"The structural reality of electoral politics vis-a-vis the much broader democratic necessity of mass-based political education and mobilization is precisely the tension between unavoidable contradictions and constraints that are the automatic result of engaging people to organize on behalf of much larger goals than merely getting someone elected."
-Professor Kofi Natambu
"I suppose it's race you're talking about? Imaginary Blackness and imaginary whiteness? Excuse me, but where does that leave me?"
-Dr. Yvonne Singh
“Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
"Change you can trust"? My leftist Black, Jewish, and Italian-American mentors from my Detroit elementary schoolling up through my graduate education at Cornell had always taught me to recognize the bitter truth Saul Alinski preached: 'change' is a terrible thing. It requires bloodshed at the most, and demands the deaths of sacred cows and the discomfiture of power elites at least. So, the psychic disonance of the phrase, "change you can trust" put me off when I first heard the Obama campaign use it.
Yes, I confess that it took me some time to get with the Obama program.
Now, on the eve of 'Little Super Tuesday'--the Texas and Ohio primaries, I support Barak H. Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, but like about 20-30% of his supporters, I didn't start out as an Oba-mite. As a supporter of Kucinich (D-Ohio) in the 2004 presidential election, and then a supporter of John Edwards (D-NC) in this one, I had found Obama's progressive-light patter and his John Kennedy redux demeanor a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g. I was annoyed too, by the band wagon jumping I perceived Black friends and fellow Black intellectuals to be engaging in by jumping onto an Obama good feeling express and talking as if a bourgeois social democratic centrist could, by dent of our collective wishful thinking, be taken as a progressive. I mean for Chrissakes, the man said things like this:
No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they
sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can
make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that
the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And
they want that choice.
[Barak Obama, 2004 Democratic National Convention
What exactly did he mean? He was always heavy on the figurative language ("the doors of opportunity") on vague, progressive sounding abstractions ("...with just a change in priorities..."), and meanwhile he liberally peppered his discourse with what sounded alot like conservative codes meant to appeal to what media flaks call his milk-source, the 'independents' presumably, who some of those flaks and even some legitimate analysts say are really just faithless republicans and soft headed 'libertarians'. Perhaps those conservative codes ("No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems") are slipped into his discourse to appease those who probably don't trust talk of 'change' if the talk is not of a libertarian complexion. The twenty-to-thirty percenters, those independents, republicans ("Obamacans"? yuck), and libertarians, are reportedly joined by so-called 'swing voters' of which I guess I am one: people who don't remain loyal to the two corporate political parties at the top of the food chain but who know better than to look to a Green Party gaining a significant foothold in America before the year 2040, and who 'swing' between the two parties from election to election, or who 'swing' from candidate to candidate, at local, state, and national levels. In short, who knows, I wondered, what this man means?
Obama's nod to US politics' obligatory crypto rejection of socialism worried me. I'm with Thom Hartmann; I think government can solve my damn problems and should. Democratic electoral, government should, that is. In a democracy I am the government, right? Is Exxon gonna solve my problems? Is Dupont? I think we all know that Haliburton sure won't. These runaway corporate fiefdoms exerting their wills over my government--and therefore over me--are the problem. As Hartmann rationally reminds us on his Air America radio program, socialism is not a dirty word. The government is not some foreign invader, as that old fart, Ronald Reagan used to meander around muttering ("The nine most terrifying words in the English language," Reagan used to demure, "Are, 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.' "). Government, Hartmann argues, practises a practical socialism every day and does so quite efficiently and much to our approval, by providing fire department, post office, and social security services. If politicians in the traditional mold (mould?) feel that they must renounce socialism, it's a manifest hypocrisy when they do so since they don't renounce the US mail, meat inspection, FAA standards for airlines, their grandmother's social security check, or the neighborhood fire fighters ready to extinguish any blazes that might erupt inside said politicians' homes.
I was not at first for Obama because realpolitik Obama is squarley rooted in centrist position. His voting record in the senate, his speeches, and his books all bespeak this utilitarian fact. He was vague and symbolic a year ago in his Feb 2007 speech in Springfield, Illinois announcing his candidacy:
In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle,
that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching
for what's possible, building that more perfect union. [Obama, 2007]
Meanwhile, John Edwards, in anouncing his own candidacy chose to do it in the still ravaged New Orleans 9th Ward, standing amidst the debris that was still scattered in the devestated streets. Throughout his campaign he promised if elected to enact a windfall profits tax on the oil industry, and promised to spend our wealth not on corporate wars but on domestic social problems. He gave speeches and Q&A's across the country, standing atop steam shovels, bull dozers, farming combines, on makeshift platforms in the yards of factories, and in impoverished communities. More than simply offering another byzantine and numbingly detailed health care plan, he, unlike Obama and Clinton, took the further rhetorical step of denouncing the pharmaceutical campanies making obscene profits off the health care mess in America. His was an insurgent, populist campaign, and he said so: "This campaign will be a grass-roots, ground-up campaign, where we ask people to take action."
