U.S. Politics

Black Politics Atrophies Under Obama

By Glen Ford

This will mark the second consecutive presidential year that organized Black America makes no demands of the Democratic Party standard bearer—the political equivalent of a deep coma. It is as if the Black corporate presence in the White House triggered an autoimmune disorder, causing the African American body politic to shut down its normal defenses against economic and political assault.

Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), speaking in the strange voice of someone who is passively observing his own bodily decline, acknowledges that African Americans should be angry, and that the only reason Blacks are not marching on the White House is because the president is Black. “If we had anybody else in the White House,” said the Kansas City congressman, “with this level of unemployment, that you know, you would see a lot more African-Americans, African-American organizations and retro organizations speaking out against it. But because he is revered, you know, he gets I guess the benefit of, you know, understanding that the situation was terrible when he came in. So, we’re not doing that.”

What Barack Obama actually “inherited” was his fellow corporatists’ profound disdain for Black America’s historical demands for targeted relief from the effects of past and present institutional racism. The First Black President offers Black America nothing, not one rational reason for hope of rescue in the current, unprecedented crisis.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Obama told a Black reporter at the 100-day mark of his presidency. Obama has since caused the tides to rise dramatically for his banker friends, whose fortunes have soared to obscene new heights through infusions of trillions of public dollars, while a bipartisan austerity is the prevailing order for the rest of us. For three years, with every resource at his command, Obama has resisted mandatory measures against home foreclosures, resulting in the collapse of countless Black neighborhoods and decimation of the Black middle class. Obama has been remarkably consistent in his steadfast service to the banks, having opposed moratoriums on foreclosures since early 2008, while still a candidate, even as presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and John Edwards backed voluntary and mandatory halts on foreclosures, respectively.

Yet, organized Black America absolves Obama of blame—as Obama immunizes bankers from indictment. When Occupy the Dream protested Federal Reserve policies in 13 cities on January 15, Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, it was as if the Fed had not been Obama’s intimate partner in resuscitating the financial industry at everyone else’s expense. While Blacks pilloried his Federal Reserve accomplices in multi-trillion-dollar crimes, Obama’s name was hardly mentioned.

The East African-fathered president, in the midst of an unprovoked air war against Libya, launched a proxy invasion of Somalia at the height of its worst drought in 60 years, vastly exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. In the run-up to invasion, even as international food agencies warned of impending disaster, Obama’s administration drastically cut food aid to Somalia, condemning many additional tens-of-thousands to a horrible death. But Obama paid no domestic political price for his cruel barbarities against Africa’s most helpless people, because Black America exacted none.

In late February of 2003, with the U.S. ground assault on Iraq only weeks away, the Zogby polling organization asked: Would you favor an invasion of Iraq if it would result in the death of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians? Although large majorities of whites affirmed their support for invasion regardless of civilian deaths, only seven percent of Blacks would countenance such slaughter—a result consistent with historical African American opposition to U.S. military adventures abroad. However, there is little evidence of revulsion in current Black leadership circles at President Obama’s aggressive war policies in the Middle East and Africa—as if Obama is still “inheriting” conflicts for which he bears no responsibility. George Bush should be fascinated at the abiding potency of his policies, three years after his exit.

Obama, who arrogates to himself the right to kill designated enemies at will, is permitted by Black America to commit crimes against peace with political impunity—testimony to the disorder and dysfunction that has descended on the African American body politic with the advent of the First Black President.

Traditional Black progressive and movement politics has been replaced by fear and sycophantism, as Blacks once again circle the wagons around Obama and contort the events of the last three years to justify their unrequited loyalty to the Banker’s President. Fear of Republicans is deployed as an excuse for failure to defend the community from its worst domestic crisis in many generations, and for Black America’s collective failure to intervene in Obama’s assaults on peace, in general, and Africa, in particular. But something more insidious is at work, here: a kind of Black group “patriotism” that values vicarious African American association with imperial power. When a Black man is virtual king of the world, African Americans must be more than simply the bottom-rung of the domestic social ladder—no matter what the statistics say. African Americans may account for one out of eight prison inmates on the planet, but one of their own is also the most powerful person on Earth.

Thus, the proud legacy of Black American progressivism and activism is trumped by the narrowest, self-defeating nationalism. A Black misleadership class that cannot raise a finger in defense of its own people manages to move their lips all day long urging Blacks to rally around Obama—a man held in such high esteem among the enemies of Black people, on Wall Street, he will undoubtedly be the biggest recipient of corporate campaign funding in 2012, repeating his 2008 performance.

It’s all about the children, we are told. Black kids need role models like the handsome couple at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. African American youth need to bear witness to Black folks engaged in pomp and ceremony. Who needs a people’s movement, when a Black reality show is playing at the White House?

—Black Agenda Report, February 8, 2012