Tavis Smiley Seeks Relief from Crazed Obamites

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.

Glen Ford is Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report, where this article first appeared. He can be contacted at: Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com. Read other articles by Glen, or visit Glen's website.

21 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 5:38am #

    Thank you!! This is exactly what I have been saying: Obama has become a cult leader. Every single black person I have seen out on the streets with clipboards supporting Obama has been unable to answer ANY questions about substantive issues! You know: where does he stand on the issues? Where has he provided leadership? Is he more or less progressive than Hillary Clinton? (He is LESS progressive than she is, sorry Obama lovers, but the facts are clear on this – I’m not a Clinton supporter).

    When he started getting popular, I did my homework. I read his books, looked at his website, listened to him, listened to both pro and con surrogates, and I especially looked at his stands on issues. I agree with him on many things, but not on enough things. I also weighed in his inexperience and his rhetoric (well intentioned) about civility (not a good idea; these days it’s a clear sign of leaning rightward, since conservatives won’t allow civility and see it as a weakness).

  2. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 5:40am #

    I meant “btw, I’m not a Clinton supporter”. And I also meant to say that I have only seen black supporters, no white or asian or other people out on the streets. They are fundraising for Obama’s candidacy. I hope that Clinton, not Obama, gets the nomination; I will vote for either Nader or McKinney.

  3. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 9:39am #

    Rich Griffin

    I have always found it amazing if not bizarre that on so many [alleged] progressive web sites, progressives have no hesitation in bashing the most progressive candidate running for president. I think you might find this link to be of interest.


  4. Eric Patton said on April 17th, 2008 at 9:45am #

    Erroll wrote:
    > the most progressive candidate running for president

    Isn’t that kind of like being the smartest kid on the short bus?

  5. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 9:47am #

    Erroll, Hillary Clinton is far more progressive than Barack Obama! He is a centrist! Look at his record and look at hers!! There is proof that I am correct and you aren’t..

    I want you to apologize to me, if he wins, a year after – when you learn the truth that you have been sold down the river. You will realize that you got caught in the “cult of Obama”, a dangerous unwise course that will set back the progressive movement for decades. Shame on you!

    Vote for Nader or McKinney.

  6. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 10:31am #

    Rich Griffin

    There seems to be a great deal of confusion here. Did you click on the link that I provided for you at 9: 39 am? If you did, you would have found a You Tube video lauding the candidacy of the most progressive person running for president. For some strange reason, you seem to believe that I believe that person to be Barack Obama. As the video makes abundantly clear, that progressive candidate is certainly not Obama[Obama -progressive? Not hardly] but a candidate named Ralph Nader. I have not succumbed to becoming an Obamamaniac. Instead I would not find it surprising if I am the only person in the town where I live that wears a Nader button on his or her shirt.

    The hope is that I have shattered your illusion that I am somehow an Obama supporter, since Obama has consistently voted to continue to fund the war and is opposed to a universal single payer health care plan and is opposed to the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. As I tried to state before, any one who claims to be a progressive should cast their vote for Nader [or also Cynthia McKinney or Gloria La Riva].

    Click on the link and watch the video along with the other videos that are to the right of the main video for confirmation of what I am saying.

  7. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 10:34am #

    Rich G.

    The video featuring Bill Maher interviewing Nader was interesting also, though I found Maher came off looking intellectually diminished next to what Nader had to say.

  8. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 12:51pm #

    Thanks for clearing that up! My computer can’t handle video stream links. Yes, I’m a Nader supporter, too, but I also really like Cynthia McKinney. btw, who is Gloria La Riva? I learned about Mike Gravel when it was too late to support him, since even the alternative media didn’t really report on his candidacy. I apologize for being so cranky about it – I’ve gotten really tired of how maligned Hillary Clinton has been – if she were a man it would be different.

  9. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 1:03pm #

    Rich G.

    Here is a link explaining who Gloria La Riva is. The web site Left i on the News likes Ms. LaRiva as well as other social issues which tilt left.


