Writings of the general word's body

Monday, February 11, 2008

On Obamamania

Disrespecting Maya Angelou

This must be the most riveting presidential race ever, and one in which I am not eligible to vote. Yet I can’t take my eyes off it. I stayed up through the night (UK time) for the Iowa results. Hillary Clinton was so demoralised on learning she had lost to Barack Obama, she looked, and sounded, deflated. She rambled on and on, to the extent that the Sky News commentator hit a sympathetic note when he explained with something like: “Senator Clinton is tired”. I sat up through the night again when a rejuvenated Clinton took New Hampshire.

The night of the Iowa primaries, I finally saw what they’ve been saying about Barack Obama. God, the rhetoric. Not many could compete with that. Obama gave one of the best speeches I’ve heard in years that night. And Lord knows I’m a sucker for words beautifully strung together and delivered with the rhythm to awaken the tone deaf. One can see why people are getting carried upon this wave of “hope”. The other day I watched with a couple of young people the YouTube video of Obama Girl; and we spent the rest of the day involuntarily bursting into song: “I got a crush on Obama”. By the end of the day, one of those young people, who had adamantly wanted Hillary Clinton to win, had a change of mind, and said: “Now I want Obama to win.”

How’s that for an election winner? A silly though catchy video by a pretty girl, and minds are changed. This is the presidential candidate as a rock star. It’s cool to be on Obama’s train. He’s packing stadiums, and more than ever, the young want to vote, and vote Obama. And what of the celebrities? The list is as long as a California freeway: Toni Morrison (who calls Obama the man for this time); Kerry Washington; Stevie Wonder; Robert De Niro (the great actor whose preference in wives and girlfriends, is black).... and on and on and on.

Today I saw another video, a ‘We are the world’ type one by Will.i.am featuring an endless cast of cool celebrities including Scarlett Johannson, John Legend, Common... and on and on and on. All saying “Yes We Can” vote Obama.

What will have worried Clinton the most, are the cruise missile endorsements that Obama has garnered to himself. Oprah Winfrey may single handedly produce the next President, with her campaigning for Barack. “I’m not voting for Barack because he’s black; I’m voting for Barack because he’s brilliant!” the goddess of the talk show said to a roaring crowd. With Iowa in the bag (“Aint no black people in Iowa,” Michelle Obama reportedly said, taking on the fact that the Iowa voters were overwhelmingly white – to the annoyance of the admittedly small numbers of blacks in the state), the dream endorsement came – from the Kennedys. Caroline (the sole survivor of Camelot) described Obama as “A man like my father”, thereby invoking the spirit of JFK. Joining her onstage was the family patriarch, Edward aka Ted, the last of the Kennedy brothers. Watching the old warhorse fired up as he spoke was quite something. Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “mesmerised”, even Republicans “swooned”. And who could blame them? Ted Kennedy spoke in such a way that, if he were running, it would have been enough to win. Ted’s son, Patrick, completed the triple whammy of golden endorsements on the day, ahead of voting in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts. Ouch! The Clinton campaign must have been reeling. Then Obama compounded it by snubbing Hillary in Congress.

Then there was California, the world’s fifth largest economy and the biggest election prize of them all. California is headed by the Republican Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife Maria Shriver, is JFK's niece. Jackie Kennedy Onassis never cared for Schwarzenegger’s right wing views, and for years I’ve wondered how a daughter of the Kennedys could betray every value of her background to be by his side. I wonder no more, for Barack Obama’s candidacy finally settled the matter and allowed Maria Shriver to show that, where it matters, she is a true Kennedy. In a stunning stance that pitted her directly against her husband (who endorsed Republican front-runner McCain) – Shriver came out for Obama. California’s first lady was rehabilitated in my eyes, though I didn’t agree with her choice of candidate. One UK newspaper played on the famous line from the Terminator movies with the headline: I’ll be backing someone else.

Caroline, Oprah and Maria (let’s not forget the glamorous Michelle Obama) romped away at a euphoric rally in California. The goal: Stop Hillary. As we now know, it didn’t happen. In Massachusetts and California, Hillary Clinton pulled off stunning victories. A Clinton aide was able to say on camera about Kennedy’s backyard Massachusetts, “We took on Ted Kennedy; we beat Ted Kennedy.” The lesson? Endorsements can only go so far.

In the end, the Kennedy with the right instincts turned out to be RFK’s son, Robert Jr (whose mother Ethel endorsed Obama). Robert Kennedy Jr is not nearly as well known as Caroline or Ted, but seeing his adverts for the Clinton campaign - his weathered presence, his trembling voice, his earnest eyes – one got a sense of his integrity. Robert Kennedy Jr could not be accused of jumping on a bandwagon, but the other Kennedys almost certainly did.

