by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Barack Obama actually said it: a truncated form of the hackneyed rich man's expression, "a rising tide lifts all boats." The cliché was a fixture of trickle-down Reaganics and the Bush I and II permutations, as well as the Clinton deregulationathon. Now Obama employs it to justify his refusal to offer any programs to "address historical and emerging racial disparities." The twisted logic goes something like this: "The deeper Blacks sink into the abyss, the more they are eligible for general assistance - therefore, the Obama plan already contains everything African Americans need as a group, and will be of more use to them than to more advantaged groups." Thus, the nation's first Black President turns the misery index on its head.
Obama Preserves Entrenched Power, Sidesteps Racial Disparities
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Obama deploys the same twisted logic as generations of white, corporate politicians.”
In his own clichéd words, President Obama reveals himself to be, at best, ambivalent on the need to confront historical and current racial disparities in the United States. Behind the awesome hype and intellectual façade lies your garden variety corporate-bought politician whose worldview is no deeper than the shallowest catchphrase in long-discredited American economic discourse: a rising tide lifts all boats.
Widely believed to have been coined by President John Kennedy in defense of his support for a pork barrel project, the platitude was quickly embraced by every corporate shill touting schemes to make the rich richer, while ignoring the specific plights of the poor and oppressed. President Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics was justified by the imagined hydraulics of rising tides, as were the Bush I and II permutations. Bill Clinton’s administration let loose a tsunami of speculative tidal forces that finally came crashing down on the entire planet, last year, submerging African Americans in the deepest recesses of the muck. The mad bankster behind that rising tide was Clinton’s then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, assisted by his protégé and successor, Larry Summers. The two are now the right lobes of Barack Obama’s economic brain, along with current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, another Rubin mentee.
“Obama is reluctant to even acknowledge the greatly disproportionate damage inflicted on African Americans in the current crisis.”
Obama displayed his corporate colors (and trite bent of mind) at his 100th day press conference, April 29, in response to a pointed question by BET reporter Andre Showell. The brief interchange, which came near the end of the session, reveals the coreObama, a man who is reluctant to even acknowledge the greatly disproportionate damage inflicted on African Americans in the current crisis, and who offers nothing whatsoever to address historical and emerging racial disparities. The question and response bear repeating, in full:
SHOWELL: “As the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color, the circumstances are far worse. The black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent.
“My question to you tonight is given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities and what's the timetable for us to see tangible results?”
OBAMA: “Well, keep in mind that every step we're taking is designed to help all people. But folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.
“So when we passed the Recovery Act, for example, and we put in place provisions that would extend unemployment insurance or allow you to keep your health insurance even if you've lost your job, that probably disproportionately impacted those communities that had lost their jobs. And unfortunately, the African-American community and the Latino community are probably over represented in those ranks.
“When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the children's health insurance program, again, those probably disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families simply because they're the ones who are most vulnerable. They have got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.
“My general approach is that if the economy is strong, that it will lift all boats….”
“So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that it will lift all boats as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.
“And I'm confident that that will help the African-American community live out the American dream at the same time that it's helping communities all across the country.”
No Pretense of a Racial Policy
So confident is Obama that his personal Blackness is all that is required to offset horrific realities such as New York City’s nearly 50 percent Black male non-participation in the formal job market – statistics from 2003 that have certainly worsened in the current crisis – he offers not a single programmatic response. Obama is quick to point out that his plan is “is designed to help all people” – another way of saying there’s nothing in it to address the specific problems of people of color.
“Obama claims there is no need for specific programs.”
He deploys the same twisted logic as generations of white, corporate politicians, who pointed to Black overrepresentation on welfare rolls as proof of the government’s deep concern for African Americans. In fact, concentrated levels of public assistance, food stamps and unemployment checks are elements of the misery index that, especially when dramatically skewed by race, cry out for specific programs and policies of remediation. Obama claims there is no need for specific programs because “folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.” Thus, he turns logic and language on their heads. The deeper Blacks sink into the abyss, the more they are eligible for general assistance – therefore, the Obama plan already contains everything African Americans need as a group, and will be of more use to them than to more advantaged groups. According to this line of reasoning, the worse things get, the more responsive the Obama plan is. There’s no need to deal directly with the underlying causes of disproportionate misery, such as institutional racism.
Obama is not even willing to fully acknowledge that Blacks and Browns have actually suffered disproportionately in the meltdown. In three successive sentences, he three times uses the word “probably” to describe what are solid facts. African Americans have not “probably” lost a disproportionate amount of jobs – Obama’s own Labor Department figures show that to be the case, on top of previously existing, horrendous rates of structural unemployment.
African American children are not “probably” over-represented among those lacking health insurance. They are, in fact, disproportionately uninsured. Obama belatedly corrects himself on this point, but his reflexive reluctance to give voice to the glaring racial disparities that are fundamental markers of American life, is deeply disturbing.
“President Obama served definitive notice that he has no intention of tackling structural racism.”
Then Obama drops his inane line that a strong economy “will lift all boats,” with the caveat that it be “supported by…strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.” Nothing there to deal with specific Black problems, which means they will remain “intractable” – a word used to describe conditions that the powerful refuse to ameliorate.
In 240 words, President Obama served definitive notice – for those who still didn’t get it – that he has no intention of tackling structural racism. Ever. That is his “general approach,” which should be understood as his principled position. The only change in the racial status quo we can expect from Obama has already happened: the integration of the White House.
The Big (Fat Cat) Picture
President Obama is consistent – consistently conservative, in the broad sense of the word. He is no more interested in reshaping U.S. society’s basic economic contours, than its racial ones. His consuming project is to resurrect the finance capitalist class through formulas conjured up by the denizens of his right brain lobe, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner. Toward that end, something around $10 trillion of the national treasure has been committed. Every other project of domestic revitalization is subordinate, and ultimately expendable.
The Obama presidential bully pulpit is reserved for banking interests. As the Associated Press reported in the wake of Senate defeat of legislation that would have allowed hundreds of thousands of homeowners to escape foreclosure through bankruptcy – the “cram-down” bill dreaded by bankers – “Obama did little to pressure lawmakers” to support the measure, despite having endorsed the idea since campaign days. Moreover, “the bankruptcy option got only a tepid endorsement from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner,” who was busy trying to figure out how to take toxic securities off his banker friends’ books by providing public subsidies to private sharks that might be enticed to buy them. “As it became clear the bill would fail,” wrote the AP, “the administration did little to counter the aggressive lobbying by banks fighting the bill and focused its efforts instead on a more popular bill targeting credit card companies” – a very limited measure that is, as of this writing, in doubt.
“The Obama presidential bully pulpit is reserved for banking interests.”
Obama insists that health care is one of his irreducible priorities. Yet he cuts supporters of single payer plans out of the loop to embrace congresspersons friendly to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, who will ultimately sabotage his own jury-rigged health scheme. New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer is already scuttling the boat, with an industry-written alternative to the Obama plan. The kiss-of-death proposal would require any “public” health insurance program to operate precisely as if it were a private insurance plan, effectively negating its reason for being.
The lessen settles in, slowly. President Barack Obama’s administration is not only “race-neutral” – it is essentially change-neutral, as well.