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Says Blacks Must Defend Presumptive Nominee Against Attacks
Political commentator and national talk show host Tavis Smiley seemingly has softened his position on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
In an exclusive interview with the Richmond Free Press, Smiley lauded the Illinois senator for his historic achievement in becoming the first African-American to run for president under a major party banner.
He also denied that his departure from the hugely popular Tom Joyner Morning Show was linked to his stance on Sen. Obama.
“I don’t allow people to run me away from anywhere,” he said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “I start and leave on my terms.”
Smiley, who was set to speak in Richmond June 14, became the subject of much speculation in April when it was announced he would be quitting Joyner’s radio show after 12 years of offering twice weekly commentaries on politics and a range of other subjects.
It was rumored that he is leaving because of his tough posture on Sen. Obama, particularly among throngs of listeners who fervently supported the senator’s historic nomination quest.
Joyner said at the time that Smiley quit because he couldn’t handle the criticism from listeners upset because “he’s always busting Barack Obama’s chops.”
But, Smiley denies it.
In the past, the 43-year-old Smiley has criticized Obama for not attending the State of the Black Union for the past two years. Smiley has convened the event—a national conversation on issues pertinent to the Black community—for eight years. In February 2007, when the televised convocation drew 10,000 people to Hampton University, Obama was announcing his historic bid for president from the statehouse in Illinois that very weekend.
Smiley explained during the interview, as he has in a commentary, that his contract is up with Joyner’s show. He said he is fatigued with rising at 3 a.m. everyday to meet the show’s 6 a.m. start on the East Coast. He said there are other things he wants to do.
His last commentaries on the show will come at the end of June.
“You mentioned empowerment. Well, I want to move on and do other things,” he said.
While Smiley said that Obama—and all elected officials—must be held accountable to the people who put them in office, he noted that Sen. Obama’s history-making nomination “releases progressive possibilities and portends for us—people of color and for women—the opportunity to do things that we heretofore have not had a chance to do.”
But, he cautioned, the general election campaign against Republican John McCain will be a bruiser.
“We have to brace ourselves for the ugliest, nastiest racist, most expensive campaign ever in this country,” he said. “I don’t think people have really grasped yet how ugly, nasty, racist and divisive this race is going to become.”
Smiley called on people to prepare to defend Sen. Obama “against any and all White supremacist attacks” that are certain to be launched.
“We have to stay informed. We have to stay awake. We have to stay alert. We have to stay aware,” Smiley said. “And we have the obvious call to be involved—in controlling our destiny in every step that we can. So we have to get involved. Whether people support Obama or McCain, you have to be involved in the process.”