Friday, June 27, 2008

The Audacity of Barack Obama

During the primaries, I have certainly been more sympathetic to Barack Obama's candidacy than Hillary Clinton's. Not that I think he is the greatest candidate. It is just that I hold grudges, and the grudges I hold against the Clinton family are immense--on NAFTA and GATT (contributing to the death of our industrial workforce), the Welfare Reform Act (which Hillary lobbied for during her time as First Lady), and especially on the war in Iraq (which Senator Clinton voted for and supported, before "changing her mind" right before forming the exploratory committee for her Presidential campaign). There is nothing that says being unqualified more than voting for and supporting the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of my country.

There are many liberals and progressives who are so dissatisfied with the last eight years that they would vote for anyone with a D in front of their names for higher office. It is understandable. We have had to endure what is probably the worst Presidency in the last century. We have had to endure terrorist attacks, wars, and the subjugation of over two centuries of Constitutional protections. We have had to watch while our economy, way of life, and our national prestige sink to probably the lowest levels in the post-World War Two era. It is hard to look at the Bush era as anything other than an unmitigated catastrophe. And the thought of John McCain being in the White House is hardly enticing.

However, none of this should absolve the Democratic Presidential nominee of his responsibilities to his constituencies. The silence in the progressive camps about some of Obama's positions and behavior is, to me, as disconcerting as John McCain's irrational temper. From the beginning of his candidacy, Obama has pursued a race-neutral campaign. In fact, the only time he mentions race is when he is forced to by the media or by his opponent (usually in manufactured incidents, such as the Reverend Wright scandal, or when Hillary was taking the advice of Mark Penn and openly race-baiting Senator Obama before the southern primaries). For as long as I live my lasting memory of Senator Clinton will be her speech early last month, right before the primary in Mississippi (that citadel of racial tolerance), proclaiming herself the candidate of choice for white people.

From a practical politics standpoint, Senator Obama may be correct to avoid the issue of race, so as to appear "safe" to white voters. Nevertheless, by ignoring the issue and his own community, Senator Obama is failing to exhibit the kind of leadership qualities which should bolster a candidate. It seems the only time Obama even talks about black people (never mind race) is when he is denouncing black men for being lousy fathers.

Another position clarification, and obvious ploy to avoid the fate of Michael Dukakis, is the public support for executing child rapists. This is what constitutes bravery and courage in our society today. Killing people that most people in our society want to see dead. However, there is a reason why our Supreme Court banished the death penalty for rape in this country (starting in Coker v. Georgia). The history of capital punishment for rape has been overwhelmingly used as a means by the white South to target African American men, and typically after being accused of raping white women (such as the Scottsboro case). This history of racism, as well as the disproportionately of the punishment, all contributed to its abolition. According to Senator Obama, the racism of the death penalty is not a problem, so long as the class he wants to see killed are indeed put to death--and it is worth noting the same states that used the death penalty to execute black men for allegedly raping white women are the same ones who wanted to apply it to child molesters.

Another "compromise" by Senator Obama has been on the issue of FISA. For the longest time, liberals and progressives have been critical of President Bush for expanding FISA to allow warrantless searches on citizens, non-citizens, on anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and based solely on the opinion of a law enforcement bureaucrat (whose interests are not the same as the Constitution's) without any legal oversight. The Congressional Democratic leaders' response was, yet again, to find a way to give President Bush what he truly wants--an unaccountable federal bureaucracy, which can force telecommunications companies to surrender all of our information, without worry of a lawsuit to stop this practice by civil liberties' groups (and possibly the Supreme Court). By making it impossible to stop the telecommunications industry (who will cower to any demand by the government) from handing over its information to federal law enforcement, almost all of our internet activity and calls are being cataloged and/or monitored by the same people who think it is communistic to make them wait a week to purchase a Glock 9.

To compound Congress's cowardice, Senator Obama has come out in support of the FISA "compromise," which is only a compromise in that the immunity to the telecom industry is not express but conditioned by the courts, who will judge the legitimacy of any claim on a telecom firm (needless to say, under this provision, telecom companies will be able to provide their information without worry of a lawsuit). Actually, Obama supported this all along. He just waited until recently to finally voice it. President Bush received everything else he wanted, including a sweeping expansion of federal law enforcement powers to legally monitor citizens, anyone for that matter, without worry of that pesky thing known as the Fourth Amendment. For all intents and purposes, the Fourth Amendment as we know it no longer exists, and to Senator Obama, as well as Harry Reid, Stenny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, and George Bush, that is all the better.