Ted Kennedy may have been given a slap in the face by Massachusetts and California, but he is not giving up easily, and was busy campaigning for Obama last weekend, when the Illinois senator swept through 4 states, putting Hillary Clinton in serious trouble.

Another Obama backer, the actor George Clooney had the good sense to know that going on the campaign trail for Obama had the potential to hurt his preferred candidate. One could add to that the potential that endorsers could end up hurting themselves even, as Ted Kennedy (and Obama’s other Massachusetts endorser, John Kerry) found out. Oprah would be the last person to admit it, but she may have been hurt too. She has come under a stinging attack from a certain Reverend Manning (a black church leader) for her endorsement of Obama.

Points to ponder for another touted Obama would-be endorser, Al Gore, who is reportedly wrestling with himself on the quiet: Do I go public or not? Nothing for a Nobel Peace Prize winner to gain from partisan endorsement, much to lose if he does.

Back to Oprah Winfrey, who comes on the political trail for the first time ever, endorsing and campaigning for Barack – and it’s not because he’s black. What cannot be doubted is the impact her words have had. I’ve spoken to white individuals who told me they support Obama because “Oprah likes him.” Many swoon as they repeat her “brilliant” statement. It is pretty much settled. No questioning entertained.

The great race – ‘race’ being the operative word here – is really the great unadmitted factor of this presidential – there’s that word again – race. Journalists have been asking black voters especially: did you vote for Obama because he’s black? A tempting question but ultimately a stupid one. How many people who vote along race lines are going to admit to the fact? Overwhelmingly, and unsurprisingly, nearly 100% of black voters say: NO. As Oprah would say too. She voted because he’s “brilliant”. Care to be more specific, Ms Winfrey?

I have more respect for the stated views of Spike Lee who supports Obama and heralds a sea-change in the African-American vote because of “unfinished business”. Kudos even to the unnamed black woman who in a no-bullshit interview told Bill Maher, “Honestly, I’m voting for the black guy, ‘cause he’s black.” Respect too, to Whoopi Goldberg who voted on an issue close to her heart: the ending of tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas. Whoopi was going to vote for Obama because he made the pledge on the campaign trail. “Well, come to find out,” she explains, Hillary Clinton said it first, way back in May 2007. Whoopi Goldberg voted for Hillary Clinton. The clip of Whoopi explaining her change of mind was one of YouTube’s hits of last week.

No one as far as I’m aware has abused Whoopi for her reasoned choice, for not voting along racial lines. Probably because Whoopi would abuse them back and tell them where to stick it.

Others have not fared so well. On Bossip, a black-oriented gossip website where words like “ho” are regularly thrown around, and where the Senegalese Hip-Hop star Akon has been mocked for being ‘too dark-skinned’ (imagine the self-hatred, on a ‘black’ site) – one post about him in a night club asked how the ladies could see him in the dark... and where news like Heath Ledger’s death are broken with the insensitive header: 'In White Folks’ News'... black public figures who support Hillary Clinton are ridiculed and insulted daily, as “hos” or “sellouts”.

Jesse Jackson pointed out that John Edwards (now out of the presidential race) who set up his campaign HQ in Katrina-hit New Orleans was the only candidate to address issues of poverty; that all candidates had ignored “the plight of African-Americans” (Some 2.2m US citizens are in jail; one million of them are African-American). Jackson noted that no candidate joined thousands of African-Americans to march for the Jena 6. Bossip said Jackson was part of an out of date, out of touch civil rights era. They are 'subservient Massa worshippers'. In short, rights don’t matter, just vote Obama. The Illinois senator, who never speaks directly to black issues, judged the mood right.

Andrew Young is similarly dismissed as a “ho”, part of an “over the hill” gang, for being on Hillary’s side. They are “Clinton clit riders”; they are “old-time chittlin’ civil rights negroes.” As is BET founder Robert Johnson who is also a “sellout” – as is Magic Johnson. For the rapper 50 Cent, “ho” will do (though, given the times he’s sung about “hos”, one can hardly feel sorry for him). Hillary Clinton supporters, all.

In the underground media of Black America, you’re worse than scum if you don’t vote along racial lines. Every black person must fall behind the great black hope (never mind that Obama is in strict terms half white, which – let’s face it – accounts in part for his massive crossover appeal at the polling booth; not for no reason did the Obama campaign release photos of him with his Caucasian mother Ann Dunham ahead of Super Tuesday).

The message according to Bossip, which boasts 4 million unique hits daily. Now let’s compare with Perez Hilton, the most successful gossip website on the net. Its patron saint is that most vacuous of empty heads, Paris Hilton. Perez gets 10 million and more hits on days when Britney freaks out; he uses irreverent doodles on images to ‘out’ whoever’s in the closet sexually, whoever’s a cokehead, poo-poos Jessica Alba for being a self-hating Latina... But Perez Hilton can be surprisingly level-headed when it matters. Perez Hilton endorsed Mrs Clinton but that’s not what’s important here; what is important is how he did it, the respectful-of-all-views sobriety of it.

