Shock! Obama Hugs Derrick Bell! Derrick Bell “Visits” White House! OMG!!

1991: Harvard graduate student Barack Obama hugs Harvard Professor Derrick Bell

Last night Peggy Sue wrote a great post about the late Andrew Breitbart’s supposed big revelation–that in 1991 Barack Obama appeared at a demonstration in favor of extending tenure to a female African American professor. Apparently, the most horrifying part of the story was that Obama publicly hugged Professor Derrick Bell at this event.

I’ve been noticing the development of this “story” over the past couple of days, but I’ve mostly ignored it in the hopes that it would simply go away. Sadly, the right wing bloggers, with support from Fox News personalities, are still screaming about it (here is just one example). What exactly are they trying to accomplish? Do they really want to make themselves look like complete idiots?

I honestly can’t figure out what awful crime either Obama or Bell is supposed to have committed, according to the Breitbartians, and frankly I just don’t want to submit myself to the horrors of reading their blogs. Based on a quick perusal of the some of the links on Memeorandum, I think they’ve taken to the fainting couch because more than 20 years ago, now President Obama supported racial and gender diversity at Harvard–something that Harvard desperately needed in 1991, and probably still needs today.

When these hate spasms periodically break out of the right wing blogs and into the corporate media, it’s hard for me to muster more than a heavy sigh. Like Peggy Sue, I’m obviously no great fan of Barack Obama and I didn’t vote for him in 2008. But my complaints about him aren’t that he supported racial and gender diversity at one time. When I hear about such incidents in Obama’s past, I can only wonder why he doesn’t seem to really support such issues as president. I wonder why professors like Derrick Bell and Charles Ogletree had so little positive influence on Obama that today he supports policies that remove rather than advance civil liberties in this country.

And if Breitbart was such a great muckraker, why didn’t he know that the footage of Obama speaking in favor of campus diversity and hugging Derrick Bell, far from being hidden by the Obama campaign, had been shown on PBS’ Frontline in 2008?

And what about the Heritage Foundation’s “discovery” that Derrick Bell visited the White House twice? Jake Tapper explains that little bit of stupidity:

The conservative Heritage Foundation shows some pluck by searching for the late law school professor Derrick A. Bell in the White House visitor’s logs, and finds that “Visitor logs show that Derrick A. Bell visited the White House twice since President Obama took office. The logs show two visits by an individual of that name on January 29 and 31, 2010.”

OK, so what happened? Did he have lunch with the President?

There are two problems with the Heritage post. One: it excludes some details from the visitors’ logs. There are 28 columns on the publicly released records, the Heritage blog lists seven. The data they omit includes a description of what the visit was for: in this case, for both visits: TOURS. A White House tour – not MEETING or APPOINTMENT. Another data point: TOTAL PEOPLE. This is a reference to how many people were present for the tour, meeting or appointment – in this case 304 people and 282 people.

Check out the visitors’ logs HERE.

But Bell surely could have taken a tour or two and then met with President Obama, right? Sure, it’s possible – and I asked the White House about it. The answer from a White House official: this was not the same Derrick A. Bell. He had a different birthday than the late law professor, whose birthday was November 6, 1930.

Another heavy sigh….

Eric Wemple of the WaPo decided to check with Bell’s widow to see if he’d ever met with President Obama. Here’s what she had to say:

Reached at her New York home this afternoon, Janet Bell was fully informed of the Breitbartian publicity. “I think there is no there there,” she said. “And I think that it’s pathetic and desperate on their part that they would think that this was such a bombshell. It’s typical in one sense: It’s the radical right wing making a mountain out of a molehill with distortion and misinformation.”

She watched the Breitbart editors promoting their “scoop” on Fox News’s “Hannity.” “I saw Sean Hannity — he had to twist himself up in so many pretzels to try to justify the dramatic nature of this footage.”

Yeah, but the late professor and Obama were buds, right? “They had very little contact” after Obama left Harvard Law School. “He never had contact with the president as president” — at least as far as Janet Bell can recall.

Personally, I’d think a lot more of President Obama if he had invited Professor Bell to the White House for lunch! Sorry to speak negatively of the recently departed, but Breitbart was an idiot and and his staff are just as idiotic as their former boss. All this fuss over a non-story!

The real problem is the motivation behind the hyping of this non-story. It’s beginning to look like we may be in for a long bout of out-front racism in the upcoming general election campaign–and that’s on top of the war on women that seems unlikely to end anytime soon. At the American Prospect, Paul Waldman is also fed up:

From the beginning of Breitbart’s enterprise, race-baiting was a key element of his attack on Barack Obama, one that continues even after his death. And he always had plenty of company, from Glenn Beck saying Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people,” to Rush Limbaugh’s repeated insistence to his white listeners that Obama was motivated by racial hatred in everything he did. “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations,” Limbaugh proclaimed. “The days of [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry,” he said. “And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang.” When in 2009 he found a story about a white kid getting beaten up by a black kid on a school bus, Limbaugh said, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.'” And yes, he did that last part in an exaggerated “black” accent.

The message is always the same: Obama and the blacks are mad, and they’re coming for you. Yet people like the Breitbart folks and Limbaugh have two problems. First, they’re running out of material. There aren’t any more shocking revelations to be had. The best they can do is try to make mountains of racial resentment out of the most innocuous molehills, like the fact that Obama supported Derrick Bell’s effort to diversify the faculty when he was a law student. And second, by now anyone who can be convinced that Obama is a secret Black Panther never thought otherwise. The guy has been president for three years. Americans are pretty familiar with him. He hasn’t actually started herding white people into concentration camps, and it’s an awfully tough sell to tell people that he might any day now.

