Obama: a Hollow Man Filled with Ruling Class Ideas
written by Paul Street...
What on Earth motivated the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and law professor David J. Garrow to write an incredibly detailed 1078-page (1460 pages with endnotes and index included) biography of Barack Obama from conception through election to the White House? Not any great personal affinity for Obama on Garrow’s part, that’s for sure. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama is no hagiography. On the last page of this remarkable tome, Garrow describes Obama at the end of his distinctly non-transformative and “failed presidency” as a man who had long ago had become a “vessel [that] was hollow at its core.”
Near the conclusion, Garrow notes how disappointed and betrayed many of Obama’s former friends felt by a president who “doesn’t feel indebted to people” (in the words of a former close assistant) and who spent inordinate time on the golf course and “celebrity hobnobbing” (1067). Garrow quotes one of Obama’s “long-time Hyde Park [Chicago] friend[s],” who offered a stark judgement: “Barack is a tragic figure: so much potential, such critical times, but such a failure to perform…like he is an empty shell…Maybe the flaw is hubris, deep and abiding hubris….” (1065). Garrow quotes the onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West on how Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency…a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist.”
The subject of Garrow’s meticulous history is a single-minded climber ready to toss others (including family members, lovers, and close friends) aside in service to an all-consuming quest for political power fueled by a belief in his own special “destiny.” (It is clear from Rising Star that Obama was set on a run for the presidency by age twenty-five.) Dozens of former Obama associates interviewed by Garrow report having been impressed, even blown away by the future president as a young man. But many others were put off by Obama’s sense of superiority and arrogance (“full of himself” by the recollection of one Harvard Law classmate [p. 337]) and by his often lecturing, professorial “know it all” presentation – and by his transparent hyper-ambition.
During his time at Harvard Law, fellow students invented “the Obamanometer” – a numerical measure of how long Obama would spend taking up class time with long-winded dialogue with the professor, often while claiming to speak on behalf of his fellow students.
Obama struck many on his way up as far too impressed with his own awesomeness. As one of his fellow black Illinois state senators commented to another veteran legislator as Obama began his eight-year career in the Illinois Senate in 1996, “Can you believe this guy’s some thirty years old [and] he’s already written a book about himself?” (p.600)
Progressives lobbyists found Obama “a disappointing legislator” during his time in the Illinois Senate. According to Al Sharp, executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, state senator Obama was “so very pragmatic” that “he,” in Garrow’s words, “was unwilling to fight to the good fight.” By Garrow’s account. “Legal aid veteran Linda Mills recalled that [state senator] Barack ‘sponsored a number of bills I wrote,’ but ‘I stopped seeking him out as a chief sponsor early on’ because Barack was ‘disengaged’ rather than actively pushing the bills. ‘He was never involved in the legislation,’ and on many days Barack was simply ‘unavailable. Golfing, playing basketball. He was just out to lunch so often’” (p.731)
An Ugly Offer: Money for Silence I find a different story related in Rising Star just as disturbing. It comes from April of 2008, when then presidential candidate Obama was being compelled by the Hillary Clinton campaign to throw his onetime South Side Chicago “spiritual mentor” Reverend Jeremiah Wright under the bus because Obama’s association with the fiery Black and left-leaning pulpit master was costing him too many white votes. On April 12, 2008, Obama visited Wright, asking him not to do “any more public speaking until after the November election.” Wright refused. “Barack left empty-handed but before long Wright received an e-mail from Barack’s close friend Eric Whitaker, also a Trinity [church] member, offering Wright $150,000 ‘not to preach at all’ in the months ahead.” (p.1044). Wright refused.
How was that for progressive hope and change?
“A Work of Historical Fiction” Young Obama tried to beat historians to the punch by writing a deceptive, self-serving account of his own first three and half decades gracing the planet with his “special qualities.” Garrow, to his credit, doesn’t fall for it. Rising Star takes the future president’s 1995 book Dreams From My FatherDreams and some of Obama’s later autobiographical reflections to task for: inventing a deep racial identity drama that never occurred during Obama’s early years in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Occidental College; incorrectly portraying Obama as a “difference-maker” on his high school basketball team; deceptively claiming that Obama had been an angry “thug” during high school; deleting the Community Party background of the Black “old poet” (“Frank,” as in longtime Communist Party activist Frank Davis) who gave Obama advice as a teenager in Honolulu; inaccurately claiming that Obama have received a “full scholarship” to Occidental; misrepresenting himself as a leader in the movement against South African apartheid at Occidental; exaggerating Obama’s involvement in anti-apartheid activism at Columbia University; covering up evidence of Obama’s enrollment in a Columbia course taught by a Marxist academic; absurdly mispresenting the nature of Obama’s work for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) at the City University of New York; concocting a mythical and supposedly life-changing dialogue with a “black security guard” on Obama’s first trip from New York City to begin community organizing work on the far South Side of Chicago; falsely claiming that Obama converted to Christianity during his early years in Chicago; largely writing Obama’s white mother out of his autobiography, which spilled far more ink on a father (Barack Obama. Sr.) who played little role in his life; painting a “decidedly uncharitable portrait” of Obama’s loving white maternal grandfather (Stanley Dunham) who did so much to raise him; suggesting that Obama’s maternal white grandmother was a racist; unduly downplaying Obama’s supreme enjoyment of his years at Harvard Law School; and coldly condensing his three top pre-marital girlfriends (more on them below) “into a single woman whose appearance in the book was fleeting indeed.” Garrow judges Dreams “a work of historical fiction,” not a serious autobiography or memoir.
The Revenge of Sheila Jager: “His Deep-Seated Need to be Loved and Admired” Rising Star might almost deserve the sub-title “The Revenge of Sheila Jager.” Like Garrow’s giant and classic 1986 biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rising Star gets very, very personal. Garrow reports the complaints of Obama’s three former girlfriends – Alex McNair, Genevieve Cook, and Sheila Jager. Each one recalls an Obama that was ultimately inaccessible and hopelessly self-involved. Ms. Jager, a partly white Asian-American University of Chicago anthropology graduate student when she met Obama, garners singular attention. She fell into a prolonged and ardent affair with then community organizer Obama during the late 1980s. But her long and tumultuous relationship with him was doomed by the color of her skin. Obama shared the passion but decided he could not marry her because his political ambitions in Chicago required a Black spouse.
Garrow recounts an ugly scene in the summer of 1987. A loud and long dispute developed one day at the Wisconsin summer home of a friend. From the morning onwards, a witness recalled, “they were back and forth, having sex, screaming yelling, having sex, screaming yelling.… That whole afternoon, they went back and forth between having sex and fighting,” with Jager yelling: “That’s wrong! That’s wrong! That’s not a reason.”
Near the end of his colossal volume, Garrow says that “no one alive brought deeper insight into the tragedy of Barack Obama than Sheila Jager.” He reproduces numerous quotations from Jager, now an Oberlin College anthropology professor. As a young woman, she was frustrated by young Obama’s lack of “courage.” Writing to Garrow in August of 2013, Jager saw that cowardice in his excessively “pragmatic,” disengaged, and “compromising” presidency:
“the seeds of his future failings were always present in Chicago. He made a series of calculated decisions when he began to map out his political life at the time and they involved some deep compromises. There is a familiar echo in the language he uses now to talk about the compromises he’s always forced to make and the way he explained his future to me back then, saying in effect I ‘wish’ I could do this, but ‘pragmatism and the reality of the world has forced me to do that.’ From the bailout out to NSA to Egypt, it is always the same. The problem is that ‘pragmatism’ can very much look like what works best for the moment. Hence, the constant criticism that there is no strategic vision behind his decisions. Perhaps this pragmatism and need to just ‘get along in the world’ (by accepting the world as it is instead of trying to change it) stems from his deep-seated need to be loved and admired which has ultimately led him on the path to conformism and not down the path of greatness which I had hoped for him.” (1065)
The italics are Garrow’s. He added emphasis to the entire passage.
Or Maybe He Really Believed All that “Vacuous to Repressive Neoliberal” and “Pragmatism” Stuff Garrow’s mammoth biography is a tour de force when it comes to personal critique, professional appraisal, and epic research and documentation. His mastery of the smallest details in Obama’s life and career and his ability to place those facts within a narrative that keeps the reader’s attention (no small feat at 1078 pages!) is remarkable. Rising Star falls short, however, on ideological appraisal. In early 1996, the brilliant left Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. captured the stark moral and political limits of what would become the state and then national Obama phenomenon and indeed the Obama presidency. Writing of an unnamed Obama, Reed observed that:
“In Chicago…we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program – the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.”
Garrow very incompletely quotes Reed’s reflection only to dismiss it as “an academic’s way of calling Barack an Uncle Tom.” That is an unfortunate judgement. Reed’s assessment was richly born-out by Obama’s subsequent political career. Like his politcio-ideological soul-brothers Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (and perhaps now Emmanuel Macron), Obama’s public life has been a wretched monument to the dark power of the neoliberal corporate-financial and imperial agendas behind the progressive pretense of façade of telegenic and silver-tongued professional class politicos.
