The two days touch: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday observance and Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, January 19 and 20, respectively. To many, the juxtaposition is self-evident confirmation of the intersection of the two men’s missions on Earth. Dr. King’s journey, which ended with his murder, and Obama’s ascent to the presidency, are seen to merge as the dates approach to form a perfect, tragic-glorious symmetry — a 48-hour revelation.
The coincidence of the calendar makes for good copy and grand sermons, but in fact reveals a great moral and political dissonance. It is true that there could have been no Obama presidency had Dr. King and the movement he sprang from not existed, but that simple fact of history does not amount to a King benediction from the grave for Obama’s moral character and political policies. Indeed, Dr. King’s life and words are indelible evidence that he and Obama represent opposing moral and political camps.
Tens of millions of African Americans – who did not choose the little-known Obama to be their champion, but supported him near-universally at the polls once his candidacy had been made “viable” — will celebrate vicarious attainment of power when Obama is sworn in. Yet when confronted on Obama’s political agenda, enough of which has been put in motion and otherwise made plain since Election Day, few Black Obama supporters can mount a cogent defense. “Better than McCain” doesn’t cut it, anymore.
When the New York Times describes the emerging Obama administration as “center-right,” there is not much for an honest progressive to defend — and most African Americans are progressive on economic issues and questions of war and peace. Beyond a ritual counting of the president-elect’s African American appointees, most African Americans seem oblivious to the political nature of his Cabinet, his policy pronouncements and shameful silences. More likely, they pretend to be oblivious so as not to lose that once-in-a-lifetime feeling that happened when the Black man won.
Blacks who have taken on the task of defending Obama, often wind up revealing themselves as persons of little moral or political substance, in the process. New York’s Dr. Leonard Jeffries is one of the more prominent Obamists, a self-styled Pan-Africanist. In my second debate involving Jeffries, in Baltimore, December 20 (the first was the week before, in Harlem), he repeated his mantra, that Blacks should “study Obama-ology.” I asked him to define this area of study. “Obama-ology,” said Jeffries, visibly exasperated by my questioning of the obvious, “is the study of Obama. How he raised so much money . . . how he used the Internet . . . .”
Dr. Jeffries’ response revealed his position to have no political or moral content. He genuflected before Obama because the candidate raised hundreds of millions of dollars (from whom and in return for what?) and created an Internet network (to what end, beyond Election Day?). Most importantly, Obama was a hero because he won. What else is there to know or say?
At the Harlem debate, an Obama defender kept shouting into her mic, “Obama won! Black people have spoken!” — as if any discussion of his political positions was extraneous, or racially subversive, on its face. The woman was a leader of the group that organized the debate, but like others in her organization clearly did not really want a debate. None of the Obamites were even minimally capable of defending their guy’s record on the bailout, his retention of George Bush’s defense secretary and plans to expand U.S. military manpower, his positioning of bankers at the controls of his new administration’s economic machinery, his support for AFRICOM, his key advisors’ advocacy of “humanitarian” military intervention — on not one point did the Obama camp offer anything that could reasonably be called a defense, coherent or otherwise.
It is not simply that the Obamites failed to muster a defense in Harlem or Baltimore or other venues; admittedly, it is difficult to defend the indefensible. What is most shocking — maddening — is their rejection of any political or moral standard for evaluating the soon-to-be Black president. All that remains is the fact of Obama’s power and the delusion that Blacks somehow share in that power. There is no thought of speaking Truth to Power, and certainly no place for a moral compass in such a valueless void.
We can understand, then, how such people would imagine Obama and Dr. King to be soul mates. The fact that one of these men fought his whole life against the forces of militarism and economic exploitation, while the other empowers, and is empowered by, bankers and militarists, does not register on their anesthetized moral and political sensors.
If the Obamites had more presence of mind, they would avoid comparisons with Dr. King, which can only redound to Obama’s great detriment. King’s break with his onetime ally, President Lyndon Johnson, set the standard for both political and moral behavior. When it became clear that the War on Poverty was doomed by the war in Vietnam, which acted “like some demonic destructive suction tube,” devouring all available resources, King publicly declared against the war. In doing so, he severed what had been the most productive relationship between an American president and a Black leader in U.S. history. But the war gave him no choice, since military expenditures made “rehabilitation” of the American poor impossible. Both morality and politics led to the same conclusion: the Movement could not coexist with war.
The lesson is directly applicable today, but Americans, Black and white, find it difficult to recognize the characters. Obama is Lyndon Johnson. National revitalization, including redress of historical African American grievances, is impossible unless military expenditures are dramatically reduced. But Obama is committed to putting 100,000 new pairs of Marine and Army “boots on the ground,” an expanded war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, a beefed up AFRICOM, and a generally bigger U.S. military footprint on the planet. This, in the midst of global economic collapse.
Dr. King would find creative ways to confront President Obama’s militarism, and to actively resist further diversion of public wealth to the bankers. Were he to survey the current political scene, King would be most impressed, not with the Obama’s party plans for the night after his birthday, but with the way that a daughter of Georgia salvaged Black America’s moral reputation at the beginning of Israel’s assault on Gaza.
Cynthia McKinney’s attempted voyage of solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza on the medical relief boat Dignity, rammed and almost sunk by Israeli warships, reminds the world that not all African Americans have morphed into warmongering clones of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Thanks to the presence of the former Georgia congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate on the mission, millions of Arabs have been made aware of a different Black America, one that is not silent, like Barack Obama, in the face of a purposely inflicted human rights catastrophe.
Cynthia McKinney is Black America’s moral emissary to the world. She exemplifies the Black America that consistently opposes U.S. military adventures abroad, a people that recognize organized racism when they see it, and therefore condemn Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — the Black America that Martin Luther King came from.
Some of us are still in our right minds. Hopefully, most of the others will recover, sooner rather than later.