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That Old Barack Magic

Monday, April 6, 2009 12:54 PM

I don't follow polls regularly, and this may have changed already. However, it is my understanding at the time I am writing this that US President Barack Hussein Obama's approval ratings are remarkably high among self-identified Democrats, and remarkably low among Independents and Republicans. Why should that be? I think I have part of the answer, and an interesting story to tell as well. The story begins with a journalist by the name of David Ehrenstein. If you think that his name sounds Jewish, you would be right, but David Ehrenstein is a fascinating and complex person.

Ehrenstein, Wikipedia tells us, got his Jewish name from his father, a secular Jew with Polish ancestry. (Incidentally, I too am a secular Jew with Polish ancestry.) He was raised as a Roman Catholic, however, which was the faith of his mother, whose forebears were Black Americans and Irish. And, David Ehrenstein is gay and started his career with an interview of Andy Warhol.

I had never hear of David Ehrenstein, however, until Rush Limbaugh aired a song parody called "Barack the Magic Negro" during the 2008 election campaign. Screams of "racist" rattled rooftops from sea to shining sea, even after Rush informed his listeners that the "magic Negro" epithet came, not from his studio, but from a Los Angeles Times journalist, who turned out to be Ehrenstein.

For those of you who are Republicans and Independents, or Democrats considering making the switch, I consider the Ehrenstein article to be required reading. The link is here. I have also cross-posted it here.

Ehrenstein wrote: "The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists... 'He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist,' reads the description on Wikipedia."

In other words, the Magic Negro, to whites including Europeans (and I would add to many Asians) is a creature of folklore akin to Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. Only he's a Negro and male. As Ehrenstein points out, the Magic Negro appears and re-appears in numerous Hollywood movies, and has made the careers of many Black actors, who otherwise might have had to play villains.

But what of Black Americans? Is Barack Hussein Obama a Magic Negro to them too? That is a very interesting question, and one I might consider writing about at another time.

However, I started out asking why Democrats continue to have such high approval ratings for BHO, and it is my believe that they judge him (at least white and Asian Democrats) not as a President of the United States, but as a magical transformative figure, a bearer of hope and change, who happens to be Negro.

There is, of course, the issue of White Guilt, a concept introduced by Shelby Steele, for which BHO is a kind of secular savior, able to absolve white America of its sins of slavery, segregation, and lynchings.

So much for the mystery of BHO's Democrat popularity in the face of so many gaffes, blunders, and financially disastrous errors. But the story of the Magic Negro does not end there.

Rush Limbaugh's parody song portrays Al Sharpton, played by an actor talking through a bullhorn, as feeling outraged and slighted that BHO is "inauthentic." This is a genuine issue, only touched upon by the parody. There are some Black Americans who feel strongly that BHO, neglected by a Kenyan father, though racially mixed, makes light of the Black American experience. They view BHO as politically exploiting and cynically stereotyping the Black suffering of the past and today's unresolved bigotry. BHO's white mother's ancestors and even his East African Muslim father's ancestors may have been slave traders, but none were slaves. Born in 1961, BHO grew up in a world of affirmative action, and racial set-asides, not lynchings or segregated lunch counters.

The authenticity issue spilled over into the Republican process of electing a National Committee chairman. One candidate, Chip Saltzman, sent gift CD's of Rush's parody songs to all the members of the RNC, including some who were Black. Other RNC chair candidates expressed outrage and demanded an apology, accusing Saltzman of damaging the reputation of Republicans among Black Americans by finding Rush's parody amusing. One Black candidate for the RNC chair, Ken Blackwell, defended Saltzman citing "hypersensitivity in the press."

As I write this, the inauthenticity issue has gone underground, for the most part, but it lingers on as do concerns about BHO's mysterious behavior regarding his birth documents and Occidental College records. I do not consider BHO to be a magic Negro, Indonesian, Kenyan, Hawaiian, or global citizen, but it appears that some kind of sorcery has indeed cast a spell on the Democrats, whose numbers, at least in the past, have included intelligent people.

[Keywords: impeach-them-all.org bho black democrats ehrenstein magic negro parody ]