PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley has often played a left-wing activist role as well, with his State of Black America conferences and books. He’s just announced a new event on March 20 in Chicago where he can continue his outrage that blacks aren’t making President Obama push an "urban agenda" for black power. Smiley even recently fought with Al Sharpton on Sharpton's radio show, insisting even Sharpton wasn’t racial enough.
The conference is titled "We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda." Tavis elevated his own role just a little. "This come-to-Jesus meeting is free," he announced.
Smiley’s conference is advertising not only Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, who just insisted "the white Right is trying to set Barack up for assassination." Smiley promised that this special guest to his "black chorale" is a man "who hasn’t been singing much of late, but who has a solo I’m told he’s ready to share." Can Reverend Wright be far behind?
Smiley offered his usual special pleading for his race: "Why is the black agenda always framed...as exclusionary, reductionist, pejorative and negative? Isn’t the black agenda the human agenda? Would America have even been America without her Negro people?"
Speaking of exclusionary, Smiley promoted no black conservatives to be part of his conversation. There is no place for Shelby Steele or Thomas Sowell or Star Parker – whether or not they would feel they would get a fair hearing.
Smiley insisted that if black leftists go soft on Obama, how aggressive will they look to the next white president? He added: "If we, African Americans, go silent, how do we keep our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Third World from being rendered invisible?"
On his Tavis Talks website, Smiley promoted the conference this way:
America has experienced its share of troubles this past year: the worst recession since World War I [what?]; the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with doubts about the exit plans; rising poverty in our inner cities, suburbs and rural communities; and the disproportionate power of corporations and special interests in Congress.
In this "post racial" era, the question needs to be asked: Is there a need for a Black Agenda? The conversation will be moderated by Tavis Smiley. Invited panelists include Cornel West, Valerie Jarrett, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Barbara Lee, Tom Burrell, Marc Morial, Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton and others.
AP’s story by Jesse Washington included comment from Eric Deggans, who writes about the media and race for Florida's St. Petersburg Times. He said Smiley's new event is consistent with his record of criticizing Obama's race-neutral stance. But there is a perception that Smiley is personally invested in the issue, he said, because Obama declined to attend Smiley's 2008 State of the Black Union event during the presidential campaign.
"It could be hard for people watching this to see Tavis as an honest broker," Deggans said. "He's playing an odd game," he continued. "He's trying to make great television and also present something that effects social change. That's often two different things."
On the left-wing site AlterNet, Jeff Winbush is not a fan of Smiley:
Apparently, Smiley is expecting a big dose of big spending by the Obama Adminstration on programs specifically targeted to aid and assist Blacks. It’s also an excuse for Tavis to prove yet again his swaggering self-importance never takes a day off...
Tavis would love to be the left-wing alternative to the Tea Party thorn in President Obama’s side, but despite his obvious distaste for Obama, he lacks the vision to mount a sustained political opposition. He’s not willing to damage his own standing with African-Americans by taking on the president with the fervor of a Sarah Palin. Unlike Palin who has no pull with Blacks, Smiley knows in any competition with Obama he’s going to finish a sick second best.