Tuesday, October 05, 2010

He's a Man, not a Messiah: Barack Obama and the Dangers of Political & Cultural Messianism


This latest offering on my blog has been a long time coming. It was originally inspired by a Twitter conversation I had with Professor Blair L. M. Kelley of North Carolina State University earlier this summer. She urged me to write something then (as did others) and I’m just now getting around to it. It seems though, however, that this topic is still quite relevant.

For quite some time now, we have been hearing about the growing malaise with President Barack Obama, but not from the usual conservative critics, but from his so called “progressive” base. It started in small pockets at first, ironically just like the Tea Party Movement, only with the liberal criticism it was initially confined to a few academics articulating their disappointment with Obama as president. Now, like a virus, the “buyer’s remorse” attitude seems to be sweeping through the mainstream media outlets as well as in the liberal blogosphere.



This past weekend for instance, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” journalist Bob Schieffer opened his show by asking, “What’s with Obama and the left?” Then, during the end of September, CNBC hosted an Economic Townhall where concerned citizen and veteran, Mrs. Velma Hart, soberly confessed to the president, “I’m exhausted of defending you…and the mantle of change I voted for.” Political experts from television to the internet argued that Mrs. Hart was emblematic of the void that existed between Obama and his once enthusiastic base that propelled him into the White House.

 

Adding more gas to the bonfire of political disappointment was comedian Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” He lamented on Fox News’ “The Bill O’Reilly Show” that he was “saddened” that Obama had not brought the change to Washington politics as he promised.

Two of the more prominent public intellectuals who stood up and loudly voiced disdain with President Obama early on were disillusioned historian, the late Professor Howard Zinn and religious scholar, Professor Cornel West.

Zinn’s very passionate plea was confined to an op-ed entitled, “Changing Obama’s Mindset” which appeared in the May 2009 issue of The Progressive. In it, Zinn characterized Obama as, “…a very sensitive and intelligent and thoughtful and promising person. But he’s a politician.” Zinn qualified his ire for Obama, by pointing out what he saw as Obama’s support for continued imperialist politics and accomodationist policies in dealing with Wall Street. However, none seem to draw more anger from the history lesson filled diatribe than when Zinn proclaims, “Obama has not gotten out of the militaristic missionary mindset.” Obama, according to Zinn, had lost his vision for the nation, and he was going to share with him what it should be. That vision, Zinn argued, was one that removed US military bases from around the globe, ceased its wars in Afghanistan, and got rid of the politicians “who showed no sign of breaking from the past.”

Cornel West, in a similar vein, shared with the world (via the BBC), his “loving” critique of Obama in a video letter of sorts. He begins commending the president by saying, “I salute your unprecedented, historic victory,” with a chesire cat like grin. From there he introduces his own very personal, but also very public appeal to the president. In a low, commanding tone and looks into the camera as if talking directly to the President and scolds, “Despite your brilliance, despite your charisma…how deep is your love for poor and working people?”



So the question becomes, “Is this emerging critique, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, etc., a valid one?” Did Obama let everyone down? Has he become as Prof. West warns, “the friendly face of the American empire”? Did we look behind the curtain as Dorothy did only to find the Wizard f Oz was just a man? Was he not the political and cultural messiah we all hoped he would be when we wore our Obama T-shirts that had Dr. King, Obama and an image of the Black Christ (I know you saw these) all together ready to take us to the Promised Land?

For those that have not figured it out yet, let me inform you that Obama is indeed a man. Listen, I know it’s hard to believe…but alas, he is not magic. He does not have the power to snap his fingers and “POOF!” No more racism, militarism or materialism. It does not work that way. It never has.

Before we can even think about what is a meaningful, honest, and fair critique of our 44th President is, we first must acknowledge our collective emotional intoxication from the wine of political and cultural messianism, I have to admit I had a few drinks myself. It was hard not to.

Obama is, however, the pastor of The Church of Unrealistic Expectations and he was forced into the job. He thought he was elected President of the United States, but no, some of the folks who elected him had other plans. Not only will you [Obama] get the economy back online, you must also bring peace to the Palestine/Israel conflict, end world hunger, stop greed, stop racism, stop damn near any and everything we can think of that we are not going to do for ourselves.

The disenchanted former Obama supporters remind me of the biblical Israelites, who having no food or water when they were roaming in the wilderness, cried out to heaven for help. God, upon hearing his children gave them manna from heaven, water from rocks, and yet they complained. The same thing is happening now, we did escape evil Pharaoh, but there is work to be done. We can cry out all we want about what is not happening…we can have marches, we can have satirical and cynical marches (Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive), but at some point there must be some collective, organized action. The same type of action that compelled Jo Ann Robinson to run off thousands and thousands of copies on mimeograph machine for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The same kind of action that it took to get Obama elected must be used to hold him accountable to the things he said on the campaign trail.

