Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 27, 2009


Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report - Back in June of 2003, when Glen Ford and I introduced Barack Obama to our audience at Black Commentator, he was a Democratic primary election candidate for the US Senate in Illinois. Candidate Obama, we noted at the time, seemed to be playing a double game. He offered progressive, black and antiwar constituencies a hook just big enough to hang their hopes on, while through his affiliation with the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council, Obama actively courted the support of the full range of corporate America, from the energy, insurance, military contractors and financial sectors to the airlines and Wall Street. . .

Being named one of the DLC's "100 To Watch" as Obama was in 2003 signifies that a candidate has been extensively vetted by a broad range of corporate interests as completely trustworthy and utterly loyal to their agendas. Having obtained the indelible seal of approval from Wall Street, insurance companies, telecoms, military contractors, airlines and the like who sit on the DLC's board, denying it all was the safe and sensible, if dishonest thing to do, and Obama did just that. He claimed the DLC had conferred this distinction upon him with no advance knowledge on his part, and that he would gladly renounce it, as if such a repudiation could ever be taken seriously.

In the interest of clarifying Barack Obama's place on the political spectrum, we posed three "bright line' questions to him.

1. Do you favor the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?

2. Do you favor the adoption of a single payer system of universal health care to extend the availability of quality health care to all persons in this country? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?

3. Would you have voted against the October 10 congressional resolution allowing the president to use unilateral force against Iraq?

The three questions were chosen with some care. Earlier in his political career, Obama had taken a position forthrightly against NAFTA, had endorsed Single Payer, and had cast himself as an opponent of the war. But in the heat of a contested race for the US Senate in which Obama was absolutely dependent on a large and unified black and brown vote, --- those being the constituencies most opposed to the war and NAFTA, and who would most benefit from Medicare For All, --- and in which he also needed to get all of the antiwar, anti-NAFTA white vote, Obama's answers were visible evidence that he was already moonwalking away from Democratic voters and toward his elite campaign contributors. Instead of sponsoring single payer in the senate, Obama said he favored "universal health care" and would work to get SCHIP funded.

"I favor universal health care for all Americans, and intend to introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end in the U.S. Senate, just as I have at the state level. My campaign is also developing a series of interim proposals – such as an expansion of the successful SCHIP program"

Instead of repealing NAFTA, he said "renegotiation" might be necessary, another position he repeated when convenient in his presidential campaign four years later, and later abandoned altogether. "...I believe that free trade - when also fair - can benefit workers in both rich and poor nations, I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President's fast track authority... "

2003's candidate Obama affirmed, with some qualifications, that he would have opposed the authorization to use force against Iraq.

His answers were larded with weasel words. We knew it, and so did anybody who read our work then. . . But they were just enough so that given the entire political situation, we felt we had to endorse Obama's campaign for the US Senate. My colleague Glen Ford calls it an ethical dilemma, but I prefer to believe it was a political one, in which we conducted ourselves as honest journalists. We caught him with his pants down and called him. We posed the bright line questions. Candidate Obama was forced to answer them for the permanent record, a record which indicts President Obama today, and prefigures his conduct on health care, NAFTA, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, government torture and kidnappings, the right to organize unions, his Wall Street bailouts, his endorsement of Bush educational policies and much more. The fact that Obamaland has turned out to be a delusion is no surprise to us, and to many others. It's a reality that dawns upon more and more of us as time goes on.

The Democratic Leadership Council is almost irrelevant today, a victim of its own success. It was established in the wake of Jesse Jackson's presidential candidacies in the 1980s, when white, right wing Democrats felt themselves an endangered species. Their goal was to enable Democrats to compete with Republicans for corporate funding by promoting Democrats who were just as pro-corporate as any Republican. By now corporate Democrats are the rule, not the exception, and the career of Barack Obama is the crowning example of the DLC's complete victory in freeing the Democratic party from the wishes of Democratic voters, even if Obama denies the DLC brand itself. . .

It is evident now that President Obama has simultaneously played both the good cop and the bad cop on health care, using the excuses of Senate and blue dog intransigence and Republican opposition in order to shed provisions of the health care bill the White House did not favor. . . The White House, according to California's Lynn Woosley, routinely bares its fangs at junior members of congress who hint at voting against the war budget, but never threatens to depose stubborn liars in the Senate or call to heel the blue dogs of the House, whose careers are literally the handiwork of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

It's morning in America again, and this time a hung over morning. The left, and most of all the black left, is only beginning to rouse itself from the Obamaland stupor and stumble out into daylight. The president after all, is not necessarily an ally in the fight to deliver health care, or education, or halt privatizations, bankruptcies, foreclosures or unjust wars, or most of the other things that need delivering or need stopping. Now progressives and the wide awake are beginning to leave Obamaland in droves, abandoning the automatic stance that the president is an ally in the struggle for peace abroad and justice at home.

We still need medical care for all. Seventy percent of US bankruptcies in 2009 will be from unpayable medical bills. This won't be the first time in our long, history of struggle that the president is not necessarily on our side. As more of us wake up, smell the coffee and head for the exits from Obamaland we know there are plenty of our people still there. . .

In Obamaland these are sufficient and suitable excuses for nothing being accomplished. But not in the real world. We have to tell the truth as we know it, and engage them, persistently, respectfully. Some won't hear us, some won't even respect the exchange but that's OK too. We have to engage them as though someone else were listening, and often enough, somebody else will be. And more of us will sober up, and head for those exits.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

True dat.

August 27, 2009 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said! I'm more moderate than you are, so I actually like Obama's positions on some of these things where you don't. But your description of how Obama fuzzed over these differences is incisive and well stated. Nicely done.

August 28, 2009 4:54 AM  

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