GOP Commentator Says Dems' Obama Critisism Crosses The Line
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Now we go from assessing racial attitudes around the country and, in fact, around the world, to those on Capitol Hill and in the world of punditry. Right now that package negotiated by President Obama and congressional Republicans to extend the Bush era tax cuts and unemployment benefits is working its way through Congress. It just passed the Senate by comfortable margins. It's now headed to the House.
But this has sparked this kind of Alice in Wonderland reaction where Republicans, who've been giving the president the blues since he took office, are in support of the package and many Democrats, especially members of the black caucus and the progressive caucuses and those of like mind in the media are up in arms. They're saying, sometimes in rather personal terms that President Obama should man up. They're saying he's not playing hard enough to win on this and other issues.
Here's an example. Here's MSNBC "Countdown" host, Keith Olbermann.
(Soundbite of show, "Countdown")
Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (Host, "Countdown"): Mr. President, for these meager crumbs you have given up costly, insulting, divisive, destructive tax cuts for the rich, and you have given in to Republican blackmail, which will be followed by more Republican blackmail.
MARTIN: For at least one conservative voice is saying that's a bit much. He's Lenny McAllister. He is a Republican. He's a host on Chicago radio. He's a contributor to TheRoot.com. And he recently wrote a piece saying, is Democratic opposition to Obama also racial? He's with us from WVON in Chicago where he hosts a show called "Launching Chicago." Hello, Lenny. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. LENNY MCALLISTER (Writer, TheRoot.com): Hey, thanks, Michel. How are you?
MARTIN: Good. Good. Happy holidays.
Mr. MCALLISTER: Likewise.
MARTIN: Also with us on the line, Courtland Milloy. He's a columnist with The Washington Post, who's had some rather tough words for President Obama, of late, and he's with us also. Thank you, Courtland.
Mr. COURTLAND MILLOY (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So, let's start with, actually, you know what? Courtland, we're going to start with you because your column from a few weeks ago is titled "Obama, the Great Placater, Needs to Throw Some Elbows." And in it you asked: Does being the first black president mean you can never show yourself to be a man and fall? What do you mean by that?
Mr. MILLOY: Well, let's go back to President Obama's campaign in which he had a pretty carefully crafted image aimed at signaling to black people that he was one of the brothers, but at the same time, signaling to potential white voters that they didn't have anything to be afraid of.
Now, black people watching that dynamic says, OK, we understand, you know, he's got to play that dual game to get elected. But once he's in, you know, he's going to show that there's some substance behind the style of that cool walk he has and the way he hugs the other men with that one-hand pat on the back like brothers do. We say we're getting ready to see the real Obama - and I'm waiting.
MARTIN: Well, Lenny McAllister, let's go to you. You recently wrote this piece for The Root saying, well, I'll just read a short clip of it. You say that since the onslaught of the tea party movement in 2009, descriptions of much of the conservative opposition to Obama, of those critiques that fall short of using imagery of a boy president or witch doctor, but that rip Obama on perceived policy gaffes and international mistakes have ranged from racist to evil.
You say any arguments that Republicans make about the fundamental differences between themselves and Obama in philosophy and political approach to the economy, the military and society at large are batted away. But now, however, you say many are overlooking the disrespectful dynamic coming from the lot of ungrateful Democrats.
So, Lenny, I think obviously you are a Republican strategist, as well as a talk show host. And so, you know, we can see why you'd want to call the Democrats to account for - or the media, for that matter, for having what is, I think in your view, a double standard. But do you think that many of the Democrats have crossed the line?
Mr. MCALLISTER: Yes. Very, very clearly. I mean, and I said it in the article, you can't forget that this guy came out of nowhere, people thought, oh, it's a nice gesture that he's going to run for president. He's standing in Springfield. He'll be like that Jesse Jackson guy. He'll make some waves, he'll get an agenda, a point or two across and then he'll go away. Well, guess what? Not only did he not go away. He went to Washington and went to the White House and set up shop for four years, and possibly eight.
And there are Democrats, I mean, Joe Biden thought that was his office. He'd been a senator for 36 years. Hillary Clinton had already basically measured for drapes for the bedroom. She was the consensus pick. So, that is what has been going on.
And now you have this turnaround. Which, by the way, everybody's telling him to man up and everything else, but didn't he man up when it came to the situation with Henry Louis Gates in Massachusetts? Didn't he come out and speak on that? And everybody said, well, he shouldn't have spoke on that. But he did.
Didn't he speak on other issues where he ended up creating some type of verbal gaffes? Didn't he let Pelosi and Reid basically run amok and let the Democrats do what they wanted to do, including all of these deals that they did in order to get the health care reform passed?