Being politically melancholy is what the conservatives, neo cons, ‘birthers’, Tea Party and every other type of sane (and insane) entity that stands against Obama wants from us. I’m not saying to support him blindly, that is foolish in any situation, but to just give up, to just sour yourselves and those around you is lazy and irresponsible, just like the journalistic efforts at Fox News.

We need to think about the bigger picture here. Obama will be in office for one term or two and we need to make the most of it no matter what it is because the alternative that is building among the conservative opposition will be a leviathan like you have never seen. If elected November 2 or in 2012, the GOP will implement policy that would make Ronald Reagan tremble. Even if Hilary Clinton ran in 2012 or 2016, she will not be able to turn the tide of hate, fear mongering, greed, and insanity that has gripped certain aspects of this nation.

I agree with Howard Zinn when he maintained:

“Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”

America, we must eat manna before we can have steak. We must continue to work, for there is no final victory in democracy, but sustained entrenched struggle. Can you be frustrated with Obama and his administration? Of course you can. However, take that anger to inform your family, speak to folks in your community, take that anger and use it to organize just as you did when you fought to get Obama elected.

The problem with America, and honestly most nations throughout history, is that we, as citizens typically never really want to do the work it takes to really see societal change through, particularly when we are comfortable. Too many of us fear to do what is really necessary for the change we voted for. Using your vote is only the first step, not the last. The same “backbone” that Cornel West urges Obama to have, we must ALL have.

This is NOT the time to sit down and be armchair progressives and back seat drivers for change. We need people who are going to not just speak the rhetoric of change; we need folks who are going to do the WORK need to implement change. That responsibility cannot be just left to the president to do alone. If he has forgotten, as many suggest, then let us support him and hold not only President Obama, but also ourselves accountable.

At the end of his video letter/conversation, Prof. Cornel West cautioned Obama to not be, “A colorful caretaker of an empire in decline and a culture in decay.” That metaphor is misplaced. We are ALL caretakers of this republic. We elected the president. Obama did not, contrary to popular opinion, elect himself, and we have forgotten that. One person alone cannot do the work of democracy.

13 comments:

Trudy said...

Wow. What a well-written, honest and fiery post. I am so glad to see this. The culture of demagoguery and blind worship/hate has plagued the celebrity culture for so long that it is only natural that it would proceed into religion and politics...perhaps it was always there and there first.

When you use the phrase "The Church of Unrealistic Expectations" all I could say was wow because that certainly describes the climate of the populous, whether our expectations derive from negative or position orientation. Either way, the expectations of people who respect or disdain the President are passionately unrealistic.

I sit here completely unsure of whether or not the idea that he leads and we sit back waiting for miracles is something that will evaporate in a timely fashion. I want to be more optimistic about that but if his own supporters feel disillusioned because nothing magical occurred (even if that occurrence is unrealistic), I am not sure how supporters move from that frame of thought to one that is more productive. As you said we all have to be accountable for change.

Good read.

yrite4 said...

You did it again. Good work sir. I'm happy I read it. You write well enough that even if people don't agree with your political views they should be able to agree that you wrote an truthful account of what our country needs.

SouthernGirl2 said...

Wow! Let the Church say AMEN!
You did that! This post is fierce!!!!!!

It's so good until I don't know where to start?

Obama is, however, the pastor of The Church of Unrealistic Expectations and he was forced into the job. He thought he was elected President of the United States, but no, some of the folks who elected him had other plans. Not only will you [Obama] get the economy back online, you must also bring peace to the Palestine/Israel conflict, end world hunger, stop greed, stop racism, stop damn near any and everything we can think of that we are not going to do for ourselves.

THIS


This is NOT the time to sit down and be armchair progressives and back seat drivers for change. We need people who are going to not just speak the rhetoric of change; we need folks who are going to do the WORK need to implement change. That responsibility cannot be just left to the president to do alone. If he has forgotten, as many suggest, then let us support him and hold not only President Obama, but also ourselves accountable.

THAT

Armchair progressives and back seat drivers for change.

***Looks @ Jane Hamshere***
This means you, Miss Jane!


Good Post! Big Up!

I'm going to post the link @ http://3chicspolitico.com/

!tsMeAgain said...

Nice post!

Many Obama supporters shouldn't be upset with what the President has accomplished. By his own measure and by a measure of goals to be accomplished he has had a great many accomplishments.

