Tuesday, December 30, 2008


You Be Illin(ois)

OK, everyone had their nice laugh at Rod Blagojevich when US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald released the audiotapes earlier this month -- the profanity, the megalomania,etc. Then his press conference quoting Rudyard Kipling -- and, of course, the hair. Ha! Ha! What a joke.

Well, joke no more, boys and girls.

With his announcement that he would appoint former state attorney general Roland Burris to the US Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama, Blagojevich demonstrated that he is a damn canny politician who should not be underestimated.

But, then again, why should anyone be surprised? You think you make it through the Illinois political machine to become governor by playing beanball? Politics in Illinois is Chicago Bears '86-defense tough. Beyond that, "Hot Rod" continues to do exactly what I thought would be the case when his scandal first broke: He, more than any other individual or issue, would be responsible for ruining Obama's political "honeymoon."

By selecting Burris -- a 71-year old African American former state attorney general, and the first black to win statewide -- Blagojevich implicitly dared the now-all white US Senate not to seat his candidate. And, to make the implicit explicit, US Rep. Bobby Rush -- a former Black Panther -- just "happened" to be at the press conference. Blagojevich invited him up to speak.
He did not disappoint:
"Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate," Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, told reporters.
"I don't think that anyone — any U.S. senator who's sitting in the Senate right now — wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate," Rush added.
That man was former state attorney general Roland Burris, 71, named by Blagojevich on Tuesday to fill Obama's seat.
Senate Democrats needed no reminder that blocking one black man to fill the seat of another might not go over well in a party whose presidential candidate soon would become the nation's first African-American commander in chief.

And in case people thought he was being too subtle, Rush warned the media not to "hang or lynch" Burris because of his connection to Blagojevich. This is Chicago politics, folks!

Bringing Rush into this was a masterstroke on several levels. Aside from the "high-tech lynching" rhetorical sequel he unleashed, he has a psychological advantage in Illinois and national politics that no one else can claim: He was the last person to defeat Barack Obama in an election. When the then-state senator made an ill-advised decision to challenge incumbent Rush in a House primary in 2000, Obama got his head handed to him.

In the campaign, Rush had no qualms about raising questions about how "black" Obama really was:
Mr. Obama’s Ivy League education and his white liberal-establishment connections also became an issue. Mr. Rush told The Chicago Reader, “He went to Harvard and became an educated fool. We’re not impressed with these folks with these Eastern elite degrees.”
Mr. Rush and his supporters faulted him for having missed experiences that more directly defined the previous generation of black people.
“Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it,” Mr. Rush told The Reader.
Mr. Obama was seen as an intellectual, “not from us, not from the ’hood,” said Jerry Morrison, a consultant on the Rush campaign. Asked recently about that line of attack, Mr. Rush minimized it as “chest beating, signifying.”
The implication was not exactly that Mr. Obama was “not black enough,” as some blacks have suggested more recently; his credentials were suspect. “It was much more a function of class, not race,” Mr. Adelstein said. “Nobody said he’s ‘not black enough.’ They said he’s a professor, a Harvard elite who lives in Hyde Park.”
Indeed, Rush did to Obama what another old-school black veteran, Sharpe James, did to a similarly light-skinned "mainstream" Young Turk, Cory Booker, in the mayoral race in 2002.

Yeah, this is the flip side of the "magic Negro" stuff that the Republican Party is, bizarrely, obsessing itself with currently: Issues of class in the black community often get played out in the broader dynamic of how "culturally black" a given individual is. Indeed, often the word "Negro" is used among blacks as an in-house rhetorical device to bring another member of the race "down to earth." (Which, by the way, parody or not, conservatives and Republicans are doing themselves no favors by wading into a cultural mire of which they continually prove themselves totally clueless.)

Don't underestimate how much personal satisfaction Rush would feel in getting to be a de facto racial kingmaker replacing the "above-race" Golden Child. Burris -- who Rush supported in the 2002 gubernatorial primary against Blagojevich -- thus becomes something of a happy willing pawn serving the tactical and cultural ambitions of two far savvier politicians.

Obama supports Harry Reid and the US Senate's assertion that they will refuse to seat any Blagojevich-appointed senator. But, the issue of whether the Senate can block this appointment could end up in the Supreme Court. In a previous decision involving, yes, a black member of the House, New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the court determined that the chamber could only assess the objective "qualifications" of a member -- age, citizenship, residency, etc -- in deciding whether to seat him. Reid claims that the Senate is a different chamber, not bound by that precedent. We shall see. Regardless, anyone want to guess what Bobby Rush might be doing while the high-court of the land is deciding whether a black man should be allowed to sit in the Senate?

Such a scenario would be a nightmare for Obama, whose entire campaign -- and political life story -- is about bridging America's racial divide. Instead, the immediate fallout of his successful run for the presidency has been a farcical RNC campaign over Obama's cultural identity as the "magic negro" and now a potentially far more ominous racial conflagration over his former Senate seat.

Magic Negro? Try "tragic" negro.

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