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Barack Obama’s Philadelphia Speech on Race in America


(This text copied from The Drudge Report.)

OBAMA SPEECH IN FULL: A MORE PERFECT UNION
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008/ 10:17:53 ET
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

END

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Keith Olbermann: The New Isaac Jaffee

Much has already been said around the blogosphere of the striking similarity between the rise of Senator Barack Obama and the rise of fictional Senator Matthew Santos of “The West Wing.” Jamal Simmons of the Politico has done so most eloquently. Or if you prefer, watch the embedded Slate V piece do the same thing with more background info. (The common denominator? David Axelrod.)

So today I continue the theme.

Watching Keith Olbermann of “Countdown” passionately plead with Senator Clinton to change the tone of her campaign, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between his MSNBC editorial and that of fictional sports managing editor Isaac Jaffee of the critically-acclaimed TV series Sports Night. In an episode entitled “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee,” Jaffee’s character (played by the inimitable Robert Guillaume) pleads via on-air editorial with his own network’s owner to stop flying the Confederate flag during games.

In both speeches are recurring themes of appearances, of appeals to decency and integrity, and to being proactive about curbing the purveyors of racism, with the alternative being silence that is tantamount to assent.

Want some more delicious irony?

Olbermann became famous in the late nineties by teaming of with co-anchor Dan Patrick on ESPN’s flagship broadcast, “SportsCenter.” They even co-wrote a book together about their experiences called The Big Show.

It was this ESPN broadcast that so entertained and impressed Aaron Sorkin during his days writing his first feature film, “The American President” that he later decided to write a fictionalized version of it — thus, “Sports Night.”

Olbermann inspires Sorkin. Sorkin inspires Olbermann.

It’s the circle of life, I tell ya.

Anyway, enjoy the videos. If you want to get right to the “Sports Night” editorial, FFWD to the 5:27 mark.

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An Open Letter to Barack Obama

An Open Letter to Barack Obama,

Thanks for writing your recent tome, The Audacity of Hope. I must confess, I haven’t read it yet — or even purchased it, for that matter. But I came perilously close to doing both during my layover at Chicago’s Midway airport during the return leg of my Thanksgiving trip visiting in-laws. I say ‘perilously’ because I’ve been shopping recently and I’m pretty sure my budget would vehemently protest at the idea of a $25 hardcover impulse purchase. (For that matter, so would my wife.)

Nevertheless, I found myself inextricably drawn to your book as I wandered the airport.

My skeptical side wants to chalk that up to having just spent an afternoon perusing the wealth of monuments and memorials at the National Mall in Washington D.C., which are so grand and majestic that even the most apathetic, politically uninterested among us can, if only fleetingly, muster up an ounce or two of civic pride and responsibility.

But I don’t think that’s it. Monuments alone do not an epiphany make. And as much as I love to revisit my beloved DVD collections of “The West Wing,” they usually don’t inspire me to do much other than tune in to watch Aaron Sorkin’s newest melodrama, “Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip.” (D.L. Hughley? I’m down.)

No, something deeper stirred inside me. As best I can tell, it was a form of longing. For what, I’m not exactly sure… but I know I’ve felt it before.

I felt it six years ago, during a Sankofa journey with an intrepid group of classmates at North Park University, where we were exposed to the plight of poor Black folks under the thumb of racist Southern county legal systems. Talk about scary… I saw stuff that I thought stopped happening around the time “Gunsmoke” went off the air.

I felt the longing again when a professor challenged me to tack on several more years to my academic sentence by enrolling at Harvard law school to become a civil rights attorney. It was a ludicrous idea on several levels, but even though I had no desire to enter grad school — and deliberately avoided the pursuit of a pre-law degree on the grounds of it being too much work — a small part of me leapt at the idea of trying to do something to right all the wrongs around me. The rest of me avoided it like the plague, but still… I’m sayin’ I felt it.