  10. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 4:04pm #

    Thank you for the information!! (:

  11. Deadbeat said on April 17th, 2008 at 7:11pm #

    Glen Ford has been on a sectarian rampage against Barack Obama. The notion that African Americans who support Obama are “fanatics” is insulting to say the least and outright hypocrisy by Ford himself.

    Ford in 2004 wrote glowing commentary in support of Howard Dean after he openly address the racial overtones used to woo southern whites. However Dean on substantive issues was quite similar in stance to Obama’s. Unfortunately, Ford did not throw his support to Ralph Nader in 2004 who was clearly the most progressive candidate and most popular anti-war candidtate running that year.

    Ford also in the past has been hyper-critical of Tavis Smiley who corporate sponsored SOBU is really a gathering for Black elites. Also missing from the article was that Obama offered to send Michelle Obama in his place. Obviously that jester was insufficient for Smiley.

    This issue is yet another non-issue that really signify nothing other than Ford’s sectarianism. Smiley ego was bruised and blasted Obama. Smiley than was held accountable by Obama’s supporters. Ironically accountability is exactly what Smiley demands from black folks.

    The real unfortunate aspects of Ford’s rants is that they lack substance that can be used to properly analyze the Obama “phenomenon”. African Americans has been either implied (by Ford in 2004) or encouraged to support the Democratic candidates. African Americans has been the most reliable voting bloc for the Democrats.

    In fact, Ford described Dennis Kucinich as the “black” candidate this year. He applied that description on Kucinich even though Kucinich never mention race (he does speak to class issue). This same Kucinich ran in 2004 and Ford used no such description. Ford, to my knowledge, has never encouraged Blacks not to vote for a Democrat.

    Outright denigrating African American who support Obama (especially after the South Carolina primary when Hillary Clinton played the race card) will not convinced them that they should withhold their support for Obama. I think it would be more useful to explain to people where he falls on the issue like health care, etc. and encourage folks to consider alternative such as Nader and McKinney but here too supporters of Nader and McKinney need to be grounded as well.

    The problem this year as opposed to 2004 is that the left’s collapse really leave it in an extremely weakened condition to mount a real challenge to Obama, should he receive the nomination. I think the left had counted on Hillary Clinton winning and with all of her negative would have been easy to mobilize against her. I think this is part of the Obama-angst coming from the left.

    The left should have supported Nader in 2004 and spent the past four years building a coalition. Especially among African American and people of color. In fact what disappointed me about Nader this year is that had he and McKinney ran together they together could build an extremely strong coalition to challenge the Democrats.

    Unfortunately, the left is not strong enough to mount two separate campaigns and rather than coalease their respective strengths, the left will limp along another election cycle. Unfortunately Nader leaves nothing organizationally to work from.

    About the most that can happen this year is that Nader could throw a money wrench on the Democrats plans but if Obama move rhetorically to the left a bit he may pick off some those same “progressives” that Ford admonishes.

    This is why, I think, Ford would be more effective providing clear analysis rather than his rather than ranting contradictory indignations upon the Obama supporters.

  12. dan e said on April 17th, 2008 at 9:09pm #

    Yes, be careful what you say to/about Black Obamamaniacs, it’s very unkind to jostle a sleepwalker:) As well as quite possibly dangerous, especially if one is a Wyt category Senile Citizen crackpot:)

    So I myself believe we should all spend our time applauding Ford for having the guts & integrity to stand up & confront the Obama fad. Craze wd be a better word. DB, did you see the job Ford did on Eric Dyson “3-pc” Thomas, on DN?
    Glen F. may not get everything absolutely right everytime, at least as I myself try to sort “right” from “rightwing” — but he’s a real person, not a commodity like Barack, Hillery & “John” McC.

    BTW, somebody a minit ago got it right re “Nader or McKinney”: Nader/Gonzalez 2008 will be History as of next November, but what Cynthia has launched is just beginning. The Reconstruction Party Organizing Cmte just held a mtg in Philly. You will shortly begin to be familiar (assuming you aren’t already?) with the name Colia L Clark, who is a Real Machine.

