Obama: A glaringly leaky vessel of hope
PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS 2008–Obama | [print_link]
CONTEXT/Dateline 27 September 2008: We are pleased to republish here these two prescient pieces by Black Agenda Report (BAR) managing editor Bruce Dixon in the wake of the first Obama-McCain debate, which took place in Oxford, Miss., on Friday 26, 2008. Although pundits are already busy embroidering what the nation watched last night, many giving Obama the edge, the opinion of our editors is that the debate was a disappointing one, mostly because Obama (characteristically for him and the spineless and opportunistic Democrats he represents–isn’t that what centrists are all about?), pulled his punches and failed to sufficiently differentiate his ticket from that of his GOP opponent.
Admittedly, this is hard to do for common mortals considering that the duopolist parties are, theatrics aside, fraternal twins and inseparable partners in crime, as befits their role as reliable executors (along with the commercial media) of the corporate agenda that poisons the nation. Astute observers of American politics have long realized that regardless what party is in office the same script obtains: constant betrayal of the interests of the vast majority, and vigorous pursuit of hypocritical and murderous imperial business abroad. Incidentally, we are almost certain that in this area of foreign policy the never-learn-from-history liberals may suffer the bitterest disappointment as Obama, firmly in the pocket of Wall Street and the Chicago School zealots, and advised by the Brzezinski clique, may turn out to be as treacherous and criminal as the unhinged McCain, whose constant Russia baiting almost guarantees a global conflict. Such are the “choices” we get at this advanced stage of decay of the American empire, all wrapped in the rhetoric of democracy. The world has yet to see a greater and more dangerous imposture. –The Editors
Black America’s Real Issue With Barack Obama [Wednesday, 14 February 2007 [Reprinted]]
The spurious claim that Black Americans oppose Barack Obama because of his white mother, African father, and Harvard Law degrees is a racist slur against Black Americans by the mainstream news media, designed to trivialize and divert attention from real issues African Americans care about, but which are not addressed by Obama supporters OR their Republican opponents.
Both Barack Obama’s Republican opponents and the centrist Democrats who support his presidential candidacy agree on one thing. They all agree that black opinion on the senator is both uninformed and irrelevant.
To hear the mainstream media, black dissatisfaction with Senator Obama is all about his black African father, his white American mother, his light complexion and his Columbia and Harvard Law degrees. The day after Rush Limbaugh called the senator a “half-frican” on the air, the term was in the mouths of ignorant black talk show hosts in multiple cities. Black America was then admonished and chided by white Republicans and Democrats of all colors for not embracing Senator Obama based on some foolish standard of black authenticity.
This is a racist calumny and slur of the first magnitude against all of black America. Our people have never rejected leading figures because of light complexions, immigrant parents or advanced degrees. Black America emphatically did not reject Thurgood Marshall or W.E.B. DuBois, or Julian Bond or Adam Clayton Powell. Nor did the movement turn away immigrants like Stokley Carmichael or Roger Toussaint. Black opposition to Barack Obama on account of his parentage and Harvard Law degree is every bit as much a fabricated political issue as the wall to wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death and family issues are fabricated news. Both are served up to us by the same mainstream media, and for similar reasons.
In many quarters of black America there are sane, solid and sensible reasons for black voters to question whether Barack Obama will represent them at all. Many remember that his first act as a US Senator was torefuse to stand with the Congressional Black Caucus and California Senator Barbara Boxer in opposition to Ohio’s nullification of hundreds of thousands of black votes. Obama’s second, third and fourth significant acts were when he declined to ask any difficult, pointed or revealing questions of Condoleezza Rice and two of the president’s disastrous Supreme Court nominees, and he actually voted for two out of three of these. Obama’s sixth and seventh important acts as a senator were to vote for a bill that made it nearly impossible for ordinary people to sue giant corporations who rob, defraud, maim or kill, and another vote to renew the hated Patriot Act which he vigorously campaigned against. And though Senator Obama now claims to oppose the war in Iraq, he remains advocate of bombing Iran to start yet another.
This commentator was at Obama’s 2004 Illinois primary election victory party. The white and black people there that night imagined that they had elected another Paul Wellstone or a Harold Washington, a senator who would bring their concerns to the halls of power, whether the powerful were ready to hear them or not. One wonders what they think today.
Black America is rightly worried. We are an eighth the nation’s population and half its prisons, but we cannot get a member of the black caucus, Senator Obama included, to question the nation’s policy of racially selective mass incarceration in public. We do have issues that matter to us, and if Barack Obama does not address them, he is truly somebody else’s candidate, not ours.
Denver 2008: Hope Is For The Weak
By BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
As the Democratic wing of America’s permanent ruling party convenes in Denver, Democrats have dominated the Congress for almost two years. There are more US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than in 2006 but no Democratic deadline to end these useless, predatory wars. 1.1 million African Americans languish behind bars while the dispossession and exile of hundreds of thousands of blacks from the Gulf Coast begins its fourth year. The convention will be a media circus and will culminate with the co-branding of Barack Obama with Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech is intended to establish deep symbolic references between the two in the minds of voters, despite their diametrically opposed politics.
Hope is a powerful drug indeed.