I felt it again after hearing and reading about Jim Wallis, his bestselling book God’s Politics, his organization Sojourners/Call to Renewal, and the resurgence (if one can call it that) of the religious left.

And I felt it again today, thumbing through the prologue of The Audacity of Hope. It’s a nagging feeling, really. The inevitable sense of unrest that accompanies the habitual repression of deep desire. In this case, it’s the desire for our broader American culture to be healed of it’s racial and political divide.

Señor Senator, you convinced me with those first few pages that you have what it takes to help facilitate that healing process on a national scale. And despite grumblings aplenty that stick-in-the-mud pundits (read: realists) have been offering about your lack of Senate experience, I think you have the potential to wage an effective presidential campaign. Not only that, but I think an Obama presidency would galvanize our country, bringing a balm of civility and discourse that is critically absent from today’s political landscape.

For these reasons (and because I’m not afraid to jump on a good bandwagon when I see one), I urge you — please, run for president. I know it’ll be a gut-wrenching, soul-searching ordeal, but you’re the right man at the right time.

And it’s not like we can’t see it coming. America is clamoring for you to run. Oprah has endorsed you, and “Meet the Press” pinned you down to a firm ‘maybe,’ so all that’s left is to make sure your wife and kids are on board and then end the charade. You were the star of the DNC in ’04, and ever since you’ve been the Teflon Don of the Senate circuit. Shoot, even Michael Richards would probably vote for you — and as we all know by now, good ol’ Kramer’s got some issues with Black people.

So do it already.

* * *

Now having said that, I realize that there are probably a myriad of political realities that are preventing you from declaring your candidacy at this time. Not being a politician myself, I don’t have a clue as to what those would be but I’m sure they’re there.

With that in mind, it might be prudent for you to pull an O.J. move.

(I can’t believe I just said that.)

No, not that kind of move. Good Lord, no.

What I mean is you could release another book or exclusive interview and call it If I Do Run, Here’s What I Might Say or Do.

So continuing on in the spirit of unsolicited advice, I’ve got some topics you might want to address once you ascend to your theoretical presidency. Bigger than a pet peeve, but smaller than a platform, each one represents a way you can put your stamp on our republic:

1. Help eradicate the n-word for good.

Okay, so you’re the rock star president — er senator, I mean — so here’s how you go about doing it. You grab some A-list Black celebrities with a modicum of street cred. Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx would work fine. (They may even be looking for another pro-Black cause now that Tookie is gone.) You get them to front the united, worldwide cause to stop Black folks from propagating what has now become a ridiculous double standard — that we can use the term ‘nigger’ and any of its variants with impunity while no one else can.

Before the Michael Richards incident I was very conflicted on this issue, primarily because I enjoy good comedy and there is a lot of humor to be mined from the true-to-life interactions between Blacks. (See Chris Rock’s “Nigga Please Cereal” sketch.)

Nevertheless, our hypocrisy has never been more apparent. As self-respecting Blacks, we have no ethical leg to stand on when we heap condemnation upon Michael Richards without casting even a sideways glance at other Black entertainers whose use of the n-word is equally demeaning. What’s worse, we give license to the Michael Richardses of the future to continue taking shots at our collective character, since our silent assent to the minstrel shows (or should I say, minstrel hoes) on “Flavor of Love” prove that we really don’t care about how we’re depicted in the media.

So lead the charge and help us Black folk change our language for good by banishing the n-word. Aaron McGruder of “The Boondocks” may be a tough sell, but even Paul Mooney changed his tune on the issue, so if nothing else… there’s hope. (Is that audacious enough?)

2. Help Americans to stop being so self-important and learn to laugh at ourselves.

This one might sound strange coming right after the last one, but it’s not unrelated. See, part of the reason why I’ve been loathe to come out publicly against the casual use of the word “nigga,” especially in a FUBU context (“For Us, By Us”), is because a lot of times, it’s funny. Really funny. We Black folks love to laugh at ourselves. And I’m convinced that if Michael Richards would have actually invested his pent-up race rage into something witty, interesting or — here’s an idea — funny, then he probably wouldn’t be as universally reviled right now. He might have offended a few people, but he’d probably still have, you know, a career.

