Like Superman, flying in the sky, Obama swept into the hearts and minds of White America as a redeeming savior capable of single handedly battling the old guard, prehistoric, Republican foes of progress and enlightenment. For several months, the media pundits and corporate news channels adulated Obama to the point of beatific eminence as a near infallible superhero who could walk on water and feed the multitudes with a simplistic slogan of “hope” and “change.” And then last week the freight train known as reality hit harder than a speeding locomotive, and the masses, spurred by the media, political adversaries, interest groups and pundits, finally opened their eyes and cried, “Look up there in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No – It’s a Black man!”
Superman’s alias is Clark Kent, a square jawed, all American, intellectual, non threatening, Kansas farm boy raised by Ma and Pa Kent; however, Clark, despite his American values, was always an “alien” Kal-El from the planet Krypton, the last surviving son of Jor-El gifted with fantastic powers. Any fan of superhero mythology knows that the alien hero’s supernatural qualities – the same ones that make him unique, beloved and endearing – also eventually serve to alienate him from the masses due to a pervasive, silent whisper of fear – usually perpetuated by a nemesis such as Lex Luthor– instilling perennial doubt and apprehension regarding the alien superhero’s true loyalties and sincerity.
Like Superman, those characteristics that make Obama unique and powerful, such as his biracial, multicultural upbringing, his intellectual eloquence, and his African Muslim name, also alienate him with certain mainstream demographics. However, unlike Clark Kent, Barack Obama cannot comfortably hide and assimilate under an “All-American” European name and skin tone. With his Arabic birth name, his middle name reminding the voting population of a recently executed Iraqi dictator, twenty percent of the nation still believing Obama is a closet Muslim, and his “dark” skin color that could possibly ignite a 50 shot police barrage in New York ending in an acquittal, Obama’s critics superficially suggest he represents White America’s “worst nightmare”: an angry, eloquent, opinionated, divisive, secretly Anti-American, Black [potentially Muslim] nationalist.
Recently, McCain shamelessly insinuated Obama supports “terrorism” and the democratically elected Palestinian government of Hamas – referred to as a terrorist group by most American Congressman – with this gem of a sound bite: “I think it’s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas’s worst nightmare … If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly.”
Furthermore, Hilary Clinton still trumpets her dominating, crushing and monumental win by all of 9.5 points in Pennsylvania thanks to rural demographics, less educated workers and seniors – all of them White. In addition, her non-stop, energizer bunny smear campaign of Obama as an “elitist” – the blackest pot calling the kettle black – suddenly transformed Obama, the Clark Kent/Superman superhero, into a charismatic yet fallible mortal, a Bruce Wayne/ Batman Dark Knight. The corporate media, once so enamored by this magical, United Colors of Benetton poster boy, jumped ship after finally realizing that a “Dark” man could actually win the highest Office in the land. With a renewed zeal and passion, the self appointed info-tainment media circus on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, talk radio, and European Press, consisting mostly of White men and peroxide Blonde women repeatedly parroted Clinton’s mantra reminding Americans that Obama “just can’t cross over with working class Whites.”
If corporate media and politicians were actually interested in fair, reasoned and intelligent discourse instead of the latest polls and knee jerk histrionic sensationalism, they would realize the “elitist” Obama received the majority of votes among low-income voters in 14 different primaries and caucuses, many of those whom were “White.” The truth of the matter is none of these candidates, including Obama, represents White, Middle Class America. Granted, Obama has a problem crossing over to some seniors and White workers, however what is not reported is that Hillary, last year’s sure-fire lock for the Democratic nomination, once held a near 20 point lead in Pennsylvania which eroded to a 9.5 point win. Furthermore, unlike Obama, Clinton’s campaign budget is in the hole, recently rebounding due to a desperate $5 million dollar “loan” by Hillary to her own campaign. Surely, there’s nothing “elitist” about an “Average Joan” funding her own ambitious bid for a public office with millions from her own wealth while many Americans are either currently jobless, working two jobs just to stay broke or thirty days away from a foreclosure. McCain’s shameless attempts to empathize with the “Middle Class” should be ridiculed after examining his marriage to Beer heiress, Cindy McCain, whose net worth exceeds $100 million dollars, with most of it tied to her father’s stake in Hensley & Co., and the rest injected into the McCains’ faces.
Oh, and before we forget, last but not least there’s also Obama’s kryptonite: Reverend Wright, whose fiery and impassioned rhetoric and recent speeches are an answer to Clinton and McCain’s Presidential prayers. After Obama attempted to slay the PR debacle of March with – what some called – a “historic” race speech, Wright re-emerged like “Night of the Living Dead” to remind America that opinionated, passionate, angry and controversial Black men still exist. His appearance on Bill Moyers’ Show, and incendiary speeches at an NAACP event and The National Press Club have led to a week long, non stop headline “guilt by association” trial prosecuting Obama, Reverend Wright, and the Church of “uppity Blackness.”
