’42′ and 44

Exclusive: Most Americans now celebrate the courage of Jackie Robinson in facing down racism in 1947 as the first black Major League baseball player in the modern era. But there has been remarkably little appreciation for the bravery of Barack Obama as he has served as the nation’s first black president, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In telling the story of Jackie Robinson’s personal challenge breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the movie “42” does not air-brush the ugliness of how the United States reacted to the integration of its “national pastime.” But one has to wonder if there will be “44,” a movie recognizing how racism has surrounded Barack Obama’s breaking of an even bigger color barrier as the 44th president of the United States.

What was impressive about “42” was that the movie took you back in time – a not-all-that-distant past, certainly a recognizable America – when hurling racial epithets at a black man was considered acceptable behavior by many baseball fans. The behavior is jarring to today’s audience but surely not unbelievable.

President Barack Obama bending over so a boy visiting the Oval Office could feel that the President’s hair was like his. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Many of us lived through the days when black-and-white TV showed white protesters heckling black children going to formerly all-white schools; when Southern states still had their “white only” toilets and water fountains; when using the “n-word” was common even among many white Northerners.

So, seeing fans and other players baiting Jackie Robinson with various slurs – in “42” – fit with what we knew about those times. But it wasn’t just the audible taunts from overt racists that were troubling but the collective booing that Robinson endured when he came up to bat. It was disturbing how otherwise normal people could be pulled into such expressions of hatred toward a visiting ballplayer with dark skin.

There were, of course, other storylines in “42”: the courageous stand taken by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey in defying the white-only traditions of Major League Baseball and the supportive behavior of some of Robinson’s teammates who stood by him in defiance of the verbal abuse.

The movie also has a satisfying ending in which Robinson emerges as a genuine American hero – honored today as entire teams celebrate the anniversary of his entrance into the league by all wearing “42” jerseys. Robinson’s racist detractors are viewed historically as disgraced figures.

Yet, what has been remarkable about the Barack Obama story is that not only have right-wingers subjected him to racially coded slights – questioning his birthplace, calling him “Muslim” and challenging his legitimacy as president – but even progressives and centrists feel free to insult him.

Though most of these detractors would insist that they are not disparaging Obama because he’s black – and some would claim that their ease in disparaging him is somehow proof that they are not racist – he has undeniably been treated with extraordinary disrespect, far out of line from his performance as president, especially one who was left with the burden of two unfinished wars and a broken economy.

Birther Slurs

And the insults haven’t stopped. Some Republican leaders, who winked and nodded at the “birther” slurs, are now suggesting that Obama should be impeached or at least ignored for the next three years because of a few petty “scandals” that the Republicans have ginned up – all the better to prove to their “base” that he was never fit to be president in the first place.

“I think he’s really losing the moral authority to lead this nation,” declared Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, on Sunday.

And it’s not just the Right. Some on the Left are ruder toward Obama – presumably because he has failed to meet some especially high standard – than they were even to catastrophic presidents like George W. Bush.

Though many of these progressives won’t admit it, they were somewhat intimidated by the nastiness of the right-wing machine that demanded respect for Bush’s “legitimacy” even though he lost Election 2000 and had to be installed by his father’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, fell over themselves in pretending that Bush really did prevail in Florida although their own unofficial recount determined that Al Gore would have won if all ballots considered legal under Florida law were counted. [For details on the recount, see Neck Deep.]

Even as President Bush stumbled over his words and gave speeches that bordered on incoherence, he still got more respect than Obama, whose oratorical skills are as impressive as the baseball talents that Jackie Robinson displayed on the field.

Still, some columnists, such as the New York Times Maureen Dowd, have found endless numbers of contradictory reasons to fault Obama’s performance. In one column, Obama will be blamed for not schmoozing enough with Republicans (he’s “President Standoffish”); in another, he not enough of a bully; in yet another, he’s not connecting with the important people of Washington, presumably including Dowd.

