ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Both Black and white progressives deliberately made themselves irrelevant to the Democratic campaign by failing to challenge Obama before and during the primary season. Now there is one remaining chance to put a healthy fear into Obama and to help build a Black-led movement that will fight for progressive values
Cynthia McKinney Deserves Your Support, Obama Does Not
A Campaign Foreign Policy Focus
By Glen Ford
“We have to bring the war in Iraq to a respectable, responsible and honorable end,” said Barack Obama, sharing a platform with Hillary Clinton in Unity, New Hampshire, last week. The list of qualifiers and impediments to a quick exit from Iraq lengthens with each Obama lurch to the Right. The closer the Illinois senator gets to the White House, the farther he projects the Iraq occupation into a future just as murky as that envisioned by George Bush and John McCain. In Obama’s endlessly conditional world, withdrawal from Iraq must be done “responsibly”meaning, in actuality, that the U.S. must retain the power to keep the Iraqis “responsive” to American military, economic, and political demands.
A U.S. military pullout (of who knows how many troops, since Obama has always been elusive on the question) must be “honorable”meaning, it should not give the appearance of weakness or admission of criminality. Most important, the U.S. must emerge from the withdrawal (or reduction, or draw-down, or other conjure-word) in a position of “respect”a total impossibility, unless respect actually means evoking terror throughout the neighborhood at the very thought of ever again provoking the Americans into violating the laws of modern civilization.
Such is the endless elasticity of terms like “peace” and “withdrawal” when mouthed by Barack Obama, a master of bait-and-switch, a game he apparently believes he can play indefinitely on the people of the United States and the planet. The general debasement of language in the U.S. political culturea degeneration that devalues meaning and facts, cause and effect, in favor of bells, whistles, hype and prettily-packaged but hollow “hope”provides a perfect soundstage for Obama’s politics of vapidity, in which no term has reliable, lasting definition. Only in a flim-flam market culture, in which old products are packaged as “new and improved” and senile reactionary farts like Ronald Reagan are deemed “revolutionaries,” could Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic congressional leadership masquerade as proponents of peaceeven as virtually the entire senatorial Party endorses another $162.5 billion for Iraq-Afghanistan war funding.
Obama is confident he can retain the “peace candidate” label while erecting successive obstacles to actual, physical withdrawal from Iraq, and while simultaneously pledging to add 92,000 troops to the U.S. Armed Forces in order “to fight two wars and defend our homeland.” His confidence is well-placed, not just because he is the Big Money Candidate in the current historical shift of corporate dollars from Republicans to Democratsmoney that buys a mass version of realitybut because generations of two-party homogenized gibberish has rendered millions of Americans incapable of distinguishing between fact and fantasy, between waging war and pursuing peace.
The true voices of peace speak clearly, in simple language. “The U.S. should withdraw all troops and mercenaries from Iraq in as orderly a fashion as possible,” says former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, candidate for the Green Party’s presidential nomination. “This withdrawal should be quickly accomplished, since the troops and the equipment were all pre-positioned in the area to start with, at the start of the invasion.”
No flim-flam, no equivocations, no inventing of excuses to prolong the crime against peace (a Nuremburg capital offense). McKinney speaks as both a former U.S. Representative and a movement activist, one of the architects of the Reconstruction Party’s Power to the People Platform, which declares:
We need an end to all wars and occupations by U.S. forces, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need an immediate cessation of funding for war. We need prosecution for all individuals guilty of violating the law, including having committed or authorized crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace, torture, or war crimes. We need a complete renunciation of the pre-emptive war doctrine. We need an end to all wars and war’s utility. We need to dismantle the apparatus that implements schemes of regime change around the world, and that instead assists in self-determination of all peoples.
The platform on which McKinney runs is straightforward, eminently understandable, and in conformance with the substance and spirit of international law. It is what Barack Obama used to pretend to say, in front of progressive audiences, only without his mitigating language designed for ease of reversalcommonly called flip-flop, but more accurately, betrayalterms that ultimately smother peace in a pillow of words like “respectable, responsible, and honorable.”
This is how Obama uses his impressive language skills: to lure constituencies that seek peace into the maelstroms of war; to assault the integrity of language itself with his relentless tinkering with meanings, until finally, his original peaceful promises turn into their warlike opposites.
Obama’s modus operandi is consistent and, especially after his recent flurry of policy reversals, transparent to all who care to observe him dispassionately. He is a word-hustler, a slickster, a politician/actor who has always been eager to serve the global aims of the very rich. That’s why, back in the summer of 2003, while a candidate for the Illinois Democratic U.S. senatorial nomination, he had to be pressured (by Bruce Dixon and me) to have his name removed from the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council membership list. And that’s why, five years later, he stripped off his anti-NAFTA clothing to announce on CNBC, the businessman’s cable source: “Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market.”
