A cell phone video of a Philadelphia policeman viciously punching a Puerto Rican woman to the ground during an event celebrating Hispanic heritage goes viral, heaping more shame on this city perceived internationally as a notorious hub of police misconduct.
Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner — a Black man — fires that assaultive police officer — another Black man.
Yet, that punching policeman receives quick defense from a white man, the president of Philly’s police union, an organization widely condemned by many non-whites for its reflexive backing of bigotry and brutality.
The mayor of Philadelphia, a Black man, provides the Puerto Rican woman with an apology while Philadelphia’s district attorney — another Black man — decides whether the abuse the woman received warrants charges against that Black policeman.
Are the interracial dynamics evident in this incident of police abuse an example of post-racial America where historic fault-lines of race have blurred to the point of necessitating elimination of programs like affirmative action?
In this era when a Black man sits in America’s Oval Office and a Black female is a television network-owning billionaire many argue that programs to address America’s legacy of race-based inequities like affirmative action are unnecessary, illegal and divisive.
Never mind that less than two years ago Philadelphia’s Black mayor and police commissioner were the subjects of a civil rights lawsuit due to their controversial stop-and-frisk program where police stopped more Black and Hispanic persons that whites.
Never mind that Black-owned businesses received a paltry 3.5 percent of federal contracts funded through President Obama’s vaulted ARRA stimulus according to continuous stimulus monitoring conducted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.
And, never mind that those who push the line that race prejudice is no longer a barrier to persons of color would not trade places with a Black person — even a rich Black person like comedian Chris Rock, who’s joked about the disconnect between those proclaiming the death of systemic prejudice and their refusal to surrender any benefits from systemic privilege.
If American society truly stood upon the “solid rock of brotherhood” that Dr. King referenced in his seminal 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech some Black Republicans would not need to criticize GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for lacking racial inclusiveness within top ranks of his campaign staff.
If that “sunlit path of racial justice” King noted in 1963 truly existed the Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census released last month by the National Association of Black Journalists would not detail how non-whites comprise 12 percent of TV news decision makers when non-whites comprise 35 percent of America’s population.
This week, yet another challenge to affirmative action programs lands in the august chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing. Most of the conservative members of that judicial body, including that court’s only Black member, consider affirmative action an ugly evil.
The Supreme Court’s current head, Chief Justice John Roberts, was a foot soldier in the Justice Department of 1980s President Ronald Reagan where legal schemes were implemented to dismantle civil rights gains of the 1960s like changing legal proof required for proving unlawful racism from impact to intent.
That small impact-to-intent change produced a big burden for racism victims requiring their providing both statistical evidence of race discrimination (documenting unqualified whites constantly promoted over qualified Blacks) plus producing evidence of “intent” to discriminate – evidence harder to obtain because most discriminators became savvy enough not to openly use the N-word.
This latest attack on affirmative action is another college admissions ruckus, this time from Texas.
Texas colleges give automatic admission to students graduating in the top ten percent of their high school classes. Those colleges utilize other factors, including race, for admissions of non-top-ten-percent students.
Abigail Fisher and another white student are challenging that admissions policy arguing that while they were ineligible for automatic admission their grades were better than others admitted who like them were not eligible for automatic admission.
The legal logic at the core of this challenge is not much different from the consistent history of attacks on efforts to reverse the legacies of American apartheid: white entitlement that twists color-blindness to continue excluding persons of color.
Race as a consideration in college admissions is a tactic employed to alter decades of discriminatory admissions similar to set-asides seeking to alter decades of discrimination in the construction industry.
The firms that always controlled construction successfully attacked set-asides to continue excluding non-whites and now many of those firms are spinning off companies [allegedly] headed by daughters and wives to take advantage of contracting advantages extended to female-owned companies established to correct gender discrimination.
Pennsylvania contractors, for example, bitterly fought the federal governments first construction set-aside program contending that program would deprive them of “profits,” force them to deal with minority contractors whom “they would ordinarily not do business with” and would place them at a “competitive disadvantage.”
Federal courts in the late 1970s reject those fallacious assertions but efforts to stack federal courts with conservative judges — funded in part by contractors receiving tax dollars — eventually lead to elimination of that set-aside program established because minority contractors received only one percent of the $2 billion Congress provided for public works projects in 1976 to stimulate the economy.
