by Jeff Jarvis
I’m moderating a panel on how the internet is changing politics this Friday at 6p at New York University: Warren Weaver Hall, 251 Mercer St.,. Room 109. The stars of the show: Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and Off the Bus cofounder; Micah Sifry, editor of TechPresident.com; Lisa Tozzi, The New York Times assistant politics editor responsible for web coverage; Jay Rosen, NYU professor and Off the Bus cofounder. We’ll be talking about how the internet has changed — and will change — politics, media, and government. The event will be webcast by the amazing Rachel Sterne at GroundReport TV. Please join in.
LATER: Another interesting panel, this one at CUNY‘s Graduate School of Journalism, 219 W. 40th St. between 7th and 8th, on Tuesday, April 1 at 6p:
Inside Iran: What’s Next.
Associate Professor Lonnie Isabel will moderate a panel on Iran featuring Laura Secor and Roozbeh Mirebrahmi, two journalists who have covered the country extensively. Secor has just returned from Iran after covering elections there. A former New York Times Op-Ed page editor and former senior editor of Lingua Franca, Secor has written about Iran for the Times, the New Yorker, the Nation, and several other publications. Mirebrahimi is the first International Journalist in Residence at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. A well-known blogger in Farsi, he is chief editor of the online magazine, Iran dar Jahan (Iran in the World), and is a contributor to online newspapers that circumvent the censorship and intimidation of reporters in Iran. He is currently on trial in absentia in Tehran as a result of his reporting there. The event is open to the public. If you’re interested in attending, please RSVP to lonnie.isabel AT journalism.cuny.edu.
I may be the only person who’s not become worshipful of Obama’s speech on race and religion and who finds it more disturbing the more I think about it. But then, I am.
At its core, his speech is more not less divisive. For his real message about Jeremiah Wright and his words was: It’s a black thing; you wouldn’t understand.
By putting himself in the position of explaining and justifying Wright and thus his association with him, Obama may have repudiated Wright’s worst words but he explained them as the product of a racial experience rather than racism.
Then he tried to dig himself out of the hole he dug for his white grandmother by calling her “a typical white person” and, worse, by saying that such typical white people are scared of black people. His spokesman made it no better when he said to Huffington Post that “her fears were understandable and typical of those often shared by her generation.” So now the Obama campaign finds itself in a position of not only explaining and justifying Wright’s racism but also whites’ racism and calling it understandable. Now it’s a white thing; you wouldn’t understand.
This is not ending separation. And the pity of that is that Obama could have done the opposite, which is what I wished for in my post the other day. He could have declared himself an American of every race, thus no race. That was his promise when he emerged on the national scene in his Democratic convention speech. Nick Kristof reminded me of it yesterday:
In that speech, Mr. Obama declared that “there is not a black America and a white America… . There’s the United States of America.” That’s a beautiful aspiration, and we’re making progress toward it. But this last week has underscored that we’re not nearly there yet.
Nor is Obama.
The discussion is reaching an absurd level as the Obama campaign gives The New York Times a picture of Bill Clinton meeting Jeremiah Wright in the White House, as if a meeting is an endorsement and mind meld. This morning, Matt Lauer on today gasped that this came on 9/11 — but not that 9/11; it was a few years earlier — and in the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Then Joe Scarborough said that it’s rather ridiculous to attack your opponent because her husband once met with the minister you’re defending.
I know the popular thing to do is to gush over Obama’s speech. I’m hearing no criticism and little analysis of it in media or conversation. So maybe it’s just me. I wouldn’t understand.
I’ve just had the chance to listen to Obama’s race speech. It is, as always, eloquently written and delivered and I agree with what he says about America, race, unity, and our work to do. Who could not?
But I believe he is trying too hard to dodge making a decision about Jeremiah Wright and his divisive and racist speech. After having thrown Wright to the wolves in prior videos, he now backs up. He tries to explain Wright. He explains him more as a product of racism than a racist himself. He says he cannot leave Wright and his flock behind or we will not come together to solve our problems.
No. A church is a choice. I left a church because it was bigoted toward gays. I left one congregation and the entire Presbyterian Church with it. Oh, one could try to explain their bigotry, to give it context and history, to caution that they should not be tossed aside because of this belief. But that, in my mind, would be every bit as bad as staying in a church or a country club that refused to allow black people in. That would be every bit as bad as refusing to condemn the hate speech of a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell. It would be as bad as trying to explain away the racism of George Wallace or Lester Maddox with context and history. I did not want to endorse or support this church myself and I certainly did not want to raise my children in their atmosphere of discrimination. A church is a choice and I chose to leave.