As Naomi Klein wrote in “Obama’s Chicago Boys” (June 14, The Nation), Obama “is thoroughly embedded in the mind-set known as the Chicago School,” established by Ronald Reagan’s favorite economist, Milton Friedman, at the University of Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law for ten years. Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is on the faculty. It was Goolsbee who, back in February, urged the rightwing Canadian government not to pay too much attention to Obama’s campaign critiques of NAFTA, explaining that the candidate’s rhetoric was “more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.”
Goolsby spoke the truth. Obama has maneuvered himself out of the anti-NAFTA camp, entirely. As he told Nina Easton of Fortune, the quintessential ruling class magazine:
“Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake,” despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.
Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? “Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself,” he answered. Obama used to say he would reexamine NAFTA in its totality. Now he says, “I’m not a big believer in doing things unilaterally.” He has capitulated.
But there is an unwavering progressive in the race. “The practical effect of NAFTA is that it is an anti-union policy,” says Green candidate Cynthia McKinney. “Why US unions would support a political party [the Democrats] that has decisively contributed to their own demise, is beyond me. I support the international right to unionize. My legislation, the Corporate Responsibility Act and the TRUTH Act sought to compel US corporations operating abroad to abide by U.S. labor, environmental standards, thereby lifting up workers in other parts of the world, not exploiting them. The Reconstruction Movement Draft Manifesto also calls for repeal of Taft Hartley, to strengthen workers’ rights in this country.”
McKinney cites the Power to the People Platform: “We need to promote and enact laws for U.S. corporations that keep labor standards high at home and raise them abroad. Toward that end, it is clear that we need a repeal of NAFTA, CAFTA, the Caribbean FTA, and the U.S.-Peru FTA and justice for immigrant workers, including an end to the guest-worker program riddled with abuses.”
Both Black and white progressives deliberately made themselves irrelevant to the Democratic campaign by failing to challenge Obama before and during the primary season. Now there is one remaining chance to put a healthy fear into Obama and to help build a Black-led movement that will fight for progressive values after the election is over: solidarity with Cynthia McKinney.
Surely no one with a brain any longer believes that Obama is a closet progressive, or even a genuine liberal. Last month he finally confessed that Black Agenda Report has been right about him all the time: he’s Hillary Clinton’s political clone “If you look at my positions and Senator Clinton’s, there’s not a lot of difference, which is why it’s so easy for advisers, senior advisers of Senator Clinton, to support my candidacy,” said Obama, unveiling his roster of national security advisors.
And what a “Back to the Future” crew of Bill Clinton and Bush #1 retrograde hacks he has chosen! Obama’s core group of foreign policy gurus is non-change personifiedU.S. imperialism from the pre-Bush #2 era in the flesh. (See “Background of Obama’s Foreign Policy Group,” Institute for Public Accuracy.) Endless war is written on their faces. Progressives should have taken Obama seriously when he announced to everyone who would listen, back in March, “The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional, bipartisan, realistic foreign policy of George Bush’s father, John F. Kennedy, of in some ways Ronald Reagan.”
Obama had the gall to praise Reagan and the elder Bush while on a “Stand for Change” bus tour.
Cynthia McKinney offers real changepeace for a change.
“The United States should and must engage the world, but not in empire, not in military,” said McKinney, who was first elected to the U.S. Congress from a suburban Atlanta district in 1992. “Ninety percent of the US security budget is dedicated to some military engagement with the world. The United States should stop arming factions, supporting factions, new elections should be held [in Iraq] with international advisors, and the “coalition of the willing” should work with the United Nations to disarm and restore to the extent possible the Iraqi civil sector. The Reconstruction Draft Manifesto calls for an end to US militarism and the establishment of a Department of Peace by restructuring the US State Department.”
So it does. The manifesto is a comprehensive movement document, a basis for political action beyond the narrow confines of electoral contests. “Sadly,” says the manifesto, “the Bush-Pelosi war policy is a formula for endless global conflict, deterioration of the rule of law among nations, and growing impoverishment, indebtedness, and evisceration of civil liberties at home.”
More and more each day, “the Bush-Pelosi war policy” is also Barack Obama’s policy, as further evidenced by his about-face on Bush spying on U.S. citizens with the aid of U.S. telecom companies.
In going the extra, unrequested mile for AIPAC, the Israel lobby, Obama moved to the Right of every U.S. president in history. Obama’s blustering vow that Jerusalem will remain forever an “undivided” “Jewish” city would lock the U.S. into a position unacceptable to every Arab or Muslim government on Earth. His bellicosity regarding Iran differs from John McCain’s, only in that Obama would theoretically deign to hold talks with Iranians “at a time and place of my choosing,” while refusing to rule out a preemptive strike. Every Obama foreign policy instinct seems to support the “special” and unlimited “relationship” with Israel, robust defense of American Manifest Destiny, ever-increasing war expenditures, and inherent supra-national, extra-legal U.S. rightsformulas for planetary doom. On not one major foreign policy front does Obama any longer advocate positions consistent with peaceful planetary development. Not one!
