by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
What are the people who tell us President Obama hasn't got a “magic wand” really saying? That we have no right to expect a president to use the power of his office to address mass incarceration, the housing, foreclosure, student and consumer debt crises, or end our murderous colonial wars around the world? That we're immature and unsophisticated to demand or expect much of anything more than his pretty black face in that big white house?
Barack Obama, Democratic Expectations, and the Magic Wand
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“Democratic expectations, they say, are the provice of the socially immature, the politically unsophisticated... ”
We hear it all the time.... “Give the man a chance!” “He's only been president 38 months! it took Bush eight years to mess things up....” Or “He can't do nothin' cuz Republicans are blockin' everything...,” and most tellingly “He's the president --- he doesn't have a magic wand...”
Evasions and excuses like these are now the staple of black politics. Black America's political class, its learned and wise preachers, pundits and politicians counsel us in this, the age of the First Black President to “get realistic” by dialing back our expectations for economic democracy, by dropping our demands for peace and justice. After all, in the world of mature grown folks, expecting this or any president to crack down on greedy corporations and banksters, to stem the tide of foreclosures and evictions, to rein in health care costs, to refrain from starting predatory foreign wars in Asia and Africa, or to preserve Medicare and Social Security is just plain foolish. Democratic expectations, they say, are the provice of the socially immature, the politically unsophisticated.
The president himself has repeatedly deployed the “magic wand” line, both as defense and offense, as scornful mockery of those who believed his campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, to stand up to oil companies, and to walk a picket line. It ain't his fault. They should know better. One of his spokespeople suggested that those demanding those kind of promises be kept should be drug tested. That is the level of barely concealed contempt the president and the whole of the black political class have for the rest of us.
Besides, our black misleadership class warns us, even when they tell us the same or bigger lies than Republicans tell us, even when they campaign for jobs and peace but wage war and cutbacks in office, even when they're lying through their teeth to us about “clean coal,” “safe nuclear energy,” and the need to close neighborhood schools and replace experienced black teachers with mostly white temps, Democrats are simply better than Republicans. Always have been, always will be. After all, they're not ignorant white supremacists, are they?
Let's get real. Whenever anybody, in or out of office repeats that “magic wand” line, what they mean is that people have no right to demand peace or jobs or justice. They mean that people expecting, demanding or fighting for these things are fools, losers, and if their demands make the president and his party look bad, race traitors when they're black or white racists if they're anything else. How much clearer can it get? Only the immature and politically unsophisticated expect any sort of political involvement to change things.
“In fairness, not every one of the president's defenders believe he is powerless. Cruise missile liberals like Keith Oberman, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher accord him the powers of a super hero --- “the black ninja president” ”
Where black politics was once about struggling to uplift everyone, to increasing opportunities for jobs, education, transit heath care and housing, all that's left of black political ideology is what the University of Pennsylvania professor Adolph Reed calls “representationalism.” It's the only remaining justification, he says, for the existence of our black political class. Somebody has to stand up and claim to represent us, and to claim whatever contracts and perks flow from that, even if it's only as “managers” of those racial divides and racial inequities which only the immature imagine should be seriously tackled, let alone solved. Representationalism has shriveled the horizon of black politics, of black nationalism, to preserving the careers of black politicians, nothing more.
Back in the 80s, Ronald Reagan used to be called “the teflon president” president. It wasn't because he and his administration weren't lawless and corrupt. It was because their devoted admirers, especially in the corporate media liked Reagan and his gang so much they wanted to ignore their official crimes and the official lies that covered them up. So they got a pass. These days, Barack Obama enjoys, at least among Democrats and the black political class a similar kind of immunity from scrutiny. As long as we accept their twisted definitions of what is Obama and our black political class have --- let's call it what it is --- a ghetto pass, even as they act in explicit contradiction to everything their African American constituents believe in.
In fairness, not every one of the president's defenders believe he is powerless. Cruise missile liberals like Keith Oberman, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher accord him the powers of a super hero --- “the black ninja president” for dropping cruise missiles on the cars, relatives and wedding parties of whoever he designates a terrorist, enemy combatant or general nusiance. Eric Holder, the nation's first black attorney general and a man who says he has “a lot of power,” agrees. The lame “magic wand' excuse only seems to apply for things like stopping foreclosures, curtailing or forgiving student debt or shutting down unjust wars, things his voting constituents actually DO want.
The only thing the president's magic wand has accomplished is the final hollowing out of our black political class. Their president, their pretense of representing us, and their ghetto pass are all they have left to stand on. It's time to revoke that pass.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and lives and works in Marietta GA, where he is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.