Undecided Voters Get a Voice in 2nd Debate

Undecided Voters Get a Voice in 2nd Debate

ROUND 2: President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will spar amidst questions from undecided voters at tonight’s debate.

Undecided voters will get a chance to ask questions about domestic and foreign policy at the second of three presidential debates tonight at Hoftstra University in Hempstead, New York. This bout will be moderated by CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley in town hall meeting format and will air at 9:00 p.m. EST.

It will be the last chance for the candidates to debate domestic issues like immigration reform and the foreclosure and student loan crisis, noted Jason Linkins and Elyse Siegel at The Huffington Post, because the final debate will be about foreign policy. “The good news, however, is that ordinary people think differently from political reporter types — the amount of untrod ground they cover, along with the quality of their questions, could surprise you,” the duo said.

Seventy-one percent of likely voters think Romney won the first debate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, so The Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake predict that “the pressure will be on the incumbent to show he has a pulse (and probably a bit more) tonight.” The president may need to up his game, but not, some say, with a demeanor as pugnacious as Vice President Joe Biden’s was in his debate last week with his “friend” Rep. Paul Ryan.

The challenge, says Dan Turner at The Los Angeles Times, is: “How do you interrupt your debate opponent, contradict everything he says, strike a pose of amused disbelief while he rants on about your rotten leadership, and hit him with zingers that the pundits are still applauding the next morning, all without coming off as rude? And, in President Obama’s case, how do you do all this while still looking presidential?”

The stakes are high for both candidates, if USA Today’s polling roundup is any indication of how tight the race is three weeks out from the election. “Obama leads by a single point — 49%-48% — in the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll released Monday morning,” but “Romney leads 50%-48% in the poll’s 10 top ‘battleground states’: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.” However, “a Washington Post-ABC News poll gives Obama a 49%-46% lead among likely voters” and “various polls also show a tossup race in the Electoral College.”

Crowley has her own performance to worry about, given the fact that both campaigns have already (and self-servingly) complained about her plans for conducting it, how biting the critique was of her predecessors in the first two debates, and the fact that she is only the second woman to moderate a general election presidential debate. I’m exhausted just reading that.

The most important question in my mind is: Will voters get the information they need about domestic policy to make a wise choice on Nov. 6?

What do you think?

Have the candidates adequately debated domestic policy? If not, what do you want to hear from them tonight?

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Remember When Spike Lee Made Movies?

Remember When Spike Lee Made Movies?

HE STILL GOT GAME?: Spike Lee’s new film, ‘Red Hook Summer,’ which explores religion and urban life in a Brooklyn neighborhood, is his first movie to be released during Barack Obama’s presidency. (Photo: David Lee/Newscom)

Director Spike Lee had not released a film during the Obama presidency until this week’s release of Red Hook Summer, just a couple months before the next presidential election.

Remember Spike Lee? This was the man who helmed groundbreaking, commercially successful films on race like Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, and Do the Right Thing. When he arrived on the scene with 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, he was hailed as a brave new voice in American filmmaking and the chronicler of the late 20th century black experience. As time has gone by, his films have become less urgent and far less racial. His only hit in this century was 2006’s Inside Man, a heist movie that happened to star Denzel Washington but was in no way a serious work on race. And in the last four years — since Obama has been president — he has not released a movie, period.

During his presidential campaign, Obama positioned himself as the first post-racial candidate. He made us believe that by voting for him we would usher in a new era in which labels like “black” and “white” would grow increasingly irrelevant. He was, of course, uniquely positioned to make this argument, given his background; the effect of his personal story and his rhetoric on this topic was intoxicating. He made affluent whites feel that by simply voting for him they were accomplishing more for black people than we had as a nation since the Civil Rights Act. With their vote, they would cleanse America of its original sin.

But despite that unspoken promise, many Americans remain in a state of de facto segregation. Most whites don’t know the black experience, and what they do know, they learn from the media. Electing a black president has not changed that. In some ways, it has made things worse, since the issue of race is barely discussed in public forums. When black issues are discussed, it is usually in a historically comparative sense. The civil rights era is used today as a point of comparison to discuss immigration issues or the rights of the LGBT community.