In his June, 2006 "Take Back America Conference" remarks in Washington, DC, Obama said,
The world has changed. And as a result, we've seen families work harder for less and our jobs go overseas. We've seen the cost of health care and child care and gasoline skyrocket. We've seen our children leave for Iraq and terrorists threaten to finish the job they started on 9/11. But while the world has changed around us, too often our government has stood still. Our faith has been shaken, but the people running Washington aren't willing to make us believe again. It's the timidity - the smallness - of our politics that's holding us back right now. The idea that some problems are just too big to handle, and if you just ignore them, sooner or later, they'll go away. That if you give a speech where you rattle off statistics about the stock market being up and orders for durable goods being on the rise, no one will notice the single mom whose two jobs won't pay the bills or the student who can't afford his college dreams. That if you say the words "plan for victory" and point to the number of schools painted and roads paved and cell phones used in Iraq, no one will notice the nearly 2,500 flag-draped coffins that have arrived at Dover Air Force base. Well it's time we finally said we notice, and we care, and we're not gonna settle anymore. [Barak Obama, June, 2006]
Just as I feel that Edwards' constant rhetorical attacks on the true enemies of the American people (i.e., corporations) were illustrative of his aborted campaign and of his possible presidency, I felt that Obama's keynote address, his candidacy announcement, and his "Take Back America" remarks were all typical of his fatuous rhetoric. Obama says, "Our faith has been shaken." Not mine, thanks, I'm agnostic. Obama says, "The people running Washington aren't willing to make us believe." Believe in what? I believe in a windfall profits tax, and labor law reforms, and a seat in the cabinet for a secretary of worker rights, and price and dividend control, and rescinding the patriot act, and how about a superfund to clean up radioactive and chemical spills across the U.S., and how about getting rid of the ruinous Taft-Hartley Act, and while we're at it, we need a full employment bill, and we need to finally pass the ERA (neither Obama nor Clinton truly speak up for women's rights if neither will even utter that acronym). We need to enforce the EPA laws, the anti-trust laws, and the authority of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. I believe in legislation to establish a living wage. I believe in reinstituting the Fairnes Doctrine, and I believe in a progressive tax that would eliminate most corporate welfare, corporate shelters, and offshore corporate shells. The first thing I believe a president should do in January, 2009 is to outlaw Haliburton corporation's escape with our stolen tax dollars to Dubai. That, I believe.
Obama, it seemed to me, was too busy drawing on crypto religious-right codes in talking about 'belief', to utter any overtly socialist noises--the noises Kucinich and Edwards regularly voiced on behalf of a mass democracy. Obama's stump speeches had been just as rhetorically suspect to me. "I've got ten point plans all OVER my website," he recently shouted to one of his rockstar stadium sized crowds in response to reports that Hillary Clinton had accused him, spuriously, of having no 'plan' for something or other. Funny; between the two senators, Clinton and Obama, they have taken some 900 votes, and according to Meet The Press analysts (on the Sunday, March 2 2008 Boradcast) they voted exactly alike 90% of those votes. They are in some ways a two-headed wrestling match, each head battling the other while sharing the same body of ideology. They carp at each other over mundane details while both refusing to name names.
Yeah. That's just it. Kucinich named names and announced necessary socialist solutions to the rot that has become of American social and economic reality. Edwards went so far as to define the real class conflicts that define American life, and named the corporations that need to be beheaded. He was downright (gasp!) Marxist at times in his call to lift up the masses in order to save the middle class: trickle up as opposed to trickle down.
On the eve of Little Super Tuesday, I now support Obama, nevertheless.
The alternative, now that Edwards is gone, is what seems to me more and more like a Hillary Clinton continuation of the politics of what I call "Bushido" (like some fuedal Japanese masochistic warrior code, Bush-ism entails the gleeful willingness to slit one's own belly open for the sake of tax cuts, war, ballooning budgets, and of social spending cuts).