Reed’s prescient verdict more than 12 years before Obama became president brings more insight to the Obama tragedy than Jager’s reflection five years into Obama’s presidency. Obama’s nauseating taste for supposedly (and deceptively) non-ideological “get things done” “pragmatism,” “compromise,” and “playing it safe” – for “accepting the world as it is instead of trying to change it” (Jager) – was not simply or merely a personality quirk or psychological flaw. It was also and far more significantly a longstanding way for “liberal” Democratic presidents and other politicos to appear “tough-minded” and stoutly determined to “getting things done” while they subordinate the fake-populist and progressive-sounding values they mouth to get elected to the harsh “deep state” facts of U.S. ruling class, imperial, and “national security” power. A “pragmatic,” supposedly non-ideological concern for policy effectiveness – “what can be accomplished in the real world” – has long given “liberal” presidents a manly way to justify governing in accord with the wishes of the nation’s ruling class and power elite.
Garrow and Jager might want to look at a forgotten political science classic, Bruce Miroff’s Pragmatic Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy .) After detailing the supposedly progressive Kennedy’s cool-headed, Harvard-minted, and “best and brightest” service to the nation’s reigning corporate, imperial, and racial hierarchies, Miroff explained that:
“Most modern presidents have claimed the title of ‘pragmatist’ for themselves. Richard Nixon was just as concerned as John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to announce that he was not wedded to dogma, and that his administration would follow a realistic and flexible course. It has chiefly been the liberal presidents, however, who have captured the pragmatic label…For liberal presidents – and for those who have advised them – the essential mark of pragmatism is its ‘tough-mindedness.’ Pragmatism is equated with strength and intellectual and moral strength that can accept a world stripped of illusions and can take the facts unadorned. Committed to liberal objectives, yet free from liberal sentimentality, the pragmatic liberal sees himself as grappling with brute and unpleasant facts of political reality in order to humanize and soften those facts…The great enemy for pragmatic liberals is ideology…An illusory objectivity is one of the pillars of pragmatic ‘tough-mindedness.’ The second pillar is readiness for power. Pragmatists are interested in what works; their prime criterion of value is success…[and] as a believer in concrete results, the pragmatist is ineluctably drawn to power. For it is power that gets things done most easily, that makes things work most successfully.” (Pragmatic Illusions, 283-84, emphasis added).
The classic neoliberal Bill Clinton embraced the pragmatic and non-ideological “get things done” façade for state capitalist and imperialist policy. So did the pioneering neoliberal Jimmy Carter and the great corporate liberals Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kenney and Franklin Roosevelt. Was this really or mainly because they were psychologically wounded? The deeper and more relevant reality is that they functioned atop a Superpower nation-state rule by unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, and white supremacism. They were educated, socialized, seduced and indoctrinated – to understand in their bones that those de facto dictatorships must remain intact (Roosevelt boasted of having saved the profits system) and that liberal “reform” must always bend to the will of reigning institutions and doctrines of concentrated wealth, class, race, and power. Some or all of them may well have to believe and internalize the purportedly non-ideological ideology of wealth- and power-serving pragmatism. And Obama was either a true believer or one who cynically chose to impersonate one as the ticket to power quite early on.
A Fully Minted Neoliberal Early On The irony here is that one can consult Rising Star to determine the basic underlying accuracy of Reed’s acerbic description. My foremost revelation from Rising Star is that Obama was fully formed as a fake-progressive neoliberal-capitalist actor well before he ever received his first big money campaign contribution. He’s headed down the same ideological path as the Clintons even before Bill Clinton walks into the Oval Office. Obama’s years in the corporate-funded foundation world, the great ruling and professional class finishing schools Columbia University Harvard Law, and the great neoliberal University of Chicago’s elite Law School were more than sufficient to mint him as a brilliant if “vacuous to repressive neoliberal.”
During his years at Harvard Law, Garrow notes, Obama took said the following at a Turner Broadcasting African American Summit for the 1990s:
“Whenever we blame society for everything, or blame white racism for everything, then inevitably we’re giving away our own power…if we can get start getting beyond some of these old divisions [of race, place, and class] and look at the possibilities of crafting pragmatic, practical strategies that are going to focus on what’s going to make it work and less about whether it fits into one ideological mold or another.”
These were classic neoliberal and ruling class themes.
Along with a healthy dose of market economics, this was the heavily ideological if nominally anti-ideological essence of much of Obama’s intellectual work at Harvard Law, where he and his good friend the former economist Rob Fisher were drawn to the courses of a libertarian professor and wrote oxymoronically about the progressive and democratic potential of “market forces.” Like other ruling class and professional class educational and ideological institutions of “higher education,” Harvard Law was and remains a great schoolhouse of precisely the kind of “pragmatism” which knows that no policies and visions can work that don’t bow to the holy power of the finance-led corporate and imperial state, ruling in the name of the market among other things.
Again, and again across Garrow’s many hundreds of pages on Obama’s community organizing and legislative career one hears about the future president’s classically neoliberal efforts to address poverty and joblessness by increasing the market value of poor and jobless folks’ “human capital” and “skill sets.” Never does one learn of any serious call on his part for the radical and democratic redistribution of wealth and power and the advance of a people’s political economy based on solidarity and the common good, not the profits of the investor class. The main things Obama needed to add on to fulfill his “destiny” after Harvard Law were a political career in elected office, a great moment of national celebrity (his spectacular Keynote Address to the Democratic National Convention in August of 2004), elite financial sponsorship (including record-setting Wall Street backing in 2007 and 2008), and proper appreciation and articulation of U.S.-imperial Council on Foreign Relations ideology. All of this and more, including no small good fortune (including the awfulness of the George W. Bush administration and the 2007-08 Hillary Clinton campaign), followed and brought us to the great neoliberal “disappointment” that was the Obama presidency.
Curious Deletions: MacFaquhar, Marxists, and the Ruling Class Sponsors There are some interesting deletions in Rising Star. It is odd that the meticulous Garrow never quotes a remarkable essay published by The New Yorker in the spring of 2007. In early May of that year, six months after Obama had declared his candidacy for the White House, the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar penned a memorable portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with the candidate, “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added).
MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.”
So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?
Was this personal weakness and cowardice? The deeper reality is that Obama’s “deeply conservative” beliefs reflected an either calculated or heartfelt allegiance to neoliberal “free market” ideals and related pragmatic and “realistic” ruling- and elite professional-class values inculcated and absorbed at Harvard Law, in the corporate-captive foundation world, and through his many contacts in the elite business sector and the foreign policy establishment as he rose in the American System. Along with a bottomless commitment to the long American imperial project, those power-serving beliefs were written all over Obama’s conservative late 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope (Obama’s second book and his second book mainly about himself – see my critical review of it on Black Agenda Report in early 2007 here), whose right-wing and imperial content Garrow ignores. They also raised their head in the famous 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address (see my critical reflection on that oration at the time here) that did so much to make Obama an overnight national and even global celebrity – another document whose right-leaning ideological nature escapes Garrow’s attention.
Like Obama’s neoliberal and imperial ideology, the many left activists and writers (this reviewer included) who saw through Obama’s progressive pretense and warned others about it early on are basically missing in Rising Star. The list of Left commentators left out is long. It includes Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky. Alexander Cockburn, Margaret Kimberly, Jeffrey St. Clair, Roger Hodge, Pam Martens, Ajamu Baraka, Doug Henwood, Juan Santos, Marc Lamont Hill, John R. MacArthur, and a host of others (Please see the sub-section titled “Insistent Left Warnings” on pages 176-177 in the sixth chapter, titled “We Were Warned,” of my 2010 book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power[Paradigm, 2014], my second carefully researched Obama book not to make it into Garrow’s endnotes or bibliography).
Also largely missing – the other side of the coin of omission, so to speak – in Garrow’s sprawling acount is the elite corporate and financial class that made record-setting contributions to Obama’s rise with an understanding that Obama was very much on their side. How write a 1000-page plus account of Obama’s rise to power without at least once mentioning that august and unparalleled ruling class figure Robert Rubin, whose nod of approval was critical to Obama’s ascendancy? As Greg Palast noted, Rubin “opened the doors to finance industry vaults for Obama. Extraordinarily for a Democrat, Obama in 2008 raised three times as much from bankers as his Republican opponent.”
Rubin would also serve as a top informal Obama adviser and placed a number of his protégés in high-ranking positions in the Obama administration. Rubin’s Obama appointees included Timothy Geithner (Obama’s first treasury secretary), Peter Orszag (Obama’s first Office of Management and Budget director), and Larry Summers (first chief economic adviser).
