Saturday, July 19, 2008

FISA + Obama • Jackson + Obama • that New Yorker cover • Al Gore steps it up


Not much time for blogging these days. Embarrassing since Ernest Hardy, whose laptop just died-

(a moment of silence for the importance of the loss of that appendage-like tool for any freelance writer).

-has still managed to keep posting. But he's a professional writer, while I am something of a different animal.

In the meantime, the world keeps turning and events and moments keep occurring that I want to jot down to consider later; with url links etc. So this little stream-of-consciousness ditty will be a placeholder for those future considerations. Bear with me.


Obama & FISA ("I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden...")
Last week, before I could even wrap my head around it, the FISA bill passed, AND Barack Obama voted for it. Yikes. I was, well, not exactly comforted, but rendered somewhat less despairingly flummoxed by an article cited by Eileen, a J'sTheater reader. On July 10th, the New York Times published Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins' "The Audacity of Listening," wherein Collins remind us that Obama never promised us a rose garden of radical change and accountability, instead what he offered was the building of a "new consensus" which actually means a new form of political compromise. It's just that the new form of compromising ("you've got to give a little...") looks a lot like the old form we've been (allowed ourselves to be?) subjected to. Another point Collins makes:

"...if you look at the political fights he’s [Obama] picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb."

Jesse Jackson... (he what?!...where?!)
Then while I was busy woodshedding away, the Rev. Jesse Jackson decided to go on Fox News. As I said to my friend Dr. P when we conversed about this over the phone, 'What?! He went on Fox News! People, Fox News is not a friend to black people. Didn't the Rev. Wright conflama teach people anything?' Black + FoxNews = Unfair/Underhanded Coverage. Don't try to be the exception to the rule. Fortunately, Jackson wisely declined Bill O'Reilly's "invitation" to appear on his show to explain his comments.

Really, have we learned nothing from the Clinton campaign and Brian Springer's documentary Spin (1995)? Springer recorded satellite feeds of news outlets for a full year and then edited into a documentary which showed what people said when the cameras weren't broadcasting signal to the networks, but the feed was still rolling for satellite capture. In all fairness, this film never got the major release it deserved. If it had, its current standing would be on par with the best of Michael Moore's work and Errol Morris' The Fog of War (2003). Among its various illuminating lessons on media communications, Spin demonstrated how Clinton learned early on that the camera never stopped rolling. He was always campaigning, even while getting a make-up retouch during commercial or station breaks.

Also, fortunately, former Time columnist Jack White penned a response to the Jesse Jackson response to the (in some quarters) controversial Obama Father's Day speech which I still haven't heard. On July 10th, The Root published White's "When the Man Is One of Us" along with Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill's "Defending Jesse Jackson... Kinda" on July 17th. White's piece makes the following point about the Obama candidacy and the upending of certain expectations around marginalization and race that some African Americans may not have even know we have:

"We haven't really been in a place this confusing since 1954, when the NAACP's crusade against segregation culminated in the Brown vs. Board decision and the walls came tumbling down. It's fair to say that we were so focused on winning that fight that we weren't prepared for the victory or its aftermath. We've spent nearly 60 years since then trying to figure out what kind of relationship we want to have with America and with each other. For the most part, we, like Jackson Sr., have seen ourselves as outsiders battling for justice and a seat at the table. Our default has been to protest. And while that mindset has served us well, it has, in a flash, been made damn near obsolete by the prospect, even the likelihood, that one of us may soon become the most powerful man in the world. If that happens, how can we seriously argue that we're being held back by anything but the limits we place on ourselves? "That, it seems to me, accounts in part for the frustration some of us are feeling by what we interpret as Obama's move to the center [the FISA vote, etc.]. We are simply not accustomed to one of our own playing real, power politics..."

I'm not sure I agree with this last point. I think many of us have seen power politics being played by African American politicians--just not inhabiting the position of a presumed presidential candidate. White goes on to discuss the Obama Father's Day speech and what he considers a growing "new consensus that places more emphasis on a public discussion of personal responsibility than on protest, on publicly delving into our own shortcomings and dysfunctional behavior." A consensus among who I'm not sure: Obama and Bill Cosby?