Though I now support Obama, I feel much what Alexander Cockburn expressed in his Feb 18 2008 column in The Nation, where he wrote, "I'll forgive Obama a couple of his hot-air speeches just for wiping out the Clintons in South Carolina." And yes, like many other Black intellectuals my age and my political cut (yes, I admit it, I'm a Marxist), part of why I reluctantly clambered up onto the crowded Obama wagon was an abiding low-level disgust I've always felt with the conceits of what I call The Clintonia Stankonia that has, let's face it, Always been there, a sour smell to those of us who've supported the Clintons. I was a columnist and reporter for the Ithaca Times in upstate New York the year that Clinton won the Democratic nomination for his first presidential bid, and I recall publishing in my newspaper one of the hundreds of cautionary 'slick Willie' pieces being published at the time throughout the country. My own piece took Bill Clinton to task for his truculence and rhetorical opportunism, and for his DLC-bred conservatism. I voted for him, but many of us who voted for him didn't trust him, and it turned out there was good reason to hold one's nose that year while pulling the lever for the democrats. As Christopher Hayes wrote in a recent issue of The Nation,
Clinton's fundamentally defensive conception of how to defuse the Republicans on national security (neutralizing their hawkishness with one's own) is an example of a larger problem, rooted in the fact that so many of her circle served in her husband's Administration. Their political identities were formed in the crucible of crisis, from the Gingrich insurgency to the Ken Starr inquisition. The overriding imperative was survival against massive odds, often with a hostile public, press or both. Like an animal caught in a trap that chews off its leg to wriggle away, the Clinton crew by the end of its tenure had hardly any limbs left to propel an agenda. The benefit of this experience, much touted by the Clintons, is that they know how to fight and how to survive. But the cost has been high: those who lived through those years are habituated to playing defense and fighting rear-guard actions. We know how progressives fared under Clintonism: they were the bloodied limbs left in the trap. Clintonism, in other words, is the devil we know. [Christopher Hayes, The Nation, Feb 18, 2008]
And we know, and know, and know, as we watch the incipient paternalism and arrogance that has flowed from the Hillary Clinton campaign, from Hilary's brittle, cold attitude toward t, he voters as she organizes from the right in terms of policy formation, touting the same old Clinton gang from her husband's administration, plus new "Hillaryland" aids brought into The Kindom for Hillary's senate campaign. Some of those personages are of course Mark Penn, Dwight Jewson, the fired Patti Solis Doyle, Mandy Grunwald, Harold Ickes, (and, I strongly suspect, James Carville, on the downlow, shilling for Clinton under the radar), and various other former West Wing advisors and 'Hillaryland' aids. Solis Doyle had coined the term, "Hillaryland" to describe the staff and entourage around Hillary during the Clinton administration and after. These familiar Clinton Kingdom courtiers were and are the ones who carried out the Clinton Way: rhetorical spin, message management, focus groups, polling regimes, media doctoring of image, and message placement. Michael Tomsky's book, "Hillary's Turn," on the senate campaign Hillary mounted in 2000, stresses the continuity of the Clinton Way from the administration to the senate campaign.
There is an abiding arrogance and sense of entitlement displayed by Senator Hillary Clinton in her bid for the democratic nomination. She is disturbingly truculent in her willingness to use the very same attack ads and dirty ad hominem tactics against Obama that were used by the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" against her and her husband during the Clinton administration (including the recent, disorientingly rediculous charge she made that Obama 'plaigerized' Duval Patrick's words, and that Obama is somehow dishonest and reprobate merely for presuming to challenge her policy positions). The Clinton Way obtains, and it carries with it the sour smell of mendacity. Joshua Green, in his recent Atlantic Monthly piece, "Inside the Clinton Shake-Up", addresses that arrogance of the Clinton Way--That Way, which, for me, watching It , smelling It, began my process of moving toward supporting Obama. Green writes of that mendacious attitude of the Clintons being,
An arrogance that I think is the key to understanding all that has gone
wrong for the Clinton campaign....Such arrogance led directly to the idea
that Clinton could simply project an air of inevitability and be assured her
party’s nomination. If she wins—as she very well might—it will be in spite of
her original approach. As one former Clinton staffer put it to me last
spring: “There was an assumption that if you were a major donor and wanted
to be an ambassador, go to state dinners with the queen—unless you were an
outright fool, you were going to go with Hillary, whether you liked her or not.
