Monday, January 28, 2008

Why is Obama's Wife not Being Called out in Media for Wal-Mart-connections?

While the press is slamming Hillary Clinton for mentioning Rezko in the South Carolina debates, it has been silent on Obama's hypocrisy: two years ago his wife was re-elected to the board of Treehouse Foods, an Illinois food-processing company, and the biggest customer for the food produced by Treehouse Foods is Wal-Mart.

From the British paper, the Telegraph, in December 2007: "According to the couple's tax returns, Mrs Obama earned $51,200 for her work as a non-executive director on Treehouse's board last year, on top of the $271,618 salary she was paid as a vice-president of the University of Chicago Hospitals. She also received 7,500 Treehouse stock options, worth a further $72,375, as she did the previous year, when she banked a $45,000 salary from the company." (Link to the full Telegraph article.)

Knowing this, it's surprising that Obama took a shot at Hillary for her time serving on the board of Wal-Mart. Unless he correctly surmised that the media wouldn't call him out for his hypocrisy. Why does he get a free pass?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My article in today's Sunday Chicago Tribune

Here is a link to my article in the Perspectives section, called "Painted into a Corner, Clinton's Wealth of Experience Does not Speak to Younger Women."

Race Constrained Hillary in South Carolina, and Rep. Clyburn not "Neutral" as New York Times states

Sunday's New York Times calls Rep. James E. Clyburn "neutral" in the primary. From the article on Obama's win in the South Carolina primary: “The criticism of Obama ended up really helping him going forward, I think,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, an influential black Democrat who remained neutral in the primary. “If he ends up winning the nomination, he will definitely face an onslaught of attacks this fall, and he may look back on South Carolina as the place that toughened him up.”

First of all, how can Clyburn be deemed neutral by the New York Times? His name has been all over the press because a few days ago, on the 21st, he said Bill Clinton "needs to chill a little bit" in his criticism of Obama.

He also criticized Hillary Clinton's comments about President Johnson and Dr. King. As asked him, "What was wrong with the statement that it took a president as well as Dr. King to achieve progress on civil rights?"

James Clyburn: "I didn’t say there was anything wrong with the statement. I said that all of us should be careful about what we say about that particular historical period because again a number of people--people I rely on to keep me up on what people are saying and thinking--called me to say that it seemed like she was saying President Johnson, a white male, was needed for Dr. King, a black male, to move on civil rights. Almost like it took a white person to get the job done. Which is not what she says she meant. So I was just saying it’s important that we be careful about that history."

So here is this prominent black U.S. congressman, one of the most powerful African-Americans in Congress, telling Hillary and Bill to watch their speech, because race
is not someone we can easily talk about. Hillary couldn't even defend herself, or criticize Obama, or mention Martin Luther King, whom Obama makes frequent mention of to boost his allure, without offending someone or drawing public rebuke.

So, back to Clyburn's quote in the New York Times. Did South Carolina really toughen Obama up even though Hillary Clinton was warned publicly by this prominent black congressman to watch her criticism of Obama, dare she seem racist?

Instead of Bill, Hillary should Rely More on Chelsea in Campaigning

So Obama has won South Carolina. Surely, media coverage in the last few days, which continually painted a portrait of "the Clintons" in cahoots against Obama, had an influence.

From the New York Times web site: "Indeed, surveys of voters leaving the polls showed that many Democrats who believed Mr. Clinton’s role was important ended up voting for Mr. Obama.

Last week, Clinton advisers believed Mr. Clinton was rattling Mr. Obama and drawing his focus away from his message. The results on Saturday indicated, instead, that voters were impressed with Mr. Obama’s mettle and agreed with him that the Clintons ran an excessively negative campaign here."

But really, when voters "agree" with Obama that "the Clintons ran" an overly negative campaign (note how even the New York Times news section writes "the Clintons" rather than Hillary Clinton) they are not really forming their own impressions based on reality, but agreeing with a common media portrait of Hillary and Bill Clinton teaming in tandem in the last few days to critique Obama.