Quoting Perez Hilton
“Not that our opinion matters (any more than yours). Nor do we expect that we will influence your vote in any way, but… Today is Super Tuesday and we feel it is our duty to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton... Hillary wasn't our fist choice. We were initially swayed by the promise of change and the inspiring messages of Barack Obama. But that's not enough! After careful consideration and much research, we have come to the informed decision that Hillary is the right candidate for us. We feel more confident with Hillary's abilities to lead and her proven track record of experience. But, more so than that, HER plans for universal healthcare, education reform and emphasis on equality for all are more aligned with what we want in the next President. Whether you agree with us or not, please go out and vote today.”

Any chance of such on Bossip? Sadly, no. With the role super-delegates may end up playing if the race remains tied, the site has published images, names and telephone numbers of black super-delegate supporters of Hillary who may end up, in Bossip’s words, costing Barack Obama the White House. These “negroes” are “plantation-minded officials” who are voting for Clinton for their own gain (is it not possible then to countenance that Obama endorsers may be seeking after their own gains and interests too? Or in the case of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry & Co, people with scores to settle with the Clintons?). Readers are urged to bombard the super-delegates’ phone lines and let them know they will be voted out of power if they don’t support Obama now.

Intimidation is one word for it. Witch-hunt is another.

Toni Morrison once labelled Bill Clinton "America’s first Black President”. Michelle Obama predicted last year that “Black America will wake up” from their love of the Clintons. Faced with a real black candidate, they have. Toni Morrison endorsed Obama in words which quite frankly cannot be faulted. Neither can one fault the words of Maya Angelou who went the other way and endorsed Hillary as “My Girl” in radio adverts.

But Bossip does not allow that black super-delegates, public figures or voters – any black for that matter, should have their own minds. The site faulted Maya Angelou in a post titled, “Ho Sit Down”.

Kerry Washington (a new break-through African-American actress who’s already a dab hand at unabashed straight and gay sex scenes) – often derided by Bossip as part of the “something new” club (for dating white men) is suddenly the site’s darling for her support of Obama. As is Usher, and Ne-Yo (whose metrosexuality is a cause of consternation for sites like Bossip). But Maya Angelou, a woman beyond legend, a potent symbol of the African-American experience, is insulted in the basest language. The sacrilege made the often apathetical and flagrantly unserious readers wake up, and there was an outcry (on the comment boards at least). But Bossip is going strong. After Barack Obama’s recent victories, the site gleefully announced that he’s “making it rain on these hoes.”

This is the underside of Obamamania.

As California and Massachusetts show, you can invoke the Kennedy magic to no avail. That said, the Kennedy thing has caught on, and Obama is now frequently compared to JFK, rightly or wrongly. Someone has suggested that this is a movement he’s leading, rather than a political campaign. And as in the nature of movements, he seems unstoppable.

But it ain’t over till it's over, and I’m sticking with Hillary who could "have stayed home and baked cookies" but didn’t. In the words of one pundit, she’s “an absolutely solid candidate who aint gonna go crazy on ya.” Some hate her "pant suits" (that's 'trouser suit' if like me you're not American); Anna Wintour criticised her for not wanting to be seen as too feminine; while others hate her for just that - being too feminine - and staying with Bill through thick and thin. Can she ever get it right? If she got it right, would they care? Probably the most maligned woman of these times. Some even say she’s the devil. I say: better the devil you know. I’ve known Hillary long enough,frankly, to know. This blogger is not for turning.

Which doesn’t much matter, since I am not a voter in the amazing elections that have already thrown up the phrases: Bi-Candidate & Suicide-Voters. On to Amber Lee Ettinger, Obama Girl herself, who in fact did not vote! Says something about Obamamania, if you ask me (although it could be argued that Obama Girl with her video did get thousands more to vote for the man to whom she sang: “Baby, you’re the best candidate”).

I return to Oprah, who apparently has been told (presumably by white women) that she’s being a traitor to her gender by siding with Obama (the women thereby making gender a greater determinant than race; who knew?). She said:
"Every part of me believes in the empowerment of women. But the truth is I'm a free woman. Being free means you get to think for yourself and you get to decide for yourself what to do."

Uncomfortable as I am with the role of the great O in this campaign, I actually welcomed her statement above.
Because the converse is also true. I am free as a black person to support Hillary Clinton if I want.


Loomnie said...

Your analysis, and support for Mrs Clinton, would have been more convincing and credible if you had mentioned a few non-undersides of Obamamania, and a few undersides of the Clinton campaign. Of course, it is not like you need to justify your support for her; like you said, you are free as a black [female] person to support Hillary Clinton.

