possible that Obama's incredible popularity in such a short time is a reflection of that same feeling I had in Bahia? Could it be that Obama makes people feel proud of themselves because they can look beyond the color of his skin? Perhaps some of the many people who are supporting him sense that doing so brings out the better part of their nature.

I recently took another trip, this one around the world, and everywhere I went, all that people wanted to know about was Obama. In every country, when people learned I was American, the questions were the same: Could a black man possibly be elected president of the United States? More important, would Americans actually elect someone like him to represent their country? In almost every case the reaction at the possibility was admiration.

But "she" ("we") doesn't "know who he is," who he surrounds himself with, where he's coming from, so she's quite worried. (His advisors do appear to be known to more than a few in Washington and elsewhere, though not, apparently, to Quinn.) I mean, she doesn't see his color or race or whatever, but then again, he could get into office and appoint the likes of Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton to high-level posts, or start issuing laws requiring ebonics, or proclaim a National Day of Collard Greens, Fried Chicken and Cornbread, or, God forbid, have some of those rappers he's been seen with, like Ludacris, performing at a state dinner! And he and the dangerous Democrats might even go so far as to pass a reparations bill that not only hands out encyclopedia-sized packages of $1000 bills to all the clambering Black folks in this country...but they might even start sending them back to Africa! I mean, you just never know, do you? But seriously, the basic question for people like Quinn is, is he too Black?

In another sense, he's in good company, because during the Bill Clinton impeachment hullabaloo, Quinn made clear her utter contempt for the President and his wife, who she denounced for having come from the sticks and simply made a mess of themselves before official Washington. The loathing for the Clintons has hardly dissipated in said quarters, I'm sure, and the very mention of Hillary Clinton's name sends some of these people frothing, just as they remain utterly obsessed with her husband and his success, despite all (their) odds. It's probably fair to say, however, that however much horror the Clintons inspire in the punditocracy, the media, and the GOP, Obama revs it up by several orders of 10. And it's not because of his youth or inexperience....

To end on a different note, in the current New Yorker Larissa MacFarquhar profiles Obama in a piece entitled "The Conciliator." Her view is mixed and full aware of many of the ironies that attend Obama, but positive. One of my favorite quotes from the piece:

In the office reception area, crowds of people milled about, many of them unscheduled; the office had become something of a tourist attraction. Marian Wright Edelman had marshalled a group of faith leaders, parents, and sample sick children to speak with Obama for a minute or two about children’s health. About twenty rotund, middle-aged firefighters arrived and, too many to fit in the office, stood in the hallway, blocking the door. A couple of reporters from the Chicago Tribune—two of several people the paper has assigned to cover the Obama beat full time—waited on the sofa for a delayed interview. (The day had begun with a candidates’ forum sponsored by a builders’ union at which Obama was scheduled to speak after Senator Joseph Biden, and, as a consequence, a winking press aide told the reporters—we all know what happens when you speak after Joe Biden—Obama was going to be late to everything for the rest of the day.) A white father from Winnetka had brought his two sons, the elder of whom, about nine years old, begged to wait as long as it took to spot Obama for even a second. (After an hour, a receptionist suggested that they come back the following morning.) Two teen-age girls—one, from Lake Elmo, Minnesota, carrying a soda, another, wearing pink tights and carrying a frozen yogurt—stopped by, hoping for a photograph with the Senator. A receptionist gave them a black-and-white portrait from a pile she kept at her desk, and the girls squealed in delight. The girl with the soda snapped a few photographs of the reception area and the empty conference room next to it and signed the guest book. “Where are you? No picture?” she wrote, next to more conventional comments (“Good luck Your Sweet,” “My hero!,” “Thank you, you rock!”).

Lynne Duke's article in today's Washington Post also is worth reading. It provides a response to Quinn's piece that doesn't tiptoe around the elephants in the room.

They watch him. They listen to him talk. Is he the kind of person they think he is? The kind of black man? The stakes are oh so high. It's the presidency he's after, the breaking down of a historic barrier. Can he transcend racial divisions? Is it safe to support him? Is he safe from harm while running for president in a nation of such abiding racial tension?

For Sen. Barack Obama's white supporters, this is the dialogue of race, the parsing of perceptions and expectations as they watch their man campaign.

They are people like Katie Lang, 32, a Tampa insurance executive, who has her own simple formula for judging Obama. In a word, it's transcendence. She believes Obama, when it comes to race, rises above the fray.

"Obama speaks to everyone. He doesn't just speak to one race, one group," she says. "He is what is good about this nation."

At a campaign event in Tampa last month, she hung on Obama's every word as he spoke to an adoring crowd packed into the courtyard of the historic Cuban Club of Ybor City. As she listened, race wasn't in the forefront of her mind, she says later. It usually isn't, she says.

"Kind of like, if I could compare him to Tiger Woods. When I look at Tiger Woods, I see the best golfer in the world," she says. "So when I see Barack Obama, I see a strong political candidate. I do not see 'Oh, that's a black man running for president, or African American or multiracial black.' It's not what comes to mind first. What comes to mind first is: great platform, charismatic, good leader, attractive."

If the United States is to elect its first black president, it is white voters like Lang who largely will make that choice. Though much has been made about whether Obama is "black enough" for black voters, perhaps a more relevant question is this: Has the nation's white majority evolved to a point where it can elect a black man as president?

*Neiwert's most recent entry touches upon a group of Alabama militiamen who were planning to launch a "machine-gun attack" against Mexican immigrants....