Despite the lack of conversation on the subject, there is no doubt that Obama’s election changed the way we look at and talk about race in America. Obama himself said it best in his 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention:

[T]here’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.

In retrospect, that moment was the beginning of Obama’s ascendance to the presidency. It was also the first time he explicitly defined himself as a post-racial candidate. And lastly, it was the end of director Spike Lee’s career. For if there is no black America, what happens to the filmmaker whose job it has been to chronicle it?

The Mainstreaming of Racial Transcendence

Lee’s first true masterpiece was 1989’s Do the Right Thing, a drama that took place over the course of one sweltering summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a predominantly black neighborhood. In a key scene, our black protagonist, Mookie, argues with a white colleague, Pino, about race. Mookie questions how Pino can admire some African Americans — like Prince, Eddie Murphy, and Magic Johnson — but disdain those that live in his community. Listen to his response:

The 1980s, when Prince, Eddie, and Magic reigned supreme, was the era in which the idea of racial transcendence was mainstreamed. And they were not alone. In that decade, black stars Michael Jordan and Bill Cosby were welcomed into the homes of middle-class, white Americans on a regular basis. Cosby eschewed serious discussion of race on his hit television show for fear of losing his audience. The problems that the Huxtables faced were those common in upper-middle class American families. Never did the show discuss poverty, HIV/AIDS, or serious drug use, each of them an epidemic in 1980s black America.

Jordan, the NBA icon, similarly protected his brand by staying mum on racial politics. When asked why he did not weigh in on a close Senate race in his home state of North Carolina that involved former KKK-member Jesse Helms, he responded, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”

The generation that grew up on The Cosby Show and Michael Jordan is the same one that elevated Barack Obama to the White House, and there is much evidence to suggest that they were subconsciously linked in the minds of voters. Obama, like Jordan, made his name in Chicago and exhibited in his campaign the same calm under pressure that made Jordan the best to play the game of basketball. Of course Obama, a big sports fan, never hesitated to bring up his fandom of the Bulls. As for the Cosby connection, many newspapers wrote, when describing Obama’s high polling numbers with white, suburban voters, of the “Huxtable effect.”

Even his future running mate, Joe Biden, said of Obama that he was the first African American candidate who was “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” In other words, he was not what Joe Biden usually thought of when he thought of “black.” The fact that Biden’s remark did not prevent him from becoming Obama’s vice-president should be evidence enough that Obama is more concerned with appealing to white than black audiences.

Ultimately, there is no industry that has been more eager to accept the notion of racial transcendence than Hollywood; it’s an idea that is useful to filmmakers who are increasingly pressured to make films with crossover demographic appeal. But this quest for widespread popularity has a dark side.

Lord, Help Our Blind Sides

The films of Obama’s first term portray racial disharmony in an antiquated, conclusory fashion, making everyone feel good about race without asking audiences to lift a finger or even have an uncomfortable thought. Two such films, The Blind Side and The Help, were not only massive box-office hits but also were nominated for Best Picture by the mostly white Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Blind Side and The Help connect to white Americans because they reflect the feeling Obama created during the campaign — that America had done something important to help African Americans. Exposed in these films to the problems of black America, audiences leave the theater feeling that the drama in the film has been resolved — in each case by a white, affluent character.

In The Help, that character is Skeeter (Emma Stone), a young, ambitious Southern woman who breaks convention by writing a book that compiles the horrible, sometimes hilarious stories of local black housekeepers. Skeeter is, for all intents and purposes, a modern woman and seems completely out of place in early 1960s Mississippi. She wants to work, not marry. She despises any form of prejudice, which is odd because most of her friends are unbashed racists. Skeeter is an accessible and sympathetic entry point into the story for a modern, white audience, but the implication in her characterization is troubling. She helps an entire community of oppressed African Americans housekeepers by giving them a voice. She is, in a small way, freeing them. The implication is that the politics of today — represented in this modern woman — have rectified the politics of the past, and in this way, “The Help” asks us to believe that race is no longer an issue in America, as long as there are millions of young Skeeters out there.

It is a similar story in The Blind Side, which was based on true events. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, a strong, willful Southern housewife who takes Michael Oher, a poor black young man, into her home and teaches him to assimilate into white society, represented by a large football program at a southern state university.