It’s a tough sell to rational people, but the right wingers are eating it up. It’s not going to be pleasant–and we’ll also have to deal with either Mitt Romney’s or Rick Santorum’s war on poor people.

Heavy sigh….


21 Comments on “Shock! Obama Hugs Derrick Bell! Derrick Bell “Visits” White House! OMG!!”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    • ralphb says:

      Those Breitbart “editors” are dangeroud dummies. Now the Bigs are stalking Soledad O’Brien for taking them down on CNN. According to digby, Soledad is now Huey Newton.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Very good article on Derrick Bell at Chicago Magazine. If only he’d really been a radical, this might be a slightly better story for the right.

  3. ralphb says:

    Breitbart From The Grave

    A really great article by Sally Kohn, who was his student and later teaching assistant at NYU. Derrick Bell is pretty much a hero of the civil rights days and attempts to smear him, to get at Obama, are beyond the pale. Even leaving Obama out of it, it’s still despicable.

    This is a truly stupid bit of pure race baiting from the wing nuts and should be mocked and fought as such!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Bell was mainstream, not a radical at all. And Harvard resisted faculty diversity and still does. This whole thing is complete nonsense and insulting to anyone with a functioning brain.

  4. HT says:

    Ralph, of course they don’t have functioning brains – they idolize the Bedtime for Bonzo lead actor. Not that the man didn’t do some good after (and a heckuva lot of bad), if one wants to compare apples to apples, then who exactly did Ronnie Raygun embrace at some point in his entire life? How about the Newtster, who has he embraced? And the Saint of Torum? (I don’t really want to go there). Why hasn’t anyone investigated who Norquist has embraced? It appears that he is the puppetmaster behind the curtain – along with the Koch’s, so why is no one investigating their social and political background? They pull the strings by virtue of their money, so why have they not been vetted – or am I being too ridiculously naive?

    • ralphb says:

      Sounds perfectly logical to me. WIth the GOP base now, Raygun would be labelled as a commie or worse 🙂

    • HT says:

      Oh there is so much wrong with her statements. I always wanted to give here the benefit of the doubt, but she really is ignorant. Note I didn’t type stupid, that is quite different than ignorant. ignorant means lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, lack of education. whereas Stupid means lack of ability to learn, lack of intelligence, lack of the ability to reason.
      Now I’m confused. Is she merely ignorant, or is she stupid? Or is she just another partisan politico who sees her paycheck tied to a certain pathway to power, in which case she’s sly and venal?

    • peggysue22 says:

      What is Miss Sarah even trying to say here? President Obama wants to go back to the days of slavery??? That doesn’t even make sense. In fact, it made me laugh because it’s so utterly stupid. Or is she suggesting as the blogger or commenters imply that white people will be reduced the slavery? So, it’s a turn on reverse discrimination?

      Again, it’s a . . . huh? How would anyone draw that conclusion from Barack Obama’s rather innocuous comments about Professor Bell in that tape?

      Sarah would be better off to remain silent when she has nothing to add because this segment just makes her look and sound like an ignoramus.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Very little of what SP says makes sense to me. I don’t get her at all. She may not be all that bright.

    • ralphb says:

      I agree with a commenter who said it was just pure uncut stupid.

  5. peggysue22 says:

    Great followup, BB. I agree with Bell’s widow–there’s no there, there. That Sean Hannity tape is almost comic as he strains outrage and incredulity that Barack Obama could be so-o-o radical.

    Diversity is now radical?

    I’d be the first to admit that multiculturalism taken to the extreme can cause more problems than it cures. But we are a diverse culture, so why shouldn’t that be reflected at an Ivy League college? And we know that courts ‘can’ have bias, depending on who sits in judgment–the quality of a judge or jury. It’s not a perfect system. Admitting that isn’t radical, it’s merely being truthful and striving to do it better, to be better.

    I think this whole thing shows that for all the bellyaching, the Right Wing is standing on sand. The fact that Soledad O’Brien is being lashed for doing her job during that interview is a case in point–she shattered the entire premise that this was a definitive moment where Barack Obama was exposed as a Marxist in hiding. I listened to that speech he gave in ’91, the whole thing. There’s nothing radical about it.

    But I would say the fact that the President had no contact with Derrick Bell, this man he admired so much, is fairly typical of what I have read about the man’s character. He’s not hesitant to use people in the moment to advance himself. That is part of his record. Unfortunately, he shares that with a lot of ambitious DC politicians. I think far more damning is the record in Illinois, the involvement with the Illinois Combine, the fact that as a State senator, Barack Obama represented the slum lords over his constituency.

    That speaks to character, not radicalism. But I doubt the Republicans will bring the Combine up because there are as many Republicans [state and DC types] involved in the Pay-to-Play games as there are Democrats.

    But this? This was pure garbage.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I recall reading that Obama was sort of pushed into going to that rally and wasn’t particularly involved in the protests.

      • ralphb says:

        From buzzfeed, here’s what Keith Boykin one of the organizers and later a Clinton WH aide said…

        Barack was always supportive and sympathetic to our campaign for faculty diversity. He spoke about it at one of our rallies. But he was not actively involved in the protest movement. Nor did he need to be. As I said, his presence alone made the case. And even if he agreed with the cause of the movement, he didn’t need to be involved in the more radical protests we launched because our tactics were controversial on campus.

      • bostonboomer says:

        That’s what I remember reading. Thanks, Ralph!