Affirmative action falls into that verbal equation of: Figures never lie, but liars figure.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
With election year politics heating up and with the four horsemen of the vote — economy, energy, foreign policy and healthcare — occupying a considerable amount of mindshare, the Democratic National Committee leader wants to remind voters just how good things are and can be — while also pointing out the nearsightedness of the critics of President Barack Obama’s administration.
DNC Executive Director and former White House Political Advisor Patrick Gaspard visited Philadelphia this week to address to AFL-CIO convention taking place here, and also trumpeted the president’s decisions as “strengthening America’s core, fundamental values.”
“Pennsylvania is going to be a unique, consequential state in the election. … I’ve been having conversations with activists and leaders, trying to mobilize the vote,” Gaspard said. “Cleary, organized labor is central to what we’re trying to motivate during this election year; we’ve just received the national AFL-CIO endorsement last week, and the president is rightly proud of his alliance with organized labor, particularly at a time when working people have been under assault from Republican governors and Republican legislation.
“We’re proud of that endorsement,” Gaspard continued, “and we came here to thank them.”
Gaspard said that although Obama is pleased with the economic recovery over the past several months, he is cognizant that many Americans feel the recovery hasn’t been rapid enough.
“Obviously, there’s caution, but if the president was here right now, he would be the first one to tell you that the pace of growth needs to be accelerated, and there’s far too many Americans — and far too many Philadelphians — who are struggling every single day to make ends meet,” Gaspard said. “But he would also say that when you consider that when we came into office, the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs per month, and the period from September 2008 — when the markets collapsed — to before Barack Obama was sworn in, we lost 4 million jobs in that one period, and then, we lost another 4 million from the Inauguration to before the Recovery Act passed. So, the 8 million jobs lost, [Obama] inherited.”
Gaspard pointed out that the recovery, however slow, is advancing, pointing to the creation of 4 million jobs in the private sector over the past two years. “We’ve seen the first uptick in manufacturing output since 1997, and a 12 percent increase in manufacturing, which equals 400,000 brand new manufacturing jobs,” Gaspard said. “The president is proud of the very difficult decision he made to help save the automobile industry. That decision alone saved 1.4 million jobs in the heartland of this country, right up and down the supply chain in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
“Independent analysts who follow the industry closely have said [the auto industry] is the backbone of the African American middle class, specifically in places like Detroit,” Gaspard continued. “And if we had listened to Mitt Romney and allowed the auto industry to go bankrupt, thousands of African Americans would have lost their employment, and that would have had a profound impact on those communities.”
Gaspard referred to GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s comments that he would have let the automobile industry go bankrupt, in much the similar way the former Massachusetts governor handled Bain Capital. According to Gaspard, more than 265,000 Pennsylvanians now have jobs due to the auto industry bailout.
In the wide-ranging session, Gaspard also touched on President Obama’s apparent connection with the working class citizen, saying that connection is compelling Obama to overhaul healthcare. The Supreme Court will decide the constitutional merit of the bill’s many measures.
In the meantime, Gaspard said Obama remains confident in the bill, as the president studied constitutional law. Still, Gaspard allowed that there is still quite some ways to go.
“There’s a reason why over the course of the last century in American politics, one president after another — Democrats and Republicans alike — attempted to get national healthcare reform done, and could not get the needle moved on it. There’s been constant advancement, but moving forward on a national healthcare model has always been extremely difficult,” Gaspard said, noting that even Richard Nixon ran on a healthcare reform platform. “I think it’s a very complicated issue, and there are critics of the bill, who asked a lot of appropriate, wise and smart questions about the mandate … so there is fair questioning that rightfully takes place, but too often, these moments are unfortunately often accompanied with crass political cynicism.”
Gaspard believes that once more people see the provisions of the bill — such as the ability to keep children on their parents insurance — more people will begin to accept it, as will the parents of the more than 230,000 children in the state who can now get treatment for pre-existing conditions and women who take advantage of the myriad programs.
“There are cynical people like Mitt Romney who passed a healthcare bill in Massachusetts that is practically a mirror to the one we passed,” Gaspard said. “And yet, he’s running away from the signature accomplishment he had.”
Trade representative, others call plan vital to Black community
Ramping up pressure on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk visited Philadelphia on Friday taking President Barack Obama’s argument for speedy passage to the people.