When not attacking black fathers, calling for the killing of child molesters, or supporting the elimination of parts of our Bill of Rights, Senator Obama has also shown his unqualified support for Israel. This is not just run-of-the-mill Israel-is-promiseland-for-the-oppressed, either. He has called for opposition to any Hamas-led government in the Occupied Territories, even though they were elected (and put there in elections we insisted on, strangely enough). He has delivered at least one speech in support of a potential Israeli attack on Iran, under the grounds that Israel has the "right to defend itself" from "threats," even though Iran has not attacked Israel and any attack by Israel on Iran would correspondingly expose us in neighboring Iraq.

Unfortunately, the imperialistic language of Senator Obama does not stop with Israel. Of course, he has previously hinted at sending in US troops to Pakistan, to catch and/or kill Osama bin Laden (even without an invitation from the Pakistani government). In other words, Senator Obama is calling for a possible invasion of Pakistan. When asked to confirm these sentiments, the Senator quickly tried to correct himself by claiming he was misquoted, but the intent behind exclaiming the support for installing troops into a country without its authorization should be clear. We funded Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s for the same (even if contrived) reason.

Like with domestic policy issues, foreign policy issues present a landmine for Senator Obama. First, because the Republicans will attack any nominee as being "weak" on national defense (i.e., not militaristic enough). Two, the right-wing in this country has done as much as possible to try to portray Senator Obama as a closeted Muslim (that is, a terrorist, which in the mind of most Americans today is likely considered the same thing). Much of this is just a mask for running against Obama's race, but polite society no longer permits people to run openly racist campaigns (as in the South during the civil rights movement), so the Senator's middle name has become the new replacement for reminding everyone that he is not white and as such a danger to the US. By showing that he is a supporter of Israel, even supporting it in a hypothetical attack on Iran, expressing the support of using American troops to invade a Muslim country, Obama's campaign is attempting to neutralize those Republicans who would compare him to Jimmy Carter.

Even from a political realist perspective, it is hard for me to imagine white people in the South going into the voting booth and thinking, "I wasn't going to vote for that guy with the Muslim name, until he started talking about all those irresponsible blacks and showed his support for killing child rapists." The only purpose of these tactics is to not to lose votes of those whites who could be manipulated on some of these issues. It is doubtful that there are too many people who would not vote for Senator Obama because of these issues, but they could be convinced to vote against him if properly motivated by the campaign attack ads showing the candidate as being weak on crime, terrorism, etc. The problem with this tactic is that self-defense in politics almost always fail. Sure, it worked for Bill Clinton (the ultimate no-principled DLCer), and Obama has his charisma and then some, but if he wins it will be because of that charisma, and the lack of a Republican campaign, not because of his numerous cave-ins on these other issues (who are only important to people who would never vote for him to begin with).

And this is not just about ideology. For the first time in a long time, probably since the Great Depression, the people are actually on our side on most of the issues, especially the war in Iraq. The most identifiably conservative President in our country's history has 27% approval ratings, the lowest since approval ratings have been measured.

Why is it in this environment that we tolerate our candidates to act and talk like the officeholders almost three-quarters of the population disapproves of? What is happening now, with Senator Obama's rightward shift even before the convention, is a byproduct of the weakness of liberals and progressives who refuse to hold the Senator morally accountable for his positions. The lack of criticism of the Senator from Illinois is making it possible for him to continue this shift, and if you think it is bad now just wait until the fall. If we do not say something and say it now, loudly, we are going to be dealing with a candidacy that will be calling for an attack on Iran before November or supporting “school choice” subsidies to the church-administered private schools of this country.

When was the last time Senator Obama delivered a speech about Iraq, calling for the withdrawal of troops? The vast majority of people are supportive of a national health care system. What about debt-forgiveness or abolishing predatory loan practices? What about the impeachment articles submitted against President Bush, which the media has willfully refused to cover? Nothing.

Since the primaries, all I see and hear are the same money-raising speeches about hope. Amazingly, there was more talk about the Iraq War during the Democratic primaries in 2004 than in 2008. The people are ahead of us on this issue (with 70% opposed to the war, probably the highest ever recorded of the major wars we have fought in), and there is little to no pressure on the Democratic Party or the lead candidate to take up this issue. As Frederick Douglass once said, power concedes nothing without a demand. It is high time we applied pressure to our candidates to concede to our interests, for a change.

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