Just as odd as his ignoring of MacFarquhar’s May 2007 essay is Garrow’s inattention to a remarkable report from Ken Silverstein’s six months before. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” the progressive journalist Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.” in November of 2006, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’” Obama’s allegiance to the American business elite was evident from the get go. It was well understood by the K Street insiders that Silverstein interviewed in the fall of 2006.
His “dollar value” to Wall Street would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that “I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.” For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, there was, as Garrow’s fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Sukind wrote, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”
On Love and Admiration As noted above, professor Jager told Garrow that the limits of Obama’s presidency stemmed from his longstanding “need to be loved and admired.” But surely that need would have been met to no small degree had Obama (like Roosevelt in 1935 and 1936) governed in at least partial accord with the progressive-sounding rhetoric he campaigned on in 2007 and 2008. Beyond the social, democratic, security and environmental benefits that would have been experienced by millions of Americans and world citizens under an actually progressive Obama presidency, such policy would have been good politics for both Obama and the Democratic Party. It might well have pre-empted the Tea Party rebellion and kept the orange-haired beast Donald Trump – a dodgy neo-fascistic legacy of Obama and the Clintons’ ruling- and professional-class Ivy League elitism – out of the White House. The bigger problem here was Obama’s love and admiration for the nation’s reigning wealth and power elite – or, perhaps, his reasonable calculation that the powers that be held a monopoly on the means of bestowing public love and admiration. Non-conformism to the ruling class carries no small cost in a media and politics culture owned by that class.
The Biggest Omission: Empire The most glaring thing missing in Rising Star is any understanding of U.S, Senator and presidential candidate Obama’s imperial world view. His brazenly “American exceptionalist” and imperial mindset, straight out of the Council on Foreign Relations, was written all over Obama’s foreign policy speeches and writings (including large sections of The Audacity of Hope) in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I wrote about this at length in the fourth chapter (titled “How Antiwar? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) in my 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.
This significant omission but it is unsurprising given Garrow’s own apparent enmeshment in the American imperial mindset. Rising Star’s long epilogue includes John McCain-like criticisms of Obama for failing to launch military strikes on Syria and for being too allergic to “the use, or even the threat of force” in global affairs. Garrow even offers a lengthy critical quote on the need for “the next president” to be more “resolute” from the former leading imperialist defense secretary Robert Gates, who Garrow strangely describes as “the weightiest and most widely respected voice of all.”
“Problems Out There with the Situation of African-Americans in Society” Obama first became something of a celebrity when he became the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review in February of 1990. “I wouldn’t want people to see my election,” Obama told the Associated Press, “as a symbol that there aren’t problems out there with the situation of African-Americans in society” (Garrow, Rising Star, p. 392). Note the carefully calibrated nature of Obama’s public commentary already at the age of 28: “problems out there with the situation of African-Americans in society” could just as easily refer to alleged Black personal and cultural failure (a persistent white-pleasing theme in the rising star’s political rhetoric) as it could to cultural and/or institutional and societal racism. Note also that while Obama’s election and re-election to the U.S. presidency brought few if any tangible material and policy gains to Black America (whose already terrible economic situation deteriorated significantly during his time in office), it functioned as something like the last nail in the coffin of many whites’ stark reluctance to acknowledge that the nation’s still deeply embedded racism any longer poses real barriers to Black advancement and equality in the U.S. “Are you kidding me?” I’ve heard countless whites say, “we elected a Black president! Stop talking about racism!” Never mind the persistence of deeply embedded racial inequality and oppression at the heart of the nation’s labor and housing markets, credit and investment systems, legal and criminal justice systems, its military and police state, and its educational and media systems – and the dogged tenacity of personal and cultural race prejudice among a considerable part of the white populace. In that and other ways, the tragedy of the Obama years has been greatest of all for those at the bottom of the nation’s steep social and economic wells.
King v. Obama If I could ask Garrow one question beyond the personal matter of why my own heavily researched and annotated study of (and Left warning on) “rising star” Obama (Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics [Paradigm-Routledge, 2008]) is so egregiously missing in his bibliography and endnotes, it is this: what does Garrow think his previous epic biography subject Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. (who politely refused progressives’ effort to enlist him as a presidential candidate and whose bust sat behind Obama in the Oval Office), would have thought of the career of Garrow’s new epic biography subject, Barack Obama?
As Garrow knows, King in his final years inveighed eloquently against what he called “the triple evils that are interrelated,” essentially capitalism, racism, and militarism-imperialism. King came to the end of his martyred life with the belief that the real faults in American life lay not so much in “men” as in the oppressive institutions and social structures that reigned over them. He wrote that “the radical reconstruction of society itself” was “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters. He had no interest, of course, in running for the White House of all things.
Obama took a very different path, one that enlisted him in service both to narcissistic self and to each of the very triple evils (and other ones as well) that King dedicated his life to resisting.
The Obama-King contrast continues into Obama’s post-presidential years. As Garrow showed in Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King. Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (William Morrow, 1986), the great Civil Rights leader and democratic socialist Dr. King sternly refused to cash in on his fame. Now that he out of the White House, Obama, by contrast, is cashing in. He’s raking in millions from the publishing industry and Wall Street and he’s back to his old “hobnobbing” ways with the rich and famous. The reverend would be 88 years old if he had been blessed with longevity. My guess is that he would be less than pleased at the life and career of the nation’s first technically Black president.
By Paul Street, First Published in Counterpunch, June 2, 2017
Obama Now Controls the Official Narrative of Exceptionalism
written by Glen Ford...
The ruling class is seriously rattled over its loss of control over the national political narrative - a consequence of capitalism’s terminal decay and U.S. imperialism’s slipping grip on global hegemony. When the Lords of Capital get rattled, their servants in the political class are tasked with rearranging the picture and reframing the national conversation. In other words, Papa Imperialism needs a new set of lies, or renewed respect for the old ones. Former president Barack Obama, the cool operator who put the U.S. back on the multiple wars track after a forced lull in the wake of George Bush’s defeat in Iraq, has eagerly accepted his new assignment as Esteemed Guardian of Official Lies.
At this stage of his career, Obama must dedicate much of his time to the maintenance of Official Lies, since they are central to his own “legacy.” With the frenzied assistance of his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Obama launched a massive military offensive - a rush job to put the New American Century back on schedule. Pivoting to all corners of the planet, and with the general aim of isolating and intimidating Russia and China, the salient feature of Obama’s offensive was the naked deployment of Islamic jihadists as foot soldiers of U.S. imperialism in Libya and Syria. It is a strategy that is morally and politically indefensible - unspeakable!—the truth of which would shatter the prevailing order in the imperial heartland, itself.
Thus, from 2011 to when he left the White House for a Tahiti yachting vacation with music mogul David Geffen and assorted movie and media celebrities, Obama orchestrated what the late Saddam Hussein would have called “The Mother of All Lies”: that the U.S. was not locked in an alliance with al-Qaida and its terrorist offshoots in Syria, a relationship begun almost 40 years earlier in Afghanistan.
He had all the help he needed from a compliant corporate media, whose loyalty to U.S. foreign policy can always be counted on in times of war. Since the U.S. is constantly in a (self-proclaimed) state of war, corporate media collaboration is guaranteed. Outside the U.S. and European corporate media bubble, the whole world was aware that al-Qaida and the U.S. were comrades in arms. (According to a 2015 poll, 82 percent of Syrians and 85 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. created ISIS.) When Vladimir Putin told a session of the United Nations General Assembly that satellites showed lines of ISIS tankers stretching from captured Syrian oil fields “to the horizon,” bound for U.S.-allied Turkey, yet untouched by American bombers, the Obama administration had no retort. Russian jets destroyed 1,000 of the tankers, forcing the Americans to mount their own, smaller raids. But, the moment soon passed into the corporate media’s amnesia hole - another fact that must be shed in order to avoid unspeakable conclusions.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s flirtation with the idea of ending U.S. “regime change” policy in Syria - and, thereby, scuttling the alliance with Islamic jihadists - struck panic in the ruling class and in the imperial political structures that are called the Deep State, which includes the corporate media. When Trump won the general election, the imperial political class went into meltdown, blaming “The Russians” - first, for warlord Hillary Clinton’s loss, and soon later for everything under the sun. The latest lie is that Moscow is sending weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan spent billions of dollars to create the international jihadist network. Which shows that imperialists have no sense of irony, or shame. (See: “The U.S., Not Russia, Arms Jihadists Worldwide.”) After the election, lame duck President Obama was so consumed by the need to expunge all narratives that ran counter to “The Russians Did It,” he twice yammered about “fake news” at a press conference in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama was upset, he said, “Because in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and its packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television. If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”
Although now an ex-president, it is still Obama’s job to protect the ruling class, and the Empire, and his role in maintaining the Empire: his legacy. To do that, one must control the narrative - the subject uppermost in his mind when he used Chicago area students as props, this week, for his first public speech since leaving the White House. “It used to be that everybody kind of had the same information,” said Obama, at the University of Chicago affair. “We had different opinions about it, but there was a common base line of facts. The internet has in some ways accelerated this sense of people having entirely separate conversations, and this generation is getting its information through its phones. That you really don’t have to confront people who have different opinions or have a different experience or a different outlook.” Obama continued:
“If you’re liberal, you’re on MSNBC, or conservative, you’re on Fox News. You’re reading the Wall Street Journal or you’re reading the New York Times, or whatever your choices are. Or, maybe you’re just looking at cat videos [laughter].
