Rush Limbaugh figured out the perfect angle to get the tongues wagging about him. He played the Barack Obama card and dredged up the canned lyrics that he crooned on his show back in March that mocked Obama as "the Magic Negro." That was the tag that writer David Ehrenstein slapped on Obama in an op-ed column in March. Limbaugh got the predictable howls and screams for his racial prank, and the demand that he get the ax like Don Imus.
Limbaugh's Magic Negro croon is crass, tasteless, and race tinged, but it's accurate. Obama strokes, soothes, and comforts white liberals. He's the ideal non-threatening black man, the near mythical figure, that in the old days of slavery and later segregation, many fearful whites took solace in and even branded as a good Negro. Obama can't be blamed for being at least for the moment a fantasy candidate for white liberals.
Yet, he is. Politically, Obama's the antithesis of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They are brash, outspoken, and always controversial, and have been thorns in the side of the white establishment for decades. In short they are race threatening. Both of them ran for the presidency and with the arguable exception of Jackson in the 1988 Democratic primary, many whites gasped at the thought of pulling the vote lever for either of them.
Obama hasn't said a mean word about Jackson or Sharpton. Even when Sharpton took a big swipe at him for having no civil rights activist credentials, he kept silent. Maybe deliberately, since Obama knows that Sharpton is such a polarizing figure to many whites, that if he knocks him that further burnishes his standing as an African-American male that keeps his head above the racial fray. Meanwhile, Jackson has given him a lukewarm kind of sort, of endorsement.
The first tip that Obama is a security blanket for many whites was the speech at the Democratic national convention in 2004. The speech rocket launched him to national attention and got a slew of others, as well as himself, thinking that he might actually have the right stuff for the White House. In quick succession he snatched a Senate seat in Illinois with overwhelming white support, raised bushels of money, much of it from fat cat donors that stumbled over each other to shove even more dollars into his campaign basket. The adoring crowds, largely white, got bigger and bigger. When he announced that he would make a presidential run, he stood the racial divide on its head. He was a black man that whites at least rhetorically swooned over, and the crowds got even bigger and whiter.
At the same time, many blacks were taking a hard wait and see attitude toward him, not because they had anything personal against him. They barely knew him (and still don't). For many, he's a black candidate for the top office and that's cause enough for many blacks to puff their chests out. They were cool in part because they wanted to see and hear him tell more about what he'll do about the hot button issues of health care, jobs and the economy, and the war. They were cool in part precisely because so many whites gushed over him. They thought maybe Sharpton was right and that he hadn't paid his racial dues, in other words he wasn't black enough.
Obama has worked hard to overcome that block. In recent polls, he's elevated his black support. But he's still the darling of the glitter crowd. Back in February, he walked away from a soirée at the Beverly Hills home of top gun entertainment mogul, David Geffen, who's one of the Democratic Party's highest rollers with a cool million plus. Geffen and a parade of other Hollywood bigwigs ogled and swooned over him at the dinner table.
Limbaugh correctly fingered another reason that so many white liberals have gone ape over him. He's a race conscience salver. He appears to be the living proof that America has taken a giant step toward getting over it. The "it" is race. In a perverse way, though, Imus showed that that's a pipe dream. I don't mean Imus's racial slur and the firestorm over it, but the rift between blacks and whites over the proper punishment for Imus. In polls, a significant majority of whites said that he shouldn't have been fired. They burned up internet chat sites railing that it was much ado about nothing. Imus apologized, got his knuckles rapped, and that should have been the end of it. But, a decisive majority of blacks felt the exact opposite. He should have been fired, and then drummed out of the business on a rail. Denials notwithstanding, the race divide is still alive and well.
Obama is truly a magic Negro in name and in the thoughts of many whites. He's a warm and fuzzy, practically made-in-heaven black man who makes no uncomfortable racial demands. Limbaugh got that right in his off key lyrical trash of him.