The attitude was ‘Where else are they going to go?’ ” [Joshua Green, Atlantic
Monthly, Feb 18, 2008]
Where else indeed. Go to their separate websites and read, read, read until your eyes glass over, and you'll discover that, policy-wise at least, there's not a ducat's worth of difference between the finer points of Clinton's numbingly detailed proposals and Obama's just as detailed and just as numbing wonkery. They're both post-DLC democrats, after all. In the debates the two have tended to carp at one another not over macro-theoretical differences in conception and execution (no conflicting methodologies calling up contrasts between the perspectives of exemplars of the American left such as samuel Gompers, Franklin Rooseveldt, Shirley Chisolm, Delores Huerta, Walter Reuther, and Fannie Lou Haimer) but over petty, micro-tonal grace notes which are the only things really that are pass for distinguishing factors in the sing-song sameness of two democrats who basically read from the same score. Obama approaches the center from the left, Clinton from the right, but they both meet in the middle; the middle-America, middling miasma of what democrates are, sans the courage and the vision of a Wellstone (D-MN), a Maxine Waters (D-CA), Edwards (D-NC), Kucinich (D-OH), a Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL), a Bernie Sanders (D-VT), a Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX), or Barney Frank (D-MA), best of the democratic party, none of whom were given cabinet positions in the Clinton White House.
And so, Bill Clinton's recent, embarassingly patronizing rebuke of Obama turned my eye toward 'where else' we might be able to go. Bill charged that Obama's claim of having a different position on the war than Hillary is 'a fairytale,' saying, "give me a break" when asked about Hillary's voting to give Bush authority to attack Iraq.i "It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates," Clinton complained, "Trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, numerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution?' " Picyunne though this thin difference is, perhaps Bill is correct to point out Obama's seeming contradiction. Perhaps I am being naive in my own assumption that Obama was simply being honest in '04 and is now simply demonstrating that he has grown more alienated from the Bush regime. Perhaps I'm equally naive to wish that Hillary would have found it in within herself to be more alienated from Bush than her voting record suggests. Maybe Bill is right that again, there's not a ducat's worth of difference between his wife and the man from Illinois. Yet, the smirk that hovered on Bill's lips as he spoke those words, his attitude, which I felt conveyed the deep seated Clinton belief that only they can reasonably or legitimately lay claim to political power and that those who support them would be fools to consider anyone else, well, it galled me. Not his defense of his wife, but his arrogance as he did it--that is what made me recoil.
Then, there was the less covered remark made by Hillary that nevertheless spooked me: in a moment of supposed 'vulnerabilty' she weepily spoke of how 'some people think elections are a game,' implying that if one is progressive and does not support her then one is not being serious. "Some of us are ready [for power] and some of us are not," she intoned. It is a familiar Clintonia-Stankonia message. BET Founder and Black media millionaire Bob Johnson carried the Stankonia message in Black face, saying at a rally that Obama can only be taken seriously if the election were a movie. "This is real," Johnson stressed, staying on message for The Stank. The implication was that Clinton is real, Obama is not.
Therein perhaps lies the key to why those of us who, although reluctantly, have clambered up onto the Obama wagon. Clintonia emphasises that same old tired zero sum gaming; the idea that any ally (such as Lani Guiniere), any near-core belief (such as protection of the Fairness Doctrine), can and should be jettisoned in the name of winning and of protecting The Kingdom won. Along the way, the Clintons polarize and bifurcate (left and right, us and them, top and bottom), and the old trickle down theory of power lives with fierce tenacity in them (the Clintons, products of the DLC era are definitely top down politicians who see constituencies, aids, appoitees and the like as their soldiers, their rank and file meant to follow marching orders so that we can benefit from the scraps left from their victory feast). It sours one's desire to support them whole heartedly. Though he won't speak of it, this just might be what soured Al Gore so much, leading to the cold shoulder he gave and got to and from the Clintons through the last of the administration, through Hillary's run for the senate, and through Gore's run for president that seemed to operate outside of the golden glow of The Kingdom. Gore seemed to have lost heart in the end, perhaps even to have been broken hearted. It may have been the Lewinsky scandal, which, reportedly, Gore never got over being disappointed about, or it may have been the gradual betrayel of so many of the social policies Gore held dear. For whatever reason, Gore lost heart.
It is not the heart that Clintonia aims for, but the feet: we must accompany them on their long march, conceived at Yale and begun with the governorship of Arkansas, as foot soldiers in the Stankonia army: from Hope to the governor's mansion in litle rock, to the White House to the Senate and finally now the White House again.
It's all been one long campaign for them, never ending and played as a blood sport, if Joe Klein's 1996 book fictionalizing the Clintons, "Primary Colors" is on the mark. If it isn't, then certainly James B. Stewart's 1997 non fiction book, "Blood sport: The President and his Adversaries," about the Whitewater affair, for all its sensationalizing of the Clintons' war against their legion of enemies, penetrates to a crucial, uncomfortable truth about the Clintons: they fight, succeed, thrive, and perform best when they are wounded, hounded, and beseiged. Meanwhile, those loyal to them often are maimed and bloodied by, even fall beneath the onslaught (whatever else "Blood Sport" isn't, as Michael Isikoff dismisses it in his 1996 National Review rebuke of Stewart, one thing it is, is a glimpse into the grand guigonol sufferings of Clinton loyalists, Jim and Susan McDougal, who by the media and legal abuse they took over Whitewater, paid for their loyalty to the Clintons by Jim's certainly exacerbated illness and his subsequent death, and by Susan's years of incarceration and persecution at the hands of Dark Lord, Ken Starr.