“So, one question I have for all of you is, How do you guys get your information about the news and what’s happening out there, and are there ways in which you think we could do a better job of creating a common conversation now that you’ve got 600 cable stations and you’ve got all these different news opinions—and, if there are two sets of opinions, then they’re just yelling at each other, so you don’t get a sense that there’s an actual conversation going on. And the internet is worse. It’s become more polarized.”
Obama’s core concern is that there should be a “common base line of facts,” which he claims used to exist “20 or 30 years ago.” The internet, unregulated and cheaply accessed, is the villain, and the main source of “fake news” (from publications like BAR and the 12 other leftwing sites smeared by the Washington Post, back in November, not long after Obama complained to Merkel about “fake news”).
However, Obama tries to dress up his anti-internet “fake news” whine with a phony pitch for diversity of opinions. Is he suggesting that MSNBC viewers also watch Fox News, and that New York Times readers also peruse the Wall Street Journal? Is he saying that most people read a variety of daily newspapers “back in the day”? It is true that, generations ago, there were far more newspapers available to read, reflecting a somewhat wider ideological range of views. But most people read the ones that were closest to their own politics, just as now. Obama is playing his usual game of diversion. Non-corporate news is his target: “...the internet is worse. It’s become more and more polarized.”
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and Fox News all share the “common base line of facts” that Obama cherishes. By this, he means a common narrative, with American “exceptionalism” and intrinsic goodness at the center, capitalism and democracy as synonymous, and unity in opposition to the “common” enemy: Soviet Russians; then terrorists; now non-Soviet Russians, again.
Ayanna Watkins, a senior at Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School, clearly understood Obama’s emphasis, and eagerly agreed with his thrust. “When it comes to getting information about what’s going on in the world, it’s way faster on social media than it is on newscasts,” she said. “But, on the other hand, it can be a downfall because, what if you’re passing the wrong information, or the information isn’t presented the way it should be? So, that causes a clash in our generation, and I think it should go back to the old school. I mean, phones, social media should be eliminated,” Ms. Watkins blurted out, provoking laughter from the audience and causing the 18-year-old to “rephrase myself.” What she really meant, she said, was that politicians should “go out to the community” so that “the community will feel more welcome.”
If she was trying to agree with Obama, Ms. Watkins had it right the first time: political counter-narratives on the internet have to go, so that Americans can share a “common base line” of information. All of it lies.
By Glen Ford, First Published in Black Agenda Report, April 28, 2017
Celebrating Dr. King with Obama's Departure
written by Ajama Baraka...
With the establishment of the period when the nation would celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, no one could have anticipated the possibility that one day that period would converge with the date when a “first black president” would be turning over executive power after serving two terms. But in just a few days Barack Hussein Obama will conclude an ironic but historic chapter in the ongoing story of this strange and dangerous place called the United States of America.
The overlap of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the constitutionally mandated turnover of power by the nation’s first black president serves as an analogy for the contradictory politics of race, representation, and power in the first white supremacist nation-state in human history.
Dr. King contributed to the creation of the black mass-movement for democratic and human rights that were presumably granted after the end of the civil war and then denied for another hundred years. Barack Obama, on the other hand, cynically manipulated the perception that his presidency was the natural and logical result of the black movements of the 60s and 70s, while in actuality they represented two different and competing narratives of black existence in the U.S.
For me, nothing symbolizes the gulf between the meaning and politics of Dr. King and Barack Obama more than an incident in Atlanta that I wrote about a few years ago. Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s special advisor and personal friend, paid a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church of Dr. Martin Luther King. As members of the King family looked on, Ms. Jarrett received a standing ovation from the assembled congregation when she shared the story of how President Obama was responsible for the killing of an unarmed Osama bin Laden. I share this strange and surreal scene from Ebenezer Church, where the largely African American congregation endorsed the killing of another human being – while in church – because I think it captures the vast historical and moral distance between the two distinct periods. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. King emerged as the symbolic leader of the civil rights wing of the ongoing Black liberation movement and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. On the other hand, Barack Obama launched with his ascendancy to the highest political office in the country and the winning of the Nobel Prize in 2008.
Not only did Dr. King and Barack Obama exist in two distinct but interrelated periods, they represented two distinct moral trajectories. By 1967 King condemned the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He said that he could not morally square calling for non-violent resistance in the U.S. and remain silent in the face of the massive destruction and death being unleashed by the U.S. military against the people of Vietnam. However – for Obama – U.S. violence presented no such qualms because his loyalties are not with the peoples of the world but with the American empire.
During his 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the newly elected President Obama presented an argument for the concept of a “just war.” Startling many in the Oslo audience, Obama forcefully asserted in what would become known as the “Obama doctrine” that: “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
For Obama, like liberal thought in general, there is a hierarchy of humanity where a peoples’ worth is directly related to their value to the empire. If they are the objects to be “saved” from some “dictator” and they reside in a national territory that empire has decided to seize in order to plunder its resources or for other geopolitical objectives, those peoples will occupy a higher status and will be recognized as humans – at least temporarily. But it is another story for the human beings who may be resisting the interests of empire. Those people have been assigned to what Fanon referred to as the “zone of non-being” and are, therefore, killable without any remorse and with impunity – take, for example, the Native Americans, the Vietnamese, Libyan and Syrian nationalists, Palestinians, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, and the list goes on throughout the bloody history of this white supremacist, settler state.
The Obama period is over and hopefully its moral relativity will also pass. However, we know that moral relativity is inevitable in a society that has not come to terms with the contradictions of its defining philosophical tradition: liberalism. Liberalism represents the original sin of hierarchizing human societies and peoples and provides arrogant justifications for committing the most horrific crimes against “others” in the name of humanitarianism. This is the essence of the white supremacist doctrine of American exceptionalism. While Dr. King condemned the lawless violence, warmongering and colonialism of the U.S. historically and in Vietnam specifically, Obama clearly states that he believes “in American exceptionalism with every fiber of [his] being.”
So on the occasion of the departure of Barack Obama and the acknowledgement of Dr. King’s birthday, let us recommit to a vision – not a dream – but a life-affirming vision of a society and world in which the fundamental human rights and dignity of all peoples is respected.
It is not too late, even with the election of Donald Trump, but it will take courage and clear thinking in order to shake ourselves free from the strange, hypnotic trance that has gripped liberals and progressives of all stripes. Dr. King pointed us in the right direction just before he was assassinated when he reminded us that we were living in revolutionary times. King argued that the U.S. needed to get on the right side of the world revolution and that required a revolution of values in U.S. society. With the U.S. gripped in an unsolvable capitalist economic crisis that has deepened poverty, exacerbated racism and xenophobia, intensified class contradictions and struggle, and produced a Donald Trump, the liberated knowledge and experience of the black liberation movement in the U.S. is actively creating new ways of living and seeing the world that will liberate all of us.
This is the reality of a new world that Dr. King could see from the mountaintop – and that is a world that a visionless, opportunist technocrat like Obama and a moribund liberalism could never imagine. This article was adapted from The Descent: From Dr. King to Barack Obama that was published in CounterPunch and Black Agenda Report in January 2013
by Ajama Baraka, First Published in CounterPunch, January 18, 2017
Obama's Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
written by Stansfield Smith...
It should be a scandal that leftists-liberals paint Trump as a special threat, a war mongerer – not Obama who is the first president to be at war everyday of his eight years, who is waging seven wars at present, who dropped three bombs an hour, 24 hours a day, the entire 2016. Here is some of the worst of this anti-Trump hysteria propagated by mouthpieces for liberal Democrats – calling Republicans “fascist” is a favorite left-liberal sport. It is probably true Trump represents “a regime of grave danger,” an “immoral peril to the future of humanity and the earth itself,” by his denial of global warming. Yet Obama was also clearly a grave peril, one many progressives chose not to see clearly. Obama owns a long pattern of feel-good rhetoric and empty promises followed with no delivery. While many progressives got angry at his hypocrisy, many still were willing to turn the other cheek.
This helps explain why we don’t know that Obama, who says he recognizes the threat to humanity posed by climate change, still invested at least $34 billion to promote fossil fuel projects in other countries. That is three times as much as George W Bush spent in his two terms, almost twice that of Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton put together.
Obama financed 70 foreign fossil fuel projects. When completed they will release 164 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year – about the same output as the 95 currently operating coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. He financed two natural gas plants on an island in the Great Barrier Reef, as well as two of the largest coalmines on the planet.
