Given the gleeful mocking of President Obama over Chicago's failed effort to host the 2016 Olympics, and shameless smears of his unexpected Nobel Peace Prize, let's pause and ask: Is there anything conservatives won't turn into a cudgel to bludgeon the president? Take, for example, the art hanging on the White House walls.
As AFP reported earlier this week, the president and first lady have borrowed 47 works of art from five galleries to decorate the White House. AFP went on to describe the art:
They include pieces by seven black artists, including one by Glenn Ligon, a conceptual artist who explores issues of politics and race in works made of text, photos and neon.
A vertical piece selected by the Obamas was "Black like me No. 2," a riff on a 1961 book by white journalist John Howard Griffin who darkened his skin and then wrote about his experience as a "black" man in the racially segregated US south.
"Harlem Renaissance" painter William Johnson is favoured with four pieces, while Alma Thomas, a top African-American woman artist, is represented on the abstract painting front.
In addition, many earthenware pieces and other works by Native Americans were chosen.
On the more classical side, there is a melancholic "Sunset" by Winslow Homer, and two bronze dancers by Degas. Abstract artists like Mark Rothko, and Josef Albers, and conceptual stars like Edward Corbett and Jasper Johns also made the White House grade.
From across the Atlantic, in addition to the Degas, there are a still life by Italian painter Giorgio Morandi and a depiction of Nice by Nicolas de Stael.
William Allman, the White House curator, told The Washington Post that the Obamas' picks express "probably more interest in truly modern art."
So Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, William Johnson -- seems pretty eclectic. In fact, it seems pretty benign.
Alas, nothing is benign with the contemporary conservative smear machine, as right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin amply illustrates with her attack on Alma Thomas, and -- by extension -- Obama. Taking her cue from Free Republic, Malkin complains:
Alma Thomas's "Watusi" (1963) looks to be an almost exact reproduction of a 1953 piece by Henri Matisse titled "L'Escargot:"
Malkin even provides a helpful illustration -- "side by side, with 'Watusi' rotated and on the left" -- to make clear the similarities in the two works to drive home her point -- that Obama picked art created by a fraud to hang on the White House walls. But the real fun gets underway over at Ann Althouse's blog:
Anyway, it's really sad to see this sentimental stretching to identify African-American artists. There are plenty of real ones, and mistakes like this make it seem as though there are not and that patronizing -- which really ought to be called racism -- is necessary.
So the Obamas chose a fraudulent African-American artist to display at the White House -- "sentimental stretching to identify African-American artists," a "mistake" and "patronizing," since all Alma Thomas did was knock off Matisse. This does sound bad -- and, of course, it's wildly off the mark.
Art historian Ann Gibson discusses the political message inherent in Thomas' "mimicry and revision of Matisse" in her contribution to Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings:
The close resemblance between Watusi and L'Escargot (especially evident when Thomas's painting is turned ninety degrees to the right) suggests an overlap between Thomas's determination to comprehend the lessons of modernism and her identification -- and perhaps her sense of rivalry -- with one of its principle figures. However, the title Watusi, which refers both to an African people and to a hit tune of the early 1960s (Chubby Checker's record "The Watusi" was released in 1961), suggests that she used elements of Matisse's art not only as models of abstraction but also to refer to African people and their representation in popular culture, just as elements of art made by Africans could reflect, in Western modernism, European desires and European high culture. Thomas's radical revisions of Matisse's colors (but not the values of his collaged shapes) to their near opposite on the color wheel, as well as her opening of the "frame" -- blues in her painting, oranges in his - are also noteworthy. By permitting the white shapes to penetrate the frame, Thomas animates and frees both the white areas and the colored forms: The frame no longer contains the central organization, and the framing shapes join in the "dance" of the shapes inside. When Thomas's mimicry and revision of Matisse is read in the context of her entitling her painting Watusi, one sees more than an implicit defiance of modernism's creed of originality. What does it mean for an ambitious but comparatively unknown artist to appropriate in paint an important recent work by an internationally recognized master? Especially when she changes the title from a word that suggests not only a sluggish mollusk whose movements are drastically curtailed by its shell but also an epicurean dish whose very name connotes elite privilege? And when the title she selects is the name of a people legendary for their height and strength and after whom, during the civil rights struggle, a popular song has been named? With the title Watusi, Thomas sets her critique (and homage) in the context of early-twentieth century borrowing from Africa by such revered modernists as Matisse, visually loosening his frame and conceptually replacing his upper-class European reference with one that connotes both African and popular American culture. The similarity of forms in Thomas's painting and Matisse's collage suggests the interchangeability, and thus the equality, of social, national, and economic values.
Wait. It's almost as if Alma Thomas intended to create a work of art that looked kind of like a Matisse. She even might have had a message in mind. Whoa. But, see, understanding Thomas' civil rights era message is not the point. The point is that Barack Obama did it, therefore it must be bad. You know, like the Olympics and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Following the news that President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, numerous media figures have called for him to "turn it down" or "give it back," often asserting that he has not accomplished enough to deserve the prize. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said Obama "has to turn it down. ... [I]t's the only way for him to make a win out of this"; Internet gossip Matt Drudge asked on his website, "Will he turn it down?"; and Michelle Malkin said, "[I]f Obama had an ounce of real humility, he'd refuse to accept the award."
Numerous conservative media figures have seized on the Nobel Committee's decision to award President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize as an excuse to attack Obama or his policies. Media conservatives previously rooted against Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, similarly using the bid as an excuse to attack Obama, and celebrated when the games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
Following their discredited and homophobic smears of Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, the right-wing media is at it again, this time using anti-gay rhetoric to target Chai Feldblum, President Obama's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) nominee. Rather than address Feldblum's qualifications, right-wing media have advanced their anti-gay agenda by targeting statements made by Feldblum and a statement she signed that have nothing to do with the job for which she has been nominated.