It’s time for people claiming to be progressives who supported Obama, to accept that they were bamboozled by a champion slickster. Actually, that’s putting the best face on the situation, since most of Obama’s progressive credentials were simply wished into existence by folks who were tired of even pretending to fight. Obama now dares to drop all pretense of progressivism, trusting that there will be no ramifications on the Left, especially among the otherwise most dependable progressive constituency, African Americans.
Will the next few weeks and months prove Obama right? Cynthia McKinney deserves Black and Left support, while Obama manifestly does not.
McKinney, whose last act in Congress was to submit articles of impeachment against George Bush in 2006; who courageously questioned the White House version of events before and after September 11, 2001; who acted as a one-person conscience of the House Armed Services Committee, speaking out against corporate and military mega-theft under both Clinton and Bush; who has with amazing consistency always placed principle above her own personal and electoral fortunes, is at this juncture in history the only vehicle through which progressives can both register their outrage at Obama and begin the process of rebuilding a mass, Black-led movement for real social change. (Ralph Nader cannot, for reasons of temperament and race, achieve such dual purposes.)
On Venezuela, the difference between Obama and McCain is narrow, indeed: Obama has reflexively included popularly (and repeatedly) elected President Hugo Chavez among the world’s “rogue” leaders, deriding his “predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy,” while McCain’s pitiful verbal skills at first allowed him only to sputter that Chavez is “wacko.” More recently, McCain vowed to “work to impede Venezuela and Bolivia from following the same path of failure that Castro followed in Cuba.” McCain criticized Obama for, again, being theoretically prepared to meet with Chavez. Not to be outdone, Obama held a match to the region, condoning the Colombian narco-state’s armed intrusion into the territory of Ecuador, a nation friendly to Venezuela.
McKinney’s position on the region is as follows:
It is totally irresponsible to call Hugo Chavez an oil tyrant’ as published some time ago. Totally irresponsible to support the violation of the territorial integrity of Ecuador, a country that has signaled its desire to join the framework for peace and against destabilization by pulling out of the school of the Americas…. I pledge untiring support for self-determination in Bolivia, wracked now by a secessionist-type autonomy’ movement, probably fomented outside Bolivia’s borders.
Obama wholeheartedly backs the militarization of Africa through the new U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM. “There will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force. Having a unified command operating in Africa will facilitate this action,” said Obama.
McKinney has acted as a sentinel for Africa, on guard against U.S. recolonization of the continent. She correctly regards AFRICOM as a threat to the region. “More than likely, this force will be used in just the same way as Plan Colombia is usedto police dissent and punish the innocent solely for pecuniary reasons. The last thing Africa needs is AFRICOM, U.S. soldiers, or a School of the Americas-type relationship with Africa.”
When Obama is not carrying imperial water in the bullying of weaker nations, he is silent on burning global issuesespecially those of keen interest to African Americans.
The December 2006 U.S.-instigated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, which according to the United Nations created “the worst [and still ongoing] humanitarian crisis in Africa,” elicits not a peep from Obama. In fact, the only comments from Obama on Somalia that we have found are his complaints about pictures taken during a trip to his father’s homeland, Kenya, depicting Obama in the ceremonial tribal garb of the overwhelming Muslim Somalis.
McKinney has repeatedly denounced the U.S. overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, the kidnapping and exile of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, and Brazil’s and the United Nation’s role in occupying the country on behalf of the Americans.
Obama’s last recorded comments on Haiti, from 2005, were summarized on his Senate web site:
Obama said he favors a congressional fact-finding mission to Haiti. He said additional aid is needed there, but it must come with strings attached to ensure it is used properly and not to line the pockets of politicians, as happened in his father’s native Kenya.
This is apparently all that Obama has to say about the bloody suppression of the Haitian nation by the U.S. and its allies.
There can be no effective reasoning with those African Americans who want only that a member of The Race occupy the Oval Officeno matter the character and politics of that Black individual. But self-described progressives of all races cannot excuse their own docility in the face of Obama’s rightward lungeespecially when there exists one last opportunity to threaten the Democratic nominee-to-be with a backlash against his betrayals of progressive principlesone last chance to affect Obama’s behavior before Election Day, November 4, and beyond. Cynthia McKinney has made herself available to the Green Party’s convention in Chicago, July 10-12, and will almost surely be their nominee.
If progressives cannot bring themselves to vote honorably, they can at the very least go to McKinney’s campaign site and send money. Even a little principled behavior is better than none at all.
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 4 July 2008