by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The huge inaugural gathering on the Washington Mall - two million people, about half of them African American - resembled nothing so much as a Hajj. The assembled multitudes "were committed to a once (or, at least, first) in a lifetime trek to Washington to bear witness to The Biggest Black Event in History." Largely oblivious to the actual political import of his words - including threats against Social Security - the throng imagined "that their wildest dreams had come true in the form of Obama" - an unsustainable delusion.
The Great Black Hajj of 2009
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
"They cheered in acknowledgement of their shared culpability in the ‘collective failure' that had destroyed the global financial system."
They were pilgrims, one million African Americans bent on fulfilling a solemn, silly, tearful, giddy, deep-felt, mindless, gottabethere obligation. They were the faithful, the heretics, the high priests and low-lifes, the innocent and the guilty-as-sin. All were committed to a once (or, at least, first) in a lifetime trek to Washington to bear witness to The Biggest Black Event in History, as so it must have been, based on the numbers. And oh yes, there were white folks there, too, about an additional million. Let it be recorded that all ethnicities were welcomed at the great Black Hajj of 2009.
Obama, the one-word incantation - Oh-Bah-Mah! - would not be denied. The sea of humanity lapped at his feet, as the mountain had come to Muhammad.
The Black multitudes waited to be told who they were, and why they were there. They learned that "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age." They cheered in acknowledgement of their shared culpability in the "collective failure" that had destroyed the global financial system, the workings of which were beyond their capacity to comprehend, much less influence. Yet, they must be guilty of something. Obama said so.
He informed his followers that "Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered." This they already knew, many through painful, personal experience. What is to be done? Well, "in the words of Scripture," Obama proclaimed, "the time has come to set aside childish things." Things like boorishly interrupting the nation's business (now Obama's business) with complaints about particular African American grievances such as chronically high jobless rates, neglected schools, gross criminal injustice, housing segregation. Citing the litany is bad form - damn near un-American, Obama seemed to indicate.
"Pilgrims understood that Obama was preparing to lower the boom on some undeserving, ‘narrow interests' that had malingered on the public dole."
He pressed the point. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." Who was Obama talking about? In hindsight, possibly Obama was referring to those whom he knew would in less than a week be complaining that he had delayed congressional action on "universal" health care, dashed the hopes of besieged homeowners in need of a law that would allow judges to adjust their mortgages, abandoned the Gulf Coast Civic Action bill to create 100,000 jobs and affordable housing for Katrina-ravaged Americans, and put organized labor's Employee Free Choice Act on the back burner. Yes, that would be cause for "recriminations" and deployment of "worn-out dogmas" regarding the people's rights to health care, housing, jobs and dignity.
Obama, object of the Great Hajj, personification of Black Mecca, continued: "Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed." Even far out near the Washington Monument, pilgrims understood that Obama was preparing to lower the boom on some undeserving, "narrow interests" that had malingered on the public dole for too long. What they may not have noticed in preparing to join the Hajj - at considerable sacrifice, for some - was that two weeks before, Obama had revealed the "unpleasant decisions" he was contemplating. Social Security and Medicare were "a central part" of his planned overhaul of federal spending.
"Obamites characteristically invest their own meanings in his speeches."
Those who thought the battle of Social Security had been fought, and won, back in George W. Bush's first term, were mistaken. This time, Obama the Democrat is putting "entitlements" on the chopping block, on his own initiative. Few on the Mall understood his meaning. No surprise - Obamites characteristically invest their own meanings to his speeches, while remaining oblivious to his actual political positions.
In 17 minutes, it was over, and the pilgrims began to disperse. Obama had spoken of "a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights." In fact, Black people haven't lowered their expectations, but instead, imagine that their wildest dreams have come true in the form of Obama. It is an unsustainable delusion, which Obama himself will dispel over time. But you couldn't tell the 2009 hajjis that. As with the Jewish farewell, "Next year in Jerusalem," they left Washington making plans for January 20, 2013.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].