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Friday, March 21, 2008

A Commentary on Tavis Smiley’s Position on Obama

In his interview with Skip Gates and in response to the question "Is America ready for a black president?" Tavis said: "I think America is ready for a black president. I just don't know if Obama will be the right black president." He then goes on to say: "I am a follower of Dr. King and Obama is no King." I thought this leading media voice in Black America had some substance. How many votes for the presidency would King have gotten? As great as he was and as pivotal as he was, King could not have run for president of the United States, then or NOW.

Tavis seems to not know the difference between a social movement to challenge to system and the role of someone who will be THE key player in the system. Presidents matter.It is Tavis' position that Obama gave his speech on race too late. It is his position that Obama should have addressed race at the beginning. What world does he live in? If Obama had run on a civil rights agenda, his candidacy would have been dead even BEFORE Iowa.

Is it possible that his summits have gone to his head? Maybe he thinks his covenant should be Obama's platform. As I recall, he was going to make all presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican, make a commitment to adopt the Covenant. The last time I checked not a single candidate has made such a commitment, including his star, Hillary Clinton. For his debate at Morgan, the Republicans who mattered did not even show up.

As one who was Jackson delegate in 1984, it was clear that Jackson's campaign, as brilliant as it was, its aim to get us into the dialog. Even with a hopeful Rainbow Coalition, we had no illusions about him getting the nomination and that was before "Hymie Town." The same can be said for the 1988 campaign which I worked the streets in Atlanta for. Maybe Tavis thinks Sharpton's candidacy was the right black man for the job. Symbolically, Al's campaign served a purpose. Can anyone imagine white America electing Al to have Air Force One at his disposal? This NAACP mentality of civil rights first is not viable in white nationalist America.

It is interesting that black intellectuals debate the legitimacy of Obama's bid. Thank goodness the black community has a clear picture of what his candidacy means. 85% in South Carolina. 90% in Mississippi. The black community, maybe not black intellectuals, is clear about the importance of Obama being president. Unless something drastic happens Obama is going to win the nomination.

It is my prediction that he will clean McCain's clock. Can you imagine the brilliance of Barack in a debate with a bumbling fumbling McCain? John McCain is in every way an extension of George Bush, including his level of intellect. McCain is running as the war candidate in a U.S. that knows Iraq is the biggest debacle since Vietnam in a nation that is 65% opposed to the war in Iraq.

Barack's speech was a speech that only Barack could have given. Nobody black or white could have given that speech and it was the right speech at the right time.My grandmother used to say to things to me about education and she said this to me as a kid in her home in Jim Crow Arkansas: 1) Bobby, get an education because knowledge is something they cannot take away from you; 2) but then, she would also remind me that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I am wondering if Tavis does not fall into that admonition?

Tavis was upset about Obama not doing the catharsis (summit). Tavis being upset was about Tavis, not Obama, or the black community.

Robert Newby, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

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