Quick Congressional approval of the $447 billion jobs plan is vital to Blacks, said Kirk, estimating that, if passed, the payroll tax cuts that are part of the plan could put as much as $1,400 a year in the pockets of up to 1.4 million African-American families.
“What the president is trying to do is make it possible for every family, Black or white, to achieve their dreams, to get a job and stay in their homes,” he said.
Obama’s plan hinges on a combination of tax increases on the wealthy, new infrastructure spending, an extension of the employee payroll-tax cut and additional funding for unemployment insurance benefits.
Kirk called the many of the items “tried and true” saying that they would “put money in the pockets of people right now.”
He was just one administration official taking part in a national blitz aimed a pressing a reluctant Congress into action. Others will be fanning out across the country in the coming weeks to keep up the pressure.
On Thursday, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin told reporters that the plan faced some opposition from both parties and lacked the votes necessary to pass.
“The oil-producing state senators don’t like eliminating or reducing the subsidy for oil companies,” he said. “There are some senators who are up for election who say I’m never going vote for a tax increase while I’m up for election, even on the wealthiest people. So, we’re not going have 100 percent Democratic senators. That’s why it needs to be bi-partisan and I hope we can find some Republicans who will join us to make it happen.”
Kirk said the administration would not back down.
“The president will not yield on the proposition that we should do and we must do everything we can to help Americans find work, to straighten out our economy, put us back on a path of economic prosperity,” he said.
Obama already has the support of Mayor Michael Nutter, who joined Kirk on a portion of his tour.
“Millions of people are out of work,” said Nutter, in his best preacher’s voice. “What are you going to do Congress?”
Kirk and Nutter visited SuperFit, a custom jewelry manufacturer that recently moved to Center City from King of Prussia. The company employs 15 people at its new studio on North 13th Street.
“Our belts have never been tighter,” said Gena Alulis, CEO of SuperFit. “We don’t expect our government to bail us out of trouble but a notch or two in breathing room would go a long way.”
She said Obama’s plan would help her business.
“The payroll tax cuts proposed in the new America Jobs Act are so important to a small family business,” she said. “It will allow us to enhance wages and subsidize health care for our loyal employees. It will also help us to invest in new equipment … and most importantly it will give us the ability grow by training and hiring new people.”
Obama unveiled his proposal earlier this month and called for immediate Congressional approval.
Critics have questioned the timing of his proposal, released as the 2012 presidential campaign begins to gear up.
“No,” said Kirk emphatically. “Everything this president has proposed from day one has been first of all to stop the implosion of an economy that was on the brink of a meltdown when we came to office, to get America back on its feet and to create jobs.”
The proposal comes as unemployment inches up.
Unemployment in Philadelphia is 10.7 percent, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor. Nationwide Black unemployment is 16.7 percent, with some estimates pushing that figure as high as 33 percent when people who have stopped receiving unemployment benefits are included. Local estimates put unemployment for Blacks around 25 percent.
Nutter said the tour, which includes a number of cities across the country was important because 80 percent of Americans live and work in urban areas and 90 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product comes from cities.
The tour, said Nutter, makes the political conversations in Washington more real for Philadelphia residents.
“We had to bring it right down to the ground,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
One would expect to find the Johnson family at the grand opening of the Germantown Organizing for America field office. Volunteer team member Elaine Johnson was busily signing in the guests at the reception desk, while her mother-in-law Anna Johnson and her sister-in-law Tanya Johnson were busily showing attendees their presidential memorabilia. The three stressed that this office will help them do more neighborhood outreach.
The opening ceremony for OFA’s second Northwest Philadelphia field office was held at 322 W. Chelten Ave. on March 15 at 6 p.m. On hand were Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, OFA Field Director Alison Zelman, OFA Regional Field Director Philip Gaskin, and the Germantown neighborhood team leader David Schogel. The spirit there was as vibrant as the red, pale blue-grey, royal blue and deep navy that are the campaign’s signature colors.
“We are the Obama-ites,” Tanya Johnson of Overbrook Park said. “We began having house parties four years ago. We donated to the campaign and received these beautiful photographs of the first family. As Obama-ites we are interested in spreading the word about all the good things the president has done.”
Anna Johnson concurred. She said that the opening of the Germantown OFA office was only rivaled by the time she got to see first lady Michelle Obama up close and personal at Villanova University. For her the 1,000 square foot office in the historic section of Germantown represents progress.
