The Obama Watch

Woodrow Obama: Jon Stewart Gets Played

From Birth of a Nation to Common: comedian snookered by president hits Fox instead.

By 5.17.11

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Just how smart is Jon Stewart?

Really.

His reaction to the Common affair and his startling attack on Fox News is… is… well… first the basics.

Let's start with some relevant political history to put Mr. Stewart's recent attack on Fox News, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and other Fox stars in context. Historical context, in this case.

We begin with the famously progressive President of the United States settling in for an evening in the White House to showcase the work of an American artist.

The artist has strong, controversial views on race, using his art to express those views. He also uses his work to express outrage about interracial relationships. And, oh yes, he celebrated those who killed based on race.

No, this was not President Barack Obama using the White House to honor the work of rapper Common in May of 2011.

This was President Woodrow Wilson on the evening of March 21, 1915, using the White House to celebrate filmmaker D.W. Griffith and his hot film of the day, The Birth of a Nation. The film version of novelist Thomas Dixon's novel and play The Clansman, a celebration of the Ku Klux Klan and racism. As Common campaigned for Obama, novelist Dixon was a longtime supporter and friend of Wilson's.

For those who came in late, The Birth of a Nation was a silent film, 1915 being the pre-talk movie days. It became the highest grossing movie of the day. The story concerned the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, and depicted blacks dominating Southern whites, rapaciously forcing themselves on white women and -- well -- you get the idea. The founding of the Ku Klux Klan was dramatized, with the Klan celebrated as a group of heroic saviors fighting off tyranny. (Here's a poster for the film, a "heroic" Klansman in flowing robes and astride a white horse.)

Blacks in the film, portrayed by white actors in black-face, were depicted as racial monsters. Wilson's friend Dixon, it should be mentioned, is said to have developed his antipathy to interracial relations because his father was said to have had an affair with a black woman resulting in a child who was Dixon's half-brother, with Dixon refusing to associate with the sibling he scornfully referred to as "that darky."

In short, the Griffith film -- and the Dixon novel and play on which it was based -- was as rancid and racist as it was possible to get. Here's a scene from the film in which a white damsel is being forced into a marriage with a mulatto -- as the heroes of the Klan ride to her rescue.

Woodrow Wilson, like Obama today, was promoted by his supporters as a superstar progressive, the all-knowing, all-wise academic (before entering politics as Governor of New Jersey in 1910 and the White House in 1912 Wilson had been both college professor and president of Princeton).

Wilson was also something else.

As with progressives then and now, he was a master at tying together issues of race with issues of big government. It was Wilson's legislative program, ironically called the "New Freedom," that created among other things the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission, enacted the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, passed child labor laws and more items on the progressive agenda of the day.

But there was, as always, the usual progressive catch when it came to selling big government. Wilson was in fact an old fashioned Southern racist, born in Staunton, Virginia, and raised in the segregationist -- and progressive run -- South. The devil's bargain with his progressive program, (as it was, in fairness, with Democrats and progressives long before Wilson) was his reliance on appeals to race to both win his election to the presidency and his use of it to push through his progressive legislation that expanded the size and scope of the government. There were no passionate appeals for civil rights from Wilson, not in a party in which racism and the Klan itself had and would continue to play such a key role in everything from platforms to policies. Newly elected it was Wilson who segregated the federal government, and it was Wilson who appointed prominent progressive journalist and staunch racist Josephus Daniels as Secretary of the Navy, Daniels promptly segregating the Navy under Wilson's approving eye. There was more, but you get the point.

Take note of the Daniels appointment. Josephus Daniels was the very symbol of what we call today the "mainstream media" -- which is to say the liberal media -- of the day. The publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer was unabashed about using race to promote both his progressive paper and the progressive Wilson. To compare Daniels to NBC's Meet the Press host David Gregory, who in a Sunday interview with GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tried to say that raising the issue of 47 million Americans on food stamps in the Obama era was racist, would be unfair to Gregory. But does Gregory as a representative of today's liberal mainstream media have the same gut-reflex when it comes to race that Daniels was famous for? Yes indeed, summoning an astonished Gingrich to remark that the fact Gregory even raised the subject was "bizarre." Actually, former history professor Gingrich was wrong. Gregory was channeling a watered down version of the progressive-race connection Daniels epitomized. But it was on display nonetheless.

Thus the idea of honoring D.W. Griffith's racist film version of Wilson friend Dixon's novel and play was, from the progressive point of view, a political no-brainer. Of course there would be an outcry -- and sure enough the NAACP, at that point in time unlike today genuinely committed to a color-blind society as opposed to a left-wing utopia, expressed outrage. But honoring the film would decidedly gin up the Wilson and progressive political base of progressive, racist whites. The election of 1916 looked to be (and was) close. Wilson would need every vote he could get. So the highly racist Griffith film became the first film ever to be screened at the White House by a President of the United States. And quite publicly so.