The New Yorker... (rueful head shake)
But still I say we're fortunate to have the Jack White comments to brace us, because right around the corner comes The New Yorker July 21st issue cover. This proves that White could have included not just African Americans in his article's tagline statement: "[Jackson's] latest gaffe shows how none of us is really ready for this moment."

In between moments of looking at various emails landing in my inbox featuring the cover, outraged comments about the cover, a link to the full size JPEG of the cover... I sat aghast, literally speechless, thinking where's Mark Twain when you need him? Or at least hadn't the New Yorker realized that some/many people 100 years later still don't get Twain's racial satire--but they really expected people browsing a news kiosk for 5 minutes to get this New Yorker cover? Plus if they really wanted to satirize the media misinformation why don't the actual sources of said misinformation of the Obama's appear central in the satire? However, I had the presence of mind to visit writer Tayari Jones' blog which always offers grace, joy, incisiveness, and the real served up in equal portions. This day was no different as Jones had linked to comments by writer Victor LaValle (whose writing I love), published by his friend fellow writer Maud Newton on her blog. LaValle (bless him), under the title "The New Yorker cracks up," lays it out, and goes where Jack White didn't. White liberals have lost it. While people have worried about whether or not the white folks in middle America would vote for Obama, they should have been worried about their left-leaning friends. As Lavalle does the negotiated read (thanks Stuart Hall) on the cover, the following points are made:

"The magazine has defended itself, saying this picture is meant as satire, but I’m not quite sure who the joke is on. Is the joke on Michelle and Barack? No. They say the joke is about the fears and anxieties that exist about Barack and Michelle in the White House. But normally this kind of picture might also include the true subject of the satire, maybe a sleeping figure in the lower right hand corner who represents these fearful masses. Maybe George Bush or Rush Limbaugh. Or, unfortunately, even Jesse Jackson. The image of the Obamas would be inside those fluffy lines that indicate a dream. "But if nothing like that is in the picture whose nightmare could this be?"

Whose indeed?

The most pointed insights LaValle reserves for the Older White Liberals aka OWLs, and their conflicting instincts towards "rational liberalism and irrational fear" who at dinner parties that some of his white friends have been at (and where no blacks were present) question Obama as presidential material. But not on position on specific issues, or his voting record, or his experience, but with the intangible assessment, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about him that I can’t get behind.” LaValle characterizes these OWLs as "over 50, generally well-off and liberal to a fault." Basically The New Yorker's core readership, who as it turns out might yet... vote for McCain???

These are strange days indeed.


Al Gore's 10 year Plan
On the upside, Al Gore is concerned about the survival of the nation, environmental stability, and global accountability and he's pledging to do even more about it. He's joined We Can Solve It, and his video address is shooting around the internet, along with a petition demanding "America must commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and other clean sources within 10 years."

Yes, I signed it. A big selling point for me was Gore's insistence that coal miners should not be displaced by this policy change, and should be first in line for the new jobs created by a new solar energy focus. Also, his memorable tagline "we should be taxed on what we burn, not what we earn" regarding a reduction in income tax that would be shifted to a fossil fuel tax equivalent to the cost of environmental damage caused by fossil fuels. Right On.

If you want to find out more about this effort and see/hear Gore's speech check this We Can Solve It webpage.


Endnote:
• FoxNews video of the Jackson comments during the broadcast break (brought to you by the Coal Industry: Go Global Warming!) on Fox's Talking POINTS. Bill O'Reilly's subsequent Talking Points editorialize about how "unlike what Jackson himself often does" FoxNews won't be speculating as to the motivation behind Jackson's comments, "or describe his comments in any pejorative way," while both he and the scrolling intertitles next to him (with headers like "OBAMA BASHING" speculate as to Jackson's motivations (e.g. "now some believe that there's a rivalry between the two men, but we've seen no evidence of that other than [pregnant pause] , what you've just heard." ) And all of this gets framed as Rev. Jackson "having some negative comments about Senator Obama's recent support of faith-based based charities operating with government funds." Which is certainly off-point from Jackson's comments but this fudging allows FoxNews to paint Jackson as against a popular, but nonetheless-charged Bush/Reagan policy (Uh hello, separation of church and state), and take a solid dig at his standing as "a man of faith."
Barack Obama's Father's Day Speech text, courtesy of The Huffington Post.
Al Gore speech video from CNN.

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