by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The president signed off on medals for the 4 little girls murdered in a Birmingham church bombing 50 years ago. In the same week, he justified the secret drone murder of Somali, Yemeni & Pakistani children, appointed a union-busting, gentrifying Chicago billionaire to his cabinet and justified further drone wars with another secret legal memo. Which is the real Barack Obama, and where does all this come from?
Medals to Birmingham's 4 Little Girls, Sleazy Billionaires to the Cabinet: Brand Obama VS Real World Obama
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
It's been a big holiday weekend for both Barack Obamas, the illusory Brand Obama that tens of millions voted for, as well as the all too real president of austerity, privatization, and lawless war.
Brand Obama kicked off the weekend promising yet again to close the infamous US prison camp at Guantanamo, sort of, maybe soon, if Republicans would only let him. The following our symbolic president signed off on the Congressional Medal of Honor for each of the 4 little girls who were murdered in an infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing. And earlier in the week he'd delivered the commencement address at Atlanta's Morehouse College, the insulting content of his remarks aside, a priceless photo-op.
Meanwhile this week the real Barack Obama appointed a sleazy billionaire who was an early sponsor of his career his Secretary of Commerce. The real Barack Obama called for the imposition of a “no fly zone,” an act of war in plain language, over Syria, and in the same speech in which his alter ego, the presidential brand sort of promised to maybe try and close Guantanamo. The real very real president flatly justified burning Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni and other children with the near infinite expansion of drone warfare, “signature” killings and other unspecified practices such as the sending of a second missile a few minutes after the first to pick off those who come to rescue any survivors, based on legal arguments contained in yet another secret memo. The real president also passed the holiday with no action on catastrophic levels of black unemployment or dwindling levels of black family wealth, which have fallen off a cliff since 2007.
The symbolic president, at the signing for those Congressional Medals of Honor, let loose some lofty remarks about the sacrifices of 50 years ago making it possible for them to do whatever they were doing that day. Brand Obama didn't acknowledge that some of the families of those 4 little girls, and of others permanently injured on that day, have publicly stated they'd prefer compensation. That might have spoiled the moment. Unlike the very real president and the victims of racist violence half a century ago, brands only live in their created moments, and in the cloudy imaginations of those who mistake them for reality.
But we shouldn't give Obama and his handlers all the blame. Brand Obama sits atop more than a generation's worth of black politics in which the black political class has leveraged the historic tradition of black opposition to unjust foreign war and domestic oppression to promote the very things a previous generation's black politics stood against. Long before anybody heard of Barack Obama, the black political class created an brand for itself inextricably tied to the supposed triumph of the Freedom Movement of half a century ago, as if that movement was truly victorious. In fact, the historic Freedom Movement which successfully confronted Jim Crow in the south never found suitable and convincing answers, or even whole explanations for black urban poverty, gentrification or economic inequality in the north. It wasn't as though figures like King and Malcolm X, to name just a couple, were not eagerly searching for ways to address these issues.
We should remember that in 1966 there were fewer than 10 blacks in Congress, and only a smattering of local officials and state legislators. There were a handful of black generals and diplomats, and damn few black faces high on the corporate track or in elite higher education. All that changed rapidly after 1968. The turn toward a broader confrontation over these issues seems to have been averted at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies by the granting of corporate and government affirmative action, contracting opportunities that made a small cohort of black millionaires and a larger one of aspirants, and the bringing into existence of the current black political class. It was the emergence of this class that played a major role in demobilizing black America, cutting off the tendency toward popular mobilization to confront economic inequality in favor of celebrating the victory over Jim Crow and living vicariously through the shining careers of new black politicos, corporate lawyers, millionaire contractors and others.
It's upon the shoulders of black contractors and black appointees, black judges and generals and cops and prosecutors, not those of the martyred girls of Birmingham, that the real Barack Obama stands. The real president sits atop a bankrupt class of black misleaders who have achieved few or no significant victories apart from their own illustrious careers the last four decades and counting. Their only victory has been to market themselves as the flag bearers and heirs of the Freedom Movement. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign just picked up that motif and carried it to its logical conclusion. The bad news is that he has tarnished the reputation black America once had around the world as standing against oppression and injustice opposing America's murderous empire abroad and its vicious inequality at home. The good news is that it's a dead end. Obama and the black misleadership class have nowhere to go, and still have nothing to bring to black America. No jobs, no justice, no peace.
Brand Obama will be with us a while yet. But it will run its delusional course, and for many, as Glen Ford has pointed out the hangover has already begun.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.