pagestarI understand why President Obama didn't want reporters to tell the world that he thought Kanye West behaved like a "jackass" at this year's "MTV Video Music Awards." After all, politicians get in trouble when they tell the truth.

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Clarence Page: Obama’s country vs. Palin’s nation

Published 10:00am Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It was double-plus un-good for the hip-hop star to snatch the microphone from sweet Taylor Swift’s hands as the 19-year-old country music star was accepting her first VMA award.

Then he announced that he thought the award should have gone to Beyonce Knowles, who cameras caught with a look of shock and awe as the audience erupted in boos and jeers for Kanye. Well deserved.

Bless Beyonce, who received another award, for later saving the evening. She called a grateful Swift back on stage to finish her rudely interrupted acceptance speech. What a relief. In a program that historically erupts with weird scene-stealers, there was at least one grown-up in the room.

It was ironic, then, that Obama could not have taken a more public stand. Even in this age of culture wars and polarized politics, Americans of good will can stand together in our contempt for West’s mirror-kissing narcissism.

The same can be said regarding tennis start Serena Williams’ profanity-laden eruption against a line judge’s call. Both West’s and Williams’ exercises in incivility happened to come a few days after South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie” outcry interrupted Obama’s health care speech to Congress. A door was opened wide for Obama to stand tall for better manners in these raucous times. But he passed. He even tried to persuade the nearby pool of White House reporters that the remark about West was “off the record,” according to reports that leaked out anyway.

Reporters should cut the president “some slack,” the president said, since “I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate.” Right. The last thing Obama wanted was to step on his own health care momentum, as he did in his last prime-time news conference with off-the-cuff allegations of racial profiling.

This time, even when talking about health care, Team Obama dodged persistent questions about how much racism might be playing a role in the raging anger, fears, suspicions and resentments expressed by some opponents of his policies across the nation.

The White House left it to the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, who continued his tradition of saying things that cause consternation to sitting presidents of both parties.
On Kanye, Carter said West’s behavior was “completely uncalled-for.” He then cleverly declared that West’s “punishment was to appear on the new Jay Leno show.” Good one, Jimmy.

On race, the great peace negotiator was not nearly as sanguine. “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American,” Carter said, recalling the nation’s long, sad history of racial segregation, particularly in his native south.

I’m old enough to have experienced some of the discrimination that he was talking about. Yet I disagree that race is “an overwhelming portion” of Obama’s opposition. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to oppose Obama’s policies, whether I agree with them or not, without racism having much, if anything, to do with it.

After all, political and culture clashes between what I call “Obama Country” and “Sarah Palin’s Nation” have a long tradition in America. Palin thrills the Republican base by extolling the virtues of “small towns” in much the way past populists and progressives traditionally have railed on behalf of “ordinary people” against “fat cats” and educated “elites.” It is an odd sign of progress that a black man can rouse so much “anti-elitist” fervor.

Sometimes asking to be treated like every other president doesn’t really ask for as much as one might think it does. Even the more vulgar politically incorrect signs at Town Hall and Tea Party demonstrations hark back to days when Abraham Lincoln was portrayed as an ape. After moving aggressively to tackle problems ranging from economy to global warming to health care, Obama was bound to bring on a backlash even if he were a full-blooded Caucasian.

What matters as we navigate these age-old differences now is our sense of civility, that ultimately we are in this mess together. Whether we come from the worlds that produced the music of Kanye West or Taylor Swift, we share problems in common that beg for us to come together as Americans. Let Beyonce be our guide.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.

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  • k. jacobs

    i think allot of the blame goes to the media itself,the so called main stream media has now taken sides in an attempt to sway public opinion towards the outcome the leaders of the media outlets want,nbc,cbs,abc clearly want “obamacare”so carter is front and center playing the race card, for them ,fox clearly don’t want “obamacare” so palin is front and center,clearly fox is winning that fight since most people are sick of the “spending money like a drunken sailor” washington,both sides are useing scare tactics but are saying the same thing “join our side or lose your healthcare” bring back huntly and brinkly or cronkite type reporting and you bring back civility

  • mikea0815

    That was one of the longest sentences I have ever read! On balance, why would a media outlet even deign to ask the president about the behaviour of a “pop” figure like Kanye West? And does anyone remember John McEnroe? Let’s face it, there have been bad actors in public life as long as there has been public life. The only difference is that today we have a 24/7/365 news cycle that has to be filled, at times with minutae that would never have seen the light of day twenty years ago. More information at times becomes too much information, but we asked for it, so we are getting it. As Mr. Page correctly points out, we are not seeing anything new, but this writer at least thinks that people today are too sensitive, and too easily offended, and quite honestly there is NO right to NOT be offended. Again, for this writer, I would gladly take Palin’s view of a nation than that of BARACK OBAMA.

  • k. jacobs

    you must be an english teacher mike lol,the point i was making in a long winded way is that the media shows us one uncivil comment after another. people that are civil are not good enough to advance there agenda.as for your point about being offended,the media like to point out that a person should be offended because they are offended ,there for others should be offended.yet another media bias,and why people don’t trust the media

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