West vs. Obama
I’ve been on a bit of hiatus from my blog, in part due to work and in part to just taking a bit of a break. I rarely run out of things to say, but sometimes one has to do more listening and reading than “saying” and I find that’s good to do exclusively on occasion to gain some perspective.
It looks like we’ve got a fight brewing between the president and Princeton professor Cornell West over Obama’s credentials as a black man and West taking personal affront to being not respected. This really isn’t new as West has been having issues with Obama since shortly after his inauguration. In my view, some of the heat Obama is taking from West is to be dismissed while he has legitimate points on others.
First, let’s deal with that which should be dismissed. West asserts that Obama’s background is such that he’s more comfortable dealing with elite whites than he is dealing with “free black men”. Presumably, West counts himself among those who are free black men. I think it would be impossible for Obama to have become president with the support among the elite if he wasn’t comfortable moving in those circles. The converse is also true; that’s to say that there must also be a comfort level with him felt by the elite players. Based on our existing political structure in this country, pretty much anyone who ascends to the presidency has to meet that particular criteria and that’s the primary reason why many of the people who’ve been in that office are a product of the nation’s elite educational institutions and organizations. I’d imagine that West himself would have had to meet similar criteria in his experiences at Harvard and Princeton. So this criticism is pretty much a cheap shot way of calling Obama an Uncle Tom and I really think it can and should be dismissed as such.
But once one gets past that, there is a substantive critique of Obama’s foreign and domestic policies, particularly those domestic policies revolving around the financial crisis. On the latter, West suggests that Obama is “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of the corporate plutocrats.” Again, the reference to Obama being a black mascot clouds the issue and smacks of calling him an Uncle Tom, so I reject that part of the statement, but I find myself in agreement with the concept that Obama is very much a captive of the oligarchs. Rather than using this crisis to pursue much needed reforms, punishment of those who caused the problems and actually break the hold they have on the economy, Obama and his economic team have instead pursued accommodative policies that delay the inevitable day of reckoning. Rather than bringing the change on this front that everyone hoped for, we gotten a milquetoast response to a true crisis that really hasn’t ended. It’s only been ameliorated by delaying the day of reckoning.
On the foreign policy front, we’ve largely seen a continuation and expansion of the Bush policies. The war front has been expanded in Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan and the sorts of things that have always gone on in pursuit of Pax Americana abroad continue unabated. Drone attacks have been expanded, Guantanamo remains open, domestic spying continues unabated and you can’t travel without getting groped and felt on. He continues the Bush policy of “exporting” democracy in the middle east as a tool for regime change while standing down on regime change for the tyrants that happen to be our “friends”. On the so called war on terror, the doctrines of Obama and Bush are virtually indistinguishable. That’s certainly not the change that many voted for and West’s critique here is spot on.
What we have here is a right wing democrat and rather than promoting change, Obama is more concerned with continuing the status quo. To be honest, I don’t think that he could have done anything else as that’s the nature of our political system. The system has swung towards fascism and political behavior across the board has been shaped towards that end. As that idea dawns on more people, there will be a backlash. You can’t sell everyone change and then bring none of it. That’s not to suggest that any of this would have been easy, so the fact that he hasn’t brought substantive change is really not the issue. The issue revolves around the failure to fight for it and to represent the interests of the people. West’s indictment against Obama here as well is spot on.
Personally, what I look for in a leader is the ability to speak the unvarnished truth, regardless of how controversial and painful it may be. This is what the country urgently needs and truth is the only premise upon which a true solution can be formulated. One can’t just hold his finger to the wind and do the political calculus as a condition of telling it. One has to have the courage to tell it, no matter the outcome or the controversy that may attend it and not cower in fear because of what Fox News is going to say. The Shirley Sherrod affair was instructive on Obama’s fears and lack of backbone.
For a fleeting moment, many believed that change was possible. It’s becoming clear that Obama sold what he has never attempted to deliver. It will be very hard for the next fresh face who comes along promising the sky to be believed as this is the last hurrah for hope and change.