Obama and great expectations
Paul Jay speaks with Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report about Obama’s image within the black
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And joining us now from New Jersey is Glen Ford. He is the executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Thanks for joining us.
GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you for the invitation.
JAY: So we’re into 2010. Look back at ’09. Looking forward into the next decade, what jumps out at you?
FORD: We’ve just enjoyed almost a full year of the first black presidency of the United States. That kind of jumps out at you historically. It’s as if we’d been waiting for this for so long, although never expecting it. Some of my earliest memories are of a little game that black folks play: what if the government was black, not just the president but the entire government? And so the most prominent black politician or personality of the day would be the president in this little exercise. Then we would populate the different government offices with lesser lights. So we would do a little skit about what if Jesse Jackson were president and Johnnie Cochran was the attorney general. It was great political satire or straight-up comedy. Now we, however, have the real thing, and that is a president, a black man, who takes every opportunity available to spit in the faces of black people, and to do this quite ostentatiously, very dramatically.
JAY: For example?
FORD: Well, the biggest example is constant refrain that it is beyond his power, and also quite unwise and undemocratic, to create jobs for black people. Yet no one, certainly not the Congressional Black Caucus, no one has seriously proposed that black unemployment be addressed by creating specific jobs targeted specifically for black people. We all know that that does not stand constitutional muster, and nobody’s ever demanded it. And yet every time President Obama is confronted with questions about black unemployment, he makes a big theater out of saying, "I don’t believe that we can attack the unemployment problems of one ethnicity." We have always presented the demand for a Marshall type plan for the cities, because that’s where black people live and that’s where unemployment is highest and most entrenched. So he creates a red herring, and I believe for white consumption. It’s actually typical of Obama the candidate, as well as Obama the president. He throws out this red herring mischaracterizing what black complaints really are, and then rejecting the demand that’s never been made.
JAY: Okay. So the argument that you’d—obviously there would be, other than the issue that he’s—fights this straw man, which I think there’s pretty good evidence of, how do you pay for a Marshall plan for the cities?
FORD: Well, if we could pay for a Marshall plan for the financial sector, you certainly can pay for a Marshall plan for the cities. Now, we learned this year that the ability of the federal government to come up with literally trillions of dollars is there. No one could have imagined before 2008 and 2009 that as much as $23.7 trillion would have been made available in some way, shape, or form.
JAY: You’re including money coming through the Fed and various other ways.
FORD: Absolutely. And the Fed works in tandem with the executive branch in this bailout. In fact, the vast majority of the funds that have been made available to the financial sector, to Wall Street, have been made available through the executive branch and through the Fed and not by congressional mandate. The real bailout is not the $700 billion initial appropriation by Congress; it’s what the Fed has done, and what every executive agency has contributed, as well, to the salvation of Wall Street.
JAY: I asked you this question seven, eight months ago, whether this kind of conversation’s taking place amongst black Americans about maybe Obama isn’t living up to what we hoped, and you were saying it’s going to be very difficult to have that conversation. Now, six, seven months later, I saw on CNN, Larry King was actually asking that question, whether blacks are giving up on Obama. Is this now being talked about openly now?
FORD: Yeah, the edifice is getting shakier. It’s going to continue to be a huge psychological problem for black people, because as I started out talking about, we’ve been looking forward to this day in fantasy for so long, to actually come to grips with the fact that this particular black man in the White House is no friend to black people is psychologically extremely difficult for folks to cope with. And so you’re not going to see in the next months, or even several years, a kind of wholesale black revulsion at this president, although he deserves that kind of response. But what we have seen is that critical elements of black progressive leadership are distancing themselves from this president. There basically is no more progressives-for-Obama as a functioning political tendency in this country anymore. Everybody’s backing away from him, and that includes black progressive leaders. That has not sunk down deeply into the black body politic so that you hear general discontent in any way that would translate into political action in the near future.
JAY: I mean, in theory at least, black Americans have almost more leverage with Obama than anyone, I mean, as a specific group, because without black Americans, there’s no way he would have won, and it’s unlikely he’s going to win again if black Americans don’t turn out to vote. They’re not going to vote Republican in any numbers that matter, but they just can stay home. At some point doesn’t he have to worry about this?
FORD: He should be worried about it. But he understands as well as we do that the bar is set very low for him in black America because of the deep desire among African Americans that he succeed. One of the reasons, however, that blacks do have potentially such great leverage with this president is because it’s not just the black vote that we’re talking about. Politically, white progressives and left liberals tend to take their political cues from black folks. So if there were significant defections from Obama by notable individuals and organizations in black America, that would give great pause to white people on the left who would have to re-examine their position. So there is a kind of leveraging of progressive opinion that black folks have the capability of affecting.
JAY: In terms of looking forward into this next decade, how does this situation change, where you get—with black or not black, you get a Democratic president who’s centrist, [inaudible] the objectives that progressives hoped for? You have the far right, which is getting even further right. The Republican Party’s even being taken over by even more radically right elements of the party, and likely that will be their candidate. So the worser scenario: the worser’s getting worser. How does this paralysis break? Come next election and people are looking at a [Mitt] Romney or even a [Sarah] Palin in some role, who knows, or someone of that kind of politics, it’s going to be right back into the same situation again, where the Democrat’s simply going to look better than that and everyone has to go back to bat for that. In the next decade, do you see some wave of that changing?
FORD: Not unless we can forge a new activist grassroots political movement. The co-optation of the Democratic Party is basically complete. It has been completed with this Obama presidency, the paralysis and the neutralization of even left Democrats under this presidency. So, no, there’s not going to be any salvation from within the Democratic Party, including its left branches. What we need is a new movement, a new antiwar movement, a new, reinvigorated black movement. And movements take time to put together. So we’re talking about years. But that’s the only way that we’re going to get any reversal of this steady corporatization of the American political conversation.
JAY: The extent within the Democratic Party of disillusionment with this administration is quite broad. You take—for example, look at the liberal blog Huffington Post, which was kind of mixed on this whole issue, certainly going into the election was very pro-Obama, has increasingly raised its level of criticism—I don’t just mean Arianna Huffington, who’s become very critical of Obama—almost all the bloggers now on Huffington Post are extremely critical. Is it possible that this kind of posing as a progressive Democrat during the election and ruling center, center-right once elected, maybe this has kind of played itself out now with the Democratic Party, where there is some possibility for some kind of real struggle for the, quote-unquote, "soul of that party", assuming there was one?
FORD: We will see if that’s true when left Democrats start voting against Obama, instead of just demonstrating through various other means their disappointment or displeasure. I’ll give you an example. Ten black members of the House Financial Services Committee boycotted a vote on the administration’s regulatory so-called reform measure. That was to show their displeasure with the administration’s failure to act on unemployment. The measure passed anyway, despite the boycott by the ten. And I think the ten knew that that measure would pass in that committee whether they voted on it or not. That demonstration didn’t result in an actual setback for the administration, and it didn’t result in a vote against an administration measure. So we’ll see if these left Dems, including most of the Congressional back caucus, are serious when they start actually voting against these corporatist Obama measures like, for example, the health-care fiasco. We saw lots of threatening and posturing by left Democrats about what they would not do, what they did not find acceptable, but in the end they all caved. So, no, on that front there’s a lot of grimacing and carping, but when the crunch comes, they still go along with their president.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview let’s talk about US foreign policy and geopolitics. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Glen Ford on The Real News Network.
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