“I grew up during the Great Depression,” said 84-year-old Anna Johnson. “I was there through Jim Crow. That’s why I can understand that this president saved us from another depression and yet they are not giving him credit”
Schogel hopes that with the new office, the 12 OFA PA offices in the commonwealth, he will be able to expand his team of volunteers. “This is the place where we are going to rally, do voter registration drives, boost the volunteers and phone bank all to get out the vote. This is a tremendous boost for us to have a place because it gives us space to do all this,” he said.
Among those who plan to be a mainstay among the Germantown team is Esther Solomon, a longtime Northwest Philadelphia resident. She volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and is now back.
“I think we need him back in office so he can finish the job he started,” Solomon said. “He is one of the best presidents we have ever had in this country. This is such a nice office, and it’s good to have a nice place to volunteer. When you have nice (surroundings) it makes you want to hang around. So I plan to spend a lot of time here.”
Those attending the Germantown office opening were also privy to the premiere of “The Road We’ve Traveled” a 17-minute documentary about President Obama’s first three years in office. The short flick was produced by award-winning filmmaker and director P. Davis Guggenheim.
The Germantown office is the third office OFA PA office in Philadelphia. The OFA headquarters held its grand opening in Center City last October. The Northwest Philadelphia field office, 7171 Ogontz Ave. held its ribbon cutting ceremony on Feb. 15. Thus far, OFA PA has made over a half a million phone calls locally to voters and supporters, and has had more than 6,100 one-on-one conversations with people about the president’s accomplishments to aid his re-election efforts.
The Germantown office, like the Northwest Philadelphia field office, is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
West Philadelphia resident Zakiyyah Abdul-Raheem is making sure that all senior citizens’ votes will count at the polls in November, through her organization “Momma’s and Poppa’s Seniors for the Obama Team.” The organization has been busily informing the senior community about Pennsylvania voter ID law.
“During President Obama’s first election, I was concerned about the seniors not having a prominent role, because many of the things that he was proposing affected the senior citizens,” Abdul-Raheem said. “We are one of the most stable voting blocks, so I wanted to start an organization that will address our needs. While the organization is geared toward senior citizens, we also do other things within the community.”
In Pennsylvania in 2008, voters between the ages 50 and 64 favored President Barack Obama, giving him 57 percent of their votes, to 42 percent over GOP nominee Sen. John McCain. Voters 65 and older were evenly split, with 49 percent voting for Obama and 50 percent for McCain, according to exit polls.
The upcoming election will be a first for Pennsylvania — in that for the first time voters will be required to show a valid, state-approved photo identification before they are permitted to cast their ballot. Advocates say the measure is designed to prevent voter fraud. Critics say the measure will keep the young, the poor, senior citizens and minorities from the polls.
As many as 750,000 individuals statewide could have trouble voting this fall because they don’t have a current PennDOT photo ID, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
“What we have been doing is making phone calls and going out into the community, to make sure that people will go to the polls in November,” Abdul-Raheem said. “Instead of being discouraged about the new voter ID law, we are going to fight by making sure all seniors have a state-approved photo identification. With this particular election, there will be some roadblocks, so we just want to make sure everyone is informed and prepared.”
In addition to informing the community about the upcoming election, Abdul-Raheem recently introduced first lady Michelle Obama at a re-election rally in Philadelphia on Aug. 9. The rally, which was called “It Takes One,” was held at the Bobby Morgan Arena on the campus of University of the Sciences.
“This was the first time that I ever met her,” she said. “It’s a moment in my life that I will never forget. It was an honor to introduce her. We are doing everything that we can to make sure that the first lady and the president remain in office for a second term. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The state of Pennsylvania can try to discourage us from going to the polls due to the new law, but they will not win this fight.”
The Obama presidency represents a major milestone in Black history and the struggle for political, economic and cultural equality in the United States. But how — if at all — has the first Black presidency helped move things forward for people of color? Has it delivered the “change we can believe in” and “deepening of democracy” that communities of color organized around? How has the reality and image of a Black first family affected American culture? What lessons from past struggles can be applied to this unique historical moment to advance multicultural democracy in the U.S.?