Monsieur "Action Man," Nicolas Sarkozy, is the new president of France. He defeated his Socialist opponent, Ségolène Royal, by the projected total of 53% to 47%. She swiftly conceded. An estimated 85% of eligible voters cast second-round ballots, the highest since 1981. Sarkozy, the first person of direct immigrant background to become French president, had won the first round and held a distinct lead up until voting began on Saturday, despite inspiring "fear" in nearly half the electorate. Ségo, whose platform and policies drifted hither and thither without coherence, attempted to play on these fears, issuing a last minute warning about possible riots if Sarko were elected, but the call appeared to backfire, as did Ségo's vocal challenges to Sarko in their debate last week. (She was all but called "hysterical" by the French and American press.) The new president, who possesses significant state power, including command of the military and the ability to dissolve the Assembly and call for new elections, will take office May 6, replacing outgoing president Jacques Chirac. Before then, he will be campaigning for his conservative UMP party to control the legislature, and he has promised a dramatic "break" with Chirac's Gaullist policies. His Reaganesque aims include breaking the 35-hour workweek rules and permitting overtime pay, slashing corporate and personal taxes, increasing criminal penalties for various offenses, and streamlining the deportation of immigrants. He has vowed to weaken France's powerful unions and attack "political correctness."

Although Sarko barely campaigned in any of working-class banlieues or cités, which erupted in the summer and fall of 2005, he has interestingly enough proposed affirmative action programs to address the disparate unemployment levels among the Black and Arab French citizens, particularly the young, as well as a controversial Ministry of Immigration and National Identity, whose name has echoes of the pro-Nazi, Vichy period. This was one way that he captured the vote of the far right; another was the adoption of Jean-Marie LePen's infamous "France, love it or leave it" slogan, which fit his previously harsh rhetoric about France and Frenchness. Despite having served for five years in Chirac's government, including as Interior Minister, he paid little price in the final tally. But perhaps it's best to think of his victory in light of the absence of real options from Ségo, who offered glamor and platitudes by the busloads, but no plausible rethinking of France's economic and social policies, nor any sense that she could achieve the policies she had proposed, Sarko's unfortunate victory is not surprising. This election marks the third straight presidential loss for the Socialists, who will yet again engage in self-examination and recrimination. While not failing as badly as in 2002, when the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin failed to outpoll LePen, forcing millions of left-leaning and leftist voters to support Jacques Chirac, Ségo's showing was still a severe disappointment. Given that she did not have the full support of senior figures in her party, it's questionable whether she will be the party's candidate in 2012.

The Guardian Online describes it thus:

Mr Sarkozy, the right-wing former interior minister, who believes France has shifted firmly right, fought the campaign on a promise of restoring rightwing values - authority, the merit of work, a hardline on law and order and controlled immigration.

Unashamedly courting the far-right, he had promised to be a "protector of the nation" and restore pride in a country suffering "a crisis of confidence", with stagnating economic growth, rising public debt, severe unemployment and social unrest on housing estates.

Promising to turn France into a nation of hardworking homeowners he had offered a rallying call to a "silent majority", the France "that wakes up early".

Doug Ireland notes another important point about Sarko's victory, relating to the progressive traditions that Sarko vowed to "liquidate" in his attack on "the May '68 heritage":

Sarkozy absolutely hates the left -- in part because the Communists burned his aristocratic family's chateau in Hungary (from whence his family emigrated to France) in 1944. And, in a major campaign speech just days before the election, Sarkozy surprisingly devoted 20 minutes of his discourse to a violent denunciation of the May 1968 student-worker revolt (Sarko was only 14 at the time of that rebellion.). The heritage of May '68, Sarko thundered, must be "liquidated." He blamed it for a generalized attitude of "laxisme," for France's having become a country " in which work has no value, in which people think they can do anything they feel like doing, in which people are lazy," and on and on. May '68 was, of course, the fountain of social ferment that led to the sexual revolution, to women's liberation and the legalization of abortion, the gay liberation movement and the eventual repeal of laws criminalizing homosexuality, the relaxation of censorship laws, and a whole series of other cultural changes that opened up a stuffy, paternalistic, arteriosclerotic French society. But May '68 was also a general strike by 11 million French workers that gained union recognition in many factories, higher wages, and that won a reinforcement of the social safety net in an agreement (negotiated on behalf of then-President Georges Pompidou by a young Jacques Chirac) that became known as "les accords de la rue de Grenelle" (the agreement of Grenelle Street). What was unstated in Sarko's anti-May '68 speech was that all that sort of thing, too, must be "liquidated." Dark days are ahead for those who love liberty, equality, and fraternity in France.

The "freedom fries" crowd perhaps will be able to take a new look at their chosen bête noir: Sarko not only made a pilgrimage to meet with W. Bush during the campaign, but made clear during his victory speech that he was reaching out to the United States to renew the two countries' relationship (which has continued, despite the public rancor), and he even received a congratulatory call from W shortly after he was elected. He will thus be a useful replacement for W's longtime lackey Tony Blair, who is set to step down soon, with his likely replacement being the dour and more traditional Labourite Scot Gordon Brown.


  1. I thought about you and your recent visit to Paris when hearing of the Sarko win. It will be very interesting to see what he'll do -- and if people windup taking to the streets in protest.

    Liked the Post Obama article, and haven't finished the New Yorker one yet. But it doesn't surprise me at all that the Secret Service has already started giving him protection.

  2. -- I have been having trouble with writing my blog entries in Word, then cutting and pasting them on the template. I started to just paste them on the HTML page so they could keep their font and spacings. Then from there I add the bolds and the links.

    -- Obama. Interesting. I just got finished talking to a childhood friend about this. She lives in Nashville. This is going to be an interesting time in our political culture. It seems that the mainstream will have to confront America's racist marrow, despite saying that skin color does not matter. More on that later.

    Gotta go.