Archive | September, 2012

On Obama, Drones, Deportation, Austerity, and the Vote

11 Sep

My last post, about why I voted for Obama-Biden in ’08 and will again, inspired some pretty strong criticism. Since most of the commentary has been off-line, and many points of criticism that deserve air time were raised, I’m taking another stab at this to get more of you in the discussion.

First, I have to admit that it was unfair to equate resistance to voting for the Obama ticket with simple disappointment based in unrealistic expectations.

I know there’s more to the protest against Obama from the left than that – much more. A strategy of countering terror with terror, “secret” drone wars, a record number of deportations, and massive expansion of the national security state, not to mention inaction on mass incarceration, and an austerity agenda are not small matters.

Moreover, the analysis that drives much of the critique from the left is not to be taken lightly. Folks aren’t just disappointed; they are concerned about Obama being, as Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report puts it, “not the lesser of two evils, but the more effective of two evils.”

In some respects, I agree. The combination of Obama’s relative social liberalism and the symbolic significance of his status as the first Black president has the affect of marginalizing critics of the repressive aspects of his agenda, especially among communities of color. And the right’s racist attacks on Obama aren’t helping matters.

And there’s more. Check this Democracy Now! video out for a taste of what’s being debated.

But, I’m still voting for Obama.

I respect that some of you will not. But I don’t believe that Obama is the “more effective of two evils.”

Here’s why.

First of all, I think that assessment may be based in an under-estimation the evil of the agenda of the other side, and just how effective they may become at institutionalizing it.

For instance, there’s that unaccounted for $2.1 trillion increase in defense spending proposed by Romney. That’s a major expansion of the war budget, and given the Ayn Rand inspired vision of the most insurgent faction of the GOP, my guess is that it won’t all be invested in the traditional military. A Romney-Ryan administration could, I believe, redefine what we mean when we say military industrial complex.

Moreover, that Randian vision I referenced takes the notion of elitism and corporate control of everything to all new levels. I’m pessimistic about the prospect that this brand of evil would inspire more effective opposition.

In place of that hopeful vision, I have the memory of hundreds of families I worked with as a social worker. I will never forget a girl whose father punished her for cutting school by putting her hand on a red hot electric stove element. What will become of people like her and her father, who suffered from mental illness but didn’t have the insurance coverage he needed to have it properly treated, if, say, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell were to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services?

And, on that subject of cabinet members, consider another Secretary of the Interior like James Watt, a Reagan appointee, who summed up his use-it-up-before-Jesus-returns approach to forest management with the statement, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns…” Or, consider Mike Huckabee as Director of Homeland Security.

But beyond all my perhaps alarmist fears, there’s another reason I believe that Obama as president is the lesser of two evils. That’s my sense of where the two political parties and candidates fit within the context of other political factions, trends, and movements.

Among them there’s the right wing.

If you think evangelical and white nationalist rightists have revealed their whole agenda with racist anti-immigrant attacks, and campaigns to eliminate reproductive rights and human rights (like the right to be LGBT), you’re under-estimating them. The white nationalist faction has a far more radical racist agenda than “papers please” legislation. And to many of the religious right, Islam must be eradicated to make the world safe for Christianity, and support for Israel is based in the belief that the end times are triggered when Israel completely consumes Palestine.

Neither faction should be in a position to more directly influence federal policy.

And in terms of social trends, one of the most concerning is the one toward libertarianism among Gen Y. This tendency is the flip side of their broad support for same sex marriage rights, among other anti-authoritarian leanings.

The more powerful the libertarian right, the more likely it is that this tendency will become a dominant one among Gen Y. From positions of greater authority, it’s just plain easier to take exotic ideologies and turn them into common sense.

But there’s more.

There’s another reason I fear the GOP. That’s the disorganized state of the U.S. left which has yet to formulate a popular ideological alternative to either the cultural right’s traditional values nor to mainstream neo-liberalism. Leftists need to build a broader base and develop a popular language of protest, and one that doesn’t sideline race with a purely class based approach to justice. Until we do, I fear that allowing the GOP to take control will polarize the country around issues on which there are still too few on our side.

Why I Voted for Barack Obama and Will Again

8 Sep

A lot of folks I think of as leftists have told me they are considering not giving their vote to Barack Obama in November. They say they feel cheated that the actions of his administration didn’t live up to the soaring rhetoric of his campaign, and are opting out in protest.

I’m no Democratic Party loyalist, nor am I uncritical of the President. But their disappointment to the point of opting out frustrates me nonetheless. My frustration can be summed up by the question, “what in the world did you expect?”

