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.
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.