It is a measure of the irrationality of Obamamania that such a non-threatening personality as Tavis Smiley would become an early, high-profile victim of this strange, mass psychosis. Smiley was driven to quit his spot on radio’s syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show by Obama zealots who have constituted themselves as a mob, sworn to eradicate from the Black public sphere all whose loyalties to the Great One are deemed questionable. The virtual stoning and exile from Black radio of Tavis Smiley is even more grotesque when it is remembered that, just a few years ago, only a handful among Obama’s current legions of Black zealots had even heard of the Chicago politician. It seems like only yesterday that Tavis Smiley, the hyper-energetic Black information entrepreneur, appeared destined for permanent Black icon status, through his many radio, television and print media products. But Smiley violated the Obama mob’s supreme commandment: Thou shalt not question Barack, period.
Specifically, Tavis challenged Obama’s rationale for refusing to appear, for the second year in a row, at Smiley’s “State of the Black Union” (SOBU) gathering in February. Obama claimed his time would be better spent campaigning in Texas and Ohio, where Hillary Clinton was the primary favorite. Clinton, on the other hand, accepted the invitation to speak to Smiley’s celebrity guests and thousands-strong audience, in New Orleans. The previous year, Obama had chosen to announce his candidacy for president in Springfield, Illinois, on the same day as the SOBU event, in Hampton, Virginia. On both occasions, many suspected that Obama’s race-neutral campaign’s intention was to avoid association with Black-specific affairs, or to expose the candidate to questioning by Cornel West or other’s among Smiley’s loquacious stable of “leaders” and “thinkers.”
Obama’s decision to withhold his presence was a huge blow to SOBU’s prestige value, which is the same as cash in Smiley’s line of business. Smiley’s genius is his knack for turning money-making events and projects into established Black institutions — he is a superb self-marketer who has made important political contributions to Black America through his heavy production schedule of radio and TV programs, books and mass events over the years. Politically eclectic, sometimes to the point of seeming to be apolitical, Smiley would never purposely alienate any public Black personality with a sizeable following — that’s bad for business — and certainly was not fool enough to deliberately provoke Barack Obama’s worshipful fans. Smiley, however, failed to realize that, among Obama’s core followers there exists zero tolerance for criticism of The Leader — real or perceived. In the more cultish corners of Obamaland, Tavis Smiley became The Enemy when he said of Obama, “I think it is a miscalculation on his part not to appear [at SOBU] and a missed opportunity.”
Poor Tavis, who had labored so long and hard to become a Black media darling, suddenly found himself condemned as “a hater, sellout and traitor,” he told inquiring bloggers. “They are harassing my momma, harassing my brother. It’s getting to be crazy.”
Of course Obama fans are crazy. Fan is short for fanatic. Smiley failed to realize until it was too late that this was not politics as usual; that his past good deeds counted for nothing among the cultified; and that he was about to encounter the stinger ends of a mass of agitated scorpions.
The media entrepreneur only made things worse for himself by attempting to mount a defense on Tom Joyner’s hugely popular syndicated radio program, of which Smiley had been a fixture for 12 years. “My job is to ask the critical question, to raise these issues and keep these guys focused,” said Smiley, pleading the First Amendment. “There are some people who are disappointed that I’m not jumping up and down saying, ‘Vote for Barack Obama.’ That’s not my role as a journalist. That’s not what I do.”
Joyner, the legendary disc jockey, knows all about fans and fanatics — folks who will assassinate you for hinting that their favorite performer is no longer a hot commodity. Obama-maniacs are more vicious, having convinced themselves that the hopes and dreams of The Race are perfectly embodied in The Candidate. In an April letter, Joyner blamed Smiley’s sudden resignation from the radio show on “the hate he’s been getting” from Joyner’s audience. Joyner wasn’t about to get on the wrong side of such an intensity of hatred. He assured the fanatics where he stood: “I’ll also admit that I wanted Tavis to show a little more love to Barack Obama, and I was frustrated over his failure to do so.”
Amazing, isn’t it, that appearing to cross Barack Obama gets a highly respected Black demi-icon run out of Black radio on a rail, yet all parties involved continue to speak endlessly of “love.” Joyner struggled to convince his fans to fulfill their Tavis Smiley love quota. “I want you to call him, e-mail him, text him, hug him, kiss him, get him in a corner and wrestle him and tell him how much you love him and appreciate his love for black people.”
This is the kind of nonsense that passes for political speech and analysis in the Age of Obama, an historical period populated by lovers and haters – but very few thinkers. “We’re so emotional about this Barack Obama candidacy,” said Joyner, in an understatement to his audience. “If you don’t say anything for Barack Obama, you’re considered to be a hater.”
Don’t worry about Tavis Smiley. Nationwide insurance has agreed to provide “exclusive sponsorship of Smiley’s PBS television program as a provider of property & casualty insurance products.” That’s because “Nationwide and Tavis Smiley share common values and a common purpose” — as does Smiley and Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil and McDonald’s. Smiley embarks on a five-city tour with Nationwide in mid-May. In other words, Smiley will be alright on the money front, despite his close brush with social death at the hands of mad Obamites. However, concerning the condition of Black politics in general — well, that’s a much more dire situation.
Recall that just a handful among Obama’s current legions of Black zealots even knew his name a few years ago – and yet they have become so psychologically bonded to some idea of Obama — that is, to the man they imagine Obama to be — that they were prepared to cast out a previously anointed Major Black Personage, Tavis Smiley, as an example of what happens to infidels.
Consider that the vast majority of Black Obama supporters, based on indicators such as polls, statements at public meetings and traffic on the blog-stream, are unaware of Obama’s actual positions on military spending, economic justice, and public policy to reverse the effects of centuries of racism. Instead, they apparently rely on their imaginations to provide them with Obama’s positions on any given issue. For example, most Black Obama supporters appear to believe that the candidate favors a smaller, rather than larger, U.S. military establishment and budget, is an active opponent of corporate power, and favors race-based remedies to historical and current race-based problems. None of it is true, as Obama has publicly stated on many occasions.
I have purposely focused on African American supporters of Barack Obama, in the firm belief that most have arrived at Obama obsessions and delusions through a very different route than their non-Black counterparts. As political scientist Michael Dawson has noted, there is a strong current of “middle-class black nationalism” circulating among African American Obamites — a phenomenon that obviously has no counterpart among non-Blacks. And although both Black and non-Black Obama supporters have twisted logic and history to maintain that massive Black and “progressive” support for Obama’s campaign equals a renewed Black-progressive “movement,” the assault on Tavis Smiley is a purely “Black thing” that has nothing to do with progressive politics or any specific issues whatsoever.
There is no doubt this visceral, nationalist Obamism is the dominant strain in Black America — as should have been expected ever since Obama emerged fully packaged on the national scene, in 2004.
Black nationalism is a logical response to intractable, racist white American nationalism, and the inevitable product of centuries of Black internal nation-building. Black nationalism comes in progressive, internationalist manifestations, and in backward, rightist flavors.
Apparently, there’s also a purely crazy kind that only comes out when an African American has a serious chance of capturing the White House. It is this strange brand of Black nationalism that threatened Tavis Smiley’s momma and ran him off of Black radio.