Hail To The Chief

A Soulful StrutA Soulful Strut 



 The First Family

All Together 

 Signed, Sealed and Delivered he’s ours!



On the Role of Personality in Politics

   Students of modern Chinese diplomacy often spoke of “the five smiles of Chou en Lai.”  And those who negotiated with the great Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China swore that they could tell how the talks would go based upon the smile he wore that day.  Well, my man Bam also has a megawatt smile that seems to perpetually grace his face; he can lift the spirits of a crowd or defang a vicious opponent with the nuances of that mystic quicksilver smile.  We witnessed its versatility and power during the presidential debates; especially when John McCain came at him with outrageous arguments and Bam would reduce him to an absurd scowling figure in the eyes of the audience with an intricately nuanced smile.  Suddenly the Presidential debates became a contest between a prince and a troll.

 The only smile I ever saw that could match Bam’s power and versatility was the smile of Malcolm X, to whom Barack bears more than a slight resemblance for those of us who remember Malcolm before he grew a beard.  He is tall and lanky like Malcolm, dirty red complexion like Malcolm, graceful of movement like Malcolm – Bam is a b-ball player and Malcolm was a great dancer – a spell binding orator like Malcolm, wears his hair in a Quo Vadis like Malcolm, has a Muslim name like El Hajj Malik Shabazz, and has a killer smile that can convey love or malice with an uncanny ease…just like Malcolm. 

            Sometimes the resemblance was so uncanny that one amped up commentator suggested Bam was the secret love child of Malcolm X, while me and my friends thanked the Gods and the ancestors that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are far too ignorant of history to notice the amazing similarity in their speaking styles; especially the way they employed their smile in the service of their argument.   The broader point suggested by this observation is that had Malcolm X not come of age in an apartheid America, he might well have been what Barack Obama has become.  After all, Malcolm’s youthful ambition was to become a lawyer, until his racist high school adviser told him Negroes couldn’t become lawyers and suggested that he learn to work with his hands, and Malcolm had a gift for moving masses with the sound of his voice…just like Bam: My, how the times have changed

Through-out  this election, even when the Alaskan pit bull got down and dirty, inciting the untutored racist mob into a murderous frenzy calling for his head, Bam never got ruffled and nary a frown ever clouded his face.  The smile my man was smiling last night as he looked out at a wildly cheering crowd that extended as far as the naked eye could see, and no wide angel camera lens could capture in its full grandeur, was the smile of victory.  The fancy dancing Chicago Kid had trounced the Arizona brawler!   If it had been a boxing match it would have been a knockout early on – a wipeout!

As great as the moment of victory was, when the knockout came the Kid had landed so many telling blows that the outcome had long become a fait accompli in the minds of the wise guys, it was almost anti-climatic; this time the smart money got the nod.  Although the Arizona brawler had constantly thrown punches beneath the belt, the sure mark of a dirty fighter that would be disqualified in the boxing ring, the kid was so swift on the cap if they had been in the ring the brawler couldn’t hit the kid with a hand full of rice from point blank range.  And that’s on the real; Bam was that great folks

Fulfilling an Ancestral Imperative

 Campaign 2008 Sharpton

Barack Obama and Long time Civil Rights Activist Rev. Al Sharpton

In rising to the pinnacle of power on a progressive platform of expanding the democratic process and serving the public interests by offering programs that serve the needs of the broad masses of the people, rather than the special interests of the economic elites, Barack has shown a proper respect for his ancestral imperatives. Here I am referring to a kinship based on culture and political struggle rather than blood ties.   Hence if Obama’s smile is the mirror of his soul, Jesse Jackson’s tears mirror the hopes and dreams of past generations.  I know, because I am a part of that heroic generation who confronted fascism in the south during the turbulent Sixties; challenging the claims of white supremacy by placing our lives on the line for the right to vote. 

As the great Jewish theologian Abraham Herschel, an internationally renowned authority on the Hebrew prophetic tradition observed of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Moralist of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue,” but “the Distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression.”  The African-American activist who challenged the southern police state were inspired by that prophetic tradition as expressed in the black church – the tradition represented by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a great preacher of the gospel at whose feet Barack learned the art of oratory as practiced by the Afro-American protestant clergy.   A tradition that has produced the greatest orators the world has yet seen.  

The twentieth century African American Renaissance man James Weldon Johnson called these wizards of the spoken word “God’s Trombones.”  The Reverend Jesse Jackson is one of their number; having been tutored in art of preaching the social gospel by the greatest orator of the twentieth century: Martin Luther King.   Largely on the basis of his quick witted intelligence and oratorical virtuosity Jesse made the idea of an African American running for President plausible.  The triumph of Barack Obama, who began as a community organizer in the city of Chicago where Jackson has made his base for years, was the fulfillment of a long and tortuous struggle.  As a tireless advocate for the poor and powerless in America, witnessing Barack’s rise up a path he blazed had to be a magical moment for Jesse…I know it was for me.   And my tears flowed right along with his, and Oprah’s and Roland Martin’s, and Steve Osumsami’s, and Skip Gates along with his posse of Harvard professors, and legions of others.  General Colin Powell, a sure enough tough guy steeled in the fires of combat, says at his house “everybody cried” when the announcement came of Barack’s stunning victory.”  My lord, what a morning!



 Playthell Benjamin

Harlem Janurary 2009


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