he served the rich
DECONSTRUCTING OBAMA'S LEGACY
is Professor Emeritus at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. He is
the author of How the World Works, U.S. Foreign Policy,Third
World Peasant and The Other Europe.
President Barack Obama's $400,000 check from a Wall Street investment
bank to give a one-hour speech is both a partial reward payment
for previous services rendered and a graphic reminder of how our
political system works.
some time now I've been baffled by the number of people, mostly
middle-aged and older liberals, who retain a moral blind spot
where Obama's is concerned, almost a reverential ‘beyond
serious criticism’ loyalty that even surpasses that once
held for Hillary Clinton. I've tried, not always successfully,
to withhold judgment.
does one explain, if, after voluminous, compelling evidence refutes
certain beliefs about Obama's time in office, those beliefs remain
impervious to reconsideration? Is it because the propaganda has
been so blindingly effective? Is it lack of exposure to competing
narratives? Do personal investments in this conviction become
just too hard to change with the passage of time? I don't know
the answer, but I suspect that finding it is critically important
to our country's future.
plausible response is that criticism and critics of Obama's presidency
are being erroneously conflated with Obama the person. The distinction
is important. Before Obama became president in 2008, most people
knew very little about him. In some respects, he remains opaque.
over the years we learned he was cool, unflappable and possessed
a first-rate intellect. Flashing a Kennedy-esque smile, he spoke
in paragraphs inflected with folksy rhetoric. By all accounts
he's a good dad and husband, plays with the family's two dogs
and exhibits a charming, self-deprecating wit. There's no reason
to doubt that Obama actually believes in what he says and does,
including the "God Bless America" benedictions to his
speeches. And yes, having a beer with him while discussing sports
might be a pleasure. So where does that leave us?
that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about not judging others
by the colour of their skin but by the "content of their
character." I don't think it does damage to Dr. King's prescription
to add attributes like gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity
as unacceptable criteria for judging someone.
his day, King believed that too many “Negro leaders"
were dodging the struggle for a new order and were only "figureheads
of the old one." Aside from being glad that a black man had
been elected president, I believe King would be sorely disappointed
in Obama's record as president. But would that failing grade be
calculated on King's character criterion alone? Or is there something
else at work that's essential for us to consider?
matured as a leader and thinker he became anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist
and a radical activist. As such, it's not presumptuous to add
a corollary to his criteria: the ultimate question to ask is,
"What class did Obama serve?" After looking at the record,
only those in delusional denial can fail to see where he came
the takeaway: Obama's numerous debauched decisions ranged from
refusing to pursue criminal charges against those responsible
for the financial meltdown in 2008 to energetically prosecuting
more whistleblowers than any president in U.S. history; from continuing
the disastrous wars in the Middle East to orchestrating the greatest
transfer of wealth ($4.5 trillion) in history to the richest 1%
in our country.
policies were neither mistakes nor implemented because Obama was
a bad guy, but because that's the role of the President in our
class-based system. The president's function is to administer
the state at home and abroad for the plutocrats. As City University
of New York professor David Harvey explains, the role requires
that "no serious challenges to the absolute power of money
to rule absolutely" will be tolerated. Perpetual maximization
of profit is the abiding principle. Period.
from this basic truth into arguments over personalities only serves
the interests of the powerful and unnecessarily antagonizes many
good-hearted, potential allies. Finally, it diverts our attention
from replacing this irredeemable system with one that responds
to our desire for a truly democratic, radically different society.
It's nothing personal.
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