And it gets worse. One could get lost venturing down the dark corridoors of Clintonia Stankonia bloodletting. These two have indeed been the target of almost psychotic hatred, and perhaps as psychotically, have adapted to it and learned to channel it, process it, even draw strenght from it. Doubt me on this? Read The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, from 2000, by two of America's better investigative journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. This book adds the tragic Web Hubbell to the list of victims of Clintons' enemies (he lost his career and serves a 21 month prison sentence). Then there is the truly tragic death of Vince Foster, apparently a suicide, possibly driven to such despair over the Stankonia price one payed for proximity to The Kingdom that he took his own life.
It it there I choose to stop. There are some things I really don't want to know or understand about the price the Clintons have paid and still pay, one suspects for their decision to go into public life and public service. Perhaps it is a price that has forever marked them, and perhaps it is a price that makes them hunting hawks to Barak Obama's Bluebird of Happiness. Perhaps I find myself supporting Obama just out of fear for him. Does he know what he has gotten himself into by going up against The Kingdom and perhaps becoming the first politicain to truly, soundly beat them?
I brushed off that one very stanky hint of this Clinton arrogance that has surely then grown out of their great public pain, when Bill made an ass of himself here in Detroit at Rosa Parks' funeral by dressing down the Black audience for what he deemed their attitude of disrespect. I defended him though doing so left a sour taste in my mouth. In retrospect it seems the "First Black President" didn't aprove of how Black folks here chose to mourn. Or, more likely, the first White president to have been thoroughly blackened by abuse, was letting show that capacity of his for a cold rage--it seeps from the edges of Clintonia; and however justified by the price the Clintons have paid, one must ask one's self: is it time, after nearly twenty years of Clintons and Bushes in power, to lay this pain to rest, to move on past the haunted political landscape of these past two decades, to, dare I say it, embrace 'change we can trust'?
Finally, it is Obama's effect on the democratic landscape that convinced me to leave forever the pain haunted land of stank. no more Troopergate, not more 'vast right wing conspiracy' if we go with Obama. Barak Obama's campaign has catalized a large increase in votership, in youth participation in the electoral process, and bi-party (as opposed to 'bipartisan') crossover among primary voters. In short, he energizes people on the left, who, like most sane persons, would rather look forward to something (the Obama populism) than labor under something (the Clinton legacy). African American professor, author, cultural critique, and publisher, Kofi Natambu urged me in correspondence to look to this populist element of the Obama campaign, rather than focusing exclusively on Obama the man. I had written to Kofi:
I am on a personal level very troubled by the Obama campaign not in and of itself but for the deep ideological underdevelopment it exposes in African American popular thought. The uncritical, utopian, and downright parochial attitudes and reactions of the working class and the masses reveals itself in the attitude that voting for Obama is a fullfillment of 'the dream' (whatever that is) and that all Black people ought to be uncritically, unquestionaingly overjoyed about and committed to Obama as a (finally, yes) viable Black presidential candidate.
And when contrasted against any (emphasis--ANY) of the Republican candidates, yes, Obama looks pretty good, and I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. Because he's a sane alternative to them, and because he's Black like me (more or less like me). However, he is not currently a nominee for president, he is running in the democratic primaries leading up to the democratic convention where that party (a party I do not belong to) will choose its candidate for the general election. As a primary candidate, to anyone reading news sources, anyone with a historical sense, and anyone who considers Obama's voting record as a fairly conservative Chicago machine insurgent senator, Obama leaves far too much to be desired. Of course, prominent Blacks in the left union movement, in trade union political organizations and from the old guard Black power movement (sources like Black Commentator, have documented these marginalized Black intellectual and political voices) have been openly voicing criticisms of Obama.