Wright theatrically, and many say arrogantly, blasted the media’s double standard when portraying Black churches and the African American Christian tradition. He reminded America of the sadistic Tuskegee experiments and the use and abuse of African Americans as medical guinea pigs [Read Harriet Washington’s award winning Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on African Americans.] Furthermore, like most policy experts, both Republican and Democrat, he suggested American imperialism and interference in the Middle East is responsible for our terrorism blowback. However, he made his most controversial statement in claiming the government is capable of disseminating AIDS and Crack to the African American community. Ishmael Reed, in a recent essay entitled The Crazy Reverend Wright, writes about the latter:
“Rev. Wright proposes that crack was deliberately brought into the inner city by the government. The CIA admitted to having knowledge that US allies brought drugs into the urban areas. The late Gary Webb was ridiculed by the American press for his “Dark Alliance,” yet as Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair disclose in their book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press, two years after Webb’s series ran, the CIA’s inspector general confirmed that the agency had in fact been aiding those very same Contra drug-runners (and many more).”
One need not agree, endorse nor support most of Wright’s opinions, and according to the recent polls most Americans do not. Granted, Wright’s appearances and comments are not only ill timed but also cancerous to Obama’s candidacy, however they reflect a very real, sincere frustration and anger that many, not only African Americans, share in regards to the government’s hypocritical and self serving domestic and foreign policies, such as “The War on Drugs” and “The War on Terror” respectively, whose subsequent victims are usually the most poor, powerless, and disenfranchised members of American society.
Furthermore, Reverend Wright’s “incendiary” and “divisive” comments are hardly new, as America’s relationship with rabble rousing, controversial Baptist polemicists has been long and fruitful. Regrettably, due to socio-political reality of America, we can only uncomfortably tolerate White pastors, such as the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who spewed vitriolic anger and bombastic rhetoric damning America for its vices and sins. Lest we forget, Falwell and Robertson tag teamed like the Christian version of “The Justice League” to issue this enlightened post 9-11 commentary:
Falwell: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this [The 9-11 attacks] happen.”
Robertson: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government.
Both pastors enjoyed and continue to enjoy veneration and respect by several ranking members of the Republican Party and the Bush Administration undoubtedly due to their influence over the Evangelical Christian vote. However, neither Bush Sr. nor President G.W. Bush were demonized, lambasted or endlessly hounded for explanations regarding their affiliations with these “incendiary”, White pastors.
Furthermore, the holy Billy Graham, second only to Mother Theresa or Shirley Temple as icons of virtue, cultivated personal friendships and acquaintanceships with nearly all the sitting Presidents dating back to Nixon, many times serving as their spiritual advisor. Despite a highly successful and charismatic career “building bridges” undoubtedly fueled by a sincere devotion and belief in his religion, Graham secretly harbored deeply anti-Semitic sentiments as evidenced by the recorded Nixon tapes of 1972 that were released by the US National Archives. In the tapes, Mr. Graham complained of a Jewish “stranglehold” on Hollywood and the media, which he urged “has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” Graham continues:
“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.”
The Reverend apologized in 2002 for these comments and publicly stated he regretted harboring such views. Applying the Obama-Wright standard of today, if indeed a Pastor’s inflammatory rhetoric and opinions can be readily transferable to his parishioners, then surely Regan, George Bush, George W. Bush and Clinton should be thoroughly vetted for potential strains of virulent anti-Semitism. [Carter, due to calls for “conversation” with Hamas and his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, has already been branded an anti-Semite.]
Even Hillary Clinton, who routinely smears Obama with feigned elegance by suggesting had she hypothetically been in Obama’s shoes she “would have left [Wright’s] church”, confided she turned to Rev. Graham during the Monica Lewinsky scandal:
“He was someone who could understand both Bill and me, and there aren’t many people who can,” and he gave her confidence “that what I was doing, no matter what the rest of the world thought, was right. Right for me, right for my family and right for my country. And I will never forget that.”
Applying the Obama-Wright standard perhaps Clinton’s Jewish supporters and lobbyists should not forget Graham’s anti-Semitism and critically re-examine, question and repeatedly test Clinton’s views regarding the Jewish people.
After analyzing this Reverend Wright spectacle in light of Obama’s entire campaign, the real kryptonite to Obama’s presidential aspirations was never Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, “elitism” or questions of his political inexperience. It has been, is, and always will be race. A “Reverend Wright-esque Spectacle” concerning race and/or religion [Obama’s Arabic/Muslim name], if not now, then surely later would have erupted during the Presidential campaign. No matter what Obama does, says, doesn’t say, or doesn’t do, the racial parameters set by Whiteness have determined and will continue to determine his viability and success as a leader and a candidate.