YEARS LATER, HISTORIAN Arthur Link, in his glowing biography of Wilson as a progressive president, had longtime Wilson spokesman Joseph Tumulty downplaying the Birth of a Nation incident, implying that Wilson was misrepresented. In fact, Tumulty's own memoirs, appearing in 1921 while Wilson was just out of the presidency and still very much alive, said nothing of the kind. Indeed, published in an era when Wilson's relationship (and that of the progressive movement generally) with white supremacists were thought to be an asset, Tumulty's book ignored all of it completely. Much less did Tumulty apologize for or hint at the slightest regret. There was no mention of the film, of Griffith, or of Dixon in Tumulty's book -- none. Much less was the controversy discussed. For that matter, there was not a single mention of Wilson's segregation of the government or Daniels' segregation of the Navy or anything at all with regard to Wilson and his racial policies or beliefs. A mere three years later, Wilson's own son-in-law and ex-Treasury Secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo, would seek the Democratic presidential nomination -- with Klan support. 

Presumably Tumulty would recognize exactly the role of Obama White House spokesman Jay Carney as he waltzed out in front of cameras the other day to enthuse over Obama's support for Common because the rapper is "a Grammy award-winning -- multi Grammy-award winning artist." Indeed, just as President Obama was shown happily embracing Common that night so too was Wilson said to wax ecstatically over Griffith's film, supposedly (in the famous quote Tumulty ignored at the time but years later tried to refute) saying after screening the film:

"It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true."

And just as the Obama White House tried to defend Common by insisting he was in reality a "socially conscious" rapper, with Jon Stewart obediently expressing similar sentiments, so too did Griffith's supporters try and recoup his reputation from Birth of a Nation by talking up a later Griffith film called Intolerance, designed to illustrate mankind's intolerance through the centuries.

In particular the rallying of Jon Stewart to Common's side recalls Hollywood's persistent celebration of Griffith as a filmmaker. Just as Common is defended as a talented musician and poet, so too was the defense of Griffith that he was a fabulous, ground-breaking artist. The legendary -- and leftist -- actor Charlie Chaplin called Griffith "the teacher of us all." While it would be unfair to say all of Hollywood clamored aboard Griffith's bandwagon, among his celebrated defenders was the iconic director and actor Orson Wells of Citizen Kane fame. In 1953 the Directors Guild of America established the "D.W. Griffith Award" -- the Guild's highest honor. The award named after Griffith was given to such prominent directors as Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, John Huston, Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Cecil B. DeMille.

But finally, in 1999 -- that would be a mere 12 years ago -- the Hollywood left began to rethink Griffith and took his name off the award, renaming it the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. Why? Said a surely sheepish DGA head 84 years after Wilson had honored Birth of a Nation at the White House, the film had "helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes."

No kidding.

As the controversy over the film erupted riots broke out in Boston and Philadelphia. Six cities refused to show it -- and in one city (Lafayette, Indiana) a white mob murdered a black man.

The point then -- as now -- is not the artist's freedom to write or film or sing. The First Amendment can and should provide absolute freedom both for Griffith and Common. The question is whether such racially insensitive work supporting a film lionizing the Ku Klux Klan or rap music celebrating leftist cop killers (insensitive -- now there's an understatement) should be honored by the President of the United States in the White House.

And since this kind of vividly disgraceful work was honored by the President of the United States -- Jon Stewart is apparently clueless to the obvious question: What is the real reason the Wilson and Obama White House chose to do so?

Appearing on The O'Reilly Factor last night, Stewart was absolutely clueless. "Who gives a crap?" he asked at one point. "This is nothing" he sputtered, again clueless that he was being used as just one more cog in the long running, not to mention shameful, race and politics game for which progressives have earned such an enduringly disgraceful reputation. For raising even the possibility that race was afoot in all of this Stewart dismissed Fox News as "the infection machine."

Wow. The guy is an ardent believer in a point of view that has sold its very soul to racial politics and he thinks of Fox as an "infection machine"????

BOTH WOODROW WILSON and Barack Obama, progressive presidents serving almost a century apart, have exhibited the desperate need for progressives to sell their programs by ginning up attention for those who peddle racial animosity. For Wilson it was his self-identification with D.W. Griffith and his infamous film, for Obama it was the choice to identify with Common and his infamous music, Common in essence the D.W. Griffith of rap music.

So if it took the Directors Guild 46 years to recant their defense of D.W. Griffith, will it take Jon Stewart 46 years to get himself out from under his equally appalling stance? Answer: it won't matter, because having now foolishly committed his defense of Obama and Common to video his blunder will live forever in cyberspace.

