I find it curious that most of our progressive ire these days is focused almost exclusively upon conservative white wingnuts, talking heads, or radio entertainers like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, or Lou Dobbs. While speaking out against their hatred and divisive talk is important and needs to continue, I'd hope we'd continue to make an effort to locate the wide swath of discordant, worrisome voices that greatly contribute to the volume and amplification of the biggest names. By the time we've criticized Limbaugh, for example, it is often too late. He's said it, his followers have absorbed it, the media's covered it, and for better or for worse we have to deal with the consequences. With the internet, comes a ready-made bully pulpit for all sort of agents of intolerance and I'm for a proactive approach to cease or at least blunt the impact and information exchange that feeds these fevered egos.
The mainstream media's approach has been to not call attention to these people for fear of growing their power base, but if no one speaks out, then their behavior inevitably gets funneled to the larger players. We all function a bit on the principle of an echo chamber and when enough people are moved and inspired by an idea, then they continue to forward that idea with their own observations. The impact grows and grows and grows with every successive person who advances it. After all, did not much of the misinformation circulating as fact against health care reform started with some unknown person with an internet connection? I know there's no way to stop it all and I know the task is an exhaustive one, but I know it to be a satisfying endeavor in the end.
So it is that African-American Pastor James David Manning has been a minor presence on our radar screens for years and only came to much light at all when, during the primary season, he compared Barack Obama to both a mack daddy and a pimp in a nearly ten minute long tirade videotaped and internet-posted rant that was as mean-spirited and packed full of personal attacks as it was uninformed. Manning drew a tremendous amount of heat for that display of unqualified hatred and the result chastened him a little while. Though he has toned down his comments in the past several months, he continues to propagate a deviously novel doctrine against conventional liberalism, racial equality, affirmative action, religious intolerance, and the like in a manner that would seem fitting for any number of white Republican males. I wonder why Fox News hasn't used him as a regular talking head, particularly because they could easily designate him to be "the conservative black voice" when an incident of genuine racism between whites and blacks crops up in the national media.
Some have designated him as "the Self-Loathing Black Male", finding it difficult to understand why an African-American would mimic the kind of naïve logic and the oversimplified universal explanations for complex issues that find its way into the living rooms of the new generation of Archie Bunkers currently on their way from the den to the Health Care Town Hall nearest them. In great contrast to other people of color, Pastor Manning openly supported John McCain for President during the election season and in so doing registered complaint after complaint about then-Candidate Obama from the very beginning of his run. Much like several Republican politicians, Manning continues to refer to President Obama by his full name, conspicuously and unsurprisingly placing emphasis on "Hussein" at the expense of his first and last. Though his reliance upon cheap theatrics has evolved to a more orthodox kind of right-wing griping, the fact remains that Manning's skin color and resultant perspective when combined with his GOP talking points make for a particularly perplexing and bizarre display.
Mannings' latest tirades have involved comparing President Obama to George Wallace and in a talk to the National Press Club this past December, Manning dismissed Obama as little more than the greatest con-man to ever take the Oath of Office. A cursory view of his theories, proposals, and theological underpinnings, available here on Wikipedia, easily could be classified as "crackpot", but so too could the rantings of Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, or Dobbs. That these sorts of people have been set up in front of a microphone instead of being relegated to handing out leaflets in front of busy big city thoroughfares ought to give us all reason to wonder where our priorities are nowadays. Manning's sermons, preached at the Harlem-based ATLAH World Missionary Church, are frequently heavy on the politics and light on the theology. As a result, he has drawn fire with those who advocate for the separation between church and state, rightly crying foul that his organization is classified as a non-profit. But what I also note is that there are any number of predominately white churches led by white ministers who can and do get away with this sort of thing on a regular basis.
Right now, the Republican Party is so scattered, so fragmented, and so nebulously defined that the power vacuum created by its own self-inflicted damage has created no coherent and unified message. This is why the mainstream media consults Rush Limbaugh and his like on a regular basis. It never used to have any need to do so. But the great danger in this attitude, as noted by many, is that Limbaugh gets treated as though he's the party standard bearer. The implication, in addition, among those who seek to divine the Republican position for any and all contentious issues is that Limbaugh's agenda closely resembles that of individual conservatives and listeners, when often the other way round is the case. Strident voices like his are always good to get our righteous indignation going and though it always feels satisfying to vent our identical frustrations with a sympathetic audience, I wish we'd take as much time to cutting off the supply of misinformation as we do in attacking the messenger.
Manning's latest video, as posted below, doesn't just contain the same old political banter, it also shows the Pastor's dangerous messianic streak. If we were to be completely honest, we would acknowledge that, to some degree, a messianic complex drives Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Lou Dobbs. They might not directly articulate it, but when one becomes drunk on power it is very easy to believe that one has the solution, all the answers, and is the singular authority on every topic. With every complimentary e-mail, phone message, or blog citation that complex grows and grows. If Manning was as much of a man of God as he says he is, he would be wise to note a particularly applicable passage of scripture, Luke 6:26, which states,
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets
Another translation of the same passage states,
And what sadness is ahead for those praised by the crowds--for false prophets have always been praised.
Those who chase after the approval of the crowd will always be disappointed. Popularity is fickle. If our ambition rests otherwise, then we need never worry about such things.