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 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.