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Sean Penn vs. Wyclef: The Self-Righteous Showdown Escalates

12:09 PM, Sep 9, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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You may remember that for a brief time, singer Wyclef Jean flirted with the idea of running for president of Haiti, citing as his qualifications the fact that he is Haitian, knows Shakira, and put out that awesome solo album in '98.

Just kidding, he actually did have a platform of sorts:

[A] five-point plan for revitalizing the earthquake-ravaged nation, by focusing on agriculture, job creation, security, health care and especially education. "Haiti will not be a part of the 21st century if Haiti can not read or write," Jean said, adding that he hoped fellow Haiti-born, U.S.-educated expatriates will return to their native country to assist in his efforts.

Nonetheless, an electoral board declared him ineligible because he didn't meet a residency requirement, at which point Jean bowed out pretty gracefully and said he looked forward to continuing to work for Haiti. He remains the country's "ambassador at large," to which he was appointed by current president Rene Preval.

But Sean Penn, very upset indeed that anyone else should get a tremendous amount of publicity for trying to help poor black people in the wake of a natural disaster, which is Penn's milieu, took a break from his work in Haiti to go on CNN to question Wyclef's qualifications and committment to the people of Haiti.

"This is somebody who's going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I'm very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent. For those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence," Penn said...

"I'm not accusing Wyclef Jean of being an opportunist; I don't know the man," Penn told Wolf Blitzer, who was filling in for Larry King. "One of the reasons I don't know very much about Wyclef Jean is that I haven't seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I've been in Haiti."

Wyclef's former Fugees bandmate Pras, also Haitian, sided with Penn in the quarrel, backing Jean's would-be opposition in the election.

Wyclef, whose run for president may have been ill-conceived and naive, but undoubtedly well-intentioned, considered these fighting words, and started a pseudo-rap feud with noted non-rapper Penn by rewriting the words to his "If I Was President" to slam the actor and Pras at a concert in New York this week:

"If I was president. I got a message for Sean Penn, maybe he ain't see me in Haiti cuz he was too busy sniffing cocaine. I got a message for Praswell, even though you don't want to support me, I got love for you. Even though you only kicked eight bars for the Fugees. If I was president."

Penn, determined to win the War for Who Cares More About Underserved Populations, had his spokesman release a very serious statement to refute Wyclef's allegations, thereby implying that he's far too busy caring about Haiti more to be bothered with appearing on prime-time CNN or writing a blog post for Huffington Post, at least this time.

"Mr. Jean is clearly unfamiliar with the physical demands put upon volunteers in Haiti. As aid workers there, the notion of depleting the body's immune system thru the use of illicit drugs is ludicrous. More specifically, J/P Haitian Relief Organization (a.k.a. JPHRO) has a ZERO tolerance policy for any and all illegal drugs. As the leader of this organization, Sean Penn has not only set this policy, but adheres to it. That Mr. Jean would make such a false accusation is reckless and saddening, but not surprising."

Worst rap feud ever, but I'm rooting for Wyclef. Penn is the Platonic form of liberal self-righteousness, nourished by the outlandish publicity he gets for swooping into disaster areas (where many others are doing just as much good and more) to the point that he feels free to publicly declare that he cares more about Haiti than Haitians.

Here's Penn displaying the sense of humor, humility, and graciousness for which he's renowned on FunnyOrDie.com's "Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifinakis:"

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