2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

The Obama Messiah Watch

 

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Timothy Noah
Slate
A periodic feature considering evidence that
Obama is the son of God.

 
 

Part 1:  Is Barack Obama—junior U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review editor, Men's Vogue cover model, and "exploratory" presidential candidate—the second coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, Prince of Peace and King of Kings, Jesus Christ? His press coverage suggests we can't dismiss this possibility out of hand. I therefore inaugurate the Obama Messiah Watch, which will periodically highlight gratuitously adoring biographical details that appear in newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of this otherworldly presence in our midst.

Today's item, from a Los Angeles Times profile by Larry Gordon about Obama's two years at Occidental College (before he transferred to Columbia):

In [political science professor Roger] Boesche's European politics class, [classmate Ken] Sulzer said he was impressed at how few notes [italics mine] Obama took. "Where I had five pages, Barry had probably a paragraph of the pithiest, tightest prose you'd ever see. … It was very short, very sweet. Obviously somebody almost Clintonesque in being able to sum a whole lot of concepts and place them into a succinct written style."

 

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Part II:   Last week, Slate inaugurated the Obama Messiah Watch, a periodic inquiry into whether Barack Obama is the son of God. The Obama Messiah Watch will spotlight gratuitously adoring biographical details that appear in newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review editor, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, and "exploratory" presidential candidate. The objective is not to insult Obama, but rather to restore a little rationality to the coverage of his potential candidacy. Indeed, those most awestruck by Obama invite suspicion that they're expressing the same condescension voiced last week by presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and President Bush when they praised Obama as "articulate." (The noninsulting term is eloquent.) Or they may just be gaga. Or—we can't rule this out—perhaps Obama really is the Word made flesh.

Today's entry is from a Jan. 27 Associated Press feature by Glen Johnson:

Obama analyzed and integrated Einstein's theory of relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as well as the concept of curved space as an alternative to gravity, for a [Harvard] Law Review article that [Prof. Laurence] Tribe wrote titled, "The Curvature of Constitutional Space."

By this measure, thousands of reasonably bright high-school students across the United States are destined to become president. (AP's Johnson gets extra credit for redundancy: Einstein's General Theory of Relativity includes the concept of curved space.) (Feb 5, 2007)

 

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Barack Obama. Click image to expand.

Part III: Is Barack Obama the Light of the World? To answer this question, Slate has been gathering gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review editor, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, sot-weed addict, and "exploratory" presidential candidate. Today's entry is a Feb. 5 Associated Press story by Karin Stanton on Obama's genealogy. Although Stanton was unable to locate the Lord in Obama's family tree, she did find the father of our country:

Bruce Harrison, founder of the Waikoloa[, Hawaii]-based Family Forest Project, says he found links between the Democratic senator from Illinois and Presidents George Washington, James Madison, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter.

Apparently the common ancestor is one Lawrence Washington, an English wool merchant born circa 1500. Lawrence is Obama's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather on his mother's side. Lawrence was George Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather on his father's side. In addition to four presidents, Stanton reports, Lawrence Washington's descendants include Gen. George S. Patton, Adlai Stevenson, and Quincy Jones.

Stanton neglects to tell readers that this Obama ancestor built the Washington family estate in Oxfordshire, Sulgrave Manor, on land that King Henry VIII confiscated from the Catholic Church. She also neglects to point out that, according to the same genealogical database, George Washington is President George W. Bush's 11th cousin eight times removed, and that Dubya may be "at least a 79th great-grandson of the famous King Solomon of the Bible, whose name is synonymous with great wisdom." Talk about regression to the mean! (Feb 7\, 2007)

 

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Part IV:  Is Barack Obama the Man from Galilee? To answer this question, Slate has been gathering gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. Senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, George Washington relative, and "exploratory" presidential candidate. Today's entry is from a Feb. 8 profile in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin by B.J. Reyes. The profile covers Obama's student days at Punahou School, a Honolulu prep school whose graduates also include AOL founder Steve Case and actress Kelly Preston. Reyes' scoop? "Barry" (as he was then known) became a jazz buff while still in junior high! Here are the details:

His maturity for someone their age also was notable.