The media has run with this notion of Hillary relying too much on her husband in South Carolina, creating a “two-headed monster” as the New York Post put it. Maureen Dowd wrote, "It’s odd that the first woman with a shot at becoming president is so openly dependent on her husband to drag her over the finish line."
That’s an old canard—conflating a successful woman with her husband, as if she’s nothing without him. It’s a criticism often throw at Hillary. It’s an easy way to belittle a powerful woman. Somehow it’s a boon to Obama to have a powerful wife (Camille Paglia recently wrote in Salon that a reason to vote for Obama was that his wife was a “powerhouse.”). And it was O.K. for Elizabeth Edwards a few months ago to declare that her husband was a better candidate for women than Hillary. But it's not OK for Bill Clinton, who happens to be a former popular president, not just an average spouse, to take to the stump. As Hillary said at one point in the South Carolina debate, in response to Obama criticizing her for something Bill Clinton said, “He’s not here, I am.”

Relying too much on Bill to do her campaigning in South Carolina in the last few days before the primary played too much into her critics' hands, and didn't do much to appeal to younger post-feminist women who don’t want to see a powerful woman depending too much on her husband to fight her battles, even if he is a popular former president.

Hillary's challenge in the days ahead is going to be how to reach out to those postfeminist twenty and early thirtysomething women who haven't yet suffered much because of their gender and so don't see the importance of supporting the first female candidate for President. A suggestions: we should see a lot less of Bill, a lot more of Chelsea. Not just see, we should hear from Chelsea. Many young women will see themselves in Chelsea in a way they never will in Hillary.

Bill Clinton (with Gore by his side) could use his sex appeal as a way to attract young female voters in 1993. I remember Naomi Wolf on the Yale campus screaming that "These men are babes!" to the cheers of the co-eds. The “Obama Girl” YouTube video only strengthened Obama's appeal. Hillary can't capitalize on her sex appeal as a strategy. (When she innocently showed an inch of cleavage a female Washington Post reporter jumped all over her.) But maybe she can try to run a little more on her maternal appeal.

At Nancy Pelosi's swearing-in, surrounded by children and grandchildren, she capitalized on the image of a powerful woman as mother. For those millions tired of the fake machismo of George Bush, with its resulting thousands of dead young men and women brought home in body bags, a little maternal imagery might be just the right refreshing "change" America is looking for.

Not True that Obama is Only Now Mentioning Race in South Carolina

The media consensus is that Obama is now making a direct appeal to black voters in South Carolina, for the first time, and that prior to the last few days, Obama hasn't mentioned race. But this is far from the truth. Even more off the mark is that Hillary Clinton has injected race into this campaign in this last week.

Obama has always made indirect, symbolic references to his race, and had others, such as prominent African-Americans, refer directly to his race, and how his candidacy is so historic. There's nothing wrong with Obama mentioning his race in an effort to connect with fellow African-Americans, but why is the media so reluctant to acknowledge that race has always been a part of Obama's campaign?

Everyone also seems to be forgetting Oprah's stumping for Obama in December, and not recognizing how much race was a part of that. Oprah's and Obama's words were often about race, not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's interesting how the media has given Obama a free pass, praising him for not mentioning race and seeming to rise above it, when really, he's been mentioning it all along.

Has everyone forgotten Oprah's December appearance in South Carolina to praise Obama before thirty-thousand mostly African-Americans? As reported on, In December,"30,000 people packed into Columbia, South Carolina's Williams-Brice stadium to hear the talk-show queen explain why she believes Obama is the man with the "vision" for America." She entered the ampitheater to the rhythmic chants of a song "Freedom! Freedom!". Most of these 30,000 were African-Americans, coming straight from church. Oprah stewed her speech with religious talk, saying "It is Amazing Grace that brought me here," and that she was "stepping out of her pew" by recommending a candidate. Then she said, "You know, Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality by supporting a man who knows not just who we are but who we can be."

In New Hampshire, Oprah, the woman who can get millions of women to buy a book based on her recommendation, introduced Obama with a reference to the book, “The Autobiography of Jane Pittman,” an African-American novel. In a moving rendition, she said how the slave Jane Pittman asks of each new baby, "are you the one?," the one who will free her. Oprah answered, "Obama is the one." This had both messianic and racial undertones: she was pitching Obama as savior to the mostly black audience. Obama then took stage and aligned himself with Oprah, saying that for both of them, their appearance on the stage was “improbable.” Why improbable? Because of their race.

