Friday, February 29, 2008

I hereby repudiate and reject Tim Russert

In a time-honored ritual in American politics, African-American politicians and others the predominately white establishment press anoints as "civil rights leaders" or "spokesmen for black America" are regularly called on to "repudiate" the anti-Semitic or racist remarks of such fringe lunatics as "Minister" Louis Farrakhan or some other lesser known black preacher. In 1984, Walter Mondale was asked to repudiate the anti-Semitic remarks earlier that year of Jesse Jackson, who got caught telling a reporter that he had little chance to win "Hymie-town," or what Rand McNally calls "New York City." In 1988, Jesse Jackson was asked whether he would accept the support of the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose embrace of Tawana Brawley's fabricated story about her abduction and rape by New York City police officers diminished his less than legitimate status in the political mainstream. In 1992, Bill Clinton, as I've pointed out before, fended off questions about Farrakhan, Jackson and/or Sharpton by going on the offensive against them.

So, do you notice a pattern here? Each presidential election cycle brings with it the usual calls for "mainstream black political leaders" and the party's usual white standard bearer to "repudiate" the remarks of people who have no influence in the political process. 2008 is no different. Earlier this week, Tim Russert, the mysteriously influential host of NBC's "Meet the Press," demanded in the Democrats' nationally televised debate that Barack Obama "repudiate" the "endorsement" he received from Louis Farrakhan. Trouble was that Obama did not seek out Farrakhan's endorsement nor pay this long-standing crank any mind. No matter. Russert, in his textbook pseudo-dramatic, I-am-the-center-of-the-universe pose, wanted Obama on record as turning down this incredibly inconsequential and clown-like figure's "non-support."

A clearly perplexed Obama complied, saying, more or less, "I repudiate and denounce Farrakhan. Can we move on?" The ever-watchful schoolmarm, Hillary Clinton, looked on with great concern, indifferent to her own campaign's effort to discredit Obama by claiming his "main foreign policy advisor," Zbigniew Brzezinski, -- who is not even "a" foreign policy advisor to Obama -- has it out for Israel and, by extension, American Jews.

I think Obama handled this question with much more grace than I would have. I would have turned the tables on Russert and asked him this:

"Tim, you have appeared on the Don Imus program on several occasions, always referring to him as your "friend" and remarking how nice it was to be there. Rush Limbaugh, another gem, is also among your "friends." Both have dark histories of racist statements, archaic and often repulsive comments about women, the physically disabled, gays and others who fall outside the orbit of well-to-do and well-fed white men. Why do you continue to appear on their radio and television programs despite their obnoxious behavior?"

Perhaps Russert will answer this question sometime soon. When he does, I bet he retreats to the standard Washington-insider explanation. "In this town," he'll say, "you have to learn to agree to disagree. Simply because we may disagree on the issues doesn't mean you have to reject another person's friendship."

Different points on view on whether we should pull price supports from tobacco farmers or fund something other than abstinence-only sex education programs is disagreeing on the issues. Yukking it up with broadcast personalities and politicians like Joe Lieberman and John McCain, who count some of the world's most peculiar white religious leaders among their supporters is a different situation altogether.

McCain, in particular, has some real explaining to do. He just accepted the endorsement of John Hagee, a preacher at a Texas "mega-congregation" who has uttered some truly wacky statements about Muslims and Catholics -- he has no use for either -- that easily puts him in the same stratosphere as Louis Farrakhan. In fact, McCain called him "his friend. Questioned about Hagee's delusional world views, McCain responded that, "all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee's support."

Tim, oh, Tim . . . can you please find Senator McCain and demand that he "repudiate," "reject," or "stomp out with his heel" the good reverend Hagee's "endorsement?" Better yet, can we put you in front of a national audience and ask you to "repudiate" Imus, Limbaugh and every other right-wing stooge you've indulged over the years?

Or is that just the way things work "in this town?"

No comments: