Monday, December 29, 2008
Saltsman's "We Hate the USA" CD
As one of the many Americans considering a descent on the inauguration ceremonies next month, even without any actual tickets in hand (and nary a perfunctory response to my queries about possibly obtaining some from my local Congressman), I have been following the "transition" fairly closely. And I'm not just talking about the president elect's cabinet picks. I also mean his decisions for the ceremony itself. The brilliant choice of poet Elizabeth Alexander; the more controversial decision to ask Rick Warren to offer up the day's prayer.
Obama is certainly trying to demonstrate his commitment to an inclusive political conversation that allows for many different ideological positions. Frank Rich persuasively challenges the limits and contours of that move vis-a-vis the Warren choice in today's New York Times. But it is clear why Obama feels he has to make such massive gestures in the direction of political inclusion. To his opponents, he represents the unassimilable anti-American. He is the butt of jokes. The threat from within.
Just think about Chip Saltsman's version of holiday gift-giving this year. Saltsman was national campaign adviser for Mike Huckabee during his failed presidential run, and Saltsman is now one of the people vying for head of the RNC. This weekend, we also found out that he sent a CD out to RNC members (as a Christmas gift) that included the song youtubed above, "Barack, The Magic Negro."
But the CD didn't just showcase that gem. According to Rebecca Sinderbrand's CNN report, the CD itself was titled "We Hate the USA," and boasted tunes that poked fun at many other political figures.
According to Sinderbrand and The Hill, the CD included the following song titles: "John Edwards's Poverty Tour," "Wright place, wrong pastor," "Ivory and Ebony" and "The Star Spanglish Banner."
The Star Spanglish Banner?
Saltsman has dismissed the controversy out of hand, describing the CD as a harmelss spoof. "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it," he said. "I think RNC members understand that."
But it is clear that Saltsman comes close to trafficking in the very forms of small-minded xenophobia, race-baiting, partisan hypocrisy, and fear-mongering that helped cost John McCain the 2008 election. To many critics, such a CD looks like political pandering (and scapegoating) at its worst -- and doesn't nearly imply the kind of forward-thinking sensibility needed to take the Republican party where it needs to go. If anything, it appears to be a surefire recipe for many more electoral defeats at the hands of a browning electorate.
However, Saltsman's holiday gesture can also help to explain some of what Obama is up against -- and why a few of his picks (for cabinet and the inaugural dais) can leave many of his supporters unsatisfied.
Saltsman demonstrates the context Obama must negotiate, a politicized landscape where some Republican operatives think that disagreeing with them on substantive policy issues means that you must just "hate the USA."
But Obama can't get caught up in proving himself to these intractable naysayers, even as he tries to embrace those rivals serious about talking honestly (and in good faith) across deep ideological divides.