Starting the exploration of these questions with the voices of past civil rights and Black power activists held in the historic Pacifica Radio Archives, BBC journalist Joanne Griffith traveled the country to interview Black intellectuals, leaders and activists. Griffith’s findings are covered in “Redefining Black Power: Reflections on the State of Black America” (City Lights Publishers, $16.95) and feature Van Jones, Michelle Alexander, Julianne Malveaux, Vincent Harding, Ramona Africa, Esther Armah and the Philadelphia Tribune’s Linn Washington Jr.
The result is a rich and wide-ranging exploration of the hot-button issues facing African Americans today, from religion, law and media to education and the economy, to the ever-shifting meaning of Obama’s contribution and impact.
“Dr. Vincent Harding put it best when he said the ‘civil right’ is a narrow term,” explained Griffith. “As he put it, we should be striving for the expansion and deepening of democracy, engaging people in the political process to bring about social change and equality for all. Using that definition, on the face of it, the election of a Black president means little for the future of civil rights, or the ‘deepening of democracy.’ Speaking with Dr. Harding and others involved in the Black freedom movement of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the goal was not to put a Black man in the White House, but to level the playing field so that everyone had a chance to vote, to build economic stability, to live a healthy life and expand their knowledge through education. However, the presence of Barack Obama, and certainly his 2008 presidential bid, brought African Americans into the democratic process in ways not seen before, encouraging Blacks to exercise the civil rights people such as Fannie Lou Hamer fought for.”
Both timely and rich in personal wisdom, “Redefining Black Power” connects the dots between past civil rights struggles and the future of Black civic and cultural life in the United States.
“Joanne Griffith is a superb journalist,” shared Connie Lawn, senior White House correspondent (since 1968). “She writes, speaks, and interviews with great skill, sincerity, and sensitivity to those she covers. Joanne has made it in a tough journalism world — one where the white males, working for wealthy news organizations, have the advantages. Her writings and insights are a lesson to all. She reflects President Obama’s spirited call of ‘fired up, ready to go!’”
The U.S. Supreme Court may have upheld the health care law championed by President Barack Obama last week but that doesn’t stop the lies, myths and distortions about it.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate for Virginia George Allen groundlessly called the health care reform law “a government takeover of health care.”
Other Republicans have repeated similar false claims.
While the Affordable Care Act expands government regulation of health care it is not true that the law creates a “government takeover” of health care.
PolitiFact, a fact-checking website of the Tampa Bay Times points out that “the law continues to rely on the private sector to provide health insurance for consumers. In fact, its coverage mandate will expand the number of people who buy private insurance policies. The act sets up exchanges where private companies will compete to insure people who don’t have policies.”
PolitiFact notes the law does not create a single-payer system, like in Canada, where medical payments are funded by a single insurance pool controlled by the government or a public option allowing the government to compete for business with private insurers.
Employer-based coverage will continue under Obama’s health care law.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has stepped up his misleading rhetoric about the law since the Supreme Court ruling.
“Obamacare raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500 billion,” said Romney.
The fact is “the tax increases fall heavily on upper-income people, health insurance companies, drug makers and medical device manufacturers,” according to a fact checking analysis by the Associated Press.
“Individuals making over $200,000 and couples making over $250,000 will pay 0.9 percent more in Medicare payroll tax and a 3.8 percent tax on investments. As well, a tax starts in 2018 on high-value-insurance plans,” reports AP/
People who fail to obtain health insurance as required by the law will face a tax penalty but that number is expected to be small.
Romney also calls the law a “job-killer” but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the law would have a “small” impact on jobs, mainly affecting the amount of labor workers choose to supply,” said FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “Those getting subsidies, for instance, might work less hours since they’re paying less for health care.”
The president makes a promise that’s impossible to guarantee when he says: “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance. This law will only make it more secure and more affordable,” according to FactCheck.
“While the law does build on the U.S. system of primarily-work based coverage, the nonpartisan CBO has consistently said there will be some movement among those who currently have coverage.
The CBO has estimated that at least a few million Americans with employer-based insurance will in fact not be able to keep their current plans, and there’s nothing in the law that would prohibit employers from switching health care plans, just as they could have before the law was passed,” reports FactCheck.org.
It is estimated that some employers will find it more cost effective to pay a penalty under the law and not provide insurance coverage.
The health care reform law is not perfect. An estimated 26 million will remain without coverage including those who can’t afford it even with the subsidies.
But the law is not a “government takeover” or “job-killer” or a huge tax increase for the average American.