You know you’re addicted to a drug when you need it just to feel normal. By that standard, African Americans have been addicted to hope for a long, long time. Nothing wrong with that. As Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, from whom the title of this piece is borrowed points out, hope is seductive, it’s attractive, and when times are hard, hope is absolutely necessary. We’re all quite naturally attracted to those full of hope, while we pity or shun those without it. But if hope is much like a drug, it’s also a lot like capital. Hope can be invested, wisely based on facts and a sober analysis of the forces in play, or it can be squandered foolishly, based on wishful thinking and outright lies. The air in Denver the last week of August will be full of hope. And full of lies.
Since hope is a limited thing, and sometimes all that we have, Jensen suggests that we ought to be realistic and tough-minded about where we invest it and how. The nomination of the Democratic party’s first black candidate is an historic occasion, to be sure. But what is there in Denver to invest our hopes in?
The political conventions bill themselves as glittering spectacles of participatory democracy. But those days, if they ever existed, are long gone. Today’s political conventions are week-long staged-for-TV marketing spectacles, in which the permanent party of corporations and wealthy individuals publicly crown their champions, frame the issues and present the package to voters.
True to the core marketing principal of avoiding fact-based arguments and comparisons, striving instead to establish powerful, reason-proof emotional connections to their brands, convention planners often choose their dates to coincide with “historical” themes. Thus the 2004 Republican convention was held in New York City on the anniversary of 9-11, to facilitate the kind of fearmongering warlike campaign in which Republicans excel. And this year’s Democratic extravaganza is scheduled to conclude with the acceptance speech of Senator Obama at Mile High Stadium on the 45thanniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a tenuous connection which we confidently predict will be recycled and stressed endlessly.
No less an historical authority than Oprah Winfrey herself has declared Obama’s career to be “the fulfillment of Dr. King’s Dream”, as if the 20thcentury Freedom Movement was exclusively about overcoming prejudice without challenging America’s empire overseas or her inequalities at home. As usual, Oprah has the establishment message dead-on. For more than forty years, the media have taught and sold an eviscerated history of the Freedom Movement which they have branded as “Dr. King’s Dream.” According to the authorities, “Dr. King’s Dream” was about individual worth, about judging people by “the content of their character” and affording an equal opportunity for all to rise.
Even though Dr. King died supporting a black union in the midst of a militant citywide strike, the media-endorsed versions of his life, of the Freedom Movement, and of “the Dream” (probably trademarked) which the election of Barack Obama will supposedly “fulfill” are never about collective action, or democracy in workplaces. They never mention the right – won and held by people in most other nations around the world — to organize and strike without being fired or penalized. Despite Dr. King’s prescient warnings that if we did not swiftly end the war in Vietnam and turn our energies to peace abroad and justice at home we would be marching against US wars here, there and everywhere, we will be told in Denver, on the 45th anniversary of “I Have A Dream” that his legacy is being satisfied by the elevation of a black candidate who celebrates empire, who endorses the so-called worldwide “war on terror”, who has assured us he will not end the war in Iraq while he, co-signs the Bush threats to Iran and escalates the conflict in Afghanistan, perhaps extending it to nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Despite his African heritage, Obama shows no signs of ending, or even publicly acknowledging the fact that the US has furnished arms and military aid to more than 50 of 54 African nations, making it the most war-torn continent on earth. Thanks in large part to US policies, AK-47s are manufactured nowhere in Africa, but are cheaper there than anywhere else on earth.
The crowning of Barack Obama in Denver, and the linking of his brand to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech on its 45th anniversary are the cynical triumphs of this limited, truncated version of anti-racist struggle. The hollowness for ordinary people, and the usefulness, for elites, of anti-racist struggle divorced from any challenges to empire and inequality could have been, and were seen clearly a long way off. But not by anybody on our side.
Vijay Prashad reminds us that when the University of Michigan was litigating its affirmative action lawsuit in the late 90s, DuPont, Steelcase, Abbott Laboratories, Intel, Microsoft, Texaco, Lucent and a raft of other Fortune 500 companies filed a brief in support of affirmative action.
Racial and ethnic diversity in institutions of higher education is vital to amici’s efforts to hire and maintain a diverse workforce, and to employ individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment. Such a talented workforce is important toamici’s continued success in the global marketplace.
In other words, without highly placed minority executives they could not hope to penetrate minority markets, or influence the politics of those communities to corporate advantage. The Pentagon filed similar objections in support of affirmative action. With more than 800 military bases around the world in nearly a hundred countries, they argued, the US military also needed a critical number of minority officers to influence the politics of minority communities, and to effectively make war in Africa, Asia and all the places Dr. King predicted decades before.
When the struggle against racism is shorn of its living connections to the fights against American empire abroad and structural inequality at home, it’s just a way of promoting a few black faces into high places with no positive effect on the rest of us. The Denver co-branding of Obama with “I Have A Dream Day” (probably trademarked too) is the triumph of America’s official and elite movement against racism, which was never a mass movement at all. It was a survival strategy to superficially integrate the elite.
America’s structural inequalities, the vast eleven to one wealth gap between white and black families, the staggering imprisonment rate of young African Americans, the dispossession of hundreds of thousands from the Gulf Coast — all these and other racially disproportionate structural elements of American life will remain as they have been. Parasitic insurance companies will continue to eat a third of every American health care dollar. And the pointless, predatory so-called “war on terror” will continue, as Bush and Cheney intended under a black Democrat, should he be elected, indefinitely.
The air in Denver the last week of August will definitely be full of hope. And full of something else too.
Bruce Dixon, managing editor at Black Agenda Report, is based in Atlanta and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.