In her April 20 column entitled “No Bully in the Pulpit,” Dowd concluded, after the failure of gun control legislation in the U.S. Senate, that “Unfortunately, he still has not learned how to govern. … [H]e doesn’t know how to work the system. And it’s clear now that he doesn’t want to learn, or to even hire some clever people who can tell him how to do it or do it for him.”

Obama’s “failure” on gun control was explained as a failure to twist arms (as well as his failure to charm the Republicans). Left out of this equation was the obvious reality that the Republicans remain determined to destroy Obama’s presidency and that the National Rifle Association won’t let anyone pry Congress from its cold dead hand.

Dowd’s sophomoric comparisons to Lyndon Johnson’s success in pushing through important social legislation in the 1960s miss the equally obvious facts that the Democrats then had overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate and that the Republicans included many moderates who favored effective governance.

Dowd doesn’t seem capable of placing blame on Republican obstructionism or noting how the GOP won’t be moved regardless of how nice or how rude Obama is. In my view, one of Obama’s biggest mistakes in 2009 was his time-wasting courting of Republican “moderate” Sen. Olympia Snowe on health-care reform. She still voted no.

In the commentaries on Obama, Dowd writes as if she were attending a Brooklyn Dodgers away-game in 1947 and decided that the fans were booing because Jackie Robinson was batting under .300 in his rookie season. But perhaps most offensive is Dowd’s nastiness toward Obama’s character. Her tone has the unmistakable attitude of elite racism.

In a May 25 column, Dowd fawningly quotes historian Robert Draper making some clever but facile contrast between Bush-43 and Obama-44. As Dowd and Draper visited Bush’s new library together, Draper says: “So 43 grew up entitled but could display a commoner’s touch, while 44 grew up hardscrabble yet developed this imperial mien. The former is defined by incuriosity, the latter by self-absorption. … They can each make you kind of miss the other.”

Apparently, neither historian Draper nor columnist Dowd can put Obama in the historical context of his not only being the first African-American president but his having grown up in societies – both the United States and Indonesia – where a mixed-race son of a white woman was frowned upon or worse.

People who knew his mother in Indonesia have commented about how the young Obama behaved stoically when he was insulted on the streets of Indonesia and even pelted with stones. The racial discrimination may have been more subtle in the United States but no one can be so dense as to not understand the ingrained racist attitudes in this country as well.

Many youngsters would burn with deep resentment toward such treatment – or they would be diminished by it – but Obama has always managed to restrain himself and rise above the abuse. Though he is a proud and accomplished man, he has never stooped to the level of his detractors.

When he has shown flashes of anger, such as when he skewered the billionaire bigot Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, he has done so with style and humor. Obama doesn’t appear to hold a grudge even when he has every right to, apparently a lesson of a young black man growing up in an America that often puts angry young black men in prison.

Recalling Bill Russell

When I think of Obama, I also recall the resentment that Boston Celtics great Bill Russell still feels toward the city where he won basketball championships year after year. Russell’s lingering anger seems directed mostly at the white Boston press – and with good reason.

In 1966, after Russell was named the Celtics player-coach – the first African-American coach in the National Basketball Association – one clueless reporter disproved the old maxim that “there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.” The reporter asked Russell if, as a black man, he could treat white players fairly or whether he would engage in reverse discrimination.

Russell answered the question politely, assuring the moron that he would have no problem treating black and white players equally. Why this question was truly stupid – and indeed racist – was that no white reporter would have thought to ask a white coach if he could treat his black players fairly.

There is a similarity in how white commentators, like Maureen Dowd, write about Obama. He is held to some weird standard of perfection that would never be applied to a Ronald Reagan or a George W. Bush – plus the racial factor of Obama’s detractors is whited-out of the story.

In behaving this way, Dowd may think she is looking beyond the long and dreary history of American racism, but she is really just another white journalist missing the most important part of the Obama narrative: how he is one more in a long line of gifted black Americans – the political equivalent of Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell – who must not only overcome the challenges of a difficult job but must do so while white people act as if being black in America is no big deal.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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33 comments on “’42′ and 44

  1. James Velvet on said:

    Thank you for stating the obvious, which we seem to have lost sight of.

