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.