We share Leigh’s sadness when we hear of Michael’s poor upbringing. But we are also asked to be thrilled when she takes the “street” out of him. A pivotal moment comes when he tells her that he hates being called “Big Mike,” the nickname he has been saddled with since childhood. He prefers being called “Michael.” In this moment, he transcends his previous existence in a poor, African American community. It is almost as if he is casting off his slave name.

In both films, the central African American characters are rescued from the bonds of the black experience, yet there is little care taken to relay what happens to them afterwards. The real Michael went on to play in the NFL, a profession in which ex-players are increasingly suffering from mental illness and suicide — due to the high number of concussions they suffer during their career. Given the opportunities afforded to him by living with Leigh Anne and her rich husband, perhaps a career as a modern-day gladiator was not the finest choice, but it is in reality the best choice for some who grow up in inner cities without education.

In the final scene of The Help, Aibeleen, the middle-aged housekeeper whose story we have been following, is fired by her boss. As she walks away from her home, she tells us that she feels free for the first time and that she never took a similar job again. But she never shares with us how she earned a living. It is as if not working for an oppressive white boss is enough; but what will she do with her newfound freedom? What other jobs exist for a middle-aged black woman with no education or experience? These are the questions that are not asked in a post-racial film, and they are questions that have not been asked enough by our current post-racial president.

Blacks continue to suffer from the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, obesity, death from cancer, and infant mortality. But Obama has done little to improve federal nutrition programs. He has stood idly by while Republicans cut food stamp benefits. He has extended the Bush tax cuts that favor the wealthy and refused to tackle a tax reform plan that does not continue to burden the poor. He has been nearly invisible on education. And he has been worse than that on “the War on Drugs.”

Of course most of these are not racial issues, per se. They are class and economic issues. And this is the problem with a post-racial president. Because of how he framed his candidacy, Obama allowed middle and upper-class whites to bump the issue of racism far down their list of urgent American problems and, in doing so, gave them the liberty to ignore the class issues that so disproportionately affect minorities.

Where Art Thou, Spike?

And so with the black experience so far from our minds these days, the skills of Spike Lee have just not been called for. In fairness, his problems getting funding for his films have not solely been the result of a post-racial environment. His most recent feature films about the black experience (She Hate Me and Bamboozled) have been wildly uneven and even more controversial than normal.

So instead, Lee took his talents to cable. In 2008, the year Obama was elected, Lee produced and directed When the Levees Broke, a powerful and urgent two-part documentary on Hurricane Katrina that focused specifically on how the disaster affected poor, black communities in New Orleans. It was an important film that exposed suffering that had been glossed over by the mainstream media. But he had to make it at HBO, which is not beholden to ratings or ticket sales, and it’s doubtful that a major studio would ever have sponsored such a project or that most of American has even heard of it.

That brings us to Lee’s latest film, Red Hook Summer, in which he reprises his role of Mookie from Do the Right Thing. But interestingly, the film is not about race. Its subject is religion, which may have replaced race as the divisive American institution of the day. Even Red Hook Summer has obtained only a miniscule distribution. You will have to live in a major urban area to see it.

And so Lee appears to be a casualty of post-racialism, albeit one that no one will cry any tears for. He has made his millions. But as a reflection of white perception of the black experience, his disappearance is a real loss. We have lost a powerful voice for the poor and a filmmaker who made visible that which society tries to hide. He could have been Obama’s counterpoint from the left, someone who pushed him away from his comfortable spot in the center. Instead, next year Lee is remaking Oldboy, a hyper-violent Japanese thriller. If it does well enough, maybe someone will give him a chance to make a serious movie again. In the meantime, we will wait patiently and simply hope that our original sin is not just hidden or dormant but truly redeemed by a single election.

This article originally appeared at Noah Gittell’s Reel Change blog.

NAACP Boos Romney, but Obama Is Absent

NAACP Boos Romney, but Obama Is Absent

MITT’S PITCH: GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney took his conservative message to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention on Wednesday, telling the audience that President Obama’s policies have hurt African Americans. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Newscom)

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney “received the most hostile reaction from any campaign audience this year” and “appeared unsettled by three rounds of loud boos” July 11 at  the NAACP national convention in Houston , The Washington Post reported.

