I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other. I think that I have the ability to make people get beyond some of the divisions that plague our society… [D]uring my younger days when I was tempted by, you know, sort of more radical or left wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit conservative in that sense; that believes… [in] recognizing everybody’s concerns, seeing other people’s points of views and then making decisions.
— Barack Obama on ABC’s This Week
In the wake of President-Elect Obama’s recent cabinet-appointments, many white liberals have taken it upon themselves to release pent-up aggression at a man they thought was the “progressive” candidate he had earlier claimed to be.. As they saw it, Obama had “betrayed” the loyalty that earned him victory. As a sort of catharsis, railing Obama’s reputation over the coals of indignation could make them feel better about their decision to elect a man who promised virtually nothing (of substance) in his bid for the presidency. White liberals, especially, have had to learn so much, in the last 1 month, about the man whose political dirty-laundry was never hidden from the public to begin with.
In a highly predictable move, they have sought to bash everything Obama, or Obama-like, and couch their frustration in the ‘eloquence,’ and ‘con-artistry’ of Obama. Spare me the misplaced aggravation. One of such liberals is writer and activist, James Petras who went as far as suggesting that no progressive organization or publication held Obama’s feet to the fire during the presidential campaign. Petras believes that, to guarantee John McCain a loss, every progressive and leftist news site accommodated and encouraged Obama’s sophistry, as he clinched victory into becoming the “greatest con-man in recent history.” As Petras tells it, “The entire political spectrum ranging from the ‘libertarian’ left, through the progressive editors of the Nation to the entire far right neo-con/Zionist war party and free market Berkeley/Chicago/Harvard academics, with a single voice, hailed the election of Barack Obama as a ‘historic moment’, a ‘turning point in American history and other such histrionics.” This is stunning because “self-opiated ‘progressives,’ who” once operated as the conscience of the Democratic Party, saw no wrongdoing in concocting “arguments in his [Obama] favor,” – long as it ultimately garnered Obama victory.
It is unclear whether Mr. Petras is engaging in grand-delusion. In the course of the ’08 presidential race, countless “progressive” publications never let a second slip-by without heaping fact-based criticism on the Obama campaign staff, and the candidate it worked for. Perusing the pages of Black Agenda Report and Black Commentator solves the puzzle. Black Agenda Report, notoriously known for its constructive criticism – characterized by some as, “attacks” – of Obama, must have mysteriously slipped Petras’ memory, as he proclaimed the progressive community to have cheerled Obama into victory. Another Black progressive publication, which I write for, BlackCommentator.com was unrelenting in its undressing of President-Elect Obama, as the tiresome 22-month long campaign drained the blood of reasoning from, otherwise, radically-inclined liberals, leftists, and progressives – most especially Black ones. At Black Commentator, readers were left to juggle between the biting commentaries of Cynthia McKinney-supporters, such as Larry Pinkney, Dr. Lenore Daniels, Tolu Olorunda (myself), etc., and the discontent Obama-supporters, such as Bill Fletcher Jr., Reverend Irene Monroe, David A. Love, etc., expressed on a weekly basis. How Black progressive voices became muted in Petras’ reproof of the progressive bloc is not a surprise to this writer..
Black progressives have always maintained an impeccable legacy of critical opposition to empire – in whatever form it comes in. Whether it was Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, Black progressives have remained unbridled in their remonstrations against White power in Black face. Yet, the liberal wing of the American political system has never appreciated, nor accepted, their moral leadership. This reality is validated in the leadership of most unions, non-profits, and left-inclined political organizations. The membership might be disproportionately Black and Brown, but the management, mostly, retains a White identity.
Whilst Black progressives sought to rip the mask off of Barack Obama, in an attempt to unveil his true identity, we were deemed ‘Obama-haters,’ whose egos sought to stifle the chances of a Black man making history. The same white liberals, who now find no progressive solace in Obama’s unfolding cabinet, told Black progressives to be quiet, and “wait till he gets in first.” This logic of reprimanding Black souls to be silent, and reserved, dates back to the era of slavery, with pretentious white liberals, presented as abolitionists, urging Black slaves to fight for more substantial accumulations, other than freedom. “Higher wages,” “better treatment,” and other silly calculations were exalted above the pedestal of liberation. As it was then, so it is now. At a time when the inconvenient truth stares White liberals in the face, they seek to put the blame, instead, on a Black man who bathed them in his eloquent and rhetorical oceans. With this outburst of disillusionment, what most disturbs Black progressives, such as myself, is the reality that every disappointing appointment, by the President-Elect, was foreseeable a million miles away.
