Obama eventually took the podium and delivered a speech in Selma much like the one that the new video shows he delivered in Hampton, Virginia. Again, an extended excerpt from Injustice:
Obama took to the pulpit and hit all the necessary notes. To establish his racial bona fides, he began by invoking a dear friend of his in Chicago. “I must send greetings from Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. but I got a letter giving me encouragement and saying how proud he was that I had announced and encouraging me to stay true to my ideals and my values and not to be fearful.”
If an upper-middle class childhood in Hawaii didn’t lend itself to adequate racial suffering, Obama reminded the congregation about the plight of his father at the hands of the British. “My Grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya. Grew up in a small village and all his life, that’s all he was—a cook and a house boy. And that’s what they called him, even when he was 60 years old. They called him a house boy. They wouldn’t call him by his last name. Sound familiar?” Of course it sounded familiar to everyone in Brown Chapel. It wasn’t a question. It was a bloody shirt.
Obama continued, “Yet something happened back here in Selma, Alabama.… [It] sent a shout across oceans so that my grandfather began to imagine something different for his son. His son, who grew up herding goats in a small village in Africa, could suddenly set his sights a little higher and believe that maybe a black man in this world had a chance.” His father got his chance, Obama said, when the Kennedy White House organized an “airlift” that brought groups of Africans to the United States for an education.
The story was touching, though largely inaccurate. Obama’s attempt to link his family with the Kennedys is undermined by the fact that when his father came to the United States, the president was Dwight Eisenhower, not Kennedy. And by the time the Selma march took place in 1965, Obama’s father, then on his third wife, had already been chased out of Harvard University and had his scholarship cut off for personal reasons including being a suspected polygamist. At the time of the Selma marches, his father had already left America and been back in Kenya for eight months.
But the facts weren’t important. What mattered was Obama inserting himself into civil rights history—and he wasn’t subtle about doing so. “So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama,” he intoned on the heels of his highly embellished story. “Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.”
Playing to the crowd, Obama attacked the Bush Justice Department’s race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws. “The single most significant concern that this Justice Department under this administration has had with respect to discrimination has to do with affirmative action. That they have basically spent all their time worrying about colleges and universities around the country that are giving a little break to young African Americans and Hispanics to make sure that they can go to college, too.”
Obama was referring to a DOJ action against Southern Illinois University. However, his characterization of the case was disingenuous; in fact, the university was handing out scholarships to people only of particular races, excluding whites. What Obama called a “little break” was actually the provision of racially discriminatory taxpayer-funded scholarships. Needless to say, his casual assertion that the Bush DOJ “spent all their time” fighting such cases was grossly inaccurate, but such fables can mesmerize many—and they certainly hit their mark with his audience in Selma.
Recapitulating the famous attacks on the Selma marchers of 1965, Obama assured his listeners that he was a trustworthy traveler in their continuing cause. “When you see heads gashed open and eyes burning and children lying hurt on the side of the road, when you are John Lewis and you’ve been beaten within an inch of your life on Sunday, how do you wake up Monday and keep on marching? Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go.” That last sentence was a curious use of the first person, part of a biblical statement (Genesis 28:15) made by God that Obama uttered without attribution.
After the speeches, Obama made his way to the podium on the church steps outside. Also speaking from the podium would be our friend, the New Black Panther chief Malik Zulu Shabazz. They both addressed the crowd.
After the speeches, the speakers departed for the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The uniformed New Black Panthers stayed close behind Obama in the crowd of thousands, raising their fists high in the air as they crossed the bridge behind the future president. The media, in keeping with their new role of having abdicated their responsibilities under the First Amendment, have failed to ask a single question about the appearance with the Panthers. Among the abdicated inquiries: Who asked the New Black Panthers to come? Did the campaign? Malik Shabazz said he spoke with Obama that day – about what? Did Obama know that the Panthers were an anti-Semitic hate group before he appeared with them? Does Obama regret doing it?
The answers to these questions might play as well in Dayton and Des Moines as do nutty racial conspiracy theories about Hurricane Katrina.