And this is where you come in. You’re obviously a smart man, and since your satirical ode to Senator John McCain, your flair for comedic is evident. So lead by example. Make it a priority to, at least once in a while, mock the hell out of yourself and people like you.

And believe me, you don’t have to be timid about it. If you’re good and accurate about, people will laugh. They might squirm a little, but if you do it right, you’ll come out ahead. You’ll sort-of become the reverse Will Ferrell. Have you seen Talladega Nights? Over-the-top hilarious. I haven’t found any southern right-wing groups organizing protests around it, and I think it’s because Ferrell’s exaggerated Ricky Bobby character celebrates the NASCAR culture even as he rips it to shreds. And by the time it’s over, no group has been spared, and your sides hurt from laughing so hard.

This, by the way, has been one of the missing elements for “Studio 60.” Audiences would have an easier time digesting the high-brow soliloquys of the fictional sketch-show staff if the sketches were really funny. Quite a bit of the time, they’re not. If you’re gonna pull off a good satire, you can’t be too busy showing off how smart you are. It’ll come through on its own. Which brings me to the third thing…

3. Give Americans permission to be smart again.

In a media age where politics are another form of mass-media entertainment, smart is in short supply. And it’s not so much that our politicians aren’t smart, but that they’re afraid to come off as boring or elitist. As a result, the mob mentality kicks in, and in the name good publicity, our public servants run the risk of becoming outtakes from “Jackass 2.” (See Howard Dean and his primal roar.)

Self-deprecation can nice and refreshing when it shows that a leader isn’t full of him or herself — but that presupposes that the leader has some legitimate moral and intellectual substance to back up any air of superiority that needs deflating in the first place. Dubya’s jokey side is a nice complement to his steely sense of resolve and determination, but when he continues to make poor decisions it just makes him look like an idiot.

This is why you need to give brainiacs everywhere permission to be themselves. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, smart is good. When smart people are freed from having to dumb themselves down in order to be accepted, the results can be phenomenal.

Take, for example, the hit series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” You’ve probably never seen it. The title alone evokes either cheesy action/adventure schlock (see: “Xena: Warrior Princess“) or a sarcastic, overly ironic snarkfest (all the “Scream” movies). But “Buffy” ended up becoming a massive cult favorite that kept its fledgling network (the WB) on the air during its run. Why? Because its creator, Joss Whedon, took a format rife with mediocrity (the high school drama) and found innovative ways to push boundaries — including an episode almost completely devoid of spoken words. Whedon’s brilliant writing helped to catalyze a renaissance in screenwriting, as some of the industry’s best and brightest formed an exodus from film back to TV — a medium formerly associated with hacks and wannabes. And none of it would’ve happened without talented cats like Whedon conquering our greatest fear‘ and gettin’ their Marianne Williamson on.

Is it risky? Absolutely. Whedoon’s next series, the critically-acclaimed space western “Firefly,” was a flop. Being smart is obviously no guarantee of success. But it helps more than it hinders. Sooner or later, the smart guys really do come out on top. And if that’s not what America is all about, then I don’t know what is.

* * *

So there it is, man. Consider this my endorsement of Barack Obama for… uh… any other office he may choose to pursue. As for me, I’m gonna try to do my part to heal our nation’s wounds with my writing, my music, and whatever other ministry opportunities come my way. And also my vote.

So from now on, any resemblances that any of your future speeches may have with this article, we’ll agree to be totally coincidental.

(But if it’s all the same to you, my rap group The Iccsters is available for inaugural parties.)

I’m Jelani Greenidge.

Thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Loud judgments only reveal inner hypocrisy

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1 (NIV).