  2. Kathy on said:

    The difference between the two men is that while Jackie Robinson lifted his race up, Obama almost seems to have endorsed policies that have made life worse for the majority of Blacks. Just as Clarence Thomas does not deserve accolades from the Black community just because he is Black, neither does Obama. Both men seem to have taken pains to make life worse for people of color.

  3. Buddy Owens on said:

    It takes calm, patience and determination to work with, and above, the bigots. President Obama handles it well.

    • Kathy on said:

      What exactly has he handled so well besides killing Americans with drones without trial, leaving Wall Street mobsters run amok without a single prosecution and failing to follow up ANY of his campaign promises. I like Bob Parry’s articles but this president has not shown an ounce of courage in over four years in office?

      • Comparing President Obama to Justice Thomas says all that anyone would need to
        know about you.

        • Kathy on said:

          Art, both men have worked against the welfare and interests of Black people. Please confine your silly comments to arguments that support anything you wish to say. Ad hominem attacks only portray your basic ignorance of anything that has transpired under Obama in the last four years. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat but the fact that Obama is in the hip pocket of the banks and corporations is quite clear to anyone of any political persuasion. Please name one instance where Obama should be considered as a courageous president.

      • lexy on said:

        Right Kathy. Right,…..

  4. charles sereno on said:

    I commend Bob Parry, who I greatly respect, for his candor, but I think the ‘tone of his attitude’ toward Maureen Dowd is unmistakably unfair. I’ll add a comment regarding a minor point he makes about Obama’s mixed-race travails in the U.S. Anyone familiar with Punahou or Harvard knows this is ridiculous in the manner he implies.

  5. Ghost of King Arthur's Minstrels on said:

    Oh brave, brave Obama.
    He bravely harassed whistleblowers and journalists.
    Oh brave, brave Obama.

    When Republicans reared their ugly heads,
    on Gitmo and healthcare, instead,
    Brave Obama ran away,
    Bravely ran away, away,
    Yes, brave Obama turned about
    And gallantly, he chickened out.
    Bravely taking to his feet,
    He beat a very brave retreat,
    Bravest of the brave, brave Obama!

  6. Kevin Schmidt on said:

    Nice propaganda piece designed to make it appear as if there is a real difference between the two corporate parties that form the duopoly, which is owned by the 1/10,000%.

    pResident Obama, the Brave, is really just a scared little puppet of the global imperialist elite. When they say jump, he does so out of fright.

  7. Frances in California on said:

    The Pentagon, as they have with every President since their quirky five-sidedness was invented, has Obama in a chokehold. When you hectoring bloviators decide to stand up to the Pentagon, then we’ll see who’s brave. Meanwhile, be very afraid of a Hilary WalMart-Board Clinton inheriting the kill-list.

  8. Dennis Brasky on said:

    Robert Parry – are you no longer journalistically capable of anything better than this puff piece? Courage?? How about a super-sized ego leading to willingness to violate US and international law – Convention Against Torture, War Powers Act, The US Constitution/separation of powers, Magna Carta?? Which of those did Jackie Robinson violate?

  9. gregorylkruse on said:

    My wife keeps saying that, “He’s Indonesian”. His performance has been remarkable when considering that his mother was a commoner who had no access to political associations or power, and his father was as far from US politics as one could be. He learned everything he knows by his own acquisition, and his talent for politics is as great as any president we have had. His greatest weakness is that he has no guile, and little ambition for personal greatness. Surely we are no worse off than if John McCain had been elected or Mitt Romney. What he has accomplished so far is to his credit but not much.

  10. Robert Schwartz on said:

    “And it’s not just the Right. Some on the Left are ruder toward Obama – presumably because he has failed to meet some especially high standard – than they were even to catastrophic presidents like George W. Bush.”

