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Glen Ford: Not making Pres. Obama pay a price for sidelining progressive agenda is political suicide

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking to Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of And we’re discussing Henry Louis Gates, Sgt. James Crowley, and most of all we’re talking about President Barack Obama. Thanks for joining us again, Glen.


JAY: In the first segment we talked about the basic issues of Obama and this technocrat elite (not all technocrats—some of the African-American elite are quite wealthy now) and their attitude towards race in America. Now let’s talk about what the poor, what African Americans and others can do about this administration. And in that respect, I talked to a trade unionist, a very senior person, a couple of days ago. We were having an off-the-record conversation about what’s happening to health care and to the Employee Free Choice Act. And essentially what he was saying is the inside, as much as possible, the trade unions are going to fight to get as progressive a health-care plan as they can with as strong a public component as they can. But whatever comes out of this process they’re going to call a victory, because they can’t afford to have President Obama too wounded in the public square. Same thing comes with EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act. They may lose card-check, which before recent developments the trade union leaders were saying was the heart of EFCA, to be able to change the way people vote for unions. It may be they “don’t have the votes”, quote-unquote, because that’s becoming the mantra for gutting various pieces of legislation, but that they don’t have the votes to change card-check. So they may call this a victory, that there’s enough left of EFCA to call it a victory. And it all comes down to this basic proposition that if this presidency is looking wounded or looking at all like it’s failing, they’re worried about losing significant number of seats, particularly in the Senate in 2010, they’re worried about the presidency in 2012, and that the worse of two evils, rather than the lesser of two evils, is too worse to contemplate. So what do you make of this whole argument?

FORD: It’s a bogus argument. It’s a self-defeating argument. I think it’s a politically suicidal argument. It basically says that progressives and half of what could reasonably be called “progressive” in the United States is black, that progressives should just lay down their arms and expect that Barack Obama will fight for what we need to have done. He’s only been in office a little over six months, and we have already seen the failure of that non-strategy, that is, that no-fight strategy. I think the fallacy here is to believe that Obama is a closet progressive who is just wily and feeling his way around, but he really wants to go in the same direction that we do, that he really wants something as close to single-payer as possible, that he really wants to empower unions. I don’t believe so, and I don’t think there’s anything in his behavior as president that shows he does share those values. So what you wind up with is you put down the progressive banner. You go into a kind of political retirement. You wind up not even supporting the president because the president doesn’t tell you where he wants to go. You know, he made it very, very difficult for progressives to line up behind him on health care, because he didn’t have a health-care bill. He could not be pinned down as to what is an Obama health plan. I actually was very confused watching the mainstream media constantly refer to the Obama health plan when there was no such a thing.

JAY: By that you’re referring to the way he turned the process primarily over to Baucus and the Finance Committee in the Senate and let the Senate and the House come up with their own bills, and then he’s going to try to negotiate with them rather than being a flag-bearer for his own vision.

FORD: That’s right. So are we going to contribute to an Obama victory? Or is it a Baucus victory?

JAY: Let me tell you a little bit more about my conversations with various trade union leaders. I know that point of view a little bit more. They would answer this way. They say, “We are fighting.” They say they’re going to states where Blue Dog Democrats come from. They’re holding rallies. They’re even running advertising campaigns. They’re to some extent threatening some of the Blue Dog Democrats to fight them in the primaries. They’re advocating on public television commercial campaigns. They’re doing campaigns amongst their own memberships. What they don’t want to do is directly attack the president, because they don’t want to be seen as weakening him. So on the inside they’re fighting to lobby, although as John Conyers said in one of the pieces we played on The Real News, he says take into account the Rahm Emanuel factor, which clearly is also an Obama factor, which is they just want something to sign so they don’t look like they lost. As I say, the people I’m talking to in many of the trade unions, what they don’t want to do is really ignite a mass movement and let a mass movement create the pressure. And I guess that’s what you’re talking about.

FORD: And that’s what I mean. That’s why it’s self-defeating. We can’t win if we don’t fight. We cannot assume that we and Obama are on the same side. We’re not. The same situation applies with the antiwar movement, what little there is left of it. This is not an antiwar president. This is the president who signed the biggest war appropriations in history, who is going to make a mark for himself with his own AfPak war. If the antiwar movement believes that he’s the last best hope for peace, then they might as well just to go out of business. Look, Obama should have been made to pay a price for silencing and making marginal the single-payer advocates like Congressman Conyers. If he had to pay a price and he knew that he would have to pay a price, then we wouldn’t be talking about a public option; we’d be talking about the public plan being at the center of a real Obama plan, because he couldn’t have afforded to alienate the left. But if the left doesn’t make him pay a price and he knows it, then he’ll just keep on kicking us and kissing up to the right.

JAY: Amongst African Americans, is there a constituency of any significance that is saying that Barack Obama will have to pay a price if he doesn’t begin to more seriously address African-American poverty? Without an African-American vote, he wouldn’t have won the presidency and likely won’t win it again.

FORD: It will take a lot longer with black America for a real response to Obama and his backward policies or his backward inclinations to crystallize. And that has to do with the fact that Barack Obama is the repository of black folks’ dreams. It’s going to be extremely difficult and take awhile for people to face the fact that they’ve invested in the wrong person. Nobody wants to do that. It is psychologically torturous, too. So we can’t really expect that to happen, except as Obama shows with some consistency that he’s not salvageable. But that’ll take a very long time.

JAY: Maybe, perhaps, one is—you say “not salvageable,” but who knows until, as you say, he’s had to pay some price? Whether it’s a moral who-he-is or a pragmatic calculation on his part, if there actually is a price to pay, then who knows what might be possible? But as you say, there needs to be some consequences, and right now there are very little to the left of him.

FORD: Well, certainly we need to try. I’m really speaking personally. I don’t believe that Barack Obama is anything except that which he says he is. I believe that Barack Obama truly thinks that racism is not endemic to America, that stories like his own can by themselves raise up the race by example in some kind of chemistry unknown, and that he is not transformable. But, of course, we must try. We would do the same thing. We’re obligated to pressure a president, whether he’s black or white or whatever. The only force that can compete with money power and entrenched power is people power. So we have no choice but to organize.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.

FORD: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And I’ll do my normal plug. Up here is—I’m looking up at an imaginary button, ’cause, obviously, when I’m on camera the button’s not there. But here I am, doing an imaginary look at the donate button. And if you would like us to keep doing news like this, then we need you to click on that. Thanks very much.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.