Monday, January 14, 2008

America wins front row tickets to the (race) theater

It seems clear to me that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her crafty minions have been subtly and not-so-subtly playing the race card in their recent attacks on challenger Barack Obama.
 
Exhibit A: Clinton supporter and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo declares that: "you can't shuck and jive at a press conference."
 
Exhibit B: The Clinton camp brings in BET founder and smut peddler Bob Johnson to blast Obama for not doing enough for the black community. (If that ain't the pot calling the kettle...well...black.)
 
Exhibit C: Frequent references to Obama's youthful drug experimentation, including intimating that the Senator may have dealt drugs.
 
Yeah, I smell the stink of race-baiting, which has put the Obama camp and would-be supporters on the defensive. If Huffington Post is to be believed, the Obama campaign recently drew up a memo listing the Clinton's racial attacks, perhaps as part of a strategy to fight back. And U.S. House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C threatened to stop making like Switzerland and to pick sides, as a veiled warning to the Clinton camp to knock it off.
 
There has been lots of talk about how folks are talking about race in this election, but little talk about substantive issues, like say: What are any of the presidential candidates going to do for Rep. Clyburn's mostly black district with its poverty rate nearly double the state average?
 
In an article posted today on Salon.com, writer Lester Spence cautions us all about losing focus on the REAL issues surrounding race as the presidential campaign heads into South Carolina.

Here are a couple of facts about South Carolina and about Rep. Clyburn's district that I wish had become part of the debate. This is the first election in modern memory where the Democratic candidates really have to compete for African-American voters. And by "compete" I do not mean go to a black church, use a fake black accent, talk about black folks' spirituality, blame black folks for black folks' problems -- and then expect their votes. The winner of the South Carolina primary will be the person that gets the most African-American votes period. And because each of the three Democratic candidates remaining needs those votes, they have to go after them vigorously. This places African-Americans and their elected representatives in a prime position.

With that in mind, take a look at James Clyburn's congressional district. It is predominantly black, having been carved by black Democrats and white Republicans in order to ensure a majority black district, and encompasses five counties as well as parts of 10 others. It has a large number of poor residents. The poverty rate in Williamsburg County, for example, is almost double the state's poverty rate, at 27.90 percent (with a child poverty rate of approximately 36 percent). It is far below the United States average in the percentage of its citizens educated beyond high school. Its median household income is more than $17,000 lower than the U.S. median income.

So imagine you are Rep. Clyburn in this situation. For the first time in a long time, the vote of your constituents, long ignored by the political party that you call home, matter. In that context your endorsement matters. If you're Clyburn, and you've got a chance to be "the decider," and you've got a large number of poor constituents (the majority of whom are black) who need help, do you focus on language and symbolic slights that have their roots in an era almost 50 years past? Or do you focus on the material needs of your citizens, on programs and policies to help them? SOURCE

See, that's the problem with voting for symbolism, like Gloria Steinem, Roseanne Barr and lots of black folks on the Obama train (Just read the comments section of any WAOD post on Obama.) want us to do. When you vote for symbolism and not issues, your needs don't get met. If I were a voter in South Carolina, I would demand that somebody start talking about their plans to address poverty, health care and education. THAT person would get my vote.

Read my previous post on Race as Theater.

Read What About Our Daughter's take on the issue. (multiple posts)

Get smart about the presidential candidates' political platforms at Black Women Vote or check out this handy chart.

Read John Edwards' plan to end poverty. He is the only candidate who has one.


Review: Oswald's Ghost on American Experience

If, like me, you are a fan of politics and American history, check out Oswald's Ghost, which premieres tonight on PBS's American Experience. (Check local listings.) I received an advance copy of the documentary and found it fascinating. 
 
Using a wealth of archival material, much of it never before publicly seen or heard, director Robert Stone chronicles America's 45-year obsession with the pivotal event of a generation. Quietly implicit throughout the film is a haunting parallel to 9/11 and its aftermath.

Oswald's Ghost explores, in part, why Americans are so determined to believe in conspiracies. According to the documentary, 70 percent of all Americans believe that JFK's death was the result of a conspiracy. The film suggests that we are not comfortable with the nerve-racking randomness of life, so we try to create order where there is none. Historian Robert Dallek asks, "How could someone as inconsequential as Lee Harvey Oswald have killed someone as consequential as John F. Kennedy?"
 
According to a PBS press release:
 
Throughout the 1960s and beyond, Vietnam and the Kennedy assassination became merged psychologically into a vast wellspring of mistrust and disillusionment. With the subsequent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the revelations of President Nixon's constitutional subversion in the early 1970s, the last hopes of American idealism were shattered. A decade after JFK's death, America's political culture was changed almost beyond recognition.
 
On a side note, I think the statement above is true for the mainstream, but most people of color, given our history in America, had no idealism to be shattered in the 60s. I've always thought it is a past that includes a government and its citizens working against us that explains why so many black folks seem willing to jump on conspiracy bandwagons regarding everything from purveyors of fast-food fried chicken, to high-profile designers to the AIDs epidemic. Someone should do a documentary about that.
 
Of course, as they say, just because I am paranoid, doesn't mean that they aren't out to get me.

Early in Oswald's Ghost, as I watched a battered and frightened young Oswald being led by policemen while proclaiming his innocence; as I once again viewed the Zapruder footage from Dallas that seems to contradict the official report on Kennedy's death; and as I listened to the list of people with motive to harm the president--from Castro to the KGB to the Mafia to the Vietnamese; I was certain, as I always have been, that the true story of the assassination is shadier and far more shocking than we have ever been told.

But then I learned some things I had not previously known: How Oswald left his wedding ring behind, neatly wrapped, when he left for his job at the Texas School Book Depository the morning of November 22, 1963; how he may have taken a shot at a Texas senator weeks before turning his gun on Kennedy; how he was far smarter and more wily than history has given him credit for--no patsy he. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure that President Kennedy's assassination hadn't been simply the work of one disturbed young man with random events seemingly on his side.

I am intrigued by the 60s. Born at the dawn of the 70s, I've always felt like I missed the good stuff--the music, the revolution, the social change and the free love (Really bummed about missing the free love...). All I have of the era are history books and the memory of the framed pictures of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King that hung on the wall when I was little. Oswald's Ghost allowed me to experience, for a moment, the turmoil, emotion and confusion surrounding one of the 60s defining moments, and it made plain how that moment in time affects my country's psyche yet today.
 
Learn more about American Experience and Oswald's Ghost.

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