The fact is the health care reform law while not perfect has many benefits.
It is expected to bring coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans; young adults can stay on their parents insurance up to age 27; insurers can’t deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems.
When politicians and pundits debate merits of the law they should do so with the facts and not with exaggerations, lies or distortions.
Timely — as the 2012 presidential election nears — and controversial, “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency (Pantheon, $26.95)” is the first book by a major African-American public intellectual on racial politics and the Obama presidency.
Randall Kennedy tackles such hot-button issues as the nature of racial opposition to Obama, whether Obama has a singular responsibility to African Americans, electoral politics and cultural chauvinism, Black patriotism, the differences in Obama’s presentation of himself to Blacks and to whites, the challenges posed by the dream of a post-racial society, and the far-from-simple symbolism of Obama as a leader of the Joshua generation in a country that has elected only three Black senators and two Black governors in its entire history.
“One of the first things I wanted to do in the book was explain to people why was it such a big deal on election night when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States — why were there parties across the United States; why was there weeping? One of the things that I wanted to show was that Black Americans have been marginalized, have been snubbed, have been excluded from elected politics,” said Kennedy. “So I thought it would be useful to know about that history. In the history of the United States, there have only been two popular elected Black governors: Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Doug Wilder in Virginia. In the history of the United States there have only been three popularly elected Black senators: Obama from Illinois; Carol Mosley Brown from Illinois and again, from Massachusetts, Ed Brooke.”
Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale. He attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and is a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is the author of “Race, Crime, and the Law,” a winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption”; “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and “Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal.” Renowned for his cool reason vis-à-vis the pitfalls and clichés of racial discourse, Kennedy gives a keen and shrewd analysis of the complex relationship between the first Black president and his African-American constituency.
“The terms under which Barack Obama won the presidency, the conditions under which he governs, and the circumstances under which he seeks re-election all display the haunting persistence of the color line,” writes Kennedy in the book’s introduction. “Many prophesied or prayed that his election heralded a post-racial America. But everything about Obama is widely, insistently, almost unavoidably interpreted through the prism of race — his appearance (light-skinned), his demeanor (not an angry Black man), his diction (‘articulate,’ ‘no Negro dialect’), his spouse (dark-skinned), the support he enjoys (anchored by Blacks), the opposition he encounters (constituted overwhelmingly by whites). For Obama himself, the consciousness of race is ever-present. It was evident on Election Night when he remarked on the miraculousness of an African American winning the White House. It was evident at the inauguration when he alluded to the fact that, during his father’s lifetime, bigotry denied Blacks service in Washington, D.C., restaurants. It was evident at the press conference of December 7, 2010, when, defending hotly disputed tax legislation, he maintained that compromise was central to America, including the Founding Fathers’ compromise with slavery — a bargain that some thoughtful observers have condemned as immoral.”
Eschewing the critical excesses of both the left and the right, Kennedy offers a gimlet-eyed view of Obama’s triumphs and travails, his strengths and weaknesses, as they pertain to the troubled history of race in America.
Being president of the United States is an extraordinarily difficult job for anyone,” said Kennedy. “Now here comes Barack Obama — two wars going on, an economic catastrophe, a politically divided country — and he’s a Black man. The purposes of level of difficulty, is very, very high to be appreciated when it comes to judging the president. As you know from my book, I’m critical of the president along a wide range of dimensions, and I don’t have a problem voicing criticism of the president. At the same time, one must understand the difficulties he faces, including the special difficulties he faces with his race. Barack Obama had to overcome his Blackness to become the president of the United States. He has had to overcome his Blackness to govern the United States, and he will have to overcome his Blackness yet again to be re-elected.”
ST. LOUIS — Rep. Todd Akin fought to salvage his Senate campaign Monday, even as members of his own party turned against him and a key source of campaign funding was cut off in outrage over the Missouri congressman's comments that women are able to prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape."
Akin made no public appearances but went on former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's national radio show to apologize. He vowed to continue his bid for higher office.
"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," Akin said. "To quote my old friend John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to fight."
But Akin seemed to be losing political support by the hour as fellow Republicans urged him to abandon a race the party had long considered essential in their bid to regain control of the Senate. Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill is seen as vulnerable in public opinion polls and because she has been a close ally of President Barack Obama.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said the group's head, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, called Akin on Monday to tell him that the committee had withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
Publicly, Cornyn called Akin's comments "indefensible" and suggested he take 24 hours to consider "what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party and the values that he cares about and has fought for."