I need to preface this piece with the following disclaimer: I do not claim to have it together.

Like Paul the apostle wrote about himself in his letter to Philippi, I have not obtained it yet. I do not claim to be perfect; nor do I claim to have an immunity from pride or humbling mistakes.

But my twenty-nine plus years on the earth have given me a little bit of perspective. Thus, from my unique vantage point, I feel comfortable in giving a little friendly advice to those who may soon find themselves in the public eye:

If you’re gonna clown somebody for doing something bad, make sure you’re not doing the exact same thing to somebody else. It only makes you look that much worse.

Isiah Thomas: The New Al Capone

This issue vaulted to the forefront of my mind as I read a recent piece by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, also known as the Boston Sports Guy. His readers had just alerted him to a recent interview of former NBA great and current Knicks GM Isiah Thomas by Stephen A. Smith on New York City’s ESPN radio affiliate 1050 AM. In the interview, Smith asked Thomas to comment, as a high-profile Black sports executive, on the lack of Black sports editors in the media.

Isiah responded by going on a mini-tirade about the bias that sports editors often exhibit in the ways that they process information, frame quotes, etc. Included was this rather defensive bit of commentary:

“And I’ve heard you say this on your show, Stephen A., you’ll call guys out about their ability but you don’t ever get into personal attacks … because that’s when you cross the line and most athletes can understand that. But when you’ve got little guys, you know, sitting behind the desk, you know 5 feet 2 and you never get a chance to see them and they take shots at your character and what you are as a man. If somebody would say those things to you on the street, and would walk up to you and just start saying that to any person in the street … Oh, there’d be a problem. And I’m gonna tell you, if I see this guy Bill Simmons, oh it’s gonna be a problem with me and him.”

Granted, this is a far cry from Pat Robertson almost putting out a hit on the president of Venezuela. But with these set of comments, and others like it, Isiah revealed the dark side of his normally mild-mannered, well-spoken public persona. He was basically saying, hey, you sportswriters are weasels, especially that Bill Simmons, and if I see him in person, I’m gonna squash him like a roach.

Now Simmons himself admitted that he has taken a lot of shots at Isiah Thomas, but he claims (and the links to his previous articles bolster this contention) that he’s never said anything bad about Isiah that A) weren’t documented facts about his personnel decisions as Knicks GM, B) statements about his style of play, or C) isolated incidents containing information independently corroborated by plenty of other unbiased sources.

In other words, he’s never said anything about Thomas that wasn’t either factually accurate or relatively true. But for doing this, again and again,Simmons deserves to catch a beat-down?

I feel a little bad bringing this next part up, because in some ways it feels like I’m piling on. Nevertheless, it’s kind of ironic that I learned about this issue with Isiah and Bill Simmons yesterday — the same day that headlines blared the news that Thomas’ own former VP of marketing, college basketball standout Anucha Brown Sanders, had filed suit against him and the Knicks’ parent company for sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Among the many accusations leveled against Thomas was that he had turned other Knicks employees against her by berating her publicly with profanity-laced tirades. According to the New York Daily News, these become so frequent that even the Knicks’ star guard Stephon Marbury began referring to her as “a Black b****,” a term that Isiah himself had used on more than one occasion.

Now if that’s not a personal attack, I don’t know what is.

What’s more disturbing about the original incident between Isiah and Bill Simmons is that involved Stephen A. Smith, a man who is known for a brash, confrontational style (his critics call him “Screamin’ A”) and who supposedly doesn’t care who is offended by his version of the truth. Not only did he duck an opportunity to question a public official with a checkered history of decision-making, but he implied that he didn’t even know who Simmons was. This despite the fact they work for the same network (ESPN) and, according to Simmons, one of the producers of Smith’s ESPN2 talk show “Quite Frankly,” had previously contacted Simmons about flying to New York to be a guest on the show.

