Russell Simmons, of Def Comedy Jam and hip-hop music fame, has been making the rounds over the past week in an attempt to promote his new book, "Do You!"
He awkwardly engaged Stephen Colbert earlier this week, with little of consequence coming out of the conversation.
But in chatting with Deborah Solomon of the NYTimes Magazine, Simmons had something noteworthy to say.
What do you make of Barack Obama, who recently said that rap musicians should reform their lyrics? What we need to reform is the conditions that create these lyrics. Obama needs to reform the conditions of poverty. I wish he really did raise his money on the Internet, like he said. I wish he really did raise his money independently.
What are you saying? I think about one-fourth of his campaign contributions came from small donations made over the Internet, even though he collected more than any other Democratic candidate from Wall Street people. So at the end of the day, he’s controlled, too. That’s my point. He’s a mouse, too, like everybody else.
Are there any presidential candidates who inspire you? I talk to John Edwards more than I talk to anyone. He has said more things about the conditions we need to think about. He went to yoga with me. He did the whole class, an hour and a half. He sweated like crazy. He’s in good shape, but it was hard on him.
Now I'd imagine that much will be made of Simmons' chiding of Obama, and in conservative circles, the condemnation will be, "A prominent black man is denouncing Obama. Ouch." But such a superficial reading would be not only unfair, but disturbingly so. Simmons' criticism is not dissimilar from the criticism being poured upon Obama from many liberals, in that Obama has not been as outspoken on certain aspects of social justice and civil rights, on welfare or class as has been Edwards.
And this is precisely what Simmons is saying.
He has said more things about the conditions we need to think about.
Or rather, Simmons contends that all of those Wall Street dollars prevent Obama from speaking out on these very issues. Perhaps Obama agrees with Edwards completely; perhaps their platforms are nearly identical on the issues of the day; that's all irrelevant, however. Edwards has been a more prominent voice for such issues, and that resonates with Simmons.
It has nothing to do with Obama being a so-called "sell-out," as conservatives will undoubtedly opine (as they have been in the past). It has nothing to do with Obama "not being black enough," as many have purportedly "wondered" aloud.
It has everything to do, I suspect, with the political strategy being employed.
I'm certainly in no position to adequately gauge the sincerity of either Edwards' or Obama's campaigns. But with some political science training in my background, I feel comfortable asserting that Obama has made the conscious decision of racing Hillary Clinton to the middle, leaving the left open for John Edwards to roam. As polls and support here indicate, the strategy has worked well enough thus far for Edwards, particularly in Iowa.
And so, too, has it worked with Russell Simmons, a man whose influence is not trivial by any stretch of the imagination.