Two other Republican senators — Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — urged Akin to step aside from the Senate race.
Brown, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, said Akin's comments were "outrageous, inappropriate and wrong."
Johnson called Akin's statements "reprehensible and inexcusable," and urged Akin to withdraw "so Missouri Republicans can put forth a candidate that can win in November."
Akin also got a swift rebuke from the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Romney and Ryan "disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
"Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive," Romney said in an interview with National Review Online.
The furor began Sunday in an interview on KTVI-TV in St. Louis. Asked if he would support abortions for women who have been raped, Akin said: "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Later Sunday, Akin released a statement saying that he "misspoke." But the fallout was swift and severe.
During the somber interview on Huckabee's program, Akin apologized repeatedly, saying he made "serious mistakes" in his comments on KTVI.
"Rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act. It's committed by violent predators," Akin said. "I used the wrong words the wrong way." He later made a similar apology in an appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show.
President Barack Obama said Akin's comments underscore why politicians — most of whom are men — should not make health decisions on behalf of women.
"Rape is rape," Obama said. And the idea of distinguishing among types of rape "doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me."
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said a woman who is raped "has no control over ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg. ... To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths."
Between 10,000 and 15,000 abortions occur each year nationwide among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. An unknown number of babies are born to rape victims, the group said.
Research on the prevalence of rape-related pregnancies is spotty. One estimate published in 1996 said about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, or about 32,000 pregnancies among adult women each year.
McCaskill was ready to move on, saying Akin should not be forced out of the race.
"What's startling to me is that (Republican) party bigwigs are coming down on him and saying that he needs to kick sand in the face of all the primary voters," McCaskill said Monday at a campaign event in suburban St. Louis.
"I want Missourians to make a choice in this election based on policy, not backroom politics."
The McCaskill campaign seemed to favor a matchup against Akin. McCaskill ran statewide TV ads during the primaries painting Akin as too conservative even for Missouri. She also ran ads against his GOP rivals.
The Akin ads served two purposes for McCaskill: boosting Akin among the more conservative Republican primary voters to help get him nominated and raising questions about him among moderates and liberals.
Akin won the state's Republican Senate primary just two weeks ago by a comfortable margin over millionaire businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Many considered him a favorite to beat McCaskill in November.
Experts say the rape comments were a game-changer.
"He may in fact have mortally wounded himself," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. "This is a statement that is so crude and so offensive to more than half the electorate that there's a real danger here that he has dealt himself out of this race."
University of Missouri political scientist Peverill Squire said Akin's comments could particularly hurt him among suburban voters, where Republicans have done well in recent elections and "where McCaskill really does need to pick up some votes to stay in office. This certainly gives her an opening."
Ushering Akin from the race is complicated by the fact that he has never been a candidate beholden to the party establishment. Since being elected to Congress in 2000, Akin has relied on a grassroots network of supporters. His Senate campaign is being run by his son.
Missouri election law allows candidates to withdraw 11 weeks before Election Day. That means the deadline for the Nov. 6 election would be 5 p.m. Tuesday. Otherwise, a court order would be needed to remove a candidate's name from the ballot.
If Akin were to leave, state law gives the Republican state committee two weeks to name a replacement. The candidate would be required to file within 28 days of Akin's exit.
If Akin gets out, attention turns to Brunner and Steelman, but other possibilities include Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, whom Republicans unsuccessfully tried to draft into the race earlier this year; former Sen. Jim Talent; and two members of Missouri's House delegation, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jo Ann Emerson.
Talent, who lost his seat to McCaskill in 2006, said he would not enter the race, The Washington Post reported.
Akin, a former state lawmaker who was first elected to the House in 2000, has a long-established base among evangelical Christians. He has been an outspoken abortion opponent, and his campaign website proudly points out that he is listed among Planned Parenthood's "Toxic Ten" legislators. -- (AP)
It’s the big elephant in the electoral room: the Supreme Court.
As contentious and downright nasty as this general election cycle has turned, neither incumbent President Barack Obama, nor the Republican nominee, former Gov. Mitt Romney, have touched it. Despite splashy headlines that the high court was headed into a new session this past week, the political press corps appeared to take a pass and shrug on it. The masses hardly noticed.
