Yesterday on Democracy Now, the black left-progressive talk show host and commentator Tavis Smiley mentioned that in the 2008 election campaign “the Obama campaign started sending all of its surrogates after me to try to get me to tone down [his sharp questioning of candidate Obama], whatever that means, I guess that means not doing my job”.
Team Obama did this by sending unofficial emissaries, including Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who is close to the Obamas. Finding Smiley unwilling to soften his critical questioning, they enlisted Maya Angelou to speak with Smiley. Whatever Angelou’s many merits, she had a weakness for the inclusion of blacks in positions of power, whatever their politics. Not only was she uncritical of Obama but, as Smiley notes, had publicly supported Clarence Thomas in his 1991 ascension to the Supreme Court.
It is more sensible to view such openings in the power structure as symbolic of societal advancement but hardly a reliable means to further progress. To illustrate, consider a thought experiment: if the Judenrat were offered high level positions within the Nazi establishment, would that have been worth supporting? It might be a marker of the social change change that has been accomplished, but all the fundamental evils remain regardless of what the faces in the politburo look like.
Smiley’s story indicates the concern with which the Obama camp views critiques from the black left and point to the importance of developing these forces.