He executed a major troop pull out of Iraq. He passed major health care legislation. He appointed a supreme court justice. He bailed out a few finance bankers. Now he promises to raise the taxes of the super rich.

And he's not even close to being finished. Obama is not a politician. He is a progressive revolutionary.

What we see now are the practical implementations of the policies that he advocated in 2008. People do not like the results of the policy he supports, but do not realize (perhaps on purpose) the fact that progressive politics create economic hardships. This has been proven in every country, in every time period, for every religion, for every ethnic persuasion EVERY time.

I encourage the debate on this and suggest entensive research (true progressives wont do that, in fact they will stop reading right here).

Now if one would happen to disagree with what is going on, obviously you are some sort of -insane- idiot whose rants about socialism are petty and sophomoric, oh and you probably watch Fox.

While we're talking about relevant Bible verses, lets take a look at I Samuel Chapter 8 - The Israelites begged God for a Benevolent King just like the other nations. God gave them what they asked for and the new King confiscated their land and other property, took their sons for the army, and turned the people into slaves (Throughout history, throughout races, throughout religions - just sayin...).

We know that the things that our President advocates bring tough times. The reality is a tough pill; many people will still continue to follow.

Progressive policies could be referred to as 'Santa Claus' policies because while everyone likes to talk about them and it appears in the media and on TV, they cannot exist.

The reason they cannot exist is because at its very core it does not account for a thinking person who will do what they want to do regardless of another's vision of what is right.

It talks about how life is about struggle, but struggle is an adverse condition to be cured or fixed.

Life is really about the EFFORT that it takes to build a better condition.


Unemployment is high now because business owners don't want to invest.

If the current tax & regulation policies are kept in place, people that have money to invest in capital & equipment begin to make investments and this will improve the economy.

Black Man said...

This is my first time reading your blog. Excellent post! You laid out there plain and straight to the point. I'm going to have to share this with some folks I've been having an off and on debate with on this very topic.

Jabriel Ballentine said...

Bruh,

it's like our Bro. Kobi said, after the Democrats ended Reconstruction, the backlash on Blacks was huge. Are we prepared for the backlash in the post-Obama era?

This was my biggest fear of the Obama presidency: that people already ignorant of their civic duties would expect ANY president (white, black, asian, male, female, young or old) to really make "change." Change never comes by way of a bureaucrat. And, Obama is still a man...still THE bureaucrat!

Brother Malcolm still rings true: "the Black man (& woman) is sickest of all politically..." We need to get our minds right!

Anonymous said...

This is fiery rhetoric but in your own words, "we need people who are going to not just speak the rhetoric of change; we need folks who are going to do the WORK need to implement change."


negrointellectual, what WORK will you do to act on the values you just wrote about?

ashy2classy.net said...

Dope Post!!

I would like to tag on the idea that many people may have supported Obama just because it was the "cool" thing going on and not totally on his doctrine or ideas.

So, should we be surprised since it is not cool to rock the Obama T-shirt anymore that they would turn their back on him?

Mountain said...

I would be very happy if the black/african-american/progressive community would recognize that as one of the larger minorities in the country, there is very little true political power. Therefore there is little change. If the community always answers the dog-whistle it will always be treated as a dog - with an occasional walk or treat, the President said he wanted to be a President of all the Americans - I would have liked to see some efforts on that path but they never materialized. Seems to me that we have to give up this failed idea/concept of diversity and go instead to the simple idea of ourselves as Americans.

Keep writing, keep working, don't get caught in preconceptions and cultural manifestations.

I wish you well and Godspeed!

Pea said...

I found you on Twitter. I have found that people tend to want bitesize, headline friendly changes these days - just like Twitter. That is the new speed for communication.
The financial mess was created over decades, but we want it sorted in about 6 months please Mr Messiah! Then we can have headlines like POW! WAR OVER! - ZAP! CREDIT CRUNCH FINISHED!

Aside from being the first Black president and all the gremlins that follow that issue, at todays pace a thoughtful thinker like Obama is going to be penalized for his thoughtful, slow, unhype-able, non histrionic, considered pace.

I very much enjoyed your piece...although, being a mere simpleton, I'm not going to pretend that I understand any of the second half of your bio...

Anonymous said...

When you market yourself as "all things to all people", there can be nothing but backlash and discontent when you don't deliver, because you can't deliver. Is this problem not of his own creation? This global Obamaworship is directly related to his muslim roots. His name Hussein, speaks volumes. And anyway, since when has a black man in charge categorially become an improvement? I know I shouldn't go there, but I just couldn't help myself.

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wendell_bravo666 said...

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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.negrointellectual.blogspot.com.