There may be a huge scandal brewing for African American activist Tavis Smiley. As MediaTakeOut.com reported to you last week, Tavis ignited a firestorm when he publicly criticized Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama for refusing to stop campaigning and attend his State Of The Black Union conference which is taking place this weekend in New Orleans.It is certainly moving to read about Tavis' love for the president under whom black male incarceration boomed, leaving one out of three without the right to vote (Florida's Republican governor Charlie Crist was more progressive in a year on this score than Clinton was in eight). Here are some of the pesky details Smiley has happily chosen to ignore in exchange for product placement:
Tavis' uncharacteristic attack on the extraordinarily popular Obama had many African American's scrambling for answers. Some believed Tavis was jealous of Obama's success, other's believed he was angered that Obama didn't ask for his endorsement. But now MediaTakeOut.com has uncovered another possible reason.
MediaTakeOut.com has exclusively learned that Bill Clinton and Tavis Smiley may have a financial relationship. On Tavis' official website, Bill Clinton's book Giving is prominently featured in what appears to be an advertisement.
Next week, the Justice Policy Institute will release a study that shows that, despite all the legendary cruelty of President Reagan, far more people went to state and federal jails under Clinton than Reagan. In Reagan's eight years, 478,800 prisoners were added to America's jails. In Clinton's eight years, America's prison population increased by 673,000.So how can Tavis follow up this monumental act of payola-enabled hypocrisy? A conference questioning Obama's commitment to the African American community.
Under Clinton, the prison population shot up from 1.4 million to more than 2 million. Fearing being seen as soft on crime, Clinton did nothing to stop the racism of the so-called drug war. Clinton never fought seriously to eliminate the massive disparities in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine even though there was no medical evidence to support such disparities.
Clinton did nothing to stop local police departments from singling out nonviolent black nonusers of drugs, who are easier to snatch off street corners than off half-acre suburban lots. Even though African-Americans consume 13 percent of illegal drugs, roughly our share of the population, we made 74 percent of drug offenders sentenced sent to prison.
Under Clinton, the overall rate of African-Americans going to prison continued to soar. In the Reagan-Bush years, the rate grew from 1,156 prisoners per 100,000 black men to about 2,800 per 100,000. In the Clinton years, the rate grew to 3,620 prisoners per every 100,000 black men.
By the time the Clinton years were done, he had become such a sous chef in helping the Republicans cook the black goose, 14 percent of African-American men had lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. You could even argue that by going along with the recipes that Reagan and Bush set down, Clinton helped cooked his own vice president to a crisp.
Presumably he takes issue with Obama's largest domestic initiatives, health care reform and jobs.
Smiley's bottom line is hardly controversial:Obama has said that African Americans would benefit from his broader agenda, which he says is aimed at relieving the burdens saddling all working Americans. His administration's efforts to increase federal financial aid for college, increase funding for impoverished school districts, and to expand access to health care would disproportionately benefit working-class people, many of whom are black, he has said.
"I'm the president of the entire United States," he told American Urban Radio Networks in December. "What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need. That, in turn, is going to help lift up the African American community."
Smiley also has caused ripples in African American leadership circles with his outspoken insistence that Obama -- like any other president -- be held accountable by black voters.Every politician, after all, should be held accountable by black voters, beginning with Smiley's hero, superincarcerator Bill Clinton (the impossibly brilliant Ta Nehisi-Coates wrote the last word on Bill Clinton's free pass with the black community way back in 2001).
But who's going to hold Tavis Smiley accountable? Maybe it's time to find out a bit more about his motivations, financial and otherwise, for opposing the president whose agenda has been the friendliest to the black community since Lyndon Johnson.