Two and half years into the Obama presidency, some of us spend more time mooning over pretty pictures of the First Family, their beautiful kids and regal mother-in-law than we spend publicly worrying over the fates of millions of families, children and elders we personally know. Why are some of us still trying to "save" the Obama administration. When will it be time to save ourselves from endless war, climate change, joblessness and the other ravages of late predatory capitalism?Back in the summer of 1996 I saw the movie Independence Day in a Chicago theater where two-thirds of the audience was black. The scene that got the audience on its feet cheering was one in which aliens hovered over the White House, and blasted it to matchwood. I've often thought that if that same flick were released in 2009 or 2010, that same mostly black audience would have gasped in horror.
"What about Michelle and the kids?" I can imagine them saying? "Did the dog make it out OK?" I'm pretty sure Al Sharpton, Warren Ballantine and the clowns on the Tom Joyner Morning Show would denounce the movie as racist, and that talk shows and corporate outlets that manage the "black conversation" on line like theGrio and theRoot would continue the conversation indefinitely.
To many, it wouldn't matter at all that the First Black President has ignored skyrocketing black unemployment, endemic black mass incarceration, and singled out disproportionately black and unionized public workers for pay freezes, benefit cuts and other "shared sacrifices." It would not matter that the international good name of African Americans, once symbolized by iconic fighters for justice at home and peace abroad like Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King had been replaced by the likes of Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Barack Obama, black Americans who have made their careers waging predatory and merciless wars upon struggling people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It would be, critics of the movie would argue, about respect: respect for the First Black President, they'd say, is symbolic of respect for all of us.
When we place a value
upon the image and the symbolic meaning of the First Black President, of
his fine black wife and children and mother-in-law living in that big
White House that make these things even nearly as important as Obama's
policies, we are loving the
royal presidential family more than we love our own families, our own children, our own elders. That can't be good.
The Obama campaign bus appeared in Iowa this week, at the same time that Republican presidential candidates are swarming the place. The 2012 presidential campaign is upon us. It's time to evaluate the performance of the First Black President, a subject that Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberley, I and others here at Black Agenda Report have written tens of thousands of words over the last couple years.
To start with, the president is easily the most powerful figure in government. Short of impeachment -- and if the Bush-Cheney gang couldn't get impeached, nobody can -- Congress and the courts have little power to counteract or overrule an aggressive and energetic president. Hence the notion that Blue Dog Dems and wily Republicans kept Obama from advancing his legislative agenda during the two years he had a 50 vote margin in the House and a filibuster proof Senate majority are silly.
Barack Obama's first policy achievement was to work the phones and persuade enough congressional Democrats to support Bush's September 2008 bailout bill. That legislation failed to pass the Democratic dominated Congress the first time. Thanks to Barack, it succeeded the second time, netting the banksters $3 trillion, and when Obama became president, he upped the ante to $16 trillion, bailing out all the derivative and other speculative bettors in Wall Street's casino. What Obama didn't do is bail out the families in those homes. An unprecedented wave of foreclosures has doubled the wealth gap between white and black families in only a few years, and the wave continues.
Obama has retired the phrase "war on terror" but continued and expanded armed interventions in too many countries to name here, most notably Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Colombia and Somalia. The military budget continues to grow, and with his participation in the debt ceiling hoax, Democrat Barack Obama has done what no Republican would have been able to do -- he unleashed a process that will impose radical cuts in social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obama reversed his promises on network neutrality after the election, and has apparently never met a giant corporate merger he didn't like.
The Obama Justice Department, with a black Attorney General has refused to confront a wave of restrictive laws and administrative procedures enacted by states to make voter registration difficult or impossible for many citizens, and which may keep hundreds of thousands of black, brown and poor voters from taking part in future elections. That same Justice Department has refused to prosecute corporations for intercepting the emails and phone calls of millions of people. DOJ won't weigh in on whether people have the right to record police interactions with the public, and is letting states sentence people who record police to prison.
Only the most foolish among us -- and those whose careers and boat payments depend on it -- are still concerned with "saving" the Obama presidency, or obsessing about how adorable the First Family looks. Not to worry. Michelle, Sasha, and whatshername will be just fine. Barack will do OK too, even if he doesn't get a second term. And like they say, some grown folks just don't want to be saved. Obama should be working on how to save us from endless war, climate change and joblessness. He isn't. And he won't. It's time for us to love our own families, our own children and elders as much or more than we love his, and get busy.