Obama did have his Clean Power Plan for the US, estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 2.5 billion tons over 15 years. But the foreign projects he approved will produce about the same carbon emissions as the Clean Power Plan savings. These foreign emissions increases financed by Obama aren’t counted toward US totals, but the impact on climate change is identical regardless the place of origin.
Moreover, under Obama has reversed the steady drop in U.S. oil production which had continued unchecked since 1971. The U.S. was pumping just 5.1 million barrels per day when Obama took office. By April 2016 it was up to 8.9 million barrels per day. A 74% increase! In 2015, the U.S. pumped the most oil in 43 years. The U.S. is now the world’s No. 1 petroleum producer if we include both crude and natural gas. In oil production itself, the U.S. ranks No. 3, just behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.
If Bush had this record, it would be jumped on to expose him all the more as a tool of the oil companies. Different standard for Democrat Obama. His administration accelerated the destruction of the earth, and many environmental groups and liberal-leftists soft pedaled or even covered it up.
On top of this, in 2010 Project Censored called the US military the biggest polluter on the planet. What measures did Obama take? He exempted it from climate change regulation!
“The Pentagon [which accounts for 80% of US government fuel usage] is also exempt from an executive order by President Obama requiring other federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.”
Obama proudly said in 2012, quoted in the film This Changes Everything:
“Over the last three years I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75% of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough oil and gas pipelines to encircle the earth and then some. So, we are drilling all over the place, right now.”
Drill, baby, drill!
Yet this is how Obama scammed us in his feel-good farewell speech – though many liberals like how he makes them feel good, and often don’t want to hear about the reality:
“Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve doubled our renewable energy, we’ve led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet.”
In calling out Obama on his criminal record against the planet we must also call out our left-liberal and environmentalist friends who helped downplay it. And this struggle takes new form today in this broad anti-Trump coalition, which left-liberals will try to use to herald in a new Obama in 2020.
by Stansfield Smith, First Published in CounterPunch, January 18, 2017
Obama's Racial Counter-Revolution
written by Paul Street...
What’s the deal with the liberal Black novelist, political commentator, and occasional Barack Obama courtier Ta-Nahesi Coates? Look at this passage from an interview he did three weeks ago, with the white Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member and “Public” Broadcasting System “NewsHour” host Judy Woodruff:
Judy Woodruff, CFR and PBS: “One of the things you write [in The Atlantic – P.S.] is that — it has to do with the election of Donald Trump being the price that has to be paid for having Barack Obama as president. What did you mean by that?” Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Atlantic: “Well, I meant that if having an African-American president was as revolutionary as we claim it was, that there’d probably be some sort of backlash or some sort of counter…a great deal of Barack Obama’s power is symbolic and is in the symbolism in what it communicates to African-Americans. … [the existence of a Black president] communicated great… power to African-Americans…. But that also communicate[d] things to other people also, who may not necessarily be so happy about that kind of progress, you know, who have all sorts of feelings wrapped up in that, and so I think a lot of that culminated in the election of president-elect [Trump].”
“Revolutionary?” I wonder if Coates caught the New York Times’ memorable report on widespread Black non-voting in Milwaukee (the most populous state in the contested state of Wisconsin) during the 2016 election. By the account of Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise after a visit to the heavily segregated city of Milwaukee’s Black North Side:
“At Upper Cutz, a bustling barbershop in a green-trimmed wooden house, talk of politics inevitably comes back to one man: Barack Obama. Mr. Obama’s elections infused many here with a feeling of connection to national politics they had never before experienced. But their lives have not gotten appreciably better, and sourness has set in.”
“‘We went to the beach,’ said Maanaan Sabir, 38, owner of the Juice Kitchen, a brightly painted shop a few blocks down West North Avenue, using a metaphor to describe the emotion after Mr. Obama’s election. ‘And then eight years happened.’”
“All four barbers had voted for Mr. Obama. But only two could muster the enthusiasm to vote this time. And even then, it was a sort of protest. One wrote in Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The other wrote in himself.”
“ ‘I’m so numb,’ said John Toney, 45, who had written in Mr. Sanders. He said no president in his lifetime had done anything to improve the lives of black people, including Mr. Obama, whom he voted for twice. ‘It’s like I should have known this would happen. We’re worse off than before.’”
“Mr. Fleming, 47, who has been trimming hair, beards and mustaches for 30 years, had hoped his small business would get easier to run. But it hasn’t… ‘Give us loans, or a 401(k),’ he said,…His biggest issue was health insurance. Mr. Fleming lost his coverage after his divorce three years ago and has struggled to find a policy he could afford. He finally found one, which starts Monday but costs too much at $300 a month. ‘Ain’t none of this been working,’ he said. He did not vote.” (emphasis added)
There’s a real and nationwide material-economic basis for such complaints. By the fifth year of Obama’s presidency, U.S. Black households’ net worth had fallen to one-thirteenth of the wealth of U.S. white households at the median. This helped generate a sense of futility about voting among Black citizens – a sense that contributed significantly to Mrs. Clinton’s failure to re-create the electoral coalition that elected Obama in 2008 and 2012. Talk about voter suppression!
The smart reparations advocate Coates knows all this, of course. He’s not stupid. He persists nonetheless in seeing Obama’s presidency as racially “revolutionary” because of its symbolic significance.
A Last Nail in the Coffin of White Willingness to Acknowledge Racism The “symbolic” victory was a double-edged sword with counter-revolutionary implications more perverse and subtle than just the provocation of angry white Trumpian backlash. “For many white Americans,” the Black economist William Darrity, Jr, has noted, Obama’s “elections confirmed their belief that American racism is a thing of the past.” This is something that I was worried about from the onset of Obama’s emergence as likely (more om that below) next president.
I had, to be sure, many concerns, about the Obama phenomenon, which dates from the future president’s remarkably right-wing and nationalistic Keynote Address to the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2004 Like other left writers and activists, I was troubled by his “vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics” (Adolph Reed Jr. on Obama in January of 1996), his related CFR-informed imperialism (hidden beneath his carefully crafted “antiwar” branding), and his underlying post-racial accommodations of white racism (more on that below). I was also uneasy about the great renewed opportunity an Obama presidency would give white America to congratulate itself yet again on its supposed transcendence of racism and to argue that racism no longer posed serious obstacles to Black advancement and Black equality. Related to that, I was concerned that Obama’s ascendancy to the White House would reinforce the nation’s prevalent superficial understanding of racism as being all about subjective personal prejudice and outward bigotry instead of being more fundamentally about how the nation’s dominant daily institutions – the labor market, the credit system, the housing market, the criminal justice system, the schools, and more – function to perpetuate Black disadvantage and inequality. I worried that Obama’s symbolically “revolutionary” election would help cloak societal and institutional racism, deeply understood, rendering it even more invisible than before.
Those fears have been born out. Again, and again during the Obama years, I have heard whites articulate sentiments pretty much exactly along the lines I had worried about during the Age of Obama. “See? Don’t talk to us about racism anymore. The president is Black for crying out loud!” For much of white America, Obama’s ascendancy was the last nail in the coffin of their already severely degraded willingness to acknowledge the deeply entrenched and pervasive role of anti-Black racism in U.S. life.
Black Identification with the American System Another problem I worried about with the coming “symbolic” “revolution” of an Obama presidency had to do with Black politics and world view. Black Americans have long been the most progressive, left, social-democratic, and anti-imperialist part of the U.S. citizenry qua electorate. Thanks to their special, undeniable, and living history of oppression, Black Americans have long been in the vanguard of progressive consciousness and struggle in the U.S. Would the figurative potency of a first Black president who happened (no accident given the corporate and imperial establishment’s power in vetting officially “viable” presidential contenders) to be a committed imperialist and a corporate neoliberal damage the portside alignments of Black America? Would it shift the nation’s leftmost ethnocultural group more to the disastrous center and away from the kind of heroic activism that had always been at the heart of the struggle for racial and broader social justice in the U.S. since (and before) the days of Frederick Douglass?
The Obama dividend to the white establishment included some of that in his first term – so I have been told more than once by Black leftists. But there has been a welcome resurgence of Black militancy in the wake of the Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, and (fill in the name…it’s a long list) killings and in accord with the great lesson that Obama has given poor and working class (and other) Black Americans on the real world limits of “symbolic” racial identity politics – on how putting a few “Black faces in high places” (even in the symbolically highest place of all) is cheap change when material and social conditions deteriorate for millions of ordinary Black Americans.
The lesson was somewhat available even under Dubya. With Colin Powell as his first Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as his first National Security Adviser and his Secretary of State, and Alberto Gonzales as his second Attorney General, George W. Bush’s cabinet was the most racially diverse on record. Bush’s presidency was also the most reactionary White House since James Buchanan’s and prior to Donald Trump’s.