‘Obamacare’ Opposition Booed

The booing came after Romney expressed his opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, The Postreported, but the article said “many portions of his speech received reserved cheers, such as his promise to defend traditional marriage, and many black voters in the audience stood to applaud him when he finished.”

Trumped Up Support

Colorlines published a gallery of frowning faces from the event and quoted tweetsfrom pundit Roland Martin that accused Romney of busing in supporters. Is anyone else  not surprised that a political campaign would bus in supporters, especially when the audience is expected to be less than friendly?

Failure to Connect

“It wasn’t just [Romney’s] sharply-worded criticism of President Obama’s policies” that drew the audience’s ire, according to BuzzFeed. “It’s that Romney doesn’t know how to talk to black audiences.” For example, Charlette Stoker Manning, chair of Women in NAACP, reportedly said, “I believe his vested interests are in white Americans. …You cannot possibly talk about jobs for black people at the level he’s coming from. He’s talking about entrepreneurship, savings accounts — black people can barely find a way to get back and forth from work.” I’m not sure about you, but to me that last bit sounds like a pretty insulting generalization.

Bold, Consistent Message

“We understand that folks aren’t going to agree with us 100 percent,” Romney adviser Tara Wallis quoted as saying. “But at the end of the day, I think that Gov. Romney’s message was bold. He said what needed to be said, and he said what he’s always said.”

Thumbs Up for Courage

“I give him thumbs up for being courageous,” William Braxton, a retiree from Charles County, Md. told The New York Times. However, Braxton also reportedly said he has “never, ever” heard Romney “say anything about how he would help the poor or underprivileged, let alone the black community.”

Obama Absence ‘Perplexing’

Molly Ball, of The Atlantic, found it “perplexing”that President Obama didn’t speak to the group at all, but instead sent Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday and Vice President Joe Biden today because of “scheduling” conflicts. “When the president is invited and sends an underling instead, that’s an undeniable dis, especially when his opponent shows up in person,” said Ball. “Obama, who won 95 percent of the black vote in 2008 (and who, you may have heard, is America’s first black president), may believe he can afford to take black voters for granted. But that’s not at all clear.”

Biden Draws Cheers

The audience was perhaps forgiving, because “Biden drew cheers as he credited Obama for championing a landmark health care law, launching the mission that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and stepping in to rescue the financial system and U.S. automakers General Motors and Chrysler,” the Associated Press reported.

What do you think?

Is President Obama taking the Black vote for granted?

Obama Marriage Evolution Over

Obama Marriage Evolution Over

COMING OUT: President Barack Obama tells Robin Roberts of ABC's 'Good Morning America' that he now supports same-sex marriage. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with Good Morning America host Robin Roberts Wednesday. The president said that as practicing Christians, both he and Mrs. Obama understand that their shared position puts them at odds with some of their fellow believers.

“When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts,” Obama said. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

The president decided “early in 2012” that he personally supports same-sex marriage, “top administration officials” said, according to the Huffington Post. He had planned to state his support at the Democratic Convention, HuffPost reported, but Vice President Joe Biden drew renewed attention to the issue Sunday in a Meet the Press interview.

The president’s announcement came one day after North Carolina became the thirtieth state in the nation (according to Baptist Press) to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman. The North Carolina amendment not only defines marriage, it also prohibits “New Jersey-style civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, minus the name,” Baptist Press reported

“The announcement completes a turnabout for the president, who has opposed gay marriage throughout his career in national politics,” ABC News reported, saying President Obama indicated support for same-sex marriage in 1996 as a state Senate candidate, but came out against it as a US Senate candidate in 2004. At that time, he cited his own faith as a reason for his opposition: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman,” Obama reportedly said.

Conservative Outrage

Conservative Christian leaders are “outraged” by the president’s announcement and “vowed to use it as an organizing tool in the 2012 elections,” CNN reported. Among the opponents cited is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in suburban Washington D.C.; and political organizer Ralph Reed.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church near Orlando, Florida, told the Associated Press that the president called him before he spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage Wednesday.

“Hunter says he told the president he disagreed with his interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage. Hunter says the president reassured him he would protect the religious freedom of churches who oppose gay marriage. Hunter says the announcement makes it harder for him to support Obama, but he will continue to do so,” AP reported.