    Some especially high standard is an unusual way to describe simple adherence to the Constitution of the U.S. and basic international law. To quote Mr. Parry again, from “The Halfway Obama Doctrine”:

    “For many of Obama’s critics on the Left, his measured approach toward gradually weaning U.S. national security policy off its heavy reliance on violence (like conventional war) and replacing that with more selective tactics (like drones) is still unacceptable. His strategy does, as they note, continue to flout international law.”

    So check off the international law box, Mr. Parry agrees that Obama still flouts that. How about the U.S. Constitution? Wiretaps without warrant anyone? Targeted killings of Americans without indictment or trial? I’m going to check that box as well.

    So, merely expecting adherence to the Constitution and international law, becomes here, an especially high standard. Really?

    • Robert Schwartz on said:

      Should have turned off the italics after the quote ended… No edit function.

  11. Don Bacon on said:

    Obama is a criminal and comparing him to sports stars is ridiculous.

  12. rosemerry on said:

    Bob Parry writes well, and the racist attitude of many Mercans is obvious, as well as their ignorance and lack of care for anyone a bit different from themselves, but this does not excuse Obama’s pandering to the 0.01% and his secrecy, abandon of the Constitution and lack of interest in preserving any sort of fairness in his choice of advisers.
    I have to agree with robert Schwartz.

  13. Terry Washington on said:

    My personal view is that Obama’s critics(racist and otherwise) should cool their jets and remember what Harry S.Truman wisely observed- that it takes time to appreciate what a given Presidency accomlishes- up to twenty five or even over a century- see “Lincoln” and “Hyde Park On The Hudson”, featuring “Honest Abe” and FDR in film)!

  14. EthanAllen1 on said:

    Robert Parry has not only written an excellent piece on President Obama’s inner strength, grace under fire, and political tenacity, he has once again drawn several brain-washed extremist lemmings out of their respective cripts to proclaim their narrow uninformed view of an imaginary world where nothing is real outside of their own malignant narcissism. Let’s not forget that in the 40-50 years before President Obama was elected we, the citizens of the United States, complacently and indifferently allowed the plutocratic take-over of all public institutions, the politization of our courts, the privitization of our public commons, and the corruption of our economy; all while most of those who did take the time to vote chose partisan clowns to write the governing laws.
    If you cynical boobs believe things are bad here in the USA, get off your couch and visit any other place on Earth. Our younger generation will rebuild all that we have allowed to fall into disrepair, and President Obama is the first of their leaders to begin the repairs. My hope is that I will live long enough to see them succeed.

    • Robert Schwartz on said:

      You may notice that my comments did not contain any insults. You call those you disagree with your views “boobs” and worse. “Brain-washed extremist lemmings,” cute.

      Yet you, in the same fashion as Mr. Parry are equating simple adherence to the rule of law, law which Washington demands all other nations (except Israel) follow. The double standards are quite obvious.

      “Let’s not forget that in the 40-50 years before President Obama was elected we, the citizens of the United States, complacently and indifferently allowed the plutocratic take-over of all public institutions, the politization of our courts, the privitization of our public commons, and the corruption of our economy; all while most of those who did take the time to vote chose partisan clowns to write the governing laws.”

      Funny, but you are here describing the period of my lifetime, in which I’ve been involved with the movements against this. And now that movement has come to oppose the Banksters, MIC and the Energy Extraction Industries. In these issues, Obama has sided consistently with the moneyed interests. All of his cabinet positions have been in line with Corporations Uber Alles. The Homeland Security thugs in cooperation with local law enforcement wreaked havoc amongst the peaceful Occupy Movement of which I was a part.

      If you cynical boobs believe things are bad here in the USA, get off your couch and visit any other place on Earth.

      I have. I have seen modern cities in Europe where they have health care as a right and a welfare state (which is under attack.) I have also been to Northern Afghanistan, in 2002, when our bombs were raining down on people who did not participate in and indeed had never heard of the attacks of 9/11.