Here's MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, interviewing Time's Karen Tumulty moments ago:
Karen, let me ask you one other thing. There was an event with doctors at the White House at the Rose Garden yesterday. And I have to pursue this more, in more depth, but do you know anything about this photo opportunity when they were told to bring their white lab coats, and those who forgot and came in, in business attire were handed lab coats by White House staff members so they would look like doctors for the photo op?
After Tumulty noted that this is "not such a huge deal" because the people were in fact doctors and do in fact "support the basic bill," Mitchell haltingly replied:
Well, again, it is an interest group, Doctors for America, but it was certainly, uh, assisted by White House staff. It just seems like a lot of choreography for a White House which claims to be doing things authentically. [Smirking, shaking head] It just, you know.
It just, you know.
Well, no, I don't.
Here's a free tip: When you're unable to articulate what's wrong with an action more eloquently than saying "It just, you know" while scrunching up your nose and shaking your head, its probably because there's nothing wrong with it.
Look: These were actual doctors. If they were not doctors, and the White House dressed them up to look like they were, that would be problematic.
But that isn't what happened. They were doctors. There was nothing misleading about asking them to wear lab coats so people would know they were doctors rather than, say, insurance company executives.
(By the way: handing someone a lab coat is not "a lot of choreography." It takes about two seconds.)
Now, why did Mitchell feel she had to ask Tumulty about this? Why does she think she has to "pursue this more, in depth"? How much "depth" is there to pursue?
Mitchell can't articulate a reason why it matters, but the right-wing is up in arms, so she thinks she has to "pursue" the Great Doctors Wearing Lab Coats Scandal of Ought-Nine in more depth.
UPDATE: According to Tommy Christopher at Mediaite, the controversy is not only dumb -- it isn't true. Under the header "Why Was The NY Post Alone in Reporting 'White Coat-gate? Because It's Not True," Christopher writes:
The picture bothered me, because I didn't recognize the staffer who was handing out the white coats.
I checked on it, and a White House source told me that the White house did not provide the extra lab coats. Doctors for America paid for and brought the extras. OOPS!
I wonder if Mitchell's in-depth pursuit of this crucial story has turned up that little detail yet.
Some conservative media figures are spoiling the celebration for others who have taken joy in the International Olympic Committee's decision to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro rather than Chicago, whose bid for the games was supported by President Obama. While Glenn Beck crowed that the IOC's decision was "so sweet," and Rush Limbaugh stated, "I don't deny it. I'm happy," Joe Scarborough argued that "middle Americans that swing elections" will see conservatives celebrating Chicago's defeat and say, "My God, the Republicans have gone off the deep end."
Recently, the right-wing media have engaged in relentless attacks on President Obama and his administration and progressive organizations. Those attacks have repeatedly turned out to be based on demonstrably false claims -- such as the claim that Education Department official Kevin Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape."
Fox News and its websites Fox Nation and FoxNews.com repeatedly advanced the falsehood that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, in the words of Fox News host Bill Hemmer, knew of a "statutory rape" and "never reported it." While pushing this attack on Jennings, Fox News ignored evidence that the student who told Jennings about his relationship with an older man was of legal age, and Media Matters for America has since confirmed that the student was of legal age and that Fox News' smears of Jennings were scurrilous and false.
Conservative media figures have celebrated the International Olympic Committee's elimination of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and used the event to bash President Obama, who flew to Copenhagen to lobby IOC members on behalf of Chicago's bid. For instance, Glenn Beck called the news that Chicago's bid had failed "so sweet," Rush Limbaugh declared himself "happy" and "gleeful" with the results, and Matt Drudge proclaimed: "World rejects Obama."
Led by Fox News, the conservative media have opened a new front from which to attack President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama's support of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics: smearing the city as unfit to host the Olympic Games, often by citing individual instances of violence. For example, Sean Hannity, after citing a recent murder and an assault, asked whether Chicago is "a city where we want the Olympics," and Glenn Beck said, "Chicago is good at ... organized Mafi -- oops, did I say that out loud?"
The latest target in the Glenn Beck-driven conservative media witch hunt for Obama administration "czars" is Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools director Kevin Jennings. In their attacks on Jennings, numerous conservative media figures have resorted to thinly veiled homophobic appeals to paint Jennings, who is gay, as a "radical" "gay activist" with an "agenda" of "promoting homosexuality in schools," and have misrepresented or distorted Jennings' previous comments about religion and tolerance.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Fox News -- led by Sean Hannity -- and other right-wing media have claimed that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape" and violated Massachusetts law by not reporting to authorities a 1988 conversation in which a high school student told Jennings about his relationship with an older man. In fact, Jennings' attorney wrote in a 2004 letter that the student was 16 years old, which is -- and was at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Glenn Beck and other conservative media figures are now attacking President Obama's proposal to extend the length of school days and the school year, adding to conservative media's recent penchant for fearmongering about children in order to smear progressives. Beck and Rush Limbaugh claimed government mandates for longer school days would give the government more time to "indoctrinate" kids, and Michelle Malkin said Obama is acting as "school czar."
Conservative media have suggested or claimed that President Obama is advocating for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics in order to return political favors to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley or forward the financial interests of other "Chicago pals." For instance, Glenn Beck advanced baseless speculation that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett "may personally benefit" from the Olympics, and Michelle Malkin wrote that Daley "cronies" in Obama's circle are "returning the favor for their hometown boss" by pushing for the Chicago Olympics.