Contrasted to John Edwards, who was also a senator and who has a far more progressive voting record in the senate than does Obama, Obama is revealed to be a fairly empty signifyer. He delivers a rhetorical, empty message of cultural and racial unity and vaguely progressive proposals such as single-payer health care (albeit heavily controlled by top heavy government management rather than transfer payments through heavily taxing the wealthy) and withdrawal from Iraq (without a single word of criticism about the huge, so-called 'embassy' being built there for the purpose of future US hegemony in the region, nor a promise that he will end the CIA activities in the region, end the torture and murder of Arabs by the US military/corporate/intelligence apparatus, or end the illegal incursions across the boarder into Iran, and general counter-democratic manipulation of Arab states in the region. He won't swear against any future or further neo-colonial adventurism there). In short, for someone chanting, "Change you can trust" the Brother ain't talking about changing a damn thing as president.
Edwards, however, has gone on record during his nearly invisible campaign against all of these things, and has thrown in a proposal for a socialist universal health care system, citing Canada by name. Edwards has on top of that, called out by name the corporations he plans to bring to heel should he be elected. Edwards' voting record (pro working class, pro democracy and local power and control, anti-corporate and anti-intelligence regime in terms of foreign policy) begs us to entertain the possibility that he might be telling the truth about what kind or president he'd be.
Thus, we can see, in the disparity between how Edwards and Obama are treated/covered, that class is far more salient than race in this country. While the blatantly racist media cover a clown and fascist like Huckleby with more attention to detail and respect than they do Obama, still the media betrays its deeper raison d’être: to suppress class consciousness. Ironically, the white man, Edwards, has had his possible working class base undercut by the Black man's--Obama'--bourgeois message. Obama cuts right off the top of Edwards' base the Black and Latino and to some surprising extent even the long lost former democratic white working class constituency that would have rallied to a socialist message in terms not of race, but of unions, access to legal process, health care for the poor, full employment, an end to all wars, free education, full literacy, return to anti-trust, fairness doctrine, and NLRB standards.
Meanwhile, Black people, perennially unsophisticated politically, unaware of the
details of history (even recent history ) are as short sighted, no, blind in their support of Obama as they were in their naive embrace of a war criminal who rather than being hailed as a 'role model' for Black women should instead by tried in the World Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity (it is Condi Rice, of course, to whom I refer).
The troubling thing? As a Black man I am expected to take none of this into account and uncritically turn my back on the civil liberties, global freedom, and
unionist/socialist heritage of my people (Paul Robeson, Randal Robinson, Harry
Belafonte, Angela Davis, Iris Young, Fanny Lou Haimer, Mumia Abu Jamal, Assata Shakur, Leonard Peltier--our Native American Brother, Denmark Vessy...well, you get me). I am expected to embrace Obama with no thoughts in my head and no fire in my belly.
I'm for a green party candidate, or for the Black female candidate who is currently fourteen years old living in Sandusky Ohio playing with her I-Pod and listening to Hugh Masekela who will some day be at the head of the Peoples' Independence Party with Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel as Emeriti advisors and Lani Guinier as campaign manager, Otherwise, I'll vote defensively for whoever the democratic nominee is, simply because we need to get the left hand of darkness out of the whitehouse before they kill the Earth. It would be nice if that default vote had a black face, but would be even nicer if he/she could be an insurgent humanist rather than a Chicagoan. It would be nicest of all if one could speak openly in public of one's criticisms of that Chicagoan without fear of being called a 'self hating Black man.'
Where is Boo Radley when you really need him?
Kofi's response was thoughtful, and in fact turned my own thinking around. He responded to my email message and in his message took me to task for my political short sightedness. He reminded me of the reality of electoral politics. Beyond the mundane business of practical and theoretical politics, i.e., getting a particular politician elected, is the question, Kofi reminded me, of mass political organization. Organizing the masses can be enbaled or even inspired by a given political leader, and by necessity in America, it will nearly always be a liberal, bourgeois leader--such as Robert Kennedy, or . In Obama's case, an entire network of youth activists has grown up around the candidate. Even more crucial, his is a candidacy that for whatever reasons inspires a broad range of political constituencies that are coming together in an historically significant movement that can be harnassed for progressive purposes. Obama mobolizes a broad range of progressive coalitions seeking free speech, electoral reform, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, social reform, and corporate reform.