"Barry was into things that other kids our age weren't into," says Ando, 46, recalling a time in middle school when they went to a record store just to browse.

"He went through the entire jazz section while we were there. ... That affects me to this day—he's the one who introduced me to jazz."

He had that effect on a lot of people …

Reyes is a little vague about precisely what jazz records Barry would listen to at that tender age. Are we talking about Jean-Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio? If so, big deal. Even metalhead Black Sabbath fans were spinning that one in the mid-1970s. If, on the other hand, the beardless Barry was listening to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, then we would have to judge him fairly precocious. In the unlikely event Barry was grooving on Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come or Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity, then dig it, baby. This cat's the messiah. (Feb 9, 2007)

 

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Part V:   IBarack Obama. Click image to expand.s Barack Obama the Lion of the tribe of Judah? To answer this question, Slate has been gathering gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, teenage jazz enthusiast, and declared presidential candidate. Today's entry is from a Rolling Stone profile by Ben Wallace-Wells:

It is early January, a few weeks before Obama is set to announce his campaign for the presidency. He is sitting in his Senate office, dangling one leg over the other knee and speaking very, very slowly. It's not just that Obama searches for the right word; it's that the search seems to take him to distant worlds.

Wallace-Wells doesn't flat-out say so, but the implication is that Obama is in telepathic communication with space aliens in distant galaxies whose vastly superior intelligence enables them to game the maddeningly compressed new primary calendar. This is just the sort of thing you'd expect the Messiah to do. Alternatively, Wallace-Wells may have caught Obama wondering briefly whether at lunchtime he'd been wise to go for seconds on the Senate bean soup. This would tend to support the criticism that Obama lacks sufficient experience for the Oval Office. (February16, 2008)

 

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Part VI
s Barack Obama the Good Shepherd? To answer this question, Slate has been gathering gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, possible telepathic communicator with space aliens from distant galaxies, and declared presidential candidate. Today's entry is a slight departure from form, being not a gratuitously adoring biographic detail from an Obama profile, but rather an implausible absolutist assertion by Stuart Taylor Jr. of National Journal in an essay about Obama titled, "The Great Black-White Hope." Here is what Taylor wrote:

[I]t is beyond debate that an Obama win in 2008 would be by far the best thing that has happened to African-Americans, and to race relations, in more than 50 years.

This is a remarkable statement because nearly all the achievements of the 20th-century civil rights movement occurred within the last 50 years. The most significant exceptions are President Harry Truman's desegregation of the armed forces in 1948; the Supreme Court's decision outlawing school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954; and the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and 1956. Taylor's statement allows for the possibility that any of these things constituted a bigger advance for blacks and for race relations than a prospective Obama presidency. But that leaves an awful lot out.

Here is a (necessarily incomplete) list of things that, according to Taylor, cannot possibly constitute a bigger advance for blacks than a prospective Obama presidency (because the latter's superior benefit is "beyond debate"):

1) President Dwight Eisenhower sending in federal troops to enforce the court-ordered desegregation of Central High in Little Rock, Ark. (1957)
2) The Freedom Rides (1961)
3) Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech (1963)
4) Martin Luther King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" (1963)
5) The Civil Rights Act of 1964
6) The Voting Rights Act of 1965
7) The Fair Housing Act of 1968

If an Obama candidacy would do more for African-Americans than any of these landmarks, then surely Obama is the Messiah. If, on the other hand, Taylor is only espousing this view because he's fed up with what he calls "the myth of continuing African-American victimhood," then he's parroting Charles J. Kelly, Jr., a retired white financier who tried, unsuccessfully, to draft Colin Powell to run for president in 1996. Here is what Kelly told my late wife, Marjorie Williams, when she wrote about the Powell-for-president blip in the Oct. 1995 Vanity Fair:

His presence says, 'Kwitcherbitchin. If I can do it, you can do it. Don't run around talking about how the world owes you a living. Just don't whine about it. Get on with your lives.

