Long Read: Chris Rock on Politics, Race Relations and Obama

There’s always been a thin line between modern politics and pop culture, stretching from President John F. Kennedy and his Sinatra-Rat Pack affiliations to President Barack Obama hanging with (and raising tons of money thanks to) the likes of Jay-Z in the White House and George Clooney in Beverly Hills.

Today’s Long Read is squarely limns that boundary – an extended Q-and-A between entertainer Chris Rock, whose films and stand-up comedy includes plenty of sharp political commentary, and Frank Rich, a former New York Times theater critic who’s remade himself into a political analyst and occasional pop-culture expert.

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In a wide-ranging interview that’s getting a lot of buzz on the Interwebs, Rock and Rich tackle race relations, Ferguson, Hillary Clinton’s presumed presidential run, why conservatives aren’t funny and where liberals’ blind spots are when it comes to race. Consider Rock’s take on the left’s disappointment with Obama, an accomplished president by most standards:

I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got [Shaquille O’Neal]. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall any [president] leaving [office] on an up. It’s just that kind of job.

I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network….and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy… He’s trying to get everybody. And I think he’s figured out, and maybe a little late, that there’s some people he’s never going to get.

Prodded by Rich, Rock opines from the left about the midterm elections, in which Republicans took power in Congress, and about the prospects of Jeb Bush, a 2006 GOP presidential contender, ending up back in the White House:

America — not black America, but America as a whole — started in England and was ruled by kings and queens and had a class system. I’m almost of the mind that that’s what America wants at the end of the day. Maybe America wants monopolies. Maybe they just want a Bush. Maybe they want no regulations. It’s hard for me to figure out people voting against their own self-interests. At some point you go, Okay: Is that what they want?

Ironically, that thought was echoed recently by Jeb Bush’s own mom, former first lady Barbara Bush, who pondered whether a third Bush – or a second Clinton – in the White House was really such a good idea.

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But it’s on the issue of race, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the progress the nation has made (or not) where Rock is at perhaps his most insightful. Talk that America has left racial strife behind, he tells Rich, is “nonsense,” and the chief reason he’d want to film a documentary exploring it from the white perspective:

There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

So, to say [the election of] Obama is [racial] progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing.

Make no mistake, there’s some showbiz talk sprinkled throughout in the interview; Rock’s got a movie coming out this month, after all, and publicity for it is ostensibly why Rich got a sit-down with Rock in the first place. But the movie talk is miniscule compared to Rock’s analysis of politics, race and culture, a rarity to raises the interview way above the usual celebrity falderol.