Walking the Obama Criticism Tightrope

June 1, 2013

Philippe Petit in midst of his high-wire crossing between the Twin Towers, New York City, August 7, 1974. (http://www.talktalk.co.uk).

Philippe Petit in midst of his high-wire crossing between the Twin Towers, New York City, August 7, 1974. (http://www.talktalk.co.uk).

These are the times in which we live. Where a critique of a phrase, speech, demeanor or policy can leave someone like me on the outs with White progressives or blindly devoted Obama supporters. Or a comment that could be used to paint me as an Uncle Tom and a Black socialist revolutionary at the same time. It’s crazy these days whenever the subject of President Barack Obama, (or Michelle Obama, or the Obama Administration) comes up.

I’ve probably done about thirty blog posts and nearly 1,000 tweets related to the politics and policies of President Obama and his administration over the past five and a half years. Most of them have been positive, or at least hopeful. I genuinely like the man, his wife and his kids, at least from afar, in part as a result of reading his books. My distaste for his centrist political decision-making, for policies that have left the nation stagnant economically, educationally, socially and geopolitically are all well documented here and on Twitter as well.

Yet it’s hard for most people I’ve encountered to separate how they feel about the man and his family and what they think about his presidency and politics. I’ve found myself having to defend my writings about Obama against a tide of rabid far-right Americans. They’re mostly White and male, and mostly making arguments that approach the ravings of psychotic serial killers. Theirs is an imagined President Obama, one who conspired with his mother for the presidency from the womb. One whose policies range from socialist and Kenyan one minute to fascist and Islamic the next. They absolutely refuse to admit they’re ape-shit over this Black guy as POTUS, his Black wife as First Lady, and his Black children living in the White House.

I’m used to the ravings of this lunatic fringe, though. They are a familiar enough sort. The academic version of these folks were the ones who insisted that I was a plagiarist because of the quality of my writing. So when I get their often idiotic ramblings and significantly misspelled, often grammatically incorrect responses, I laugh nervously, knowing that you don’t have to be literate to be dangerous.

Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope with feet in peach baskets, July 4, 1876. (George E. Curtis [1830-1910] via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope with feet in peach baskets, July 4, 1876. (George E. Curtis [1830-1910] via Wikipedia). In public domain.

But I also have to deal with two other camps on Obama, one steeped in policy criticism, the other in ecclesiastical praise and worship. Progressives, mostly White (though hardly as exclusive as the rabid right), have been on a rampage about President Obama’s use of executive privilege since day three of his presidency. To be sure, I’ve made many of the same criticisms about the use of drone strikes and the murdering of American citizens (not to mention Pakistani and Yemeni innocents) abroad, about the continued use of Gitmo to hold dozens of folk who have been proven to not be terrorists. Not to mention the Obama Administration’s ineffective use of political capital on the economy, K-12 and higher education, and even healthcare.

Still, my not-as-left-as-me comrades tend to act as if they were clairvoyant about the missteps that the Obama Administration would take and make back in ’08 and early ’09, even though they voted and actively supported his election in the first place.

Yet there’s no group more annoying than Obama’s blind supporters. They are Black and White, but both tend to be elites who think that they’re liberals but are really Clinton-esque centrists. They seem to praise President Obama’s every word, every step and every decision. When there’s a clear-cut issue on which to criticize his administration — such as the huge increase in drone strikes and the sequester agreement of ’11 — they remain as silent as church mice. It’s as if Obama’s White House is the Forbidden City and his army of supporters the eunuchs who run the place, never telling the emperor what he actually needs to hear.

So with any criticism of President Obama or even Michelle Obama comes the insinuation that how dare I beat up on the nation’s first Black president. “He’s doing all that he can, but Congress and the GOP stand in his way,” they often say. Or “leave Michelle alone,” some say, noting her active (yet completely ineffective) efforts to tackle childhood obesity as an example of her grace.

Forbidden City tour, with actors playing emperors, eunuchs and concubines, June 1, 2013. (http://www.newmantours.com).

Forbidden City tour, with actors playing emperors, eunuchs and concubines, June 1, 2013. (http://www.newmantours.com).

My last set of comments on Obama came on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, noting their “hard truths” speeches about the plight of African Americans in today’s America, calling for Black graduates of Bowie State University and Morehouse College to take up the mantle of personal responsibility. I said it was the wrong speech for the wrong audience at the wrong time. Except that their audience was really their White supporters watching on TV, not the Black students who already knew too well that mantle.

My tweets brought representatives from all sides out to praise or blast my comments. I was an Uncle Tom one minute, absolutely right the next, and then a socialist making excuses for Black pathologies a minute later. I think the next time I do a post on Obama, I’m riding a unicycle!

End of An Era

February 29, 2012

Coach John Thompson, John Thompson Show, ESPN 980 AM, Washington, DC, February 29, 2012. (http://espn980.com).

It’s Leap Year Day, so in light of having the first February 29 in four years, I want to take a different tack today. For it just so happens that today is John Thompson’s last day on the air on ESPN 980 AM in Washington, DC. The legendary former Georgetown University men’s basketball coach will air his final radio show this afternoon.

Thompson has had this show for about thirteen years, and I’ve listened off and on now for seven of them. What has made him interesting to listen to over the years has been his ability to be ornery, light-hearted, downright goofy and insightful, and all at the same time — whether I agreed with him or not. That the seventy-year-old Thompson has managed to maintain a solid audience across all demographics has been a sign of his ability to be a man with an old-school philosophy without become an old man. It’s a fine balance that Thompson maintained show after show, regardless of the outrageous calls he responded to time and again.

I’ve been a fan of Coach Thompson’s since I was in high school. Back then, he had Patrick Ewing and later Alonzo Mourning as part of his vaunted Hoya Paranoia defense. They won it all in ’84, only to be done in by Villanova’s raining of shots from all angles in the NCAA Championship Game in ’85. Despite his normally gruff demeanor, Thompson handled the loss with the graciousness and sportsmanship that was rare even then, and almost impossible to find now.

I came to like Thompson even more when he watch an analyst on TNT’s NBA games in the early ’00s. I used to call him “Sugar Bear” because of the way in which he delivered his take on players and coaches. It was through that context that I learned of The John Thompson Show, and began listening nearly seven years ago.

More than anything else, I appreciated the fact that many segments of his show had little or nothing to do with sports. Even as uncomfortable as he may have been about the topic, he discussed race, poverty, crime, relationship, the Black church, public education and higher education. I think that this diversity of ideas and topics is what I’ll miss the most. That Thompson used his show to educate his listeners — as well as educate himself — about much more than sports speaks to him as the educator he has been for most of his adult life.

I don’t know if I could’ve ever played for Thompson — between my relative lack of talent and my ears being burned from his yelling at me on every possession. But I have enjoyed listening to him and his show.


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