      Yet, I will not go so far as to insult you. And indeed will respond again in this fashion if you reply.

      • EthanAllen1 on said:

        “Robert” – On your part, you might have noticed that my comment, unlike yours, was not posited as a personal reply to you specifically; but to the contrary was intentionally posted both as a complimentary comment on Mr. Parry’s thesis and a general observation regarding an array of comments which, to me, had little or nothing to do with the context of his article, and more to do with a collection of hyperbolic talking points being mindlessly parroted ad nauseum. Its unfortunate that you chose to take what I said personally, and likewise that you portend that I denigrate those with whom I simply disagree.

        You state in pertinent part:
        “Yet you, in the same fashion as Mr. Parry are equating simple adherence to the rule of law, law which Washington demands all other nations (except Israel) follow. The double standards are quite obvious.”
        You say that Mr. Parry and I, “in the same fashion”..”are equating simple adherence to the rule of law,…”

        Might I ask, equating said adherence to/with what? How can the alleged “double standards” be “quite obvious” if the equation is only half stated in the premise?
        NOTE: My personal position on my country’s relationship with Israel has nothing to do with this topic of discussion, but I would be more than happy to share my views on this and the several other topics you’ve mentioned in your closing with you at your convenience.

        • charles sereno on said:

          Sorry to be so late in response. Ethan, sir, you are worse than a boob. Instead, a literate troll. Yes, you’re under surveillance. Bob Parry may have misstepped but I doubt he’d call you a friend. Obama’s inquisitional pursuit of B Manning is a smoking gun. Obama shoulda joined the CIA when they tried so hard to recruit him. Now he’s in charge of it and making a mess.

        • Robert Schwartz on said:

          In reply to Ethan Allen, spam-free word press won’t take the comment as a reply:

          No need to put my name in quotes, “Ethan,” it is my real name.

          As to your use of insult, certainly I am included in the set of those who posted comments critical of Parry’s analysis, and therefore included myself within the sphere of those coming under your scattershot attack. You didn’t target any particular comment for specific criticism.

          I will give you this, you noticed I left a sentence unfinished, as I did in review as well, and if there were an edit function I’d have surely corrected it. Yet, perhaps you were too quick to pounce on this grammatical error to make the obvious connection which I had referenced in my original comment.

          The offending sentence: “Yet you, in the same fashion as Mr. Parry are equating simple adherence to the rule of law, law which Washington demands all other nations (except Israel) follow to ‘some especially high standard.’” Which is again the wording in Mr. Parry’s article and my original comment. It shouldn’t have been to difficult to fathom, but I think you were just so eager to point out that I made a writing error that you never tried to glean the obvious meaning.

          I stand with opposing and exposing war crimes regardless of which party or nation commits them or tries to conceal them. As is apparent from the numerous prosecutions of whistleblowers under this administration, that view is officially frowned upon.

  15. Paul G. on said:

    Amazing, This article insults Jackie Robinson, who did not have a Penny Pritzker, Hyatt heiress, to buy his way into stardom. He did it with guts, determination and raw talent. Obama, on the other hand, caught the fancy of major Democratic fundraiser, kingmaker and pioneer of sub-prime lending(Superior Bank) Pritzker, who proceeded with her well healed friends to finance this up and coming politician; and propel him in unusually short time to the White House. He would reward her field of endeavor, high risk banking, by not prosecuting the greatest fraud in US history, and rewarding its “too big to jail” perpetrators with bailouts. He is nothing but a corporate shill, and the source of his early and subsequent financing shows why. As they say in the intelligence field, he is “compromised”, or in police work, “follow the money”
    Getting back to skin color. The big O’ has frequently been referred to as a “trojan horse”, campaigning on hopey changey liberal rhetoric, and then getting in touch with his inner dictator. He has well out done Bush in the drone war’s collateral damage increasing blowback and anti-American hatred abroad. Meanwhile he has persecuted more whistle blowers-the people all investigative reporters love, Robert- than any other President, as well as representing the financial industry superbly.
    Well what more perfect “Trojan Horse” than a black candidate, because what people see is the color of his skin not the color of his soul, the latter being spectacularly tauwdry. So all the hullabaloo about having the first “Black” president obscured for many any real debate over what he really stood for-which is now flagrantly obvious.
    I anticipate similar will happen when La Clinton runs and psuedo feminists go ga ga over the idea of a female president, rather than looking at the real war hawk, corporate and Israeli shill underneath the skirt.