    BTW had my first exposure to Matt Gonzalez tonight courtesy of Amy Goodman. 30 seconds of his rap & haircut are enough for me: been there, endured that. Not again fr crysaches. Like David Cobb with Couth. Gimme a break.

    Oh well, “Amerikans”, what can you expect from a bunch who worshipped Elvis & ignored Clifford Brown.

    Hehe, I can hear it now: “Clifford Who? Who he?!!?”

    Well, don’t worry about it, Joy Spring to you all:)

    Rectanglerly Yrs,


  13. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 10:33pm #

    I do not know what program Dan e was watching as the Democracy Now! program that I saw today with Matt Gonzalez revealed an intelligent, articulate individual with a grasp of the issues. This country needs more people like Nader and Matt Gonzalez and less of people like Obama and Cinton.

    For the record, Clifford Brown happens to be one of my top favorite jazz musicians.

  14. Rich Griffin said on April 18th, 2008 at 2:00am #

    There’s been a legitimate criticism of not providing evidence of Obama vs. Clinton policy positions. The best I can offer is to look at their policy positions on their respective websites.

    Well, we “should have” organized, according to one poster, but he fails to say how we could ever do it? We have to have a way to actually organize ourselves, things to do, and places to do them. For me, I am always willing to volunteer LOCALLY!!

  15. Max Shields said on April 18th, 2008 at 8:10am #

    dan e, man I think we’re starting to find some real shared earth!

    DB, methinks you complain to much about the approach Mr. Ford should take. He’s not trying to convince the “sleepwalkers” as dan e puts it. He’s just laying it out. And what he lays out resonates.

    What I’m saying is, I don’t think the man needs a coach.

  16. Max Shields said on April 18th, 2008 at 8:19am #

    Rich Griffin good to hear you ran as a Green for city council. If we can’t change locally we sure as hell can’t change the world.

    I get your point about Hillary. It’s like I can’t stand most of where she’s coming from but Obama’s . Gnawing sense of injustice keeps biting the back of my neck. That’s the potency of Glen Ford’s remarks: He’s calling Obama out without pause.

    I think we can get a big Amen with regards to Clifford Brown – wouldn’t know where to begin in trying to compare Elvis to Brown – it’s like two different worlds.

  17. Max Shields said on April 18th, 2008 at 8:20am #

    Ok let me finish that “thought:
    I get your point about Hillary. It’s like I can’t stand most of where she’s coming from but Obama’s getting away with it.

  18. dan e said on April 19th, 2008 at 11:30am #

    Well, gotta confess I’m prejudist in favor anybody name of Erroll, on acct of Garner of course but also as longtime member ABDCEF.*

    However, man, the DN show I saw showed me a slick Commodity, another polisht Flatland Furriner as Snuffy Smif usta say, come up here ta fleece the Rubes. Which there’s still a cpl born ever minit, even on DV i guess:(

    Good godd man, aintcha got no Sales Resistance?


    *American Boy’s Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn;)

  19. Demetria Dixon said on April 25th, 2008 at 10:33am #

    Asmuch as I am proiud of Obama for the unity he has produced in the African American community, I am also a proponent of fair play. What good is your candidate if he can not be held accounatble and if you can’t ask him the hard questions. I understand the very visceral need for Obama to become the nominee if for no other reason to prove that he is the best candidate. He, like any other candidate should be held to standards of accountability. One should be able to question the man who is vying to lead our nation into the next four years. We should be able to question those who seek to be our leaders and we should never follow anyone blindly but always think for ourselves and arrive at the choice we make based on solid information and not fanciful folly.

  20. Candi said on April 29th, 2008 at 11:01am #

    When black people can learn to accept objective criticisim we will be able to move forward, but if we build up and tear down based on emotion, rather than facts, we will forever be chasing the wind.

  21. shaun said on June 21st, 2008 at 9:57am #

    Candi, I agree with you 100%,but don’t confuse objective critism with emotions. Every mention of a Obama supporter made in this article(zealots, mob, worshipful, cultish, crazy, cultified, maniacs) rings of emotion to me and if not intended to do so, were at the least insulting and heavily “objectively” critical to one side of the issue.