By Gary A. Johnson
Let me begin this commentary by asking Tavis Smiley a question: “Is there anything that the President of the United States can do that would satisfy you?” I don’t think President Obama can do anything that would make you feel whole.
Where do I start?
I have carefully listened to the dialogue between Tavis and Rev. Al Sharpton on Sharpton’s radio show, “Keeping It Real.” Tavis you got it wrong, again! In my view, Sharpton had every right to be irritated with you. Tavis, here’s what Sharpton said: “The President doesn’t need to get out there and do what we should be doing. Saying the President shouldn’t ‘ballyhoo’ a black agenda is not saying the President shouldn’t be held to a black agenda or deal with a black agenda.”
Tavis, you brought this discussion to the public, not Sharpton. You started this mess and can’t seem to finish. Tavis you cannot win a debate against Rev. Al Sharpton. Rev. Al has evolved into an astute and sharp politician and one of the best debaters of our time. He is an excellent listener who can synthesis large quantities of data and give you a “dead on” reply. My problem with Tavis is his “crybaby, whining and all about me” style of politics. I purposely used the word politics, because that’s what this is.
Tavis appears to be starting his 2012 campaign for HBPIC (Head Black Person In Charge) role early. Tavis was not one of the black leaders recently invited to the White House to meet with President Obama. I suspect he needed more of the spotlight on himself. One way to draw attention to yourself is to be black and publicly and consistently criticize President Obama on almost everything he does. Hey, this is the post-Obama world that we live in.
Tavis’ lips are still chapped from kissing Hilary Clinton’s ass during the 2008 presidential campaign. Since that time, dude has been the epitome of a sore loser.
Many black people have been upset with Tavis and his antics during the 2008 presidential campaign. This recent public debate with Rev. Al Sharpton has not endeared Tavis to the people that he so dearly loves. I believe that Tavis believes that he’s doing the “right thing” in criticizing President Obama. Tavis is NOT stupid. I think he is self absorbed and terribly misguided, but he is NOT stupid.
Tavis knows that his Republican-style criticism of President Obama plays well with the those who oppose the President and I think this feeds his need to be at the top of the news cycle. For example, on his last appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press talk show, Tavis continued his ongoing criticism of President Obama when he said:
“Throughout the campaign, the president promised change, we have change on the horizon here but, unfortunately, its small change. I find myself kind of like John McCain agreeing with Howard Dean; here I am agreeing with my friend Joe Scarborough.”
I have no problem with Tavis or anyone else holding President Obama accountable for promises made during the campaign. All of us should do that. The problem that I see with Tavis is that every time he attempts to hold President Obama accountable, it appears to be personal, and any solutions appears to benefit Tavis in some way.
Now Tavis want to convene another “national conversation” in the form of a conference to discuss if there is a need for a Black agenda to address issues facing Black Americans. WTF? Here we go again. Tavis recently announced that he was discontinuing the annual State of the Black Union Conferences. So here we are, weeks later, where he appears to be just giving the conference another name. The person or group who will benefit the most from this “national conference” is Tavis Smiley and his event production company Tavis Smiley Presents, the management event arm of the conference.
The nationally-televised forum, We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda, will be held from 8 am – noon Saturday, March 20 at Chicago State University’s Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, 9501 South King Dr., Chicago, IL. The big problem with such a conference is that Tavis Smiley is not objective when it comes to President Obama. Tavis is the moderator and he selected the panelists.
Tavis is all about Tavis, and that’s not against the law. Tavis Smiley is a conglomerate, a brand. Tavis owns an event production company, a book publishing company, is the host of Tavis Smiley on PBS, a weeknight talk show, and the host of The Tavis Smiley Show from PRI, a weekly news and opinion program featuring provocative commentary and exclusive interviews. He’s the author of 14 books including his bestselling memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America. He also founded the Tavis Smiley Foundation to provide leadership training skills to youth ages 13 to 18. The brother has made good on the American dream, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. It appears that Tavis appears to have an insatiable need to be at the top of the news cycle. Tavis also appears to me to be more than a bit disingenuous in his criticism of President Obama and those who support him.
In some ways, Tavis reminds me of a “Me Too Kid.” “Me Too Kids,” feel shortchanged. When they see something they want, they yell, “Me too, me too.” They don’t care what it is the other kids are getting, they just want it too.
I agree with Tavis wanting to hold President Obama accountable to issues that matter to Black America. It takes a certain amount of courage to do what Tavis does. I don’t like the way he does it. President Obama should be held accountable for a lot of things. It is true that many black Americans are suffering disproportionately than some other groups of Americans.
I would like for Tavis to be more specific and define what this “Black Agenda” would look like. Tavis says, “a Black Agenda is an American agenda.” If that’s the case then why does Tavis want to call it a Black Agenda.
Thinking politically, the big question to be answered is this: “Is there anything significant to be gained in trumpeting a black agenda?” Wouldn’t health care, jobs and education be on a black agenda? I’m just asking.
The reality is that President Obama is a politician. In fact, he has proven to be a damn good politician. He got elected. Just because the President has not released an official “Black Agenda” does not mean that he is not actively and aggressively working on black issues to improve the lives of black Americans. In fact, to question whether President Obama is working hard enough on black issues is fair game, but to imply that the president is not working hard enough on black issues is irresponsible and shortsighted.
Many of you are upset with Tavis. Let me give you some advice. Tavis Smiley is not worth raising your blood pressure. Many of you may have been sipping the “Tavis Kool-Aid” for years and expected more from him, especially now that we have a black President. The public spat with Rev. Al has shown us once and for all the real Tavis Smiley and you need to accept this in order to move on with your life.
I believe Tavis Smiley wants a better America for black people. I also believe that he wants to get some type of credit or acknowledgment for improving the lives of black people. His methodology of taking public swipes at President Obama and those who support him keep Tavis in the news. At this point in his career it appears that Tavis is comfortable with the old adage that even negative publicity is better than no publicity.
This dispute between Rev. Al and Tavis is personal and bitter and will not evaporate or go away soon. Tavis is hurt and wounded. He consistently finds himself on the unpopular side of the issues in black America. This is not to say the unpopular side of an issue is the wrong side of an issue. There is no right or wrong on these issues between the two men. The challenge is to find the best way to solve the problems that are negatively impacting the American people and black people disproportionately.
What do you think?
Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.”