Stewart's mistake here is to see the honoring of Common at the White House -- coming as it does with an implicit thumbs up not just for Common's rap music baggage but the singer's admiration for Jeremiah Wright and decidedly disturbing views of interracial relationships (views, along with those of singer Jill Scott, that not so coincidentally precisely fit with the progressive views of the same subject as expressed in 1915 and captured on film in the Birth of a Nation scene linked above) -- as some sort of Fox gotcha moment or a vetting mistake at the Obama White House. And while we're at it, Mediaite's Jon Bershad, who wrote the story above, is clearly asleep at the switch as well, obviously taken in by the White House-progressive-race game.)

For whatever reason Stewart is out to lunch historically on the tie between progressive politics and the politics of race that is a now centuries-old historical reality. The politics of race -- whether supporting slavery, segregation, lynching, the Klan or today's racial quotas and illegal immigration -- are a shameful, inflammatory and disgraceful reality of progressive politics -- but a reality none the less. Every tool in the racial playbook has been used to promote the progressive political agenda, and this is as true today as it was in Wilson's day.

Within 24 hours of Common's White House appearance the President had been in Texas, trying to gin up Hispanics on immigration by scorning Republican demands for border security: "Maybe they'll need a moat. Or alligators in the moat."

And it was only weeks ago that Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress that he resented allegations from longtime Democratic civil rights activist and ex-Robert Kennedy aide Bartle Bull about captured-on-videotape alleged violations of voting rights law because the Black Panthers involved were "my people." Which is to say Holder simply doesn't see a nation of Americans and view them in a colorblind fashion. No, the Holder view -- thoroughly progressive in its historical roots -- is to divide by race. And if race X is "my people" -- that means Holder was engaging in the old if not-so-subtle attempt to gin up "my people" against "you people" -- the latter defined apparently in this context as anyone who isn't black. 

And before that, of course, was the Justice Department refusal to support Arizona's attempt to enforce federal border security law. Trying to gin up the Hispanic vote yet again, as even John McCain sarcastically noted.

Taken together -- Common's White House invite, the President's alligators in the moat comment, Attorney General Holder's actions with illegal immigration and voting rights in Philadelphia -- all of it collectively boils down to employing precisely the disgraceful political formula Wilson used at the beginning of the century. Play off race X against race Y. Honor a racist film or racial and cop-killing lyrics at the White House. Segregate the federal government or refuse to enforce border security or voting rights. Do whatever is needed because without playing the race card, progressive politics restricting individual freedom is a hard-sell if not a no-sale altogether.

This is the same type of strategy model at work with raising the debt ceiling level. On the surface the Obama Administration is issuing stark warnings about default. What they are really about is preventing spending cuts -- cuts that would eat away at their political base just as halting their eternal appeals to race would do the same.

LET'S BE CLEAR. No one is suggesting that Jon Stewart leaves his studio every night and goes home, grabs his hood and white robe from the closet and sits down with a cold one. Stewart is Jewish -- and the Klan hated Jews (and Catholics like Hannity and O'Reilly) every bit as much as it hated blacks.

What is being suggested based on Stewart's dreadful defense of Obama on Common -- a defense stunningly ignorant or willfully blind of the episode with Wilson and D.W. Griffith -- is that he, Stewart, is, if not consciously obfuscating and enabling the singularly immoral progressive-race tie is appallingly unaware of the history behind it all. Stewart is clueless over the possibility that -- ohhhhhhhhh nooooooooo!!! -- President Obama used Common and his controversial music and controversial views on interracial marriage just as President Wilson used D.W. Griffith and Thomas Dixon and their filmed and novelized views on race, racial intermarriage, and the heroism of the Klan.

Which is to say: Jon Stewart got played. By the President of the United States. Big time.

To wit: Obama, like Wilson, threw the political hardball so fast Stewart -- like Charlie Chaplin and the Directors Guild of America, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, and a host of other left-wing entertainers before Stewart -- couldn't or wouldn't read the stitches as it flew by. All those involved becoming, as they say, "useful idiots" in continuing one of history's most disgraceful long-running soap operas:

The alliance between progressive politics and the politics of race.

Should Jon Stewart be ashamed of himself?

Yes. Wow. I'll say.

Will he get around to understanding he's been played here? 

Doubtful.

Will Jon Stewart apologize to the Fox people -- all of them -- who said not that Common's free speech should be curbed but that his disturbing music and support for cop killers -- not to mention his views on interracial relationships -- shouldn't be honored at the White House? More doubtful.

Will Stewart play on-air Hannity's repeated defense of Common's right to free speech?

No. Of course he won't. Selectively editing Hannity, Stewart has added looking deceptive to the more serious problem of looking uninformed or being played by a hardball-playing progressive president.

An apology from Jon Stewart for this kind of pernicious business? Is that forthcoming? A hint of recognition that he has, snookered or not, turned himself into a bit player in the now three-centuries old race-and-state political game favored by progressives?

Don't wait for it.

So the question recurs.

Just how smart is Jon Stewart?

Really?

Answer? Not as smart as he thinks he is.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.