Obama has always made references to Dr. Martin Luther King. In his New Hampshire speech Obama said his catchprase, “Yes We Can,” was also the call of “a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.” He refers to his candidacy as “historic” without directly mentioning race; instead, prominent public figures, like Colin Powell, mention his race for him. Powell said last week on Tavis Smiley that citizens across the country can "enjoy this moment where a person like Barack Obama can knock down all of these old barriers that people thought existed with respect to the opportunities that are available to African Americans.”

So it's puzzling why media coverage seems to agree that only now is Obama making a direct appeal to African-Americans.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama's Wife and Walmart

I haven't seen anyone mention that Obama's own wife, as reported by abcnews back in May, 2007, has "come under fire for serving on the board of a company that is a major product supplier to Wal-Mart." Knowing this, why would Obama throw the first shot in the South Carolina debate, and accuse Hillary Clinton of serving on the board of Walmart while he was working for civil rights in Chicago? Seeing how Obama in the debate conflated Hillary with Bill, criticizing her for her husband's comments, why hasn't Obama's wife been mentioned at all?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Symbolism of Spouse in Election

Camille Paglia ends her punchy anti-Hillary Clinton, pro-Obama article in Salon this week by saying that, "And his wife Michelle is a powerhouse." So that his wife is a powerful women, a successful businesswoman, is a plus for Obama. But on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Rush Limbaugh repeatedly says on his show that Hillary wouldn't be where she is today "without Bill," that if she weren't a Clinton, she wouldn't be running for President. It's that old canard--a successful woman wouldn't be where she is without her husband.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Couric Unplugged-Revealing on Obama vs Clinton

In today’s New York Times, David Brooks writes that, “Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on..”

What no one has pointed out is that Clinton might have eagerly tried to don this mantle, to claim that her candidacy is historic, but the media has not allowed her to, whereas Obama is allowed to cast himself as the 21st century Martin Luther King and this goes uncritiqued. As a result, Clinton's campaign lacks the passion and fervor of Obama's.

The video of Katie Couric unplugged on the night of the New Hampshire videos, that circulated on the Internet yesterday, is so fascinating because unlike the usual anchor-speak; this is candid, and has her saying two revealing things. One, she says, “my sister really liked that segment last night of Bradley, saying “people feel good about how far we’ve come,” about Obama, and I was like, thanks for watching that segment.” In saying that, Couric showed her own bias, that she, too, feels good about Obama’s success. For Couric’s sister, like many Americans, seeing this man, born of a white mother and a Kenyan father, allows our politically correct nation, which is afraid to discuss real sensitive issues of race and how far we have not come as a nation, feel good. It’s an easy pat on the back, a way for us to tell ourselves, look how far we have come as a nation, but really, it’s a false sense of confidence. There are so many ways we haven’t gone far at all, but seeing Obama succeed gives us a free pass to say look far we have come, it’s way of assuaging white guilt.

Couric’s second revealing statement was her remark that McCain’s wife, “looks like a Huskie” with “those weird blue eyes,” “the most intense blue eyes, light ice blue, I couldn’t stop staring at her.” In these words we can see how mean women are to each other, how naturally competitive and back-stabbing we are, how slow and reticent we are about sisterhood. Couric knew she would get some laughs from the tech people running around by critiquing McCain’s appearance. Right after Couric says this, she starts worrying about she looks in one monitor.

The media couldn’t stop talking about how women made Clinton win in New Hampshire, switching their allegiance to her in the last few days before the primary. But remember that New York Times poll, which showed that college-educated women are less likely to support Hillary than non-colledge educated women? Women are each other’s worst critics. African-American unity in this country is stronger than any sisterhood.

That’s why Hillary is conflicted. She wants to mention the historic nature of her candidacy, and yet as she said in her Meet the Press interview and last night’s debate, she wants to move this race beyond discussions of gender and race, because if it’s mired in identity politics, Obama will surely will the nomination.