Waffarian said...

Wow! You are seriously following the campaign! Well, I have not been...at all. I catch a few news bits here and there...but thats about it.

Anyway, I have thought about the way I voted here,(somewhere in Europe) and I have to confess nearly all my friends were "shocked" by the party I voted for. That's because I voted for an issue that I thought was very important-Education. The party I voted for was a small one,(really insignificant) but they had the best plans and reforms for the education sector. Most of the people I know were staunch "lefts or rights", by birth ofcourse, and the biggest issue for them was "tax" and "immigrants".

To cut the long story short, I guess I would vote for the candidate that had the best suggestions for issues that I think are relevant.

Ofcourse the party I voted for did not win but I voted for what I believed in.(Thus branding me as a "hippie" for the rest of my life in the eyes of my friends)

Wordsbody said...

You sound like my kind of voter, Waffarian.

sokari said...

Good analysis on Obamamania. What disturbs me is the "pop star" status and the "ga ga" over Obama borders on the childish adoration of American super heroes, Superman, Spiderman etc; the failure of the mainstream US media to seriously analyse what exactly this man stands for; his white washing of race in America and the polarising of the Black American community into those who support him and those in dont which is highly divisive in an historical context.

Jngunjiri said...

That was quite an aroundabout manner of endorsing Hillary. At first, I would have sworn that you were rooting for Obama, who has roots in Kenya. But then again, such is the power of words, and you are.. Wordsbody.
The campaigns in the US might be electrifying but to Kenyans, they are a sad reminder to our own elections. They were equally tight but we were left with a bitter taste in the mouth, not to mention the people who were killed in the ensuing violence.
Many Kenyans are following the US campaigns keenly, for obvious reasons.
Keep up the good work Wordsbody

Amias said...

Interesting article, but I disagree. I think Obama would make a wonderful president --- it's time for a change, and I think he can handle it.

Wordsbody said...


I wonder which you disagree with exactly:

1. That Obama "would make a wonderful president" (of which I have said nothing directly opposing).

2. That I choose Hillary Clinton (who I'm sticking with, even after the Potomacs).

To each their own.

May the best person win.



Amias said...

MW, no disrespect intended. I would not have bothered to comment had I not had respect for how you presented your point and counter point.

I took the time to read this article twice, and even though it was very long and creatively written, I came away from it --- with the thought that you might not see Obama as a good president, for whatever reason --- it's all good. You just about give everyone credit for helping him rise to the top -- and that is good, but Obama himself seems to be a very intelligent man, able to inspire others to his concepts, which is better than anything else they have out here.

To be honest, I am tired of rich white folks (male/female) running this country, because no matter what they promise they will never keep their word. I am living proof of this, and I am old. Dark-skinned folks, as I have observed and lived, here in America, will always be treated like second class citizens. No matter what we contribute to make this country better or how much taxes we pay -- we are still treated like sub-human; like animals.

More than anything I am looking for change, and I think a dark-skinned man might be the one to bring it about. Obama is pulling the masses together, and we come in all skin color --- the majority of us are very poor, other fair better -- but I believe, got to believe, based on what is happening in America now -- that if things don't change we will be the author of our own destruction as a free world. Right now we are living under the tyranny of a dictatorship.

Here is what I see … the comparison is clear and so is my choice:

--- there's an old rich white man, who like to go to war and is making millions of killing dark-skinned folks for their oil, running for president who help put America in the mess it is in, and from his actions in the Senate, he doesn’t do anything to help the poor and needy of this country.

--- there is an old rich white woman, who voted for the war to kill dark-skinned folks for their oil, running for president that helped put America in the mess it is in. She is of the old school, there will be no change --- we loved her husband, but he didn’t stop the jobs from going overseas and they have made millions in out-sources American jobs and of oil from the Middle East.

--- there is a young intelligent "dark-skinned" man, with innovative ideas, energy and the drive to do the job that must be done --- unite our country and bring peace to our own land, and he’s running for president on the wings of much needed CHANGE --- not for one, but for all the CITIZENS in these United States of America regardless of color or class, or how they got here.

Your youth and wisdom is something I admire and maybe when the time come, someone like you will be the first female president --- but we old colored folks, working and living in misery are tired of the “white house” and the slave/master mentality of these United States, which is our home! We desperately need a little color.


Wordsbody said...

Dear Amias

Thank you so much for taking the time to set out your views on this. I respect that.

It's good that the points and counter-points are there for other readers of this post to peruse for themselves. Always a good thing.



Anonymous Star said...

"Clinton clit riders"

After all the fine words on the Obama podium, the above seems to represent the words by which the presidency may be won.

How sad.

Change said...

Give in to hope