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Politics & Society

Obama-Clinton Fight: Who Could've Predicted?

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. HIllary Clinton (D-NY)


I am sure somebody, somewhere, may have predicted that the Obama-Clinton fight would get interesting...

But, could anybody have predicted that BET founder Bob Johnson would call Sen. Barack Obama a "Sidney Poitier" type?

(I wonder what Sydney Poitier thinks about that.)

Could anybody have predicted that a race, in which Sen. Hillary Clinton was the dominant frontrunner only a month ago, would be essentially neck-and-neck now?

And, could anybody have predicted that Gloria Steinem — whose life's work has been about connecting the dots on race, class, gender and power — would find herself fending off complaints, mainly from black women, that her take on the Obama-Clinton clash is reminiscent of "The Man"?

(Pamela Merritt, a blogger and TMM contributor, offered this commentary in response to Steinem, who was on the program last week.)

Or, could it have been predicted that President Bill Clinton would say, on Tom Joyner's syndicated radio program this morning, that "the only racist comment made in this campaign is when the Obama campaign called Hillary the 'senator from Punjab"?

HEL-LO! As Nelly would say, "It's getting hot in here ..."

We were so glad to hear from Ron Lester, a prominent Democratic pollster (and I have to say, probably one of the most prominent African American pollsters in the country).

Clearly, we'd like to hear from Bob Johnson. He was last on the program in May to talk about his work for Liberia. But this is a different subject.

Who else shall we pursue?

Addendum: I want to apologize to all those who were looking forward to the conversation about David Grubin's The Jewish Americans, a documentary airing on PBS stations over the next two weeks (it began last week, January 9, but we weren't able to catch up with the producer until that day). We had to postpone our conversation about the film to make room for breaking news — about whether racial tension was surfacing in the Obama-Clinton contest. We hope to bring you the conversation about The Jewish Americans on WEDNESDAY.



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Ms. Steinem wants to return to 1st wave feminism! The wave ignited out of wrath over the newly freed slaves getting a key legal right before white women got it, the right to vote.
Yes, get out your microscope and focus on totally symbolic race gender issue with these two and ignore the fact that their high-powered upper class lives give them more in common with each other than with those who actually suffer the ill effects of societal discrimination. However, if we can agree to the futility of that, we can move forward and focus on what's really important in this campaign, Obama's and Clinton's fitness to preside and not their race/gender.

I am glad Ms. Steinem shared her thoughts...

Sent by M. Moore | 4:55 PM | 1-14-2008

I listen to Tom Joyner's Show this morning also. And bill with a little b sound like a baby. I wish Jackie would taken control of the interveiw more but, bill just kept on crying. But really what did bill do for black folks anyway. The only thing I can come up with is more of us lost jobs and more brother went to jail in the 90's. (NAFTA and the new drug laws) And Bob Johnson, I have heard him speak in person and many times he has stated that you should not bring another black person down. But he went for a 2 for 1 shot. Sydney Poitier is one of the things that is a good example for black folks and bob was dumb for saying that. I really looked up to him but I will have to rethink that and see bob, little bill and Hillary for their true colors.

Sent by D.O.C. | 5:20 PM | 1-14-2008

I think Johnson's comments were very likely influenced by the portrait of Sidney Poitier presented in Shelby Steele's new book about Barack Obama. Poitier's on-screen persona was that of a "bargainer" as opposed to a "challenger," to use Steele's terminology for what he describes as two differing "strategies" sometimes adopted by blacks in navigating interpersonal relations with whites.

Steele contends that despite Poitier's fame and widely-admired screen "mask" as that of an affable and courteous gentleman (which made him perfect for the role of the son-in-law in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"), the actors Spencer Tracy and Kathryn Hepburn supposedly had him "checked out" to see if he was confrontational in his personal life.

Steele illustrates the point with a quotation from "The Measure of a Man," Poitier's autobiography:

"If it had been Paul Newman they were going to do a movie with, would they have checked him out so thoroughly?" wrote Poitier.

So that's possibly the lens through which Mr. Johnson was viewing Mr. Obama.

Sent by david | 7:34 PM | 1-14-2008

For the next year, we will all be privy, to the real unconscious feelings, about Race & Gender, in America !

Sent by Robert H. | 10:36 PM | 1-14-2008

Full disclosure: I climbed on board the Hillary bandwagon back in November sometime, and I have a hard time not getting defensive after I've made a decision like that.