It speaks to an uncritical liberalism not worthy of the left to assume that by electing a Black liberal to the presidency we would experience a revolution of values and priorities in governance. As leftists we know, or should know, that the institutions of government in the U.S. only allow change to occur in increments, and always within the parameters of the interests of those who control those institutions.

This is what I believe Derrick Bell meant when he wrote,

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an ultimate act of defiance.

I’ve used that quote often because I believe in it. It is, to me, a statement relevant to the condition of all oppressed people in America. The system of governance under which we live, and the elites who control our institutions of power, both public and private, will never voluntarily concede to the demands of justice. In order to win justice, we need a complete reorganization of power.

To expect a reorganization of power via the election of a president is simply unrealistic. It is a notion based in the magical thinking that if  enough of “us” are elected to government, we can overcome the limits of our institutions and create “change we can believe in.

Obama is just a man, barely a liberal much less a progressive, and the party he represents, the office he holds, and the institutions to which he is accountable will never allow any such magic to be conjured.

But I did vote for Obama-Biden in ’08, and I will do so again this year. Why? For a couple of reasons.

First, I believe the Republican Party has become the instrument by which a growing right wing movement hopes to exercise unjust power of a sort far worse than the horrors we are witnessing at this moment. If voting for a Democratic ticket slows them down, even slightly, and preserves the political space within which we can use the time we steal to do something, to organize ourselves, to seek an alternative or at least duck and cover, I’m there. I don’t care how many IDs I have to produce or how long the line.

Secondly, while Obama-Biden may only represent a difference in degree and not in kind from Bush-Cheney, McCain-Palin, or Romney-Ryan, I’ll take those degrees of difference. I’ll take them because, even from my perch in my very comfortable and well-stocked home, I know those degrees are measured in terms of human suffering.

It may not be the revolution of values and action that I am working for, but that work requires opportunity, certain freedoms of expression and of movement, and I may sound paranoid by saying this, but I feel those freedoms threatened, and more and more each day. Voting for Obama is just a tactical maneuver to be sure, but politics is made up, not just of vision, but of tactics.

Another Tip On Countering Racism

7 Sep

Ready For It?

Don’t call racists backward idiots and haters. It’s unflattering to you, and it’s bad politics.

Having a hard time with that? Hang in there with me.

While white privilege is no minor prize, I think it’s fair to say that nowadays garden variety racism isn’t exactly rational. After all, most of the rewards resulting from racism accrue to those on top of the political and economic hierarchy, making the privileges of race enjoyed by wage earning whites pretty poor consolation for being jerked around by self-centered elites deregulating finance, lowering wages, and disenfranchising us by turning our government into an oligarchy.

But irrationality is something we’re all guilty of. And where racism is concerned, matters grow even more complicated. Racism is one of the most deeply held, ideologically integrated traditions in the culture of white folks. And for most of white history, racism was perfectly rational and well within white self-interest.

So you want a fight? Treat racists like knuckle dragging neanderthals. But get ready to lose, because there are more of them than there are of us.

However, if you’re with me on this one, consider this. There’s all sorts of smart. I was raised among illiterates who could take a car apart and put it back together again without so much as an owner’s manual (since they couldn’t read it), and then turn the broken parts into furniture. But, like the conservatives whose prejudice recent studies associate with low IQs, they aren’t all that good at tests.

These same automotive geniuses act like progressives, but won’t formally side with progressive groups. Why? Because they think progressives are a bunch of elitists. And because they’re oppressed as much by culture as by class, cultural elites look like part of the problem to them. And, you know what? They’re right. And their indignation is a distant echo of the kind of resentment we get from white folks who think that we’re calling them bad people and, worse, stupid, when we call out their racism.

So, having regained the calm. Let us proceed.

A Little History Lesson

A couple of generations ago, some folks, particularly white Northern race liberals, made a terrible mistake by trying to popularize the idea that racism was the purview of under-developed slack jawed Rebel leftovers. They did so in order to marginalize racism.

The intent was sincere, but they were twice wrong. Racism isn’t just the purview of Southerners, the poor, and the educationally disadvantaged. And their strategy backfired.

Here’s a statement you may remember from an earlier blog entry:

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP.

They didn’t reckon with the fact that, particularly in the South, for hundreds of years the “good” people were racists. In fact, racism was a sign of one’s morality, love of community, and commitment to God and country.

It polarized people across class. And that created a political opening for conservatives.

They labeled us as cultural elitists. And because so many of “us” came from colleges and were led by intellectuals, aided by the media, and, in the end, supported by the federal government, they painted academics, the media, government, intellectuals, and progressive activists with the same brush.

Conservatives, especially in the form of the GOP, were the true power elite. But they were able to deflect poor white Southerners’ anti-elite resentment off them and onto us. Not so tough to do since we were directly insulting them and their most sacred beliefs; beliefs that were, to them, a legacy of their forebears.