The next time Stephen A. Smith blasts some milquetoast sports anchor for not asking the hard questions, it’s only going to magnify his own lack of doing the same. This particular scenario may give him some legitimate cover, because hey — it’s not his job to book the guest, it’s the producers’ job. But still. Astute followers of the ESPN media conglomerate were left after this episode with jaws agape, wondering… what happened to Screamin’ A?

Quite frankly, it looks like he’s losing his edge.

Vince calls out Kobe
(In other news, the pot calls the kettle ‘black’)

If you don’t follow sports closely then you might not have heard, but on the same Sunday evening that the NFL’s two conference title games were deciding the participants of this year’s Super Bowl, LA Lakers guard Kobe Bryant set the sports world abuzz by scoring 81 points in a regular season basketball game against the Toronto Raptors.

This is a monumental achievement, eclipsing all other individual scoring accomplishments except for Wilt Chamberlain’s historic 100-point game in 1962. Naturally, everyone in the NBA world wanted to weigh in and give their take, so when reporters from the New Jersey Star Ledger asked New Jersey Nets guard Vince Carter what he thought, he told them he was worried about it sending a bad message to kids about individual vs. team play.

This from someone who averages almost as many shot attempts per game as Kobe Bryant, the man supposedly sending a bad message to kids about team play. And if Vince Carter’s current statistical output isn’t damning enough, his past is.

Toronto Raptor fans remember Vince Carter’s last year with the Raptors, when he played as a shadow of his former self. In 2000, his nickname was “Air Canada,” as he wowed fans all over the world with his athletic dunks, long-range shooting, and flashes of dominant play. But by 2004, in the middle of a long-term contract with the team, Carter was disillusioned with the team’s overall play and lack of payroll flexibility. He openly demanded to be traded on numerous occasions, and gradually forced the Raptors to trade him when it became clear that he would not play hard while suited up in Toronto.

So by repeatedly going through the motions and barely giving half an effort, he torpedoed the fortunes of the ballclub that drafted him and awarded him with a lucrative contract.

And this guy’s worried about Kobe Bryant sending a bad message to kids? Fuggedabout it. If pulling a ‘Kobe’ amounts to playing with matches, then pulling a ‘Vince’ is like hosting a backyard fireworks show with Fire Marshall Bill.


Not just sports but politics, too

You may expect this kind of thing from time to time with out-of-touch athletes, but it’s darn near become the standard with career politicians.

If you don’t believe me, see Sen. Ed Kennedy (D-Mass.), who practically got a hernia trying to block the appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Among his many protests was the idea that he felt Alito’s record showed he was “overly deferential” to the executive branch of government, the branch controlled by the President of the United States. Kennedy was trying to capitalize on the recent criticism of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping programs that many Democrats claim to be illegal. Kennedy claimed that an appointment of Alito to the Supreme Court would endanger the system of checks and balances that ensures an even distribution of power in our U.S. government.

Of course, if you read the transcript of his comments before Congress regarding the impending impeachment of then-president Clinton in 1998, curiously absent from his rhetoric is any mention of checks-and-balances. Instead, he decried partisan attacks on the president from an overzealous House Judiciary Committee.

So apparently it’s only okay to restrict the President’s authority if he doesn’t belong to your party.

Republicans have also gotten into the act, like the many who criticized U.S. Senator (and former first lady) Hillary Rodham Clinton for comparing Congress to a plantation, even though as the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page noted, then Republican Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) essentially said the same thing in 1994.

But even the new, rising stars of politics can endanger their credibility by denouncing problems abroad and overlooking those same problems at home. According to the Tribune’s John Kass, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) faces a difficult task, trying to lead the charge for a new ethical standard of conduct while downplaying the rampant corruption in his own state party. Between embattled governor Rod Blagojevich and the defiant mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley… it’s gotten to the point for Chicago Democrats that no-news-is-good-news.