From the selection of pro-war Zionist, Rahm Emmanuel; to the hawkish center-right triangulator, Hillary Rodham Clinton; to the grossly incompetent hoop-star, Arne Duncan; to Monsanto-shill Tom Vilsack; to religious-right ideologue Rick Warren, the inevitability stands out.
Since clinching the Democratic Party nomination – but really dating back to his Senate career – President-Elect Obama had dropped countless hints about the administration he planned to oversee. As a strong believer in bipartisanship, Obama had pledged to welcome voices, opinions and characters he ‘disagreed with.’ Most white liberals, instead of questioning this logic, played along with his divine call for “unity.” As one who could “bring together” all factions of society, and heal the “racial wounds” that “divide” us, it was only a matter of time before Obama was perceived as the second coming of Jesus Christ. Though voting repeatedly for an extension of the Iraq war, whilst a Senator, white liberals convinced themselves that he was more than willing to end the war in 2 years, as he had promised – or not.
While most White liberals were foaming at the mouth, many Black and Brown progressives sought to expose Obama as the unraveling of a hip, cool, and sexy imperialist-to-be. An example is L.A.-based writer and editor Juan Santos, whose phenomenal piece, titled “Barack Obama and the ‘End’ of Racism” (Feb. ’08), put to bed all claims to a war-ending-peacenik-post-racial-uniter – in the personage of Barack Obama. Santos captures the Obama personality with exceptionality: “Obama plays the role of a Black Cinderella. He does for Black folks what Cinderella does for girls. He shows that oppression and silence can be good for you – at least if you are the one the prince chooses, or if you are the one who gets to be the prince. It’s total fantasy… Obama, with his extraordinary intelligence and presence (by any standard), is, in the eyes of white Amerikkka, (and, according to the standards of the so-called “Enlightenment,” which still rule the thinking of Euro-Americans) the half-white, and thus, half-redeemed “Black savage” – “redeemed” by his “white blood”, “civilized” by it – redeemed by his relative whiteness- ultimately redeemed and refined by the white nation itself… Obama knows the rules of the game, after all – he is the rules of the new race game- his candidacy itself is a manifestation of the new system of racism.”
The problem with white-liberalism, and its inability to render deserved criticism, while it mattered, lies in the inherent non-identity of its political philosophy. White-liberalism is structured around celebrity, popularity and majority – Democracy? It blows with the cultural and political tide. Whilst it was convenient, and even expedient, to embrace Obama’s candidacy as the “dawn” of a new political paradigm, white liberals flocked with endorsement of this “charismatic,” and “new” Black politician, who doesn’t see Race or color. He was, in their imagination, the manifestation of Dr. King’s dream. Not the Dr. King who grew into consciousness from 1965-1968, but the “I Have a Dream” Dr. King, but the Dr. King who wouldn’t dare say that, many in “the white community” feel the Civil Rights movement “should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem;” not the Dr. King who incinerated the petty belief that “integration” is “merely a romantic or aesthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure.” This belief that Obama is the birth child of ‘the other’ Dr. King’s dream, led White liberals into missing the point on Obama. Having been taking for a ride by the Obama campaign, they now feel the need to justify their gullibility with the infantile defense that Obama had misled them into thinking differently about his potential as a progressive president.
While some see latent value in the recent outrage surrounding Obama’s cabinet-picks, I’m not as convinced that disorganized screams are the keys to steering the wheels of the Obama administration in a progressive direction. With self-proclaimed “progressives,” such as cable-news host Keith Olbermann, ascribing unconditional praise to the grave of Mark Felt, otherwise known as “Deep throat,” without mentioning his supreme role in the formulation of COINTELPRO, it’s clear that White liberals still have a lot to learn.