Update | Much more about Derrick Bell.
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Video has surfaced from a speech President Obama gave at a campus rally in 1990, the first of a series of videos that conservative activist Andrew Breitbart claimed would reveal the president’s true radicalism to the American people.
Only a little over a minute of the speech has appeared so far, but Breitbart’s website promises “additional footage that has been hidden by Obama’s allies in the mainstream media and academia” is yet to come.
In today’s video, Obama — then a 29-year-old Harvard law student — is seen introducing Harvard professor Derrick Bell, who had taken an unpaid leave from the law school to protest the absence of women of color from its tenured faculty ranks. Bell, who had been a prominent civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, was the school’s first black tenured professor and a prominent scholar in the field of critical race theory.
Here’s the clip, followed by a transcript and a bit more background.
“And I remember that the black law students had organized an orientation for the first year students. And one of the persons who spoke at that orientation was Professor Bell. And I remember him sauntering up to the front, and not giving us a lecture but engaging us in a conversation. And speaking the truth, and telling us that he [cut] to learn of this place that I’ve carried with me ever since. Now how did this one man do all this? How has he accomplished all this? He hasn’t done it simply by his good looks and easy charm, although he has both in ample measure. He hasn’t done it simply because of the excellence of his scholarship, although his scholarship has opened up new vistas and new horizons, and changed the standards of what legal writing is about. [cut] Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell.”
In a February 9 speech Breitbart, who died unexpectedly on March 1, said that he was going to “vet” the president with videos “from his college days to show you why racial division and class warfare are central to what hope and change was sold in 2008. The videos are going to come out, the narrative is going to come out.”
After alluding to Obama’s relationship with “silver ponytails” like former Weather Underground leaders Bernardine Dorhn and Bill Ayers, Breitbart said that when Obama was at Harvard “he was advocating for the worst of the worst to join the faculty. Radicals. Radicals at Beiruit on the Charles.” (If Breitbart’s “worst of the worst” reference was to Professor Bell, he was taking some liberties with the timeline — Bell was hired by Harvard in 1969, when Obama was seven years old. He was tenured there in 1971, left in 1980, and returned in 1986, two years before Obama enrolled.)
All should be revealed soon, however, as the Breitbart people say they’ll play the “full tape” on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show tonight. I’ll be watching, and I’ll update this post if anything interesting turns up.
Update | PBS’s Frontline website has posted what it says is the “full archived tape” of the speech as recorded and edited by local affiliate WBGH in 1990. Though no additional portions of Obama’s speech appear on that tape, which consists of 4-minute report on Bell’s withdrawal from teaching and an additional seven minutes of raw clips from the protest, Frontline says “no other footage of the event exists at WGBH.” Excerpts from the tape appeared in a Frontline documentary on Obama in 2008, and have been available online ever since.
Second Update | The Breitbart site has posted its first purported evidence of what they call Bell’s “radical … bizarre … racialist, antisemitic” views, a short story he wrote called “Space Traders.” (You can read that story and judge it for yourself here.) Unfortunately for their attempt to tar Obama with the contents of that story, however, it was published in October 1993, some three years after Obama’s Harvard speech.
Third Update | One amusing moment from the WBGH tape: Professor Bell is seen at 8:52 noting that while he himself relied on a written outline for his address, “the student” — future president Obama — “delivered a mighty address without notes.” Given Breitbart’s fondness for making teleprompter jokes at Obama’s expense, that one’s got to sting a little.
Fourth Update | Unsurprisingly, the Breitbart gloss on Bell’s short story, “Space Traders,” as antisemitic is unwarranted. In the story, a sci-fi allegory which imagines space aliens offering the United States untold wealth in exchange for its black citizenry, a group of Jews object to the trade. The Breitbart site quotes an op-ed by a federal judge as saying that in the story, the Jews are motivated not by “empathy from another group that has suffered oppression” but “instead” by fear “that ‘in the absence of blacks, Jews could become the scapegoats.'”
But this is a tendentious misreading of Bell, who describes the Jewish leaders as denouncing “America’s version of the Final Solution to its race problem” and promising to disrupt it by ” all possible nonviolent means” if necessary, including by hiding black families in their own homes “until the nation returns to its senses.” Jewish concern that they could become scapegoats should blacks disappear is offered by Bell as an additional fear, not as a true, duplicitous motivation, and it is a fear that Bell presents as justified in “a system so reliant on an identifiable group on whose heads less-well-off whites can discharge their hate and frustrations for societal disabilities about which they are unwilling to confront their leaders.”
Great writing? Maybe not. Subtle writing? Probably not. But antisemitic? Not that either.
Fifth Update | Okay, I watched Hannity. They found a two-second clip of Obama hugging Bell after introducing him at the rally, and a clip of Harvard professor Charles Ogletree joking that he hid that clip from the media during the 2008 campaign. That’s it. That’s the whole thing that they have.