In the wake of Kofi's reminding me of the unavoidable problematics and contradictions involved in electoral politcs for the sake of mobilizing the masses (across the country, across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and region, such mobilization is taking place not around Clinton, and, to my grief, not around Edwards, and to his own grief, not around Ralph Nader, but around Obama), it began to occur to me that, yes, there has been a progressive vanguard in this country for a long time now--one of its major nodes bing the pacific northwestern states, and one of its major nodes of ideology being the anti-globalist movement. After "The Battle of Seattle" and the "Battle of Miami"; after countless skirmishes in American cities over NAFTA, the IMF, and the attacks on the G-7, where had that activism and counsciousness gone after 9-11 and the media black out of all forms of progressive grass roots poiltics, 911 having provided a pretext for the government-corporate elites to institute a political dark ages in America? They had not gone aywhere. They had not been asleep. They had been waiting for a vehicle through which to reemerge. For now, Obama is that vehicle. As Kofi wrote me, "No matter who is the nominee--Obama or Clinton--since our preferential ideological choice--Edwards--doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of actually gaining the nomination--we must continue to struggle for and actively demand that these politicians own up to the structural and philosophical IMPLICATIONS, if not the ACTUAL CONTENT of what they say. So the real job before is much greater and much more important than merely deciding "who" gets the nomination, and thus the opportunity to "run" for President. As activists, as intellectuals, as workers, as thinkers, as CITIZENS we have much bigger fish to fry. Because no matter "who gets in" from the limited field of what is frankly two rather highly compromised NEOLIBERALS at best (Obama & Hillary) WE STILL HAVE TO MAKE DEMANDS OF THEM AND PUT FORWARD OUR OWN AGENDA(S)."
Kofi reminded me of the words of the great cultural critic and Caribbean revolutionary, C.L.R. James, from his 1960 text, Modern Politics":
"All development takes place by means of self-movement, not organization by external forces. It is within the organism itself (i.e. within the society) that there must be realized new motives, new possibilities."
Yes, we have our work cut out for us, is what Kofi demands we remember: it is not Obama who matters, but all of us here in this America that has been taken from us by a reactionary coup. It is our responsibility to take back America, as they say on Air America Radio, and to use whatever means necessary to do so. Up to and including taking back the Democratic party and rebuilding it in our own image, the image of the masses, from the inside out. Tom Hartman daily calls for this strategy to be implemented "Democracy begins with you--" Hartmna says, "Tag, you're it!" Obama is a vehicle. It's up to us to take the wheel.
Veteran left activist and theorist Grace Boggs was interviewed by one of America's best and last real journalists, Amy Goodman, on Jan 22, and pointed out the same deeper issues that Kofi argues us to recognize:
GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, I think that—I think it’s wonderful, by the way, that both Hillary and Obama are running and that they’re frontrunners in this campaign, because I think they help us to see that it’s not a question of race or gender, it’s a question of whether we encourage the movement and unleash the movement of people from below or whether we try to run things from above, from the White House. And though I consider myself a feminist, I have to look at what Hillary stands for in terms of top-down leadership. And I have to understand—have to look at Obama and see that
younger people, a new generation is emerging and looking for the kind of healing that this country needs, that he has unleashed that, though his policies are not that different from Clinton’s. But he has unleashed an energy in the young people particularly, which has great promise. And he has also helped to unfreeze the unity that existed among blacks. He has helped us to see that all blacks are not the same. I think that people have become—that in the
interest of unity, blacks who have not actually been in the same place—some of them are in the White House and some of them are in the Supreme Court and some of them are in the Congress, and others are groping with very fundamental questions of daily life. And that that split actually exists in the country, that it actually exists in the community, but this campaign has helped us to see, to begin to grapple with that difference.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Grace Lee Boggs. She is in Detroit, Michigan. You are not usually deeply involved in electoral politics, yet here you are deeply believing in the significance of what’s happening this year. What has changed? And did you ever have hope in other electoral years, in other presidential—times of presidential elections?
GRACE LEE BOGGS: I’ve never had this much hope. I’ve never had—because I think this one is unique. You know, policy-wise, I think Dennis Kucinich is much more on the right track. In fact, I support him. But he does not have that particular combination of a Kenyan father and a Kansas mother that can help unleash different energies. You know, sometimes—he can’t help it, of course, but sometimes it takes a certain person to do that. And I don’t think it’s not—to me, it’s not so important, the electoral politics. How they will develop, I don’t know. But when I felt that energy of young people, and I feel it around here, and I think of what Fanon said about each generation emerging out of obscurity must define its mission and fulfill or betray it. We’re living at one of those tide times....Barack Obama used a phrase in his speech at Ebenezer,
which I think we have to sort of embrace. He said we have to lead “by example.” That’s what we have to do. He can do it—maybe he can. I don’t know. But we had charismatic leaders in the ’60s, and they almost all got gunned down. And if we depend so much on charismatic leaders, not only are they in danger, but we do
not exercise our capacities in relationship to our situations to create the world anew. And that’s where we are...What I’m trying to do
is encourage the capacities, the energy, the creativity, the imagination, that exists in people at the grassroots to redefine and rebuild our society. If we want to live in freedom from terror, we have to begin looking at ourselves, redefining who we are, redefining who this country is and reassessing what it is within our capacity to do.