  16. debbie on said:

    I was so happy that somebody like Robert Perry finally wrote this. I’ve been so proud to have President Obama. I voted for him twice and have defended him constantly against even friends who voted for him but decided that he wasn’doing enough. I’m a 61 year old white woman who cried on hs first inauguration. I also am so embarrassed to be an American when toe rags like dowd start insulting and demeaning him. I can’believe what members of Congress say about him on the floor of Congress. But most of all I can’t beleive how racist much of this country is ang how they think its okay to totally disrespect our president when you couldn’t say anything about the moron Bush without practically being arrested. I dont care what they say, people who insult this president have only racism and hatred in their hearts and should expect it to bite them in the next repulican administration. I’m ashamed of my fellow Americans and I love and respect my President who by the way can speak an entire sentance without flubbing half the words like our last Executive.Thanks Mr. Perry for putting my thoughts to paper.

    • Kathy on said:

      I don’t know if I’m more ashamed of your incoherent babbling and misspelling or your shallow reasoning for worshipping Obama simply because the man can string sentences together. I’m more ashamed of Bob Parry’s essay who never gave us any examples of Obama’s courage.

      • Paul G. on said:

        Maybe Obama’s courage is the courage to ignore the wishes and trust of the people who voted for him,because they believed in hopey/changey.

        Of course on the second time around I hope he realizes that he only won because his opponent was a wing nut, and he was the lesser of two evils. That is not much of a mandate.

    • hammersmith on said:

      twice in the same election no doubt.

  17. Paul G. on said:

    Any reporter who thinks highly of the Big O should ponder why he requested a Yemini journalist, who revealed extensive civilian deaths in a strike with US missiles and cluster bombs, should remain in a Yemini jail. See Jeremy Scahill in the Nation:http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=FIvHhI610QwoIoOQI2X3crs8vJmhNSkz.The Nation 13 March 2012. Or how a group of Journalists filed suit to overturn the anti-habeas corpus section of the NDAA, because it could be potentially used against journalists just like what happened to Abdulelah Haider Shaye in Yemen.

    • Paul G. on said:

      Oop the link doesn’t work, but just look up the Nation 13 March 2012. Excellent article on what is going on in Yemen.

  18. Mike Strong on said:

    I am astounded at the near total miss by Robert Parry, from whom I would not have expected this homage. Robert has always been so good. This just leaves my jaw in dropped down position.

    Jackie Robinson had genuine courage, though it was Branch Rickey who put him in that position, where he played on his own strength in baseball and personality.

    Obama has brought (or bought) from obscurity to the front of the house and dumped into the “stooge” position from which the only consistent set of actions by him consists of passing on commands from hidden power players behind his curtain.

    Obama is just a front end window display and a Trojan horse. Trying to make sense of his actions otherwise is just impossible. He has no backbone for the constitution and no moral center. He is a state murderer, no better, even a mass, serial murderer. One wonders what pleasures of power this gives him. All this because he is in position purely to be a pass-through point for orders from others. He is neither Obama nor black nor mixed. He is just a manikin in the window, drawing our attention.

  19. hammersmith on said:

    well, bob, i think that most people understand that while BO does have a blackish complexion, otherwise he is just another proper little lackey of the wall streeters, banksters and the military industrial complex. accordingly, rather than hypocritically esteem his supposedly racial accomplishment, we all just politely ignore him as best we can. if fact he is an embarassment in this regard, and no amount of self serving, self indulgent, gushing by liberal artifacts will fix that.

  20. Well said.