By Glen Ford
Nov 14, 2012
“Obama is the more effective austerity president – if the Republicans will just let him work his show.”
“Get Away Sandy – God and Obama Will Save Us” read the graffiti, scrawled man-high on a cinderblock wall in the majority Black town of Plainfield, New Jersey. It is an apt articulation of African American politics as we descend into the First Black President’s second term.
Black folks may or may not have a prayer, but they certainly don’t have any earthly influence on the direction of the nation or on a president for whom they gave near-unanimous support, while asking nothing in return.
Wait a minute! I’m hearing echoes of…a familiar voice:
“We have learned that Black politicians and activist-poseurs have an infinite capacity to celebrate not having engaged in struggle with Power, and that the Black masses can be made drunk by the prospect of vicariously (through Obama) coming to power.” – Black Agenda Report, “The Obama '08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?” November 4, 2008.
As Marx said, history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce.” Independent Black politics, rooted in the historical African American consensus on social justice, racial equality and peace, definitively collapsed, after a long illness, with the first Obama presidential campaign. The tragedy was compounded, exponentially, by the timing, coinciding with capitalism’s greatest crisis since the Great Depression. The autumn of 2008 was an historical juncture for the nation and the world. Either the people would erect structures to protect themselves from being crushed under the dead weight of a system in terminal decay, or the Lords of Capital would swallow the State whole, and buy themselves some time.
African Americans, the most politically volatile and left-oriented U.S. constituency – a people specifically targeted by Wall Street’s machinations – had an historical role to play. “The man STRUCK,” said Frederick Douglass, “is the man to cry out.” But Black folks had already been struck silly with Obama’Laid.
“Despite his background, Obama knew enough about African Americans to pay us no attention and less respect.”
The rulers had, at long last, found our Achilles Heel, the weakest spot in African Americans’ political armor. Our reflexive racial solidarity (actually, an aspect of Black nationalism), which had served us so well, for so long, short-circuited our progressive political instincts. We became fodder for Obama, the slicker-than-Slick-Willie corporate guy with the brown face.
Despite his background, Obama knew enough about African Americans to pay us no attention and less respect. There would be no penalty. Black folks had convinced themselves that Obama needed our protection; it never occurred to most of us that we needed protection from him – not during the primaries, when he praised Ronald Reagan’s reaction to the “excesses” of the Sixties, or when he refused to endorse even a voluntary halt to home foreclosures (while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards endorsed “voluntary” and mandatory moratoriums, respectively); not in the last weeks before his inauguration, when Obama announced that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all “entitlements” would be “on the table” for chopping under his administration.
Instead, a million Black folks gathered on the National Mall for what we at BAR called “The Great Black Hajj of 2009,” a pilgrimage, as if to Mecca, in celebration of Obama’s ascension. There, he proclaimed to the multitudes: “In the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
Dutifully, Black folks set aside the last vestiges of their vaunted distrust of Power. Henceforth, African Americans would consider themselves as a Palace Guard – the antithesis of independent political actors. Thus was Obama empowered to become the “More Effective Evil.”
With little resistance on the Left, and virtually none from organized Black America, Obama has worked miracles for the resuscitation of the Lords of Capital and their imperial apparatus – feats that only a Black corporate Democrat could accomplish. After saving George Bush’s bank bailout in October of 2008 (it passed only after candidate Obama’s intervention), Obama undertook the historic mission of placing the U.S. State at the total disposal of finance capital.
Under Obama’s watch, the Treasury Department and, especially, the Federal Reserve have funneled at least $16 trillion to Wall Street and its foreign annexes – a sum greater than the national GDP. The “free money” window at the Federal Reserve has become a permanent fixture of the global financial order, permanently blurring the lines between the U.S. state and international finance capital.
Obama has embedded the state into the banks, and vice versa, in ways that cannot be undone without causing the system to collapse. In a very real sense, the “good faith and credit” of the United States has become a collective corporate asset of the Lords of Capital – an outcome that fits the classic structural description of fascism. No Republican could have delivered the state apparatus so effectively to the banks – there would have been fierce resistance from within the Democratic base, as well as libertarian Right. But Obama has proven to be the more effective facilitator of the bankers’ state.
“Obama has embedded the state into the banks, and vice versa, in ways that cannot be undone without causing the system to collapse.”
Social Security was untouchable – until Obama laid his hands on it. Beginning with his pre-inauguration pronouncements on entitlements, Obama has been the guiding hand of an austerity offensive that did not exist on Election Day, 2008. Instead, Obama made deficit reduction his own priority, at a time when pundits were saying obituaries over the GOP. (Much as they are, today.)
The Black Democrat appointed the Right-weighted Deficit Reduction Commission to promulgate a $4 trillion blueprint for austerity, a formula that matched Republic proposals in 2011. The blueprint would have been the basis for Obama’s cherished Grand Bargain had the GOP not balked at “modest” taxes on the rich – levies that are irrelevant to those who will lose their programs under the axe. Obama is the more effective austerity president – if the Republicans will just let him work his show.
Imperial aggression has never fared better than under the opposition-less Obama. At one point, he was bombing five countries simultaneously, pretty good work for a Nobel Peace Prize winner – or did the prize help empower him to such heights of bellicosity? His ever-evolving “Kill List” includes not only individuals of all nationalities (including our own) but also any country whose government is inconvenient to the United States.
With “humanitarian” jargon as his only justification, President Obama has attempted to render international law a dead letter. No nation has any rights that he feels bound to respect. Obama, with his drone armadas and multiplying Special Forces troops, represents a far greater threat to global civilization – which must be rooted in law! – than the failed conquerer George Bush (who actually negotiated the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq). Unlike Bush, Obama has promulgated his own, novel doctrine of war, which declares that wars only exist when sufficient numbers of Americans become casualties. Under this construct, Libya was not a war, and the possibilities for U.S. non-war depredations are endless.
Preventive detention is the crown jewel of Obama’s presidential exceptionalism. Statutory authority to imprison Americans without charge or trial was beyond Bush’s reach, and he knew it. But Obama guided a bill through the Congress with very little Democratic opposition. He is the more effective secret police warden.
Now Obama has won another “mandate,” which he will use to finish the projects he started: wider wars, a more profound government subservience to finance capital, and that “new legal architecture” on national security that he warned about on the Daily Show, a few weeks ago. He looks forward to fulfilling his austerity dreams early in his new term: “I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time.”
The non-resisters have won a non-victory against an unimpressive enemy, while the more effective evil plots new atrocities.
You will note that I have not specifically mentioned Black folks since the beginning of this article; that’s because African Americans have made themselves irrelevant – not just for the second Obama presidency, but possibly deep into the future. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” and Black folks have failed to demand even elementary respect from this president, much less concrete programs, or peace.
Obama isn’t the only one who has noted Black ineffectuality. Until an independent African American politics and political movement can be rebuilt, there is no reason for a president or Congress to pay “the Blacks” any more attention than Obama did.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.