by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
It is easy to spend hours on the insanity that falls under the general heading of Obamamania - the imagined positions taken by the candidate, the things never promised that Black folks swear to have personally heard and seen. But the great tragedy of the current campaign season is the total failure of what passes for Black leadership to have any influence on the growing Obama phenomenon, a corporate manifestation that has never promised anything to Blacks, yet claims to be the center of a "movement." In truth, having sold their votes for nothing, African Americans have for some time been irrelevant to the current campaign discourse. At this late date, some progressives claim readiness to challenge Rightist tendencies in the Obama machine. But time ran out on that option long ago. Next time around, we'd better have a movement.
Four More Years of Black Irrelevance
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
"Barack Obama never lied to Black people, since he never offered African Americans anything."
Without really trying, in fact, without committing a single purposeful act, Black America has succeeded in rendering itself totally irrelevant this election season. About 90 percent of Black America has allied itself with a candidate that never promised them a damn thing. Four years ago, virtually nobody outside Chicago had ever heard of Barack Obama. He was packaged and presented by the Democratic National Convention in August, 2004 as the New Black Look and Attitude of the Party - a guy who would show both rows of teeth while claiming: "there is no Hispanic America, there is no Black America, there is no white America; there is only the United States of America."
Obama's speech writers didn't pen those lines for you (Black folks). These were the first of many messages to whites, especially males, that were meant to convey that Obama would do his utmost to downplay race as a subject of political discourse. The effect of this strategy would be to marginalize Blacks as a group while focusing attention on Obama as an individual. But despite the clear contradictions, millions of Blacks began to vicariously feel powerful because of Obama's actual location in the bosom of real power. Of course, Obama didn't get his power from you (Black folks), but from Goldman Sachs and other rich whites.
"Obama suspected he could get virtually every Black vote for free, and he was right."
In a literal sense, Barack Obama never lied to Black people, since he never offered African Americans anything. For their part, Black voters never requested anything from Obama. From Obama's standpoint, it turned out to be a perfect arrangement. Obama suspected he could get virtually every Black vote for free, and he was right. For the rest of the campaign, Black opinion was irrelevant. Black Americans appeared to fear that if they asked for the slightest political assurances on traditional Black concerns over peace, the social safety net, and race-based public policy responses to race-based problems, Obama might go poof!...and disappear. Who could say he wouldn't, since it wasn't Blacks who had summoned him to run for the highest office, in the first place? By saying nothing that might conceivably rock the Obama boat, Black voters (and so-called leaders) made themselves completely and utterly powerless to affect his campaign - which was fine with Obama and his corporate backers.
Once white males began voting in huge numbers for Obama, the last holdouts among Black voters came around. African American support for Obama became practically unanimous. And at what cost to Obama? Nothing. Better yet, Obama was now free to more brazenly woo Republicans and Reagan Democrats, knowing Blacks had become so cowed (or even delusional) they would pretend not to hear the overtures to the enemy. In Selma, Alabama, Obama claimed that Blacks had already come "90 percent of the way to equality" - a signal to whites that the days of Black racial agitation were nearly over. In Reno, Nevada, Obama expressed deep empathy with those Reaganites who had been so repulsed by the "excesses of the 1960s and 1970s." On Katrina, Obama declared that government "incompetence" after the storm "had been colorblind." If that were true, then every act of man in the aftermath of the hurricane was racism-free. That's Obama's position.
"Most of Black ‘leadership' was now busy concocting the greatest revision of history ever attempted by people of color."
Still, not a word from African American "leadership" - most of which was now busy concocting the greatest revision of history ever attempted by people of color. Having done nothing to shape the politics of the Obama campaign, Black spokespersons began describing Black mass voter support for Obama as a "movement." In this way, they could pretend that something besides a one-shot election campaign was underway - a campaign in which they were mere ciphers.
There was no movement; it was a total invention. Movements make demands on candidates and other notables. Movements have their own agendas. The movement would have preceded Obama on the scene and shaped him. Nothing vaguely like movement activity was happening in the Obama campaign, where Black and white progressive supporters behave more like groupies than activists.
Besides, it was already far too late for Blacks to have any impact on the Obama campaign. African Americans had never bargained with Obama, and were therefore in no position to demand anything from his machine. They couldn't even claim they'd been tricked, since nobody had ever promised anybody anything.
Because Black leaders in particular, and white progressives who should know better, had refused to pressure Obama during the early primary period, when the Left traditionally forces "liberals" to temporarily behave like progressives, the opportunity to make demands has long slipped away. The general election campaign has already begun, a period in which Democrats always move to the Right. Is anyone prepared to challenge the Rightists in Obama's organization?
Hell no. Nobody on the Left has any leverage on the Obama campaign, which has always been a corporate machine. The only option open to the Left is to pretend that they are standing like sentinels to ensure Obama doesn't capitulate to the people who already own him. The most pitiful communication on this subject comes from Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Danny Glover - the last of whom I consider an honest and decent fellow.
"The opportunity to make demands has long slipped away."
The self-styled "progressives" attempt to upend history and fool everybody, including themselves. The four claim that current conditions can be compared to the 1930s, when "centrist leaders" were compelled by activists "to embrace visionary solutions." There's a huge problem with that reasoning, however. In the 1930s, there were already strong movements existent before Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 and 1936 runs for the presidency. It was the movements - many of them communist-led - that shaped the Roosevelt campaigns and the New Deal, that in fact changed history. Today's four wishful signers insist that "even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined."
Really? Believe that hogwash when any of the loyal Lefties demand Obama discard his plans to add 92,000 addition soldiers and Marines to the total U.S. military ranks, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and bringing with it the certainty of more wars. Never happen. The signers have already claimed the political campaign is a movement. Would they expose themselves as poseurs and fakers by making futile demands on the campaign, which is, after all, supposed to be one with the "movement?" Would they risk being told to shut up? No, it's too late for Hayden, Fletcher, Ehrenreich, and Glover to strut around as if they have options; they pissed all that away in the initial glow of Obamamania, and from now on will have to accept their status as hangers on.
In the greatest irony of all, Black voters have convinced themselves that they are in a stronger position than ever in history, when the exact opposite is true. Having asked for nothing but Obama's autograph, they will get nothing from him for the next four years. No doubt, this will be a period of deep humiliation - as it should be. We'll call it "The Years of Living Vicariously."
There is no substitute for a real movement. The Obama stage handlers have proven that, in the absence of a movement, they know how to construct something that looks much like the real thing - at least to those who are eager to believe. This election season, we had millions of eager believers, but very few real leaders and not enough movement builders. We will have four years to correct the mistakes of 2007-'08.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].