Kanye West, Unplugged | The Nation


Kanye West, Unplugged

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"George Bush doesn't care about black people," hip-hop artist and producer Kanye West declared in an unscripted outburst during a live benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina relief broadcast on NBC last Friday.

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Adam Howard
Adam Howard is the former Assistant Web Editor of The Nation and currently the News Editor of The Grio.

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With the revelation last night/this morning that veteran Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd(CT) and Byron Dorgan (ND) are not seeking re-electionthis year, the mainstream press is going wild with speculation that theseretirements herald doom for the Democrats in this year's midtermelections. This is despite that fact that they are almost a year awayand that six, count 'em (Bunning, Brownback, LeMieux, Bond,Gregg, and Voinovich) six, GOP senators are retiring this year as well asseveral other Republicans in the House.Still, a narrative is forming (and we all know how powerful politicalnarratives can be) and if Obama and the Democrats don'tget in front of this soon it could become a self-fulfillingprophesy--the pundits have decided it's 1994 all over again.

For those youngsters out there who may not remember, in November of '94Congressional approval was at an all-time low and President Clinton's approval numbers weremired in the low 40s after his failure to pass healthcare reform. The result was a Republican landslide that dominated Congress until 2006. But2010 can be different and in some ways it already is. The public clearlyhas a lot more good will in the bank for Obama, he remains close to orat 50 percent approval in most public opinion polls--despite roughly six months of consistently bad press. Healthcare reform will likely be passed by the end of this month, albeit a comprised bill, but a political and strategic victory nonetheless. In addition if the Democrats get aggressive on immigration, education and climate change (which are all on the legislative agenda for this year) and continue to rack up victories it'll be easier to contrast themselves with "TheParty of No". Naturally there needs to be significant movement on jobstoo by the White House and Democrats in Congress, my hunch is that 10percent number hovers like a shadow over anything the party in powerdoes.

True, losing Dorgan (as JohnNichols writes) is a significant blow. He was a strong progressivein an undeniably right-leaning state and it will be exceedingly difficultfor any other Democrat to replace him. ChrisDodd, on the other hand, despite having many virtues, was totally tainted by scandal(even Michael Moore went after him in Capitalism: A LoveStory) and was likely to lose his re-election campaign. Hisdeparture, while perhaps bittersweet, clears theway for Connecticut's popular Democratic attorney general, RichardBlumenthal, to capture his seat. It seems unlikely to me that aprogressive state like Connecticut would send a Republican to representtheir state alongside nominal Independent Joe Lieberman.


Permit me to borrow one our president's most famous turns ofphrase--Carrie Prejean's story could "only happen in America." Most ofus who don't consume a daily diet of shows like Access Hollywoodand TMZ would normally not have heard of Miss Prejean, but now that she'sbecome a regular on Fox News, an author and poster child for "Palinized" conservative women everywhere--she's almost unavoidable. Most recently she appeared on Larry King Live, where she repeatedly snapped at the septuagenarian host for being "inappropriate."



For the uninitiated, a quick recap:



Carrie Prejean was competing the Donald Trump-funded Miss USA pageant, and was representing California. Apparently she was well ahead in points when she reached the question-and-answer segment. Openly gay blogger Perez Hilton, serving as a judge, asked her about her position on same-sex marriage. To which she replied (emphasis mine):


West's emotional break from the remarks prepared for him really caused a stir. Sharing the stage with actor Mike Myers, West articulated the seething anger that exists within the African-American community not just over the slow response of President Bush and the federal government to the crisis in the Gulf but also the media portrayal of the poor African-Americans trapped in the midst of it.

"I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food," said West. He didn't stop there. He also linked the ongoing war in Iraq to the shoot-on-sight orders given to the National Guard troops with regard to the looters. "We already realized a lot of the people who could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us."

By the time West got around to taking a personal swipe at Bush, the network had abruptly cut away to the apparently dumbstruck Chris Tucker. Later, NBC released this statement, essentially condemning West for failing to stick to the script: "It would be unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person's opinion."

West has been a mercurial presence on the music scene for nearly five years, and his persona has always been full of contradictions. His new album, Late Registration, includes a song about the inadequacy of the healthcare system ("Roses") and another about the deplorable diamond trade in Africa ("Diamonds From Sierra Leone"). Yet it also contains sexist lyrics ("Gold Digger") and shameless self-aggrandizement (nearly every song). Yet on the other hand West has also begun speaking out against the routine use of homophobic slurs in rap lyrics. His turnaround on that issue was the result of a cousin outing himself.

It's difficult to know how to assess the impact of a thoroughly dubious character such as Kanye West voicing harsh but truthful statements about war, disaster and media bias. The hip-hop music genre has been rightfully criticized for glorifying violence, misogyny and hedonism. Yet here is an artist who, while by no means a political leader or a role model, can still reach a very large and impressionable audience. West's remarks on race, homophobia and more will certainly draw media attention to the debates over those issues.

To vent his anger on a network fundraiser was probably not the best career move for West, but still, it's refreshing to see an African-American entertainer be so candid. There are those who've been calling West a "hero" since the NBC show, while some in the blogosphere have decried his statement as "a disgusting display." Regardless of how one may feel about West, it's a good thing that someone so visible in the public eye isn't afraid to cut to the core of an event that has truly highlighted inequalities in our country and incompetence in the White House.

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