[Democracy Now, NPR Radio, Broadcast Jan 22, 2008]
Let's give Christopher Hayes and Patricia Williams some final words. In his aforementioned Nation column he writes,
[Christopher Hayes, The Nation, Feb 18, 2008]
Obama's rhetoric tells a story of politics that is distinct from both the
one told by Beltway devotees of bipartisanship and comity and from the
progressive activists' story of a ceaseless battle between the forces of
progress and those of reaction. If it differs from what I like to hear, it
is also unfailingly targeted at building the coalition that is the raison
d'être of Obama's candidacy. Consider this passage from Obama's stump
"I've learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still
reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the
Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington
are. That's the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election."
Obama makes a distinction between bad-faith, implacable enemies
(lobbyists, entrenched interests, "operatives") and good-faith ideological
opponents (Republicans, independents and conservatives of good conscience).
He wants to court the latter and use their support to vanquish the former.
This may be improbable, but it crucially allows former Republicans (Obama
Republicans?) to cross over without guilt or self-loathing. They are not asked to renounce, only to join. Obama's diagnosis of the obstacles to progress is twofold. First, that the division of the electorate into the categories created by the right's
culture warriors is the primary means by which the forces of reaction resist
change. Progress will be made only by rejecting or transcending those
categories. In 1971 a young Pat Buchanan urged Richard Nixon to wield race
as what would come to be known as a wedge issue. "This is a potential throw
of the dice," he wrote, "that could...cut the Democratic Party and country
in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half." Obama seeks to
stitch those halves back together.
Second, that the reason progressives have failed to achieve our goals over
the past several decades is not that we didn't fight hard enough but that we
didn't have a popular mandate. In other words, the fundamental obstacle is a
basic political one: never having the public squarely on our side and never
having the votes on the Hill.
Williams writes, also in The Nation, about several 'dreams' that might hypothetically arise in our fitful sleep now that we are so near the morning after the long night of Bushido. It is her oronic "Dream Number Two" that I'll share here:
Dream No. 2: Barack Obama is extolling the love, fortitude and courage of
the woman who raised him "as a single mother." At first, the crowd imagines
he's said "black single mother." There is a pause, then a quick reconfiguration. Oh, yeah, his single mother was white. It startles. As the throngs look at one
another in wonder, they begin to see Lebanese-American single mothers and
Taiwanese-American single mothers and Irish-American single mothers. They see that black single mothers--even the ones on welfare!--have a lot in common with all kinds of other mothers. Working mothers of all stripes are magically gilded with halos around their heads, illuminated as those who perform the hardest juggling acts, whose devotion is tested every minute of every day and who still don't earn but seventy cents for every dollar a man earns. Close-up of
awe-struck faces as this realization hits a broad swath of the population.
Voters decide not enough is trickling down from Enron and the oil companies.
They join to revise the distribution of tax benefits; they join unions; they
lobby for quality daycare. Eyes spill tears of appreciation and contrition. All
boats start to rise. [Patricia Williams, The Nation, Feb 25, 2008]
Boats might rise. And not to mix metaphors, this sort of Audacity of Hope is the promise of a chastening and purifying fire that seems to burn in the center of the Obama movement even if not the Obama campaign. The man is a movement, yes, because of the motion of all our feet and our hearts. I'm on. I'm aboard.
My dear friend and fellow sufferer from our grad school days at Cornell, Regina Rodriguez of Obama's home turf--Chicago, is Mexican American, and I think of her and of her fierce progressivism (she too, supported Kucinich in 2004, and supports Obama now) when I read hastily thought out editorials about how Mexican Americans are racist, and may not want to support a Black man. Those same editorialists were arguing the exact opposite when Hillary fired her Latina campaign manager recently, saying Latinos were 'up in arms' over Hillary's appearing to be insensitive to Latinos, and that Obama would surely benefit from that. The vagaries of racial discourse and its subtly brutal offensiveness toward all "Others" in the Black/White dramaturgy, are what Patricia Williams is satirizing.
My dear friend and fellow sufferer from our grad school days at Cornell, Professor and working actor in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Yvonne Singh, who must daily negotiate an American culture rigidly polarized between what she calls 'imaginary Blackness and imaginary whiteness,' would and did laugh a lusty, victorious laugh at Patricia Williams' satire. Behind the humor lies the promise: a new world, or at least a new United States of Hegemony; one that finally slips the surly bonds of our fitful nightmare of (contructed) racial identity to emerge into a dawn of egalitarian struggle. Finally.
The fire this time.