The Perfect Actor for the Role I believe Coates when he tells the CFR’s Judy Woodruff that “many African-Americans got…much joy out of the image of Barack and Michelle and Malia and Sasha, the first family” and that “The notion of an African-American president for black people was perceived as being so impossible that most of the great sort of representations of it are in comedy. It’s just a moment that seemed so impossible and so far off that actually it came to be, it actually happened.”
But there was nothing impossible about it from my perspective. I’d been predicting it since late 2006. I lived in the Caucasian Caucus state of Iowa when Obama announced his contention for the nation’s top symbolic job. And it was clear to me from conversations with white voters in 2006 and 2007 that Obama was going to be the nation’s next president. The majority white electorate was ready for a certain kind of bourgeois, charismatic, white-pleasing, and racism-downplaying first Black president. It was in place for someone like Obama.
True, he would never get a majority of white Caucasian ballots in any election after he won a statewide race for the U.S. Senate over the preposterous Black Republican Alan Keyes in 2004. Obama would go on to lose the white vote to terrible white Republicans like the bumbling John McCain and the laughable uber-1 percenter Mitt Romney in both of his presidential elections. Still, it was evident to me by late 2006 that the Obama phenomenon would get enough white votes to combine with huge minority and especially Black turnout to put Obama over top over against whatever sap the badly damaged Republican Party put up in the wake of the long national George W. Bush nightmare. That plus the fact the U.S. corporate, financial, and imperial establishment needed an especially vivid and theatrical, fake-revolutionary re-branding for the American System after that nightmare spelled an Obama presidency in 2009.
The onset of the financial crisis on Dubya’s watch and McCain’s clumsy response to the meltdown sealed the deal. It was a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner [the White House]” moment and Obama was the perfect actor for the role.
Contrary to the claim that Obama’s election signaled the decisive defeat of American white racial prejudice, many of the whites who marked their ballots for Obama did so only on the conditional basis that he was “Black but not like Jesse” – that he wasn’t “all that Black” and made sure not to sound angry about, or even particularly focused, on Black issues. (As Coates has noted, Obama didn’t have to do a lot of acting to keep such anger at bay. Obama’s privileged upbringing in relatively multicultural and liberal Hawaii, where he was raised mainly by two loving white grandparents, had sheltered him from the harsh racial and related class oppression experienced by millions on Black Americans.)
Post-Racial Warnings: Loud and Clear Coates has at different times expressed disappointment in his friend and (to be honest) hero Obama’s pallid record on racial justice – and over Obama’s penchant for giving Blacks “personal responsibility” lectures on their own purported fault for disproportionate Black poverty, joblessness, and incarceration. But, as Coates certainly knows, candidate Obama made it clear that he would steer clear as president from any serious confrontation with societal racism, deeply and properly understood. He made a sharp point of avoiding the problem of racial oppression in any serious and substantive way. He was determined not to trigger whites about race in any other way than the simple fact of being technically Black.
Obama’s deeply conservative, American-exceptionalist, fake-progressive, and Ronald Reagan-praising, Nineteen Sixties-dissing 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope is a case in point. The book’s title was stolen from a sermon given by his former Black pastor Jeremiah Wright, who candidate Obama would later toss under the bus in a speech suggesting that angry Black anti-racism was no longer appropriate in “post-racial” America – a curious thing to argue in a nation still deeply scarred by living societal and institutional racism along with widespread racial prejudice. In a chapter of Audacity titled “Race,” Obama tried to cover his ass with white America by claiming that “what ails working- and middle-class blacks is not fundamentally different from what ails their white counterparts.” Equally soothing to the master race was Obama’s argument that “white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America” as “even the most fair-minded of whites…tend to push back against suggestions of racial victimization and race-based claims based on the history of racial discrimination in this country” (p. 247). Part of the reason for this “push back” – also known as denial – was, Obama claimed, the bad culture and poor work-ethic of the inner-city black poor (pp. 245, 254-56).
Never mind that lower-, working-, and middle-class blacks continued to face numerous steep and interrelated white-supremacist barriers to equality. Or that multidimensional racial discrimination was still rife in “post-Civil Rights America,” deeply woven into the fabric of the nation’s social institutions and drawing heavily on the living and unresolved legacy of centuries of not-so “past” racism. Never mind that the long centuries of slavery and Jim Crow were still quite historically recent and would continue to exercise a crippling influence on black experience even if the dominant white claimed that black “racial victimization” was a “thing of the past” was remotely accurate (see, for example, Joel Feagin, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations [New York, NY: Routledge, 2000] and Michael Brown et al., Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society [Berkeley, CA: University of California-Berkeley Press, 2003]).
White fears that Obama would reawaken the unfinished and betrayed revolutions of Reconstruction and Civil Rights were further soothed by his claim in Audacity that most Black Americans had been “pulled into the economic mainstream” (pp. 248-49). Never mind that blacks are afflicted with a shocking racial wealth gap that kept their average net worth at one eleventh (it’s one thirteenth now) that of whites and an income structure starkly and persistently tilted towards poverty.
Another warning bell on the coming racial and social conservatism of the nation’s first technically Black president came in the part of Audacity where Obama audaciously claimed that “conservatives and Bill Clinton were right about welfare.” The abolished Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, Obama claimed, mirroring white Neoconservative doctrine, “sapped” inner-city blacks of their “initiative” and detached them from the great material and spiritual gains that flow to those who attach themselves to the noble capitalist labor market, including “independence,” “income,” “order, structure, dignity and opportunity for growth in peoples’ lives.” The future president argued that encouraging black girls to finish high school and stop having babies out of wedlock is “the single biggest that we could do to reduce inner-city poverty” (p. 256).
Never mind the absence of social-scientific evidence for the “conservative” claim that AFDC destroyed inner-city work ethics or generated “intergenerational poverty.” Forget the existence of numerous studies showing that the absence of decent, minimally well-paid, and dignified work has always been the single leading cause of black inner-city poverty and “welfare dependency.” Disregard research showing that black teenage pregnancy reflected the absence of meaningful long-term life and economic opportunities in the nation’s hyper-segregated inner-city and suburban ring ghettos. Forget that the single biggest thing that could be done to reduce inner-city poverty would be to make the simple and elementary moral decision to abolish it through the provision of a decent guaranteed income – something once advocated by Martin Luther King, Jr. and that other dangerous left “moral absolutist,” Richard Nixon. And never mind the dominant place in the U.S of a structurally “perverted” (as King used to say) social order that grants hundreds of millions of dollars to parasitic hedge fund manipulators and murderous war masters while plaguing those who want to work for democracy, peace and social justice with constant economic insecurity.
More warnings on Obama’s coming objective service to societal and institutional white supremacism came with candidate Obama’s ridiculous statement in Selma claiming that that Black America ’s post-Civil Rights “Joshua Generation” had comes 90 percent of the way to full equality. And then there was candidate Obama’s instantly and widely white-heralded Philadelphia Race Speech, in March of 2008. The oration was dedicated to the proposition that Jeremiah Wright’s anger at American racial oppression was no longer appropriate in a contemporary United States where someone like, well, like Barack Obama, was now possible.
Keynote Warnings Nearly four years before, in the Democratic National Convention Address that had turned him into an overnight national and global phenomenon, Obama had idiotically proclaimed to wild applause that “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s [just] the United States of America.” Absurdly conflating Black chattel slavery with the white working class and the “brave” (and unmentionably racist and mass-murderous) U.S.-imperial occupation of Southeast Asia during the 1960, he waxed moronically and all too post-racially about “the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.” He claimed that “my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible” – as if politicians from far humbler origins than his own (e.g. Brazil’s Lula) had not risen high in the electoral and political systems of other nations. (Coates himself has wrestled with some of the post-racial absurdities of “the speech that made Obama.”) No serious historian of Obama’s pre-presidential career will have any business finding anything surprising about President Obama’s pronounced reluctance to tackle the nation’s deep-seated racist structures in any meaningful way beyond the mere symbolism of his and his family’s color.
Obama’s Deeper Gift to Trump Did the symbolically “revolutionary” presence of a Black family in the White House in the land of slavery and Jim Crow help elect the noxious racist and quasi-fascist Donald Trump by driving a certain number of bigoted backlashing and disproportionately countryside-rooted Caucasians out of their white supremacist minds? No doubt. But Obama’s bigger contribution to Trump’s election was to help (with no small assistance from the “lying neoliberal warmonger” [Reed]Hillary Clinton and the dismal Democratic National Committee) demobilize and depress the Democrats’ fading working class and minority base by governing in deeply conservative accord with the nation’s reigning unelected dictatorships of race, class, and empire. Obama’s biggest gift to the right and Trump was to be so damn counter-revolutionary beneath the supposedly revolutionary symbolism of it all. And with racism, as with the two other parts (economic injustice/capitalism and militarism/imperialism) of what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the triple evils that are interrelated,” candidate (and state and U.S. senator) Obama gave numerous warnings on precisely how conservative his presidency would be. This is history worth keeping in mind before we let the coming anti-Trump resistance be coopted into a great big get-out-the-vote campaign for some new great fake-progressive Democratic hope like, say, Corey Booker or Kamila Harris in 2019-20.
