Catch 22 with President Obama

Given the hostile and violently racist reaction from the right-wing, of course, the liberals/progressives wants to defend (and protect) President Obama. It’s a strange “re-run” of how the far-Right relentlessly attacked President Bill Clinton, aiming for his impeachment—and how liberals felt they had to “stand by their man”. (Plenty of Bill Clinton’s agenda was anything but, liberal/progressive and he did things that Republicans could only dream of at the time).

But it’s also true in President Obama’s first year, liberals/progressives/the Left have been put in a Catch 22–by BOTH the right-wing all-out racist attacks on the first African-American president, as well, as the demand that we ONLY cheerlead, support and praise President Obama.

The refrain has had several variations: “Look at the HUGE mess he inherited!” “No SINGLE person could be expected to CHANGE everything — and certainly NOT make change ‘overnight’! “Give him a chance!” And some have even said that ANY criticism of President Obama is “covert racism” — NOT just the right-wing variety, of all-out opposition to President Obama’s election itself — but, even progressives questioning the President’s CONTINUATION of Bush-Cheney policies (from expanding the US occupation of Afghanistan across the border to Pakistan to continuing to undermine civil liberties to progressives challenging the health “reform” bill as a Corporate give-away to insurance companies). Again, let me repeat: the idea that ANY criticism — no matter how respectful, of policies — is “covert racism”, is something to ponder. Some even say that the fact that real change has not been evident so far in President Obama’s policies is NOT something he should be at all accountable for, but, rather “you can’t blame Obama for the Left not having its act together.”

Yet, the Left was told after the election to be quiet and support President Obama — NOT organize to make demands on him! Some even say white progressives are holding President Obama to “a higher standard” or even a “double-standard”.

Again, a Catch 22.

I think it’s imperative that white progressives be mindful of the insidious nature of racism. None of us have “graduated” from the need to be vigilant about the white supreamcy embedded in our society and our psyches.

But, I also think if one is going to run for the highest political office, they are going to have to be willing to accept critique of their policies—especially from those who supported them getting into office. So far President Obama has been MOST concerned with his Republican and conservative Democratic OPPONENTS–and totally taken his liberal/progressive/Left supporters for granted.

Yes, too many of us who supported his election projected our own hopes on to Barack Obama. Yet, on some levels he certainly gave us call to hope for a better health reform–since he used to SUPPORT a public option. He spoke to laid-off workers and union-members as if he understood the necessity for the Employee Free Chice Act — which vanished into thin air after the election. As a former Constiutional law professor, it was reasonable to think he would reverse the Bush-Cheney tortue/indefinite detention and “above the law” immunity of Bush DoJ lawyers — yet, all those policies continue, Obama’s DoJ is DEFENDING them in courts and has also refuse to hold any Bush officials accountable.

Ultimately, what is most important about Barack Obama may not be that he is an African-American president but, that — like Bill Clinton before him — he is a Corporate Democrat, who offers no real alternatives to Big Business As Usual and Endless Wars for Empire — (just like the Republicans). It increasingly appears that what President Obama offers is only a better PR campaign for those policies.

Is President Obama simply to be considered a kind of “racialized political celebrity”, with his family in the White House, traveling the world, on tv–who we watch, like a fan club? If we take that stance, then, we collude in the destructive illusions that now that we have the Oprahs and the Obamas, the African-Americans winning Oscars as well as being sports heroes, then, American racism is solved.

Perhaps, President Obama really has the potential of a Franklin D. Roosevelt who told labor leaders to “make me do it” when it came to the New Deal and labor rights. We won’t know unless we organize, make demands of and treat President Obama like any elected official who’s accountable to the people who elected him. Perhaps the most real “equality” would be that President Obama faces the same policy-based critique and protest as any other President has had to. Otherwise, isn’t it simply more of what was recently called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”?

By now, after eight years of Bill Clinton and then eight years of George W. Bush, aren’t progressives weary of the “it’s better than nothing” lowering of all our expectations? I know I am.

Lydia Howell

Lydia Howell is an independent journalist in Minneapolis, winner of the 2007 Premack Aard for Public Interest Journalism, and producer/hsot of “Catalyst:politics & culture” on KFAI Radio.


  1. Wiam says

    “Make me do it.” I wish we could. Obama’s game plan is to give a little bit to all opposing parties, while maintaining the status quo and pretending he’s actually solving problems. The health care faux reform bill is a perfect example. He apparently agreed to deep six the public option way back in the summer of 2009, then continued to pay lip service to it to appease progressives through the fall and winter. Up until the last few weeks before passage of this monstrosity, most Democrats thought our party would actually come through with the public option. The faux reform simply takes from the middle class and working Americans and gives to the poor and the rich. The rich have already bought off elected members of Congress on both sides, and they’ll be even more powerful if progressives ever organize to fix this faux health care reform. Meanwhile, the poor sure aren’t going to complain, at least not until the next round of elected Republicans reduces the benefits to the poor while maintaining or increasing benefits to the rich insurance industry. It’s a nifty trick. The corporatists who are trying to destroy our middle class have finally found in Obama someone who the left can’t block. As an added bonus for Obama, many of the poor who will now receive healthcare welfare are also people of color. Now it’s their right to make others pay for their health costs. Gee, maybe welfare will work this time around…

    OK, health care is fixed now, let’s move on to saving the environment. Obama: First we’ll open up our delicate coastline to offshore drilling, then we’ll negotiate something or other with the companies I just gave that little gift to…

    Face it progressives, we’re screwed.

  2. says

    Yes, Linda and Denise,
    And it’s even worse when your scope expands to include Obama’s preference to ‘engage’ (i.e. appease) human rights violators and would-be wannabe-nuclear-armed dictators abroad or look at home at his scant action on our environment and threatened wildlife and the continued incredible promotion of faster climate change.

  3. Denise Breslin says

    As a long time Progressive, I can’t believe how lazy my fellow “Progressives” are. Whooping it up about this boondoggle bill. Shocking! Wake up! Obama is a Corporatist and no one wants to say this. I am stunned that normally smart people wear “my team” blinders.

    This bill is AWFUL! Small businesses will NOT be able to stay afloat with this bill/law. Who benefits when small biz dies — The Mega Businesses of course! And who benefits from the forced health insurance enrollments (millions of them) — the Mega Insurance Companies! Great work Barak. NOT!

    We have another Clinton on the march to suck up all money into the Corporate trough. It’s enough to make me ill, violently ill.

    “Progressive” now stands for lazy, indoctrinated, or just plain dumb. Honestly what are these people telling themselves.

    I live in NYC and we have lost so many small stores, small businesses, coffee shops — the things that give color and comfort. It’s like an low level outdoor mall now. What does it take for complacent “progressives” to wake the hell up — maybe we need to confiscate their toys (cell phones, blackberries, ipods, etc.).



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