However: what Clinton said about MLK and LBJ was unwise at best and extremely derogatory at worst. I get that, and I hate that she said it.

At the same time (here's my defensiveness rearing its ugly head, along with a dash of white privilege), I'm wondering why Obama campaign leader Jesse Jackson Jr.'s amazingly insensitive (and, to my mind, glaringly offensive) remarks regarding Sen. Clinton's emotional moment (referred to as a "meltdown" by many prominent journalists) didn't get equal play for their lack of grace and latent sexism.

I draw no over-arching conclusions about American society from these two small examples, but do find it odd that Sen. Clinton has been treated and talked about as part of the "old way of doing things," and very little has been said about the historic nature of her campaign (the first woman to be a realistic candidate for the White House) -- unless she says it herself, that is.

Sent by Eric in DC | 12:52 PM | 1-15-2008

I am not surprised at all by Mr. Johnson's comments. Call me biased, and I am, but I have always rejected the contradictory programming on his former station...e.g. "drop it like it's hot" lyrics, and "wrap it up" PSA's. Because of the way that he's made his living...glorifying misogyny and other ignorant behavior, I'm not a fan and don't have much respect for him. Therefore, his very offensive comments sort of justify my disdain for him. Right or wrong, I'm not surprised.

Sent by Angeline | 12:58 PM | 1-15-2008

I am not surprised by Mr. Johnson's comments either However my question is -- Who is the Hell is he to speak on Civil rights or to put someone's "Blackness" on trial when the very station that made him "Wealthy" is derogatory towards black ppl esp. Black women and has socially set "US" back several decades. Also did he not say several years ago that his station has no obligation to Blacks or anyone else and that it was Black "entertainment" TV. Billioniare or not I have NO "Respect" for him

Sent by Nikkol | 1:40 PM | 1-15-2008

Thank you SO MUCH Michel for sharing Pamela Merritt's beautiful commentary. She voiced many of my thoughts as a black woman, and as a feminist who continues to struggle with TODAY's consequences of feminisms race and class history. As Americans, we still fail to recognize the ways unexamined racism and sexualism reveal themselves in our behaviors. Like Ms. Merritt, I am really tired of this garbage falling on my head.

Sent by Apriel | 2:06 PM | 1-15-2008

Can't we all just get along? I've got a headache from all the Clinton-Obama back and forth.

First of all, Obama is no MLK, and it is mind-boggling for Clinton to make such analysis. Second, Clinton is presumptious to assume the role of President already by using the LBJ example signing the civil rights bill. What's that to do with any issue at hand forty years later? Third, Obama should never have made this a race issue. He-llo, you're not running for the President of the black race but that of the United States. Priorities here Brotha!!!

Finally, who cares what Bob Johnson thinks? I mean seriously! The guy who sold BET for the almighty Dollar now has grown a social conscience? You have got to be kidding me.

So what Johnson compared Obama to Sidney Poitier's character in "Guess who's coming to dinner?" I'll say that's a "measure of a man" to ascribe to who as the character told his father: "when you look in the mirror, you see just a black man . . . I see myself as a man." The way I see it, Obama should thank Johnson for the great compliment.

Sent by Moji | 2:58 PM | 1-15-2008

Much of this "fight" is a media event
-- even usually respectable hosts and pundits are spending their time and ours looking for new quotes from partisans to fan the flame. Not a happy bussiness. Better use of airways would be focus on gender/race aspect of issues like AIDS and housing meltdown: e.g.

Sent by elaine | 6:39 PM | 1-15-2008

Elaine -

Thanks for your feedback. We are, in fact, covering the sub-prime mortgage crisis. When you get a moment, add this story to your news intake:

Thanks again...

Sent by Lee Hill, TMM | 7:46 PM | 1-15-2008

While I have been an admirer of Bill and Hillary Clinton for a long time, these "accidents" by surrogates have completely turned me off. I do not respect Bob Johnson's remarks and feel it quite hypocritical of him to make disparaging remarks about Obama, especially since BET (which I know he no longer owns) is responsible for more garbage in the Black community than anything Obama could have done on his worse day. One can support the Clintons, but one does not have to sell his soul to them. The sad thing is that now Obama and Clinton have called a truce from incidences that the Clintons perpetuated. This has turned me off from the Clintons.

Sent by WGT | 3:33 PM | 1-16-2008