A Short Postscript: On Coates’ Most Recent Lunch at the White House Bourgeois and imperial identitarianism is a harsh mistress. Listen to the following passage in Coates’ recent and endless Atlantic magazine reflection (“My President Was Black,” The Atlantic, January-February 2017) on Obama’s legacy:
“Last spring, I went to the White House to meet the president for lunch. I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area. I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president. This receiving party represented a healthy cross section of the people Donald Trump had been mocking, and would continue to spend his campaign mocking.”
Okay, I was impressed at the multiculturalism of all that. But I was also disturbed at the creepy kind of cover it provides for a president who has stayed remarkably silent on racism deeply understood during a presidency that has seen median household Black net worth fall to one thirteenth that of whites and who has wreaked remarkable havoc in the Muslim world…with such things as the Hillary-trail-blazed collapse of Libya and a drone war program that Noam Chomsky has called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history.”
“A Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council [NSC].” Well, but the NSC is an imperialist war agency that has a lot of Muslim (and other) blood on its hands. This is the kind of childish nonsense we leftists must work around with empire- and neoliberalism-blind liberals everyday…a bizarre kind of Orwellian cluelessness and/or cynicism with a fake-progressive bourgeois-identitarian cloak.
“A deaf woman.” Well, good for the Obama White House’s hiring practices, but I wonder how many people of color have been rendered deaf by Obama’s bombs, missiles, grenades, artillery, and drones between 2009-2016/17. It took him, what, one or two days to start killing and aiming people in the Middle East after his first Inauguration. I imagine he’ll keep the “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history” going on right up until the day he hands the bloody baton to his legacy Donald Trump, the coming next and terrifying “bobble-head on the dashboard of power.”
by Paul Street, First Published in CounterPunch, January 11, 2017
Sad and Glad to See the Back of Him
written by Andrew Levine...
Last January, before Iowa and New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, it seemed certain that a Democrat would be elected President in 2016.
Democrats were widely, and justifiably, despised, but that didn’t matter; there wasn’t a Republican running who wasn’t too ludicrous or too loathsome or both to be taken seriously.
It didn’t matter either that long before last January, Hillary Clinton had the Democratic nomination sewn up. Hardly anyone was truly happy about that. But thanks to the Clintons’ connections and their control of the Democratic Party, it seemed inevitable. Party functionaries were OK with this; under Clinton, they would retain their power. Outside their circles, there was only acquiescence and no enthusiasm.
The exception was the segment of the party comprised of unreconstructed second wave feminists who thought that a “glass ceiling” kept women from becoming President, and who wanted to see it shattered before they died. There weren’t many of them.
Even so, Hillary’s victory was all but assured. Everyone this side of the Tea Party was resigned to it; even, most likely, Donald Trump. There were, of course, a few old-line Republicans who thought that maybe another Bush could defeat another Clinton, but even they “knew” in their hearts that it wasn’t going to happen. Eleven months later, Donald Trump — not quite the most ludicrous and loathsome contender for the Republican nomination, but close — was elected President of the United States.
With each passing day, Trump’s victory seems more surreal and nightmarish. How the hell did it happen? Did the billionaire make a pact with the Devil? Were the gods that make playthings of mere mortals being more than usually mischievous?
It is tempting to attribute Hillary’s defeat to super-natural forces, but there really is no need. She lost because she was just that bad; and because voters were fed up with the neoliberal, “humanitarian” interventionist politics she promoted. They were also fed up with her.
Inasmuch as the fix was in, the real miracle was that Bernie Sanders came as close as he did to becoming the Democratic nominee. Had he gone for the jugular, the way that Trump did with his rivals, that would have happened. Had he even been just a tad less gentlemanly, he would very likely have stopped the Clinton juggernaut in its tracks.
Was unconditional surrender his idea all along? On that question, the jury is still out. My guess is that there is no simple answer: sometimes he was running for Clinton, and sometimes against her – without being clear, even in his own mind, what he was up to.
In any case, the movement his candidacy ignited was primed to go farther than he was. Many Sanders supporters would have been delighted to be led out of the Democratic Party. Had Sanders seized that opportunity, he would have done far more good than he actually did. Instead of making himself a footnote to the Clinton and Trump stories, he could have made history itself – by striking a decisive blow at America’s disabling duopoly party system.
But from the moment that he crossed over to the Dark Side by all but swearing fealty to Clinton, the chances that anything worthwhile at the national level could be salvaged out of the 2016 election season – apart from the long overdue fall of the Houses of Clinton and Bush — shrunk to nil.
And so, on Election Day, many Sanders supporters voted grudgingly for Hillary, believing her to be the lesser evil. Others didn’t vote at all; and a few voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.
Stein had waged a fine campaign, but under a de facto media blackout. Running as a Democrat, Sanders was able eventually to overcome a similar problem – though only slightly. Had he joined forces with Stein, as she invited him to do, corporate media would have had to take notice. Without him on board, the Greens never had a chance even to get past the five percent threshold that would have made it easier for them next time. Hillary still got many more votes than the Donald. But thanks to an affront to democracy foisted upon us by our Founders, the Electoral College, many of those votes didn’t matter because they were cast in “red” or “blue,” not “battleground,” states.
And so, what had seemed impossible happened: Hillary, the Democrat, lost and a billionaire real estate tycoon and reality TV star too ridiculous for words – a birther, no less – beat her.
November 8 didn’t just end a dreadful electoral season badly; it locked the country and the world into a horrifying dream world – in which some of the most reactionary plutocrats in America, along with racists, nativists and Islamophobes, run the show, and in which a thin-skinned egotist unable to steer a decent or even a consistent course is Commander-in-Chief.
Nearly a century ago, H.L. Mencken penned a prophecy that has lately been making the rounds on the Internet. “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
That quotation surfaced in 2004, when George W. Bush was elected for a second term. It fits him better than Trump, which may be why, this time around, those who cite it sometimes add words like “narcissist” and “egotist,” to “moron.” Consider that a fair use of “poetic license.”
Lately, Trump has been stupidly tempting fate by brazenly antagonizing the CIA and other intelligence services — not so much because he is a moron, but because he is full of himself and because he is ignorant of literature and history. Nevertheless, he is if not smart, then fiendishly clever. No matter how ill conceived his projects may be, and no matter how badly they turn out, when they fail, if there is a way to feather his own nest, he finds it. Still, the Mencken quote, even in its original version, is on point; the nightmarish world that is about to take shape under Trump’s aegis will be moronic or worse. Look at the cabinet he has assembled! How could it not? This is reason enough to be sad to see Obama go. It is the sadness of moving from awful to a whole lot worse. There is however an important caveat to bear in mind. It has to do with Russia and warmongering, and therefore with the risk of nuclear war.
Before electoral exigencies caused the American political class and the media that serve it to fall lock, stock, and barrel under the sway of Russophobic neocons and humanitarian interveners, this concern would have seemed almost comically anachronistic.
But the War Party has been flourishing lately, in “liberal” Democratic circles especially, carrying Obama along; to the extent that he falls under its sway, good riddance to him. To the extent that, for whatever reason, Trump will hold back the rush to war, then welcome aboard.
It is hard to say where either of them stands. Unlike the average Democrat, Obama is at least thoughtful; and the Donald lip-flops day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour. Why is this even an issue? Corporate media blame Vladimir Putin. It would make more sense to blame the Clinton campaign.
As her campaign for the presidency dragged on, without her finding much traction anywhere, HRC, an inveterate Cold Warrior, could hardly resist redbaiting Trump for expressing admiration for Russia’s leader and for having a sensible thing or two to say about the importance of getting along with Russia. It didn’t matter to her that Russia today is about as red as the Goldwater Girls’ chapter in which she began her political career.
Her better half was President while post-Communist Russia was plunging backwards into the capitalist orbit, its economy in shambles, and its people in desperate straits. Those were the salad days for Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats, and for unreconstructed Cold Warriors who wanted Russia to be weak and ailing. That is what Hillary wants too; and she seems to think that she is entitled to no less.
As a neocon fellow traveler and as a “humanitarian” proponent of regime change in countries that don’t tow the American line, she just could not pass up an opportunity to go after Russia itself; not militarily – not now, anyway – but in ways that would, at a minimum, prepare public opinion for aggressive measures ahead.
To an alarming extent, corporate media have been collaborating in this project, The Washington Post leading the way. The tales they spin are nearly as inconsistent as the tweets emanating out of Trump Tower. One day Putin is a Communist who wants to restore the Soviet Union; another, he is a “populist” who is soft on fascism. They really ought to get their stories straight.
How appalling can it get! And which is worse: liberals embracing the CIA and leading the War Party’s charge; or having to rely on a narcissistic egotistical “moron” to turn back a march towards nuclear war?