By 2008, the strategy had worked so well that Sarah Palin was able to make herself into a political star by exploiting anti-elite resentment through attacking government, the media, and, our intellectual in chief, Barack Obama. And the more we countered by making her out to be a low IQ, rural hick, the more popular she became. She was the symbol of their suffering and the messiah of their cause. She was a moose hunting, rural former beauty queen with a mid-western accent and a political vocabulary you could buy at K-Mart.

In Palin’s own words, the elite are “anyone who thinks that they are – I guess – better than anyone else, that’s – that’s my definition of elitism.” And as someone who comes from stock that is anything but elite, cultural or otherwise, I gotta tell you, I can’t say I totally disagree with the sentiment even if I differ with the analysis.

So word to the wise. Racism is a political problem. Let’s deal with it as such and leave the name calling to their side.

Harkening Back to a Whiter Time

5 Sep

On MSNBC’s Up this weekend, host Chris Hayes went after the Republican strategy of using nostalgia to rev up their base. He claimed that a reason conservatives long for the past is that, back then, (white) social mobility, the basis of the American dream, was more possible. He went on to feature a robust discussion of the role of race in this messaging strategy, but all tempered by the sense of some panelists that one ought not go too far in crying racism.

I could not disagree with that sentiment more. Republicans are, in fact, manipulating racism, and when leaders use calls to racism for political gain, history tells us, very bad things follow. White racism is just too much a staple of American culture to ignore that possibility.

I know that kind of talk makes white folks, especially liberal white folks, uncomfortable, but it is the centrality of racism to white identity in America that is the basis of the success of the Republican strategy. So I’m calling it out. White identity in America is rooted in racism. Republicans know it and are manipulating it, while Dems and liberals are saying only as much about it as is politically correct in an election year.

Some History

Since the days of slavery,  privileges have been attached to whiteness at every level of society as an insurance policy on the wealth and power of everyone from Plantation oligarchs to Henry Ford. By extending those privileges to all whites, including access to Indian land, they gave whiteness a pecuniary (according to Webster, consisting of or measured in money) value, even for the least privileged whites.

Because of the pecuniary value of whiteness, before the fall of Jim Crow, you couldn’t sue someone for claiming you were White. But you sure could sue if someone claimed you were Black. Being found out as Black could cost you money, not to mention privileges beyond price like your life, as evidenced by the number of Blacks who were lynched for trying to pass.

Slavery may not have made the vast majority of whites rich, but neither did they suffer the exploitation of field workers (nor of the industrial workers who would eventually take their place as the dominant sector of the workforce after abolition). Over time, entitlement to white privilege became a staple of white identity. Makes sense since white identity was invented as a justification for racism.

Why It Matters Now

Since then, the pecuniary value of whiteness has eroded, or at least changed. For instance, whiteness now is more about what you don’t have to suffer than it is about what you will materially receive to the exclusion of others. So, whiteness in the war on drugs functions like a get-out-of-jail-free card. That’s worth money, but it’s not land in Indian territory. This change makes the value of whiteness less tangible and therefore even less apparent to those who have it. For this reason, sensitivity to and resentment over the perceived erosion in the value of white skin is also a staple of white identity.

The biggest drop in value since the abolition of slavery occurred as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Though the movement didn’t win equality, it definitely put a ding in the value of whiteness.

The resentment of whites over that sudden loss of status and value is the basis of the Republican’s Southern Strategy. By equating the rise of African Americans and other people of color with a loss of white status, privilege, and control, and then associating that, in turn, with the erosion, especially since the ’70s, of the white middle class, they’ve managed to pull off something like a miracle. They’ve made a political party that for most of the 20th century was branded the party of rich, callous snobs, into the party of the ordinary white man (and woman).

That change, along with the fact that the vast majority of the real political and economic rewards of white supremacy continues to accrue to those on top, have white folks in revolt. Entitlement to white privilege is still a foundation of white identity, and the fact that white privilege isn’t producing for them in the way it used to, and at at time when wealth is piling up as never before, is the reason they’re so pissed off at people of color, especially Black people, and more so by the day.

And that anger, a byproduct of white supremacy, is a basis of the rise of Republicans. And because the GOP is the lever by which rich people are changing the economic rules to make themselves richer than ever, racism still pays off, and big. Never since the antebellum South have we seen anything resembling the global disparities in wealth we see today.

And they’re not done yet. If they’re successful, our own economy may end up looking quite a bit like the plantations of the old South, with rich incompetents at the top (a point made very well in Chris Hayes’ book, Twilight of the Elites, and under-development and poverty all around.

We need to expose white people to their own truth to stop that from happening. Down-playing racism is not going to get that done for us.

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