The candidates, for obvious reasons, are reluctant to bring it up. With the American psyche overwhelmed by an endless news cycle of gaffes, blunders and embarrassing video clips, Supreme Court issues rank at the bottom of the messaging list. Voters are still concerned about the country’s economic trajectory more so than what nine lifetime appointees in black robes are grumbling about yards away from Capitol Hill. As a result, the two main candidates have obliged with little mention of how they would pick a Supreme Court justice.
“I suspect it’s because every candidate claims that they want the same thing in a justice: someone who will interpret and not make law,” guesses Anderson Francois, a professor of law and supervising attorney at Howard University’s Civil Rights Clinic. The clinic has already been involved in filing Supreme Court briefs on historic civil rights and voting rights cases up for deliberation this session.
Picking a Supreme Court justice ranks among the most consequential decisions a president can make. Yet, in these very polarized and uncertain political times, Supreme Court picks are fast becoming the ideological battle of the ages. With ongoing chatter and rumors swirling about the deteriorating health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what might happen to the other three justices over age 74, inquiring minds want to know: who would a second-term President Obama or a first-term President Romney select as a replacement?
“Only the base of each party tends to focus on the issue of the court, and their votes aren’t likely to be swayed,” observes Amy Howe, editor of the authoritative court watching SCOTUSblog and a partner at D.C.-based Goldstein & Russell, P.C. who has argued before the Court. “The Court this year is tough to pigeonhole. During the 2010 elections, the president did try to make the court an issue after Citizens United, but to the extent that he wants to rely on the Affordable Care Act he can’t really run against the court. Same for Mitt Romney in reverse.”
Neither candidate has spoken to it directly, with sources pointing to a palpable nervousness about how their natural bases and their opponent’s bases would react. Supreme Court nomination fights typically energize the respective ideological extremes on both the left and right. However, there are numerous clues in the public consciousness about how the candidates would deliberate, from Obama already picking two justices (Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor) to Romney highlighting the issue of a strengthened Constitution as a key platform on both his website and during the debate.
“The role of government — look behind us: The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” said Romney during the first debate with President Obama at the University of Denver while pointing to a large diorama of the historic documents behind the stage. “The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.”
Some observers took that as the Republican’s dog whistle to hard-right conservatives still licking their wounds from the high court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act earlier this summer. In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts, once a reliable ideologue on the right’s favorite issues, seemed to step out of political character by largely keeping the controversial “ObamaCare” law intact.
But, the stakes are higher than that for either side of the ideological fence. There is a growing sense that at least two slots might open up due to retirement, illness or other personal reasons. Should he be re-elected, Obama is expected to pick a justice conforming to his center-left philosophy, thereby beginning the process of dramatically shifting the court from the right. That scenario scares conservatives, who hope Romney will arrive to solidify the Court’s conservative majority for decades to come.
And, at the end of the day, it’s the Supreme Court that gets the last word on all the important issues.
This session already promises a number of “blockbuster” cases, as Howe calls them, potentially earth-shattering docket shifters that could determine the fate of everything from voting rights to DNA sampling to gay rights and affirmative action. Many observers, particularly civil rights advocates, are biting their nails at the thought of an unapologetic conservative court potentially destroying affirmative action for good through one swift ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin — in which that school’s minority admissions program is being challenged. Others, particularly Black and Latino politicos, are worried about the implications of fresh challenges threatening the Voting Rights Act, while gay rights advocates wonder if the Court will uphold the Defense of Marriage Act or strike down California’s Proposition 8. There is also the lesser known, but equally impactful Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Company case, which examines the liability of corporations torturing outside the United States.
Former Colorado Senate president and Johns Hopkins senior fellow Peter Groff cautions that some cases might stand out more than others at the closing days of the election. While he believes it’s “unlikely” they will impact the election, “the timing of the arguments in the affirmative action case is interesting.”
“It could prompt a cross country debate on the issue between the president and Romney late in the campaign,” adds Groff.
A large part of the problem, many experts agree, is that the Court is too partisan. “The courts are supposed to be unbiased and nonpartisan,” argues Andrew Blotky, Director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. “But under our Constitution, the President appoints Supreme Court justices, which means that elections have real consequences. And now we have a Court with majority Republican-appointed justices.”
“People need to understand elections have consequences and in this day of hyper-partisanship courts are not immune,” says Groff.