Monday, September 19, 2011

Response: Randall Kennedy on Obama's black critics

First, Kennedy's piece, then mine.

Why Obama's black critics are wrong

By Randall Kennedy, Special to CNN
September 19, 2011
Editor's note: Randall Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School and the author, most recently, of "The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency" (Pantheon Books).

Cambridge, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Throughout President Barack Obama's political career, he has been dogged by insinuations or, indeed, accusations that he is not "black enough" to warrant strong support from African-Americans. Rep. Bobby Rush made that assertion when he successfully fended off Obama's effort to wrest from him his seat in the House of Representatives in the Democratic primary in 2000. Alan Keyes voiced that sentiment in his losing campaign against Obama for the U.S. Senate.

When Obama accepted the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, the celebrity scholar Cornel West groused that the first African-American standard-bearer for a major party had "run from history" by failing to mention explicitly the "black freedom movement."

Skepticism regarding Obama's racial bona fides has continued to surface since he moved into the White House. Rep. Maxine Waters, for instance, has recently chided him for failing to craft policies that would explicitly target black unemployment and for otherwise neglecting, in her view, to evince a proper acknowledgment of the baleful and disproportionate pain being experienced in black communities on account of the economic downturn. What is one to make of this critique?

First, it should not be at all surprising. Black America is ideologically diverse, just like other communities. Moreover, as I document in "Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal," there exists in black America a special anxiety about the loyalties of high achievers, especially when their success is largely dependent on whites and others who are not black. Every prominent black in a predominantly white setting faces, at one time or another, claims from fellow blacks that he or she is "selling out." GOP slams 'Buffett Rule' to cut debt Obama: America can't 'wait 14 months'.

Second, Obama's black detractors receive a degree of attention in the news media that is far greater than their representativeness of black America or their influence within it. The great bulk of black American voters -- upward of 90% -- supported Obama in 2008 and do so today. They do so because of his party affiliation, his liberal policy preferences, his identification with the African-American community (the offspring of an interracial couple, he calls himself black and married a black woman), his personal attractiveness -- he is uncommonly articulate, handsome, knowledgeable and gracious -- and the fact that with all of the added burdens attendant to his blackness, he was still able to climb the Mount Everest of American politics. Unlike some of Obama's most vocal detractors, the black rank-and-file have a realistic appreciation of the limits of his authority and the power of the forces arrayed against him, including a large, albeit amorphous, strain of racial resentment. Pained by the economic recession, they refrain from blaming Obama and instead direct their ire at those who not only saddled the first black chief executive with such a harrowing task of cleanup but also obstruct him relentlessly and often with barely disguised contempt.

Third, even though Obama's black detractors constitute currently only a small sliver of African-American public opinion, their critique is nonetheless important in practical, electoral terms.

It is often the case that a vocal, motivated minority can exercise influence that far exceeds their numbers. Enthusiasm matters. A drumbeat of complaint calling into question Obama's attentiveness to blacks might well diminish the fervency of the support he will need for his re-election effort. Furthermore, certain actions he might take to respond to the racial critique might well alienate other, nonblack, potential supporters.

The race line will ensnare Obama no matter how he proceeds. It will not necessarily defeat him. His epochal victory in 2008 showed that, unlike previous eras, our own is one in which a black politician can overcome racial barriers to win the highest office in the land. Still, the sobering reality is that race remains an important, persistent force in American life despite the presence of a black family in the White House.


True Color
A response to Prof. Randal Kennedy's
"Why Obama's black critics are wrong"

by JP Kaneshida

When then senator Obama was campaigning for president, he very vocally called for the largest welfare payments in history in the wake of Lehman's implosion and, unbeknownst to the general public, Merrill ready to go next. Then he voted for it - just as Clinton did, McCain did, Kerry did... just as they 
all did (save for the anomalies).

When he won the presidency, I became curious, and, taking a page from Watergate's Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, I followed the money. Here's the truth; of Obama's top 20 largest campaign contributors, the largest industry representation -- at 25% -- is banking; Goldman, JPMC, Citi, UBS, and Morgan Stanley.

In the face of this, for Kennedy to be trying to raise a debate about the topic of intra-black discussion on whether or not Obama is "black enough", while a real phenomenon, is a "folk argument" and only really given weight in the hands of a gifted mind like Malcolm's, when he broke down the house/field negro syndromes. Kennedy's take -- with a "Special" assist by CNN -- occupies valuable mainstream media real estate and mis-directs 
toward the tree while the forest is being clear-cut. In other words, to talk about race and the Obama presidency through the prism of anything other than Detroit having had a fall of 2008 H-bomb dropped on it isn't criminal, but it gives new meaning to ostriches putting their heads in holes; it's digging the holes.

And here's the money ball; those historic welfare payments to the banks are the direct result of racism. How? So called "liar's loans" and "predatory loans" -- notice how those terms correctly and accurately place responsibility upon the originators of the loans, to the chagrin of Rick Santelli -- were disproportionately aimed squarely at black and brown populations. The end result post EM08 -- Economic Meltdown 08 -- is, well, Detroit.

To be fair, 
most black intellectuals haven't stepped up to the plate and hit this hanging curve. But Barack's the prez. You know, the bully pulpit. The Weberian charismatic leader. The one who took bazillions of everyday peeps' hard-earned money in a landmark campaign noted for several things, but most shockingly, the sheer amount of money raised.

That record amount of money was everyday Americans hoping beyond hope, pleading, imploring... for someone to have their backs. Instead, in one of the most monumental "go eff yourselves" in history, questions about whether or not Obama's down, while legit, obscure the real allegiances he's made, nurtured and keeps. The old adage, "actions speak..." and Felt's "follow the money" should be the tattoos of our time.

The cue here and plainly evident in the three years since EM08? There haven't been any prosecutions let alone indictments of any of the major banksters, mortgage lenders, credit ratings agencies, or regulatory agencies, let alone hedge fund and other large fund managers to see if there was fraud, collusion or conflicts of interest. Hey, these are the largest, most pervasive and still ongoing financial crimes in history, that's all.

That the DOJ, SEC, congress, the senate, the president... haven't haven't lifted a finger against the evil empire, and if anything have given rewards to the welfare thugs while the world is on its knees, is the ultimate eff you. But it also flips off history; when the S & L fiasco went down, we prosecuted and jailed over 1,000 banksters; ask John McCain's criminal buddy no more, Chuckie Keating, who went rafting up the river. We took them into receivership, converted debt into equity and got on with life. This is sop and furthermore, the law - just ask professor William Black who speaks with authority on the subject as one of the regulators that took care of those criminals then. Don't like the official view from someone who was there and did it right? Then ask Bill Ackman, CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, who says the same thing.

Arguments over whether Obama's "black enough" are frankly insulting in the face of the most rampant criminality, fraud and conflicts of interests on a scale that makes Watergate look like a Comicon dork convention. The truth is that we live in the largest, most pervasive and entrenched criminal welfare state in world history. Depending upon the reader, whether Obama's black enough or not will of course vary and my point is that while they are sort of interesting polemical discussions, Obama's real pr magic is that he's shown his true color to be so deeply dark green that sometimes -- sometimes -- it looks black.