When Obama refused to passionately and angrily distance himself from Wright, CNN commentators labeled him soft, passive, and unassertive. During the Pennsylvania primaries, when Obama took the offensive and ignited the critical, and many say “negative,” campaigning against Clinton, he was accused of losing his “Cool Hand Luke” aura and Zen calm and was instead “lashing out” under the strain of critical inquiry after failing to deliver the decisive “knockout blow” during the crucial final stretch. When Obama talked about “transcendence” and “moving forward” as a means of bridging the racial divide, his authentic Blackness came under review by doubting spectators because he sounded too conciliatory. However, as of this week, due to Wright’s most recent comments, Obama was urged to abandon reconciliation, and instead “passionately denounce” his former Pastor as to not appear both too soft or too radical.
Like Bagger Vance, the mystical and magical African American caddie played by Will Smith who inspires Matt Damon’s golf game, Obama is tolerable as long as he infuses the Democratic Party and the debased, scatological, two party election system with a superficial veneer of hope, optimism, vibrancy and youthful funk. After giving the elections his “funk” injection, he is expected, like Bagger Vance, to jig away into the sunset never to be heard from again as the White golfers resume their game. For those voters and pundits unable to look beyond their Whiteness, Obama’s greatest mistake was to actually pick up a club and start playing.
In playing this political game, Obama says he wants to stay clean and fair and not hit below the belt, even though many rightly label such rhetoric as hypocritical especially after observing some of his anti-Clinton television advertisements. However, Obama promised to no longer “throw elbows” and to instead elevate his game: “I told this to my team, that we are starting to sound like other folks. We’re starting to run the same negative stuff and it shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics.”
If indeed Obama follows this strategy, his advisors should quickly remind him that the winning Presidential Gladiators of the American Political Arena are those who play in the sewers, shamelessly and recklessly slinging mud with a focused, single minded objective of out-smearing their opponents as to emerge the “cleaner” one amongst the “darkened” candidates. Nothing smears more permanently in the psyche of American voters than “Blackness.”
Aside from this Reverend Wright spectacle, one need only remember “Willie Horton,” the vile 1988 Bush vs. Dukakis benchmark of smear campaigning, and President George W. Bush’s camp cold calling voters during the 2000 Republican primaries and suggesting McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually his “illegitimate black child.” It should surprise no student of American history and politics that in each three cases the candidate willing to stoop to the lowest common denominator in blatantly manipulating racial hysteria as an offensive weapon – George Bush Sr., Geroge Bush Jr., and now Hillary Clinton – gained significantly in the polls and eventually won their respective contests.
Following the cue given to him by the media and a polling populace born to think, reflect and vote in reaction to fear and panic, Obama caved and expressed “outrage” at Reverend Wright’s remarks and essentially severed his twenty year relationship with his former pastor. This is the same pastor, mind you, who officiated Obama’s marriage, baptized his children, inspired Obama’s spiritual Christian rebirth and provided the title for Obama’s best selling memoir The Audacity of Hope, and most likely in some way encouraged Obama’s vision of remedying the egregious inequities still present in modern day America. One of the tragedies of this situation is that Obama, the “dark” knight, had to choose between severing his twenty year friendship with a man he just last week considered a “family member” or keep his hopes for a presidential candidacy alive. As he severed the tie with Reverend Wright, who undoubtedly became political poison due to his ill-advised and self-serving speeches, Obama also eschewed any “real” dialogue about confronting America’s long festering racial and economic inequalities, which cannot easily be remedied with placating sound bites and digestible, comfort food polemics.
In this regards, Obama emerges a conflicted candidate, a man who desperately yearns to move “beyond race” but whose “transcendence” is anchored in stasis by his Blackness; a man who knows first hand the devastating and stymieing effects of a racist, imperialistic system of Whiteness, but must stay quiet as to appease and not terrify middle class Whites; a man expected to be both calm and peaceful, and is celebrated as such, yet admonished for a perceived passivity and lack of fiery aggression, whose rare emergence leads to denunciations of him being “angry,” “divisive,” and “uppity.”
I agree with many who state Reverend Wright’s appearances were politically foolish, selfish and detrimental to Obama’s campaign, and did next to nothing to quell White apprehension about Wright’s controversial sound bites. However, the “spectacle” of “Wright-gate” speaks volumes about a divided nation still unwilling to objectively confront the fundamental divides on race and class that plague every segment and institution of our society. Tragically, it illuminates the unrealistic character traits and the unfair double standards that mainstream Whiteness not only expects but demands from its “darker” citizens, especially those running for President. Finally, it reveals to all, for better or worse, that Obama is not the magical Bagger Vance; he is not the “Second Coming”; he does not walk on water, nor is he the infallible hero.
He is not Superman.
He is a politician.
And The Dark Knight rises.
WAJAHAT ALI is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” (www.domesticcrusaders.com) is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org