Yesterday morning my wife and I were watching the Book TV broadcast of the event at the 2008 Miami Book Fair at which Tavis Smiley shared the stage with Cornel West. This event took place approximately one week after this past Election Day and made for fascinating viewing. It was, as one might imagine, a highly forward-looking discussion, all the more interesting when viewed in the context of the transition activities that took place between the Book Fair and Barack Obama's departure for a vacation in Hawaii. Most important, however, was how Smiley and West framed their discussion in terms of both hopes and concerns.
A major concern had to do with the amount of flack that Obama would have to face over matters of race. They both agreed that the Election results did not mean that the United States had become "color-blind" and that race would continue to be an issue. They also shared the hope that Obama would be able to hold himself above most of that flack and simply sustain the rest of it.
Ironically, on the morning of this Book TV broadcast The Washington Post was running a story by Michael D. Shear about an example of that flack:
Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members this month a holiday music CD that included "Barack the Magic Negro," a parody song first aired in 2007 by talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
As of the appearance of this story, there has been no comment from Obama, which is consistent with that shared hope of Smiley and West. To the contrary, it seems as if most, if not all, of the backlash has been coming from within the Republican National Committee (RNC) itself (which, according to a follow-up post on Ben Smith's Blog for Politico, has all of three black members). Still, the real question behind the episode is the usual one: What was Saltsman thinking in circulating this CD to endorse his candidacy? Interestingly enough, when this story was first coming to a boil, Saltsman issued a statement to The Hill:
Paul Shanklin [who composed the song for airing on Limbaugh's show] is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies.
In other words Saltsman's response seems to be, "Can't anyone take a joke?" As I recall, this was one of the argumentative moves made in reaction to whether or not Don Imus crossed the line with a line that could easily be taken as a racial slur. However, that episode is now over a year old, making it beyond the attention span of Limbaugh, Shanklin, Saltsman, and probably the RNC membership, most (all?) of whom are worthy of my "history dunces" epithet. Particularly ironic, though, is that, according to Shear's report, two of Saltsman's rivals for chairing the RNC are African American, thus fulfilling one of West's futurist speculations voiced in his dialog with Smiley.
So where does this leave the Republican party? Personally, I am less concerned with Shanklin's role than I am with the idea that any of the content on Rush Limbaugh's broadcasts can be taken as "light-hearted." Whether or not Limbaugh should be subjected to the same extreme measures taken against Imus is for others to decide; but, if the Republican Party wants to assume the role of a "loyal opposition," then it is about time for them to distance themselves as far as possible from Limbaugh and others of his hate-speaking ilk. Obama's transition team has gone to great lengths to prepare an Administration that will take a bipartisan approach to the practice of politics. This is not a time for the Republicans to circle their wagons around Limbaugh in preparation for four years of intense divisiveness. Saltsman's unapologetic apology is that last thing the RNC needs, and I hope the Republicans recognize that when they choose their new chairman at the end of next month.