ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Taking the politics out of politics, and out of black politics in particular
is what Barack Obama must do to carry out his DLC strategy and retain
his white base without teaching them anything they don’t want to know.
Barack Obama: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. (Crown 2007)
Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Random House/ Hardcover, 608 pages $27.95
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Running to the Right: Barack Obama’s DLC strategy
By Bruce Dixon
Back in 2003, when Obama was a candidate for the US Senate in the Illinois Democratic primary this reporter and Glen Ford challenged him on the fact that the Democratic Leadership Council, the right-wing, corporate-funded Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party had fervently embraced his political career, naming him one of its 100 to Watch for 2003.
DLC endorsement is the gold standard of political reliability for Wall Street, Big Energy, Big Pharma, insurance, the airlines and more. Though candidates normally undergo extensive questioning and interviews before DLC endorsement, Obama insisted the blessing of these corporate special interests had been bestowed on him without these formalities and without his advance knowledge, and formally disassociated himself from the DLC. But like Hillary Clinton, and every front running Democrat since Michale Dukakis in 1988, Barack Obama’s campaign has adopted the classic right wing DLC strategy.
In the DLC playbook, the road to winning elections is appealing to Republican-leaning white voters demographic groups which pollsters and consultants in previous elections called suburban soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and before that Reagan Democrats. Candidates do this by decrying excessive partisanship, embracing free trade and conservative values, and displays of public piety, Though Obama has no formal ties with the DLC he has assiduously followed this prescription. Till a month ago Obama led every candidate among white men, an unprecedented achievement for a Democrat.
But after less than a month of sustained and often racist attacks from the likes of Fox News, CNN, Republican pundits and Hillary Clinton supporters, Obama’s support among Republican-leaning white voters has sharply eroded. Dr. Adolph Reed, a black professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania explained why in an April 30 Democracy Now interview,
…Obama opened himself to this by leaning toon the premise that he can appeal to Republicans and to conservatives and by parading his personal faith around. And franklythis is, I guess, the crux of my argument in The Progressive columnthat this is precisely the tactic that has been the undoing of every Democratic candidate since Dukakis, and I would frankly even include (Bill) Clinton in that, were it not for the fact that Ross Perot siphoned votes away from the Republicans each time. I mean, this is what happened with Gore in 2000, its what happened with Kerry in 2004. You present yourself as electable because you can appeal to conservative voters, and then the Republicans attack you for not being a true conservative and can characterize you as someone whos trying to put something over on the American people.
It worked for a while. Barack Obama followed the DLC script to the letter for the last two years, publicly scolding Democrats for their insufficient piety, liberally borrowing from Republican talking points. He advertised himself as grounded by his personal relationship with Jesus, and by the faith tradition of the Black Church. But after Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race, in which he characterized his pastor as a crazy old uncle stuck in the fifties and sixties, the Black Church was compelled to speak for itself. Rev. Jeremiah Wright, retiring pastor at Trinity UCC made a series of speeches and appearances in which he likened US Marines to Roman soldiers, described hundreds of US bases around the world as empire before the National Press Club, and refused to retreat from the contention that 9-11 was a preventable consequence of US foreign policy.
To preserve his support among whites which Obama won without challenging any of their fundamental beliefs about America, empire, Obama was forced to denounce his pastor’s words as akin to hate speech and disavow his church, and with it the prophetic tradition of Christianity and the Black Church in particular. But this, and joining a prosperity-Gospel mega-church will not be enough. From this point on, all Republicans have to do is prove to their base that Obama is not as conservative as he once appeared, which they will do by pointing to his pastor and the prophetic tradition of the Black Church in general. They can, in fact, point to any stirrings of black or grassroots outrage or militancy anywhere, which Obama will want to ignore anyway, and demand a ringing denunciation from Barack Obama. When Obama gets his way, he will be silent, sticking to content-free appeals to unity. And when Republicans prevail they will force him to denounce at every turn the grassroots activists he should be supporting.
By contrast, the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson won white support too, but embraced the burden of challenging white American assumptions about the essential goodness of America, about empire, and race and class. If you were organizing against police brutality or farm foreclosures, organizing a union or protesting the illegal war in Central America, the campaign in many cases came to you and augmented your local efforts. The Obama must campaign avoid this kind of activism like Dracula avoids crosses, because its candidate’s appeal is based on challenging none of the fake history, none of the racism, injustice and unearned privilege at the heart of American life.
The Jackson campaign, at least, was honest about the obstacles to a real politics of transformation in America.
For the 21st century’s first black presidential candidate, change is to be accomplished through a content-free sort of unity. Again, Dr. Reed helps us understand what is happening.
…the contention that the candidate can bring us all together despite our partisan differences is the same thing that the Democrats have been claiming consistently since at least, you know, Dukakis, to be post-partisan, to be post-political. And frankly, I think it appealsits an appeal that gets greatest traction among people who want to take politics out of politics…
Taking the politics out of politics, and out of black politics in particular is what Barack Obama must do to carry out his DLC strategy and retain his white base without teaching them anything they don’t want to know. When the NYC police officers who pumped 51 bullets into an unarmed man and a hail of bullets into adjacent homes and a transit station were exonerated, Barack Obama could not bring himself to suggest that black life ought to be respected, that police officers should obey the law, that an Obama Justice Department would look carefully at this kind of thing, or even to feign concern for the victims and their families. His only comments were that we were a nation of laws and that we should respect the verdict. When 25,000 longshoremen on the US West Coast staged a one-day strike on May 1 against the war in Iraq, the Obama campaign said nothing about the power of people standing together to bring change. When US warplanes, which fire missiles and drop bombs almost daily over oil-rich Somalia killed 15 civilians last week, Obama was silent, despite having traveled in the region as recently as last year.
When he does speak, it won’t be good news. Republicans are sure to escalate their demands, insisting that Barack Obama denounce a list of black and progressive organizations, activities, beliefs and individuals to retain his share of their base. And as long as Obama is wedded to the DLC strategy, he will eagerly comply.
If there was an actual mass-based progressive movement in the US, operating on the ground and independent of political parties and campaigns, it might have a prayer of holding Barack Obama accountable. But there isn’t.
Bruce Dixon is Managing Editor at Black Agenda Report, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Pauline Maier
A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her books footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a conventions decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maiers accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state conventions verdict affected anothers. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 7 May 2008