But not all news out of Chicago is bad…

Oprah & Dave: Models of Contrition

No, not that Dave. I’m speaking of Dave Chapelle.

Because if you examine recent events, both Oprah Winfrey and Dave Chapelle have exhibited a striking willingness to tell the truth about themselves, even when it comes at great personal cost.

Oprah’s epiphany came more recently.

In September, she had enthusiastically endorsed a book of memoirs by James Frey entitled A Million Little Pieces. It was a melodramatic story of a drug-addicted criminal who experiences redemption through incarceration and personal discovery. Winfrey gushed about it repeatedly, claiming she and her whole staff had been absolutely riveted by the book.

It was so visceral, so gut-wrenching… and so false, according to an exposé by The Smoking Gun, a website dedicated to debunking myths. According to the TSG story, most of the details of the central characters, including himself, had been wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect. Oprah’s first inclination, once the controversy surfaced, was to defend her darling author — which she did via a phone call to “Larry King Live!” on CNN.

But once the truth was incontrovertibly evident, she again booked James Frey to appear on her show — and before a national audience, admitted that she was wrong for supporting him. Not only that, she blasted him for what she felt was a work of colossal deceit and betrayal. More important is what she didn’t do, which was try to sweep the whole thing under the rug, or take veiled shots at The Smoking Gun by claiming that they were jealous.

On a national stage, she was bold in admitting that she was wrong.

How refreshing.

Similarly refreshing has been the ascent of comic firebrand Dave Chapelle. Known for his ascerbic wit and the gleeful, profane way he skewers our country racial sensibilities, he created a hit show for himself in 2003 with Comedy Central’s “Chapelle’s Show.” Two seasons and $50 million later, he found himself in a weird position. His show’s runaway success and the ubiquitous catchphrases he unwittingly unleashed (“I’m Rick James, b****!”) became increasingly uncomfortable for him, to the point where he began to realize he had created a monster — and it was getting too big for him to control.

What he could have done was keep collecting checks, and once he ran out of original things to say, he could have just kept recycling the same themes and racial cliches that vaulted him to stardom in the first place. But, as he revealed (subscription req’d) to Time reporter Christopher John Farley, he didn’t want success to change him. And more to the point, he began to wonder if his own sketches were crossing the line, and reinforcing the same stereotypes he had previously ridiculed.

So instead, he bounced.

Just straight up disappeared, taking a hasty “spiritual retreat” to South Africa. After he bolted during production of the show’s third season, and many speculated as to the cause of his sudden change of heart. (Including this wacky “Worth 1000” Photoshop contest.)

It wasn’t until the aforementioned Time interview that he revealed his inner motivation for leaving. And this interview, to me, represented Chapelle’s finest hour.

Because once he had taken the time to view the situation from an objective standpoint, he could have tried to distance himself from everything that he felt was wrong. He could have, very easily, blamed the others who surrounded him, especially since some of those people were White, and Lord knows White people make easy targets for racism these days.

But he didn’t go that route. Instead, he took the time to undergo some personal introspection, and pointed the finger — at himself.

Again, I say — how refreshing.

What Does This All Mean?

Avoiding hypocrisy is not the same thing as avoiding judgment.

The reason why I quoted Paul’s verse from Romans and not Jesus’ more famous judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged quote was because people tend to misunderstand that verse. Judgment is not the problem. As morally conscious, responsible citizens — we must use judgment.

The problem is when we judge others without taking a hard ethical inventory of our own flaws and issues.

It doesn’t work.

The same way the parental philosophy of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do doesn’t work. The same way that women who wear suggestive clothing can’t get men to take them seriously. The same way that trying to save the environment while driving a Hummer H2 doesn’t work.

Millions of regular people envy the money and notoriety that celebrities regularly enjoy. But we have an important advantage over celebrities, in that we can make most of our mistakes without the whole world knowing about it.

So if you admire Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Dave Chapelle, then honor them by learning from their mistakes.

I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.