Pressure from “liberal” and not-so-liberal Democrats, and from Republicans of the John McCain-Lindsey Graham variety, reinforced by the media onslaught, seems to have become too much for Obama to withstand. When Trump would call Obama weak, he wasn’t saying anything that others hadn’t figured out long ago, but neither was he wrong.
However, it is unlikely, in the waning days of his presidency, that Obama will give the War Party carte blanche to go wherever its recklessness leads; he is not that weak. And, in any case, he will soon be gone.
It is therefore reasonably safe to conclude that, give the sheer awfulness of what will take its place, there is no reason not to regret the Age of Obama’s much longed for passing.
The reason why it will be sad to see Obama go is Donald Trump; had Hillary Clinton been a better candidate, she would have been the reason.
There are many reasons, even so, to be glad that he will be gone – but even in aggregate, they don’t cancel out the reason to be sad.
It is important, however, not to lose sight of the reasons to be glad. In fairness, though, and not to put too sour a face on Obama’s years in office, two mitigating factors must be acknowledged and taken into account.
Thanks to the thoroughgoing deregulation of the financial sector that Bill Clinton engineered during his second term, and then to the ruinous Bush wars that Hillary Clinton supported, Obama became President just as the Great Recession was unfolding.
And, as if that weren’t bad enough, a Republican Party dead set on doing Obama’s presidency in began lighting into it from Day One. Their over the top hostility involved more than hypertrophied partisanship; there was a racist component to it as well. It encouraged their wickedness and steeled their resolve.
Even so, Obama could have done a lot better than he did. He came into office with Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, and with an enviable reserve of political capital. He squandered it all.
And because he and his fellow Democrats raised hopes that they went on to dash – not all by themselves, of course; it was a bipartisan effort — the Democrats were slaughtered in the 2010 Congressional elections and, more consequentially, in the elections for governorships and other state level offices that accompanied them. Gerrymandering is high on the list of ways that the duopoly party system obstructs democracy in America. What makes it possible is yet another undemocratic feature of the American system: that state legislatures and governors map out legislative districts within their states. They do it after every census – that is, every ten years — under only minimal judicial supervision or under none at all.
2010 was a census year. The Democrats’ losses enabled the Republicans to go off on a gerrymandering spree that effectively guaranteed Republican control of the House of Representatives at least until the next time the boundaries are redrawn.
This didn’t affect Obama’s own reelection; he was able to win a second term because he ran against a Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, who was as unpopular with Republican voters as Hillary Clinton was with Democrats. But his victory did nothing to get the Democratic Party off the ropes; his coattails were useless.
It would have been the same or worse this year in the House elections, even had Clinton not flubbed so badly. If she had defeated Trump, as everyone thought she would, the Senate might have passed back into Democratic control, but the House would certainly have remained Republican – with Democrats, as always, getting a larger share of the vote in House elections, but still, thanks to gerrymandering, ending up with fewer seats. Moreover, what happened to Lyndon Johnson half a century ago would likely happen again to Hillary: liberals, never fond of her in the first place, would increasingly turn against her as the consequences of her warmongering sunk in. One result would be that Democrats would now be looking forward to another 2010-style shellacking in 2018.
Another would be that they, along with the public at large, would soon find themselves looking back upon Obama in much the way that Democrats in the Johnson era looked back fondly upon JFK. Nostalgia blinded them to the harm that Kennedy’s politics did; it was he, after all, who got the Vietnam War going. That blindness persists to this day.
Had Hillary won, perceptions of Obama’s “legacy” would be shaped by similar delusions.
But Trump won, and once the consequences of that catastrophe sink in, nostalgia for anything and everything that preceded January 20, 2017 is likely to make the Obama years seem like a Golden Age.
Obama’s vaunted “legacy” is therefore safe – thanks, ironically, to the buffoon who gave Hillary her comeuppance.
Even so, for the sake of struggles ahead, it is important to keep in mind how, in a less nightmarish possible world, Obama’s move out of the White House would be something to look forward to with unadulterated gladness rather than something to dread.
In the aftermath of Obama’s victory eight years ago, there was a lot of blather about a “post-racial” America. No one talks that way any more; the condition of African Americans has hardly improved over the past eight years. Indeed, African Americans and other persons of color are, if anything, even more afflicted by police violence now than they were when Bush and Dick Cheney were calling the shots.
The main, and very nearly the only, thing Obama did for African Americans was getting elected. From the moment his victory was announced, and the celebrations in Grant Park were broadcast around the world, it has all been downhill.
“Saving” the economy – keeping a major recession from turning into a full-fledged depression – was another achievement of his. He did it by saving finance capitalists from themselves, enriching them egregiously in the process.
At the same time, Obama did almost nothing for everybody else. As a good neoliberal, eager to curry favor with Wall Street, he saved the banksters, leaving their victims to fend for themselves. Those who were too big to fail were also too big to jail. Obama let each and every one of them off scot-free.
He also let Bush era war criminals go unpunished; and then went on to follow their lead. He did stop talking about a Global War on Terror, but, apart from the name change, the main difference between the Obama years and the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency was just that Obama tried, and largely succeeded, in keeping the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on his watch out of sight.
Weaponized drones and special ops assassins are good for that. Obama seems to have enjoyed wielding them. Then there were the deportations. If he stays true to his word, which he probably will in this case, Trump will be worse. But the still reigning Deporter-in-Chief was no slouch.
Trump is seeking out incompetent reactionaries to fill top government positions. Obama preferred neoliberals to hard right “conservatives,” and he did value competence, but, like Trump. he appointed some certifiable doozies. For that, he has much to answer for.
Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State? Seriously? Was the point to make Condoleezza Rice look good? Who knows what he was thinking or what debts he was paying off. All that we do know is that from Libya to Honduras – and worst of all in Syria and Iraq and in refugee camps around Europe — they are still dealing with the consequences.
Obama transformed America’s perpetual war regime — for the worse. Even Bush sought out Congressional approval for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Obama starts new wars, and expands old ones, without bothering to inform the public or, for that matter, the Congress — in which war-making powers supposedly reside. As in the nineteenth century, when the U.S. Army would secure the “frontier” by slaughtering the peoples who lived there, it isn’t even clear how many wars the United States is currently fighting – this time to secure what we have lately come to call the “homeland.”
There is so much more: Obama’s attack on whistleblowers, for example, and on government transparency. And there are countless sins of omission, worthwhile things that Obama could have done, but didn’t – to advance workers’ rights, for example, or to address the causes and consequences of global warming and other ecological catastrophes.
To be sure, our not very loyal opposition party has a lot to answer for, but Republican obstinacy only explains so much. Obama’s pro-corporate predilections explain a lot more.
And, of course, there is his “signature” achievement – the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.
That Republicans hate Obamacare so much is odd, to say the least, inasmuch as it is basically a Republican program. The general idea behind it was contrived at the Heritage Foundation in an effort to ward off genuine health care reform, and something very like it was implemented in Massachusetts by then Governor Mitt Romney, Obama’s rival for the Presidency in 2012.
Moreover, if Trump and the Republican legislators he is currently leading around by the nose do succeed in replacing it, what they come up with will be something very much like it.
It is hard to resist the conclusion that, for Republicans, the problem with Obamacare is its connection with Obama. Make a few cosmetic changes, call it Trumpcare, and the loony-tunes who cannot stop trying to repeal Obamacare will stop acting out, and get behind it a hundred percent.
In its present version, Obamacare has generally done more good than harm; mainly by mandating insurance reforms that even Trump knows he dare not alter, and by enrolling tens of thousands of previously uninsured Americans.
But it also did little to control costs, and it further entrenched the power of the private insurance industry, while further enriching Big Pharma and other health care profiteers. Its enactment into law also set back efforts to establish health care as a right for all citizens, as it is nearly everywhere else in the world.
On balance, though, it will be sad to see the Affordable Care Act go, just as it will be sad to see Trump take over from Obama.
The old order, desperately in need of radical transformation, is now about to change profoundly – not in a salutary way, however; not even in a way that is sufficiently coherent to survive the vicissitudes of political life. What will become of the country and the world when it all comes crashing down? One shudders to think. A major task for now therefore is to do all we can to cushion the blow; another is to work to refashion politics altogether – in ways that will make Clinton-Trump choices unthinkable in the future.
The Trumpworld is so topsy-turvy and out of joint, and so uncharted, that it will take a great deal of effort and thought to figure out how to do either.
There surely are ways, however – especially if Trump and his minions actually do undo Clintonite neoliberalism and humanitarian imperialism; and if, as is more likely by far, their own mindless shenanigans, driven by ignorance and greed, do themselves in as well.
Meanwhile, we can rejoice in Obama’s departure from the political scene, even as we know that it will be a sad day indeed when he does.
by Andrew Levine, First Published in CounterPunch, January 6, 2017