OK, two things.
First, Rove and Palin are simply seizing upon what is, for them and their reactionary constituents, a golden opportunity to stoke racism for their advantage. They are well aware that any chance they can get to mark the president out as "black" is a chance to impugn him by piggy-backing on anti-black racism. Unfortunately, they are correct in thinking that there is a large number of white Americans for whom any association between Obama and blackness is a knock against Obama. By associating Obama with a progressive, "conscious" black MC, they "darken" Obama and thus use the manifest racism in the U.S. to their advantage.
This strategy is both cynical and principled on their part. It is cynical, because there is a sense in which they will impugn Obama by any means necessary. But it is also principled because both Palin and Rove are racists. If asked, both would confidently deny that racism exists. And if pushed, they would simply refuse to do anything about it. They hover between liking things as they are, and wanting to roll back the modest gains of the 1960s. For them, the downfall of certain forms of de jure racism is to be lamented, not celebrated.
But, I said I had a second thing to say. I've blasted the Palin/Rove Right, but I'd like to make sure that Obama doesn't get off the hook either. Now let me make clear right off the bat that a socialist can never sit comfortably while anyone is subjected to racist attacks. The victims politics are irrelevant. For socialists, even the likes of right-wingers such as Sarah Palin must be defended from sexist attacks and slanders. Not because she's a good person, but because the problem with Palin has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman. It has to do with the fact that she's a reactionary. I can recall old male right-wingers who said they were pleased with the McCain ticket in 2008 until Palin joined it. I found that preposterous. McCain's politics were identical to Palin's: hard-Right. What these Neanderthals were really saying was that they were fine with McCain because he was an old man, but not with Palin because she was a younger woman. That's preposterous. We should condemn them both because of their reactionary politics, not endorse one and condemn the other on sexist grounds. But I digress.
OK, so my second point is this. Why, if Common is so damned progressive, has he been so Obama-friendly since 2008? I'm with Common in celebrating the emancipatory legacy of black struggle embodied in the Panthers. And I'm fully behind the oppositional, political trajectory of the tradition of hip hop in general (or, "real hip hop", if you like). But if you're for celebrating those who took up arms to fight police brutality in the 60s, why on earth are you also getting behind the figurehead for U.S. imperialism? Why help Obama try to paper over the ways in which he's made people of color worse off during his tenure? Moreover, as I've argued elsewhere, why think that the right thing to do is to get cozy with a president whose done virtually nothing to advance black interests or fight racist oppression?
So, as I've said, the fuckedupness here is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the hysterical Right-wing allegation that there is an association between Obama and the emancipatory black political tradition. They assume that this is a bad thing, which evinces the sense in which they're just doing the old Strom Thurmond thing with slightly different language. Same old racism, slightly new language. When rove calls Common a "thug", we know what he really wants to say. This is knee-jerk, anti-black racism that functions by assuming that anything marked out as black is therefore bad. In truth, however, any association with the radical black tradition should be a badge of honor, not a stain on one's record.
But, and this is the other dimension of the fuckedupness here, it's of course obvious to anyone who cares about black liberation that Obama is not a force for anti-racist change. He is an agent of the status quo. Opposing the Rove/Palin racists in no way commits us to defending Obama's politics. There's a distinction between beating back the racist bullshit, on the one hand, and fully endorsing Obama's politics on the other. We need plenty of the former and none of the latter. If we're to make any progressive changes on the anti-racist front, or on any left-wing front, we've got to be clear that the Democrats are part of the problem, not a potential solution. I've said it plenty, and it's worth saying again: what the Left needs to do is build the independent social movements and be part of spawning new ones. We're never going to win the change we need by asking the ruling class nicely.