The Die is Cast : Obama's Center-Right Presidency
By Glen Ford
December 10, 2008
In case there are any lingering doubts, it's official: Barack Obama has earned a well-deserved rating of "center-right" politician, courtesy of the New York Times. The president-elect worked hard to pull himself rightward, after starting off with a reputation as a liberalish "peace" candidate. Nobody calls Obama that anymore, not since he endorsed the bankers' bailout, put the economy's future in the hands of the same people that set the stage for financial meltdown, and let Bush's War Secretary keep the keys to the imperial armory. So let's give it to Obama. He won't ever have an identity crisis, again.
There are lots of political appointments to go before Obama's roster is complete, but the heavy lifting is done. The ideological pillars of America's first Black presidency have been planted wholly within the parameters of governance allowed by big capital and the imperial military. Obama's "transition" is more accurately seen as a "continuity" of rule by the lords of finance capital and their protective screen of warriors and spies. The Obama regime, still incomplete, already reeks of thieves and war criminals.
Obama's "national security" and economic lineup is an infinity of ugliness, more repulsive than I could have imagined back in the summer of 2003, when Obama's rise to glory was about to begin. The supremely talented actor/state senator's capacity for obfuscation; his refusal to take a firm position on any subject of real controversy; his transparently false denials of fealty to the corporate Democratic Leadership Council, which had publicly claimed him - all this should have marked Obama as bad news for Black America. But his was a fatally attractive package, like the shiny little cluster bomblets that kids pick up in places like Afghanistan.
My colleagues and I were most fearful of the effect Obama's corporate-rigged explosion onto the national scene would have on the black polity - both the masses and leadership circles. Obama's phony progressivism didn't fool us for a second - although we yearned as much as other African Americans for the appearance of a Great Black Hope. Obama wasn't "The One," no matter what Oprah said. Rather, he became a menace to black folks' collective mental health.
We knew that a mass hallucinatory phenomenon was about to occur, that would loosen many black folks' grips on reality no matter how often and loudly we warned that Barack Obama was a cynical corporate striver who encouraged whites to believe that his election would mark the end of black politics as we have known it. (Take breath, here.) He was the anti-Jesse, the anti-Sharpton, a fraudulent peace candidate, an eager servant of the rich. We diligently provided evidence of Obama's true political nature, and at every juncture before and during the primaries we were proven correct in our analysis. But no matter. African Americans' pent up hunger to see a (pretty) black face in the highest place, would not be denied. They desperately needed the Obama of their imaginings, and would draw and quarter anyone that questioned the senator's sainthood.
Were black folks "losing their damn minds," as comedian David Alan Grier puts it on Comedy Central's Chocolate News?
Yes, they were.
Black America became a fortress, impregnable to truth. The ever-mounting evidence of Obama's abhorrence of real social change beyond his own singular elevation; his fawning deference to big business; his call for an additional 100,000 soldiers and Marines; his early refusal to consider a moratorium on housing foreclosures; his reversal on electronic spying on Americans - none of these actual, real world occurrences could puncture the mass delusion. A kind of collective autism sealed off the African American mind from reality-based phenomena. The cruelest, blanket insults to African American dignity issued repeatedly from Obama's mouth, yet were gratefully accepted as proof of the candidate's "tough love" for "his people."
Fast forward to the present. Obama has awarded his administration's economic and imperial military portfolios to plundering investment bankers and their servants (Robert Rubin's derivative-addicted sidekicks) and endless-warriors (Iran-Contra super-spook and master of intrigue Robert Gates). In this scariest chapter of world history to date, the Secretaries of War (let's have some truth in language) and Treasury will be the dominant players in determining the nation's economic and military place on the planet. That's where the bulk of the national wealth will be diverted. Everyone else will scramble for crumbs. The store has already been given away to the military and economic Right. Thank you, Obama. Macro military and economic adventures and experiments will be the governmental order of the day - and whatever else happens will be sideshows, dwarfed by the massive movement of mega-money deployed to salvage the imperial system.
Which is why it is pitiful - and sad in the extreme - to hear influential black activists make a huge deal out of Obama's proposed White House Office on Urban Policy. "Just you wait and see," these wishful souls seem to be saying. "Obama's gonna come through for us. Yes, he will." As if a little advisory outfit tucked into the White House organizational chart will make a damn bit of difference as the giants of the cabinet battle over trillions.
Our world changed fundamentally between Obama's acceptance speech in August, and his endorsement of the banker bailout in early October. The bottom fell out of the global capitalist financial system. From now on, it's all crisis, all the time. Obama has done everything humanly possible to assure the Lords of Capital that he is at their service. His appointments prove it. But some African Americans - far too many - still labor under the illusion that a solemn pact exists between themselves and Obama. It is a belief based on blind faith and things unseen - or an imagined exchange of winks.
A prominent and highly intelligent, lifelong New York activist assures audiences that Barack Obama is winking at black folks, to confirm the understanding between the president-elect and his people. White folks can't see the wink, but if a black person looks closely - there it is! And black folks shouldn't hesitate to wink back at him, to acknowledge the secret we share.
I assume the organizer is speaking metaphorically, though I sometimes wonder. The point is, although it might appear that Obama has broken his commitment to African Americans (actually, he never made one), we should rest easy - his thoughts are with us. Whenever it seems like he's brushing us off, well, that's just his way of fooling the white folks - in our interests, of course.
When the psychological need is great enough, people will believe anything. But chasing mirages is no road to freedom.
Glen Ford is editor of Black Agenda Report.