Soul singing icon Etta James has never been one to bite her tongue over a real or perceived insult. But Etta outdid herself this go round with her name call at a part of the president's anatomy (his ears), and then cavalierly blew him off with the he's not my president line. The really surprising thing about what otherwise would be laughed off as nothing more than the petulant loose lipped pique of an icon actually got some news legs.
This has less to do with her insulting jibe at Obama than that a noted African-American, a legend if you will, would have the temerity to take a shot at Obama. Two weeks ago that would have been unthinkable. James of all people should if anything fall down on her knees and shout Hallelujah to Obama. The slow dance he and Michelle did to Etta's enshrined standard "at last" brought a warm glow to millions and much praise and adulation, and probably more jingles to cash registers for the CDs of the song. That fattened James's reputation and bank account.
And there is no record that James objected to pop megastar Beyonce serenading Obama with her standard. In fact the report is that she applauded the song and the president and the first lady's dance duet to it at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball on January 20.
But that was two weeks ago. In that time Obama has suffered through the embarrassment of three tax cheating nominees, the prolonged legislative arm wrestle with Republicans to get his stimulus package through, and some low intensity carping and picking at his decision to keep Bush's Faith based initiative intact complete with the odious provision that essentially permit church groups that receive federal cash to discriminate against any and everyone but their own in hiring. The slight dull on Obama's glow was topped by a double digit drop in his popularity rating.
This was inevitable. The honeymoon for all presidents, even historic presidents, doesn't last. The reality of governance and the hard knocks that come with it come with the White House turf. The sad thing about that is that some of the knocks and the ones who do the knocking can get personal, even ugly.
James could have just as easily chided Obama for not inviting her to sing her trademark song, at the inauguration festivities, without the personal dig and then the blow off. But that wouldn't have made headlines, got the tongues wagging, and surprisingly gotten more than a few heads nodded in agreement with her.
Obama wisely let it pass. A crack from a pop singer, even a legendary one, pales in importance to the titanic fight to rescue the economy, cut a deal with the Russians on its nukes, and figuring out the next move in Afghanistan. There simply will never be an at last to the verbal hits on whoever sits in the White House, no matter what the size of his or her ears.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009). http://www.learnhowobamawon.blogspot.com