Obama chooses not to leave. He chooses to try to explain Wright away. He wants to make it into a lesson in racial history. He wants to stay with Wright and company while only disagreeing with what he says. He wants to have it both ways, every way.
This is not the decisive decision of a leader, I think.
I also believe that Obama missed the opportunity to recast the campaign, the nation, and even himself. As he so beautifully puts it, he has bits of every bit of America in him. He is not black. He is not white. He can be the melting pot we’ve dreamed of in this country — at least my generation did once — and have never and probably will never achieve. Indeed, we no longer want cultures to melt away. And that is good. But I’ve heard Vin Diesel and Soledad O’Brien — hey, I’ll take cultural spokesmen where I can find them — refusing to let people put them into racial pens and to insist that they are simply American.
Barack Obama is simply American. Yes, he’s right that we cannot work together to solve racial problems and all our other problems by glossing over race, acting as if the history and wounds are not there. We agree. But we also cannot move past mistrust by justifying words and actions that divide and demand condemnation and separation.
I liked my minister. But I told him that he was supporting an atmosphere of bigotry. I told his board that was why we were leaving their church. I refused to try to get along with that. It was a choice, a sad but clear and necessary decision. If we are going to change, we sometimes must break from the past, not explain it.
I wish someone other than William Kristol had said that and that he had gotten his facts straight:
The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there’s not much audacity of hope there. There’s the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit — all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different. . . .
With no particular dog in the Democratic fight, many conservatives have tended to think it would be good for the country if Obama were to win the Democratic nomination, freeing us from the dreary prospect of the return of the House of Clinton. Now I wonder. Might the country be better off with the cynicism of the Clintons than the conceit of Obama?
Peter Daou, Clinton’s online adviser, sent an email to a bunch of bloggers arguing that Obama’s playing the negative game, too:
I want to address a pervasive misconception, namely, that Senator Obama hasn’t run a negative campaign against Hillary. I think it’s time to put that misconception to rest.
The truth is that for months, the Obama campaign has been attacking Hillary, impugning her character and calling into question her lifetime of public service. And now the Chicago Tribune reports that Senator Obama is preparing a “full assault” on her “over ethics and transparency.” To those who contend that Senator Obama is the clear frontrunner, I ask, to what end this “full assault” on Hillary?
On CNN last Tuesday, Senator Obama said, “Well, look, Wolf, I think if you watch how we have conducted our campaign, we’ve been very measured in terms of how we talk about Senator Clinton. … I have been careful to say, that I think that Senator Clinton is a capable person and that should she win the nomination, obviously, I would support her. You know, I’m not sure that we have been getting that same approach from the Clinton campaign.”
The facts of this election stand in stark contrast to that statement. Senator Obama and his senior campaign officials have engaged in a systematic effort to question Hillary’s integrity, credibility, and character. They have portrayed her as someone who would put her personal gain ahead of the lives of our troops, someone who would say or do anything to win an election, someone who is dishonest, divisive and disingenuous. They have adopted shop-worn anti-Clinton talking points, dusted them off and unleashed a torrent of unfounded character attacks against her. Among other things, they have described Hillary – and her campaign – as: “Disingenuous” … “Too polarizing to win” …’Divisive’ … “Untruthful” … “Dishonest” … ‘Calculating’ … “Saying and doing whatever it takes to win” … “Attempting to deceive the American people” … “One of the most secretive politicians in America” … “Literally willing to do anything to win” … “Playing politics with war” [Each of those lines is a link in his email to the quote; I’m too lazy to copy them all over -ed]
To top it off, they have blanketed big states with false radio ads and negative mailers — ads and mailers that experts have debunked time and time again. They have distributed health care brochures using Republican framing. They have tried to draw a nexus between Hillary’s votes and the death of her friend Benazir Bhutto. And one of Senator Obama’s top advisers (who has since left the campaign) recently called Hillary “a monster.”
This “full assault” on Hillary comes from the very top of the Obama campaign, not surrogates and supporters.. . . .
This is a hard-fought campaign – as it should be. Like any candidate for elected office, Hillary has made clear why she thinks she would do a better job than her opponent. She has laid out comprehensive policy proposals, put forth her 35-year record of accomplishment, and spent countless days introducing herself to voters across the country. She has said that she is far better prepared to take on John McCain on national security. She has contended that she is the candidate with the experience to confront the GOP attack machine. She has argued that she is more electable. She has said that Senator Obama’s words are not matched by actions. And she has challenged him to live up to core Democratic values and goals such as universal health care. . . .
I look forward to hearing Obama’s speech today about race. I hope he will say that criticism is not racism. And questions are not all negative. I hope he will urge a return to substantive discussion of issues, not personality and victimhood.