Mr. MCALLISTER: All of this stuff came to blow up and now he knows he has to negotiate with the party in power in the House of Representatives. And that's being seen as weak. I don't get that.
MARTIN: OK, but tell me why you think that some of the criticism is racist.
Mr. MCALLISTER: Number one, this is still a young black man, who is articulate, extremely intelligent and he exudes poise. Whether you like him or not, he exudes confidence. He exudes poise. And there are people that are set off by that. Remember, we saw folks on both sides. You had Joe Biden coming after him. You had Hillary Clinton going after him. You had Bill Clinton, who was at the press conference Friday, was quoted in a book saying why Teddy Kennedy -talking to the late senator - why are you pushing for this guy when you know just a few years ago this guy would've been serving us coffee.
You have Harry Reid with the Negro dialect comment, as if the only type of black man that could have a decent dialect or decent diction is somebody that's either biracial or is not really black. Those type of comments have come out from Democrats for a while now and people overlook it.
MARTIN: All the people you're talking about for this point are supporting the president. So I'm still asking you...
Mr. MCALLISTER: Harry Reid had a press conference that denounced what the president was doing just last Tuesday. In fact, he had a press conference basically showing his disdain and he had it at the same exact time as the president. I said it in the article, can you imagine if Mitch McConnell showed a lot of anger at a press conference while the president of the United States is speaking on such major legislation? He would've been seen as, he's doing it to undercut the first black president. In addition to, he's doing it because he doesn't agree with the policy. And we haven't heard that conversation at all.
MARTIN: Well, Courtland Milloy, what about that? I mean, I think, Lenny, in part, if I could sort of extend his argument a little bit further, his argument is in part that people have a sense of ownership around the president, that they feel that they're - I mean if I can use that term - and that he feels that some of this commentary just crosses the line. It wouldn't be said of a white president. It's disrespectful. What do you say to that?
Mr. MILLOY: No. I disagree. There is no moral equivalence between the attacks from the Republicans and the criticism that President Obama has received from the left. You know, progressives did not show up at his town hall meetings with assault rifles. And they didn't jump up in the middle of his address to Congress calling him a lie. Those are the things that have crossed the line.
Mr. MCALLISTER: They called him spineless.
Mr. MILLOY: Huh?
Mr. MCALLISTER: They called him spineless. They called him - you called him a placater. That's just as bad as calling him a liar.
Mr. MILLOY: I did not call him a liar. But here's the thing. Obama has demonstrated that he responds to the beat down. If you beat him up enough, he'll come to you with open arms and say, look, let's make nice. And if I was a progressive and I saw that this is what it takes to get his attention, I'd go after him too. I'd beat him down too. Obama takes the path of least resistance. So the progressives must put up more resistance to keep it from being pushed back.
MARTIN: But you used some racial imagery, though, to describe your frustration. And so the question I think - I'm asking you the question that Lenny is asking is do you think race is a part of your calculation as well and part of how you respond.
Mr. MILLOY: (Unintelligible) my calculation. I don't know about anybody else's, but, you know, my experience growing up around black men was that there were different types of men who use different strategies for getting along with white people or being around them. And they went from very deferential to the point that you couldn't look a white person in the eye to those who were bravado and kind of delighted in putting a little fear in them.
And I look at Obama, and I see that he's not quite sure what kind of black man he wants to be. He's been in the process of inventing himself as a black man from, you know, from very early on with developing the walk and his style. But in terms of the behavior, he keeps it private. He plays basketball with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, two really tough guys, and he apparently talks a lot of stuff, slings his elbows and is a pretty tough guy, just as he was on the campaign trail.
MARTIN: You want to see more of that in public. OK, Courtland, I'm sorry, I gave you the first word, I have to give Lenny, very briefly, the last word just to be fair. Lenny, final thought?
Mr. MCALLISTER: Final thought is we're going back to 2007 and early 2008, where everybody seems to be questioning how black the president is and it's very insulting that black folks would do that, and particularly those in the media. Now, I hope that it would stop. I'm sitting here on the South Side of Chicago as a Republican putting up more for the president's blackness than most of the black media (unintelligible).
Mr. MILLOY: He changes his mind about blackness all the time. He put on his census that he was black, but he...
MARTIN: All right, we have to leave it there for now, gentlemen. We'll post both of your columns on our website so people can have this, take this dispute to the dinner table and have that conversation at home. Lenny McAllister is a conservative political commentator. He's host of WVON's "Launching Chicago." The piece we're talking about was posted on TheRoot.com. He's with us from the studios.
Courtland Milloy is a columnist for The Washington Post. He's with us from his home office in the Washington, D.C. area. Gentlemen, thank you both so much.
Mr. MCALLISTER: Thank you.
Mr. MILLOY: Thank you, Michel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.