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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 16, 2010


Paul Rosenberg, Open Left - Harold Ford is a joke. His pandering, flip-flopping and sizzle-to-steak ratio are all legendary. But in the end, his politics are unremarkably neo-liberal, with nothing special to distinguish them. Take away his black skin, and he'd be a dime a dozen. Which reminds me of a certain President I know, who has either reappointed or replicated George W. Bush's team on national security, economic policy, and education, and Bill Clinton's team--at best--on most other top issues.

With Obama's resume, there's no doubt that he's a very smart individual. But with the great financial meltdown there's no doubt that tons of smart people can get together to do very stupid things. So the question is, "What purpose is Obama's intelligence devoted to? And is the end result going to be smart or stupid?"

The answer I propose is simple, perhaps too simple, but I think it serves as a good-enough first approximation: His intelligence is devoted to being a smarter version of Harold Ford. Okay, a lot smarter version of Harold Ford. But still, Harold Ford.

If you want a less-simple answer, then I'd say he's trying to be Booker T. Washington for 21st Century America. Booker T. Washington is not a prominent historical figure today, but when I was in high school back in the 1960s, he was one of just two black figures to appear in my American history textbook. The other was George Washington Carver. And yes, it seemed as weird to me then as it does writing it today. Even though the were presented in a way that made them seem even more alike than their names and the timing of their lives suggested, I recognized a significant difference. Carver was a remarkable scientist/inventor whose work helped save Southern agriculture in the wake of widespread soil depletion from cotton monocrop agriculture.

Booker T. Washington, OTOH, was an accomodationist educator and author who preached economic development within the framework of segregation. He was very popular with northern philanthropists. Significantly less so with Northern blacks, who soon grew quite frustrated with having their tune set by the "sensible" limits of what was politically possible in Dixie. This is not to say that Washington did no good. He did a lot to improve the conditions of blacks in the South--but he did it under the delusion that it was leading to eventual political equality, once blacks had "proved themselves" to the racist white power structure of the South, something that was never going to happen. What's more, he emerged as a national figure (with his 1895 "Atlanta Compromise" Speech) at precisely the moment when segregation was being politically consolidated--at precisely the historical moment when black acquiescence was most valuable to the Southern power structure.

So, too, today, when Republican rule has culminated in every conceivable form of disaster, Obama comes along to preach the virtues of accommodation with the purveyors of sweeping and systemic failure, and all of their failed philosophies and schemes: the failed deregulatory philosophy, the failed trickle-down economics, the failed war on terrror philosophy, the failed standardized testing and school privatization philosophy, etc., etc., etc.

And so I have to ask, in all seriousness: Is Obama just a (lot) smarter version of Harold Ford? Or is he something more? Because if he is something more, I'll be damned if can see it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

He is something more, he's another Bill Clinton.

January 18, 2010 5:21 AM  

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