I presume we all agree that Newt Gingrich's latest charge against our president is so absurd that it doesn't even deserve comment. Obama has a "Kenyan" worldview he drank in from his father when his father barely even knew him?
The statement is based on stunning ignorance about the basics of Obama's biography, and willful neglect of anything Obama has ever done or said. It is, as we all know, nonsense in the purest. That is, it makes no sense. It's not a low blow. It's a no blow.
So, again, this one wasn't even worthy of acknowledgment. Why, then, are we so vociferously acknowledging it?
The same goes, at this point, for the now regular charges from the right that Obama is some kind of hopped-up, reverse racist exotic who somehow snuck into the Oval Office. I felt the same way about the idea that Glenn Beck's do was about civil rights, and how so many thought it a duty to solemnly "condemn" this besmirching of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. For goodness' sake, if we really don't respect these people, then just let them holler while we do real things.
The question becomes: What is news? What should we be discussing as Americans? What should black people be discussing? And to what end? Too often these days, it looks as if we get a major kick out of discussing the last dissing. "Oh, isn't that Glenn Beck awful?" "And did you see that latest Pew poll showing how many more people think Obama is a Muslim?"
A modest proposal. Last week, various outlets took a deep breath and decided not to broadcast footage of Pastor Terry Jones burning Qurans if he did so. In that vein, how about a moratorium on giving slurs against Obama such wide coverage, as well as trading news about the slurs all over Facebook and such?
The media and the rest of us could do our part to lessen the partisan screaming match we all bemoan so, by just letting one side scream itself hoarse. "But such statements must be condemned," one might object. But if you think about it, why? For what reason? It seems clear that condemnation does not stanch the flow — so there must be some other reason.
Is it that these slurs decrease Obama's chances of getting re-elected? I doubt it — how many fence-sitting voters will listen to Gingrich calling Obama a Kenyan and on that basis opt for the Republican in two years? It's a cartoon notion. The people lapping up what Gingrich said have made up their minds already.
But we soon found out that he can be quite the sharp-elbowed politician. Someone who winds up in the White House as quickly as he did does not have the hollow bones of a bird. And look at that Labor Day speech as a demonstration. Does that sound like someone who needs his self-image shored up? That speech about Republicans wanting the keys to the car was, in fact, the fieriest public address I can think of by an American president since Theodore Roosevelt. Not in a hundred years has a president talked to the nation in those tones. The man can take care of himself.
Therefore, if the next time some weary, bloviating aspirant demagogue says something cluelessly mean about Obama, let's try just letting it go. No editorials, no news loops, no "Look at what they're saying about him now." I would try this for about three months, just to check whether the sky fell in.
Meanwhile, we could pay more attention to news of a more constructive nature. Like the recent New York Times article showing how people of the untouchable castes in India are today doing better in the south than in the north of the country. The southerners have stressed education and economics; the northerners have stressed political representation. Yes — it's an interesting replay of the debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, and I'm afraid the big, bad Wizard of Tuskegee came out the winner in this one.
Implications for black issues could be rich here, whereas I'm not sure what we learn from one more tsk-tsk session over somebody busting on the president.
John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root.
John McWhorter is a contributing editor at The Root. He is an associate professor at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.