I have a dream. A dream that one day, angry white men like Taylor and Kelly will have a nobler reason to give one African-American a platform than the desire to get a whole lot of other African-Americans to shut up. Kelly's support insulted Powell then, and Taylor's support insults Obama now.

 

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Part VII:  Is Barack Obama the alpha and omega? To answer this question, Slate Barack Obama sculpture. Click image to expand.has been gathering gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, and improvement on all forward strides in civil rights since 1957 (and possibly earlier). Now, other questing spirits are beginning to ask the same question. The Weekly Standard, which in the past distinguished itself with exposés of plagiarism by Doris Kearns Goodwin and others, is trying its own hand at plagiarism with a new feature that spotlights fawning news coverage of Obama. It's called … "Obama Messiah Watch."

Hey guys, think up your own jokes.

Less likely drawn from Slate is art student David Cordero's very witty papier-mâché sculpture of Barack Obama as Jesus Christ, on view at a Chicago art gallery. The Associated Press reports that the Archdiocese of Chicago has not seen the sculpture, which is called Blessing, and therefore will offer no comment. But I'll bet Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., hustles over in a jiffy when Cordero's sculpture starts weeping real tears.

 

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Part VIII: Barack Obama the Everlasting Father? To answer this question, Slate has periodically gathered gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, Grammy winner, possible telepathic communicator with space aliens from distant galaxies, improvement on all civil rights gains since 1957, and declared presidential candidate.

Barack Obama. Click image to expand.

Today's entry is a double-header. We begin with this observation from a Sept. 7 Salon dispatch from the campaign trail by my friend and former Chatterbox comrade Walter Shapiro:

Paul Tewes, Obama's Iowa coordinator, marveled, "It is something I've never seen before in politics. After people hear him speak, they say that they feel at peace." That phrase—"feel at peace"—has also never been used before by a veteran campaign staffer since I covered my first Iowa caucus in 1980.

Does Tewes' unusual choice of words demonstrate that Obama is the Prince of Peace? Just asking.

We next move on to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., as quoted by Janny Scott in the Sept. 9 New York Times:

Mr. Rush has an explanation for Mr. Obama's emergence after the dark days of 2000 as a political star four years later. He vanquished a field of multimillionaires, some more experienced and better known, and benefited from fortuitous domestic scandals that sidelined two opponents and left him facing a Republican [Alan Keyes, who was] widely seen as unable to win.

"I would characterize the Senate race as being a race where Obama was, let's say, blessed and highly favored," Mr. Rush said, chuckling. "That's not routine.

There's something else going on."

What was he suggesting?

"I think that Obama, his election to the Senate, was divinely ordered," Mr. Rush said, all other explanations failing. "I'm a preacher and a pastor; I know that that was God's plan. Obama has certain qualities that—I think he is being used for some purpose. I really believe that."

Keyes himself, it's only fair to note, stated during the campaign that "Christ would not vote for Barack Obama, because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved." This represents, however, a minority view among Christian theologians and political reporters. (Sept. 7, 2008)

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Part IX: Michelle Obama's Reuters Halo.
Is Barack Obama the Nazarene? To answer this question, Slate has periodically gathered gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, two-time Grammy winner, efficient note-taker, physics wunderkind, descendent of George Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather, teenage jazz enthusiast, possible telepathic communicator with space aliens from distant galaxies, improvement on all civil rights gains since 1957, calmer of turbulent Iownas, and front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In the Feb. 13 Financial Times, Edward Luce suggests that the candidate's Sancha Panza of a wife, Michelle Obama, keeps her man from developing a Messiah complex, and scolds this column for not recognizing that. Actually, I never suggested Obama had a Messiah complex (though others have). I merely suggested that a few excitable souls in the media bear the apparant conviction that Obama is the Redeemer. To this growing list we must now add the Reuters photographer who snapped this Annunciation-style picture of … Michelle Obama!

 

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