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New Obama Chief of Staff a Message to Wall Street

Glen Ford: President Obama is more concerned with pleasing Wall St than appeasing public opinion

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Washington on Thursday, President Obama announced his new chief of staff. His name is William Daley. He’s the son of the legendary mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley. He’s also brother of the city’s outgoing mayor, also named Richard. The new chief of staff has for the past seven years been a senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase. Before that, he worked for a hedge fund and in telecoms. He also was Bill Clinton’s commerce secretary for three years, from 1997, and he managed Al Gore’s failed run for the presidency in the year 2000. Now joining us from New York City to give his take on President Obama’s latest appointment is Glen Ford. Glen’s the cofounder of BlackAgendaReport.com, was a founding member of The Black Commentator and the Washington chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.

GLEN FORD, COFOUNDER, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: So what do you make of this new chief of staff?

FORD: Just more proof that this is Wall Street’s White House. This guy was not only a corporate executive, a finance capital executive, but he was point man for Bill Clinton in pushing NAFTA through Congress. So he’s a hell of an operator for corporate interests. And now he’s the guy directly at the president’s side. And he’s there not because Wall Street forced this on the president, but because the president likes it that way. Now, I’m of the opinion that Barack Obama is not compelled by his campaign contributors, which were overwhelmingly Wall Street, to behave in this fashion politically, but that he really is the corporate guy, that he is simpatico with the rule of capital, and that he feels more comfortable having their direct representatives right there at his side.

JAY: Now, this is such an important appointment. The chief of staff has more to do with day-to-day executive functions than the vice president does–unless of course it’s Vice President Cheney. But in any normal presidency, the chief of staff is almost virtually the number-two position in the country. It sends a tremendous message, whoever you pick. The message here seems to be, we’re far more interested in appealing to business than we care about the left of the party or the progressives that are having all this trouble with us. What’s your take on how they arrive at such a decision?

FORD: Yeah, the chief of staff is the president’s alter ego. And this appointment is giving the finger to the left of the president’s own party. He’s been at war with the left of his party ever since he’s been president, and it seems that this war will escalate. You know, this defeat in November in the House, I believe, has freed Barack Obama up to be his real self, the real corporate animal that is his nature. Now, however, he can claim that when he takes these reactionary positions, that the devilish Republicans made him do it. But he’s got the devil right there by his side in the form of his chief of staff.

JAY: Yeah, that’s quite an interesting point. He doesn’t have to worry about progressives in the House not going along with something. They don’t have the power not to go along with something anymore, whereas he can make deals with the Republicans.

FORD: Right. And when they had the power to balk at their president, they didn’t.

JAY: Let’s talk about why this is the case. He–essentially, the message is is not just the left of the party, but in terms of the country and the politics of getting reelected in 2012, he’s far more worried about center, center-right, and right, and the business community than he is about even African-Americans, who one would have thought are not going to like this appointment.

FORD: Political conversations in black America since the ascent of Obama don’t usually revolve around what the president is doing, the details of his policy decisions and his appointments; they revolve around how the president is doing. Black America is so psychologically invested in this president that the discussion is not about whether his policies are impacting negatively upon us, but how the president can be protected, who is trying to bring him down, rather than how his policies are crushing us as well.

JAY: So the space for being able to do this has to do with there’s very little threat to these policies, not only in Congress, but also generally in the public, in terms of not just–African-American politics, but not only; just in the working-class movement, in the broader left, liberal community in the country. I mean, recent polling, for example, on who should pay down the debt, apparently something like 60 percent in a recent poll said the rich should be taxed first, then you can start looking at other things. I mean, public opinion is certainly far left of this presidency.

FORD: Public opinion was for universal single-payer health care. That didn’t stop the president from putting forward his insurance bill.

JAY: So the question I’m asking you is: how does that change, if public opinion is to the left of the presidency? And you also–in terms of the idea that the last election proved that the country went right, only 40 percent of possible eligible voters, based on age, actually voted, so 60 percent of the country that could have voted didn’t even go to the polls. So a lot of people are just disillusioned by the process, have opted out of voting. So how does that change?

FORD: When you have constantly consolidating corporate power, what that does is it limits the options that people have or think they have. It does not allow folks to engage the issues, because the corporate media is not engaging in issues. It’s doing a horserace politics. So it’s a little simplistic, even though we go through this exercise, to talk about what the polls say and what the public wants, because the mechanisms are not there for the public to press the buttons to get what it wants.

JAY: Glen, why haven’t we seen amongst the progressive movement, from the workers movement, or even from the–amongst the African-American civil rights movement, why aren’t we seeing something more akin to the Tea Party? And what I mean by that is something independent that fights inside the Democratic Party.

FORD: First of all, we have to stipulate that the Democratic Party is controlled by Wall Street money. You know, for at least the last couple of decades, Wall Street has been to the Democrats what the energy industry has been to the Republicans. And so the resistance to Wall Street can’t be centered in the Democratic Party, that the people aren’t going to resist their paymasters. In terms of a broader movement, Barack Obama has successfully, by virtue of his blackness, neutralized the half of progressive America that is black. And we predicted that this would happen. And when black America is politically neutralized, that means that there really can be no progressive movement. So we’re in a real bind in that regard, caught between the neutralization of the left by Barack Obama’s blackness, and by the ever increasing hegemony of capital, including in the Democratic Party.

JAY: So what do you think people like you are going to do about it?

FORD: Well, we have to organize at the grassroots, and there’s just no magic to it, and it’s going to be extremely difficult because black America has still not been totally disenamored of Barack Obama, and a certain segment of it will never be. But, you know, there’s a move among the Democrats now to get rid of the filibuster as a paralyzing mechanism. And I can tell you they were not in favor of that. Filibusters are for the weak, and the left is weak, as weak as I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime. So we need to preserve the filibuster and hope that four or five progressive senators are prepared to filibuster these deals that will be forthcoming between the Republicans and the White House. That’s the only salvation in sight. We should look forward, in fact, to gridlock, because the opposite of gridlock is continued dealmaking by this White House and the Republicans.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Glen. And you can find more of Glen at BlackAgendaReport.com. And thank you. Here the–remember, there’s donate buttons either up here or down there. And thanks again for joining us.

End of Transcript

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