Black Christian News Network collated statements by other Christian leaders who oppose the President’s position. Among them is Pastor Jentezen Franklin, who reportedly said, “Feel a real sadness for America with the announcement of Gay Marriage support from Pres. Obama. Bible is clear this is sin. PRAY!”

“The charade is finally up,” Gary Bauer, president of American Values, is quoted as saying in an article at World. “We’ve always known that Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage. With every action he’s taken, from court appointments to his rhetoric, he’s been preparing the way to undermine traditional marriage. Obama’s finally made that support explicit.”

World also quoted National Organization of Marriage co-founder Maggie Gallagher, who reportedly said, “Politically, we welcome this. We think it’s a huge mistake.” NOM actively opposes same-sex marriage.

‘Golden Rule’ Christianity

At Religion News Service, religion scholar Mark Silk cited sociologist Nancy Ammerman in saying that the president’s “Golden Rule Christianity” is the “dominant form of lived religion in the American mainstream.” “At the end of the day, we Americans find it difficult not to yield to its demands when a case for equal treatment is made (be it for blacks or women or disfavored religious minorities), even when the other side offers up its own religious arguments,” said Silk.

“There is a right and wrong side of history in the struggle for full and absolute equality for LGBT people,” said Huffington Post religion channel editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush on Tuesday. “All signs indicate that America is in the last decades of the misguided and hurtful effort to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people as second class citizens. And, if history is any guide, a few decades after that the ‘mea culpa’ and formal apologies will come. … Here’s an idea. Why don’t we just skip the ‘more oppression’ part and move straight to the reconciliation and full communion? Saying that gay people can’t be Christian (or really anything we want to be) isn’t going to work much longer anyway,” said Raushenbush.

What do you think?

What is the significance of the president’s announcement?

Is Obama Courting Black Voters with ‘Evolving’ View of Gay Marriage?

Is Obama Courting Black Voters with ‘Evolving’ View of Gay Marriage?

Some think the president may be courting Black voters with his "evolving" view on same-sex marriage. (Newscom Photo)

After Vice President Joe Biden drew attention to President Obama’s “evolving” views on same-sex marriage by expressing his own unequivocal support for it on Meet the Press last Sunday, The New York Times and The Washington Post both linked the president’s ambivalence to concerns about alienating socially conservative Black voters.

Courting ‘Politically Influential’ Pastors

Same-sex marriage “is opposed by socially conservative blacks, particularly politically influential ministers, whose strong turnout Mr. Obama needs,” The New York Times reported.

Exposing Internal Tensions

The Biden episode has exposed “internal tensions within Obama’s team” between those who want the president to affirm support same-sex marriage before the November election and “others who worry about a political backlash if he does,” including “African Americans who are Obama’s most loyal support bloc but tend to oppose such unions,” reported the The Washington Post.

Ignoring Opposition Voices

There’s a “complete absence” of African American opposition voices in both articles, said media critic Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org. “Do Times editors realize how offended many African-American pastors are when told that they are important simply because of their political clout, and not their roles as pastors and community leaders?” asked Mattingly. He predicts “new and/or renewed coverage, soon, of how young African-American pastors are clashing with old African-American pastors on this issue.”

Calculating the Political Risk

It may not be worth alienating “devout” African Americans, or working class Whites and Latinos, said Keith Owens at Jack & Jill Politics. He also said he’s not sure it is “correct” to assume that the president secretly supports same-sex marriage, even though there is legislative precedent to assume that he does, like his repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Not Showing ‘Backbone’

It’s time for the president to give a speech in favor of same-sex marriage, said David Swerdlick at The Root. Among the reasons: “Older voters are more skeptical of same-sex marriage, but across the political spectrum, everyone favors showing some backbone.”

Underestimating Black Support

It may not matter either way, said Perry Bacon, Jr. at  The Grio, because “it’s not clear” that socially conservative Black voters would swing toward Romney if the president were to come out in favor of same-sex marriage. “The president has intense popularity in the black community,” said Bacon Jr.

What do you think?

Would it cost the president votes with socially conservative Black voters if he came out in favor of same-sex marriage?