by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
When the going gets rough, beat up on the Blacks. That’s been a rule of American politics for many generations – so why should Barack Obama be any different? “Obama took his church voice to the Congressional Black Caucus annual awards dinner to very pointedly demand that Blacks stop bugging their president about the economic catastrophe that has befallen them, and his own role in it.” Duly chastised, the Black lawmakers accepted their assignment.Obama Humiliates the Black Caucus – and They Pretend Not to Notice
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Obama has very publicly commanded them to shut up and perform what he believes is their only legitimate function: to get him re-elected.”
This magazine spent much of the 2008 presidential campaign warning that reflexive, unquestioning, uncomplaining support for Barack Obama would render African Americans politically irrelevant for the next four years. “About 90 percent of Black America has allied itself with a candidate that never promised them a damn thing,” we wrote, back on April Fools Day, 2008. One year before, in Selma, Alabama, Obama had first deployed his pseudo-Baptist preacher delivery to announce that Blacks had already come “90 percent of the way” towards equality, strongly inferring that his election would take us the other ten percent of the way, while simultaneously sending “a signal to whites that the days of Black racial agitation were nearly over.”
Earlier in the year, in Reno, Nevada, candidate Obama
“…expressed deep empathy with those Reaganites who had been so repulsed by the ‘excesses of the 1960s and 1970s.’ On Katrina, Obama declared that government ‘incompetence’ after the storm ‘had been colorblind.’ If that were true, then every act of man in the aftermath of the hurricane was racism-free. That was Obama’s position.”
By June of 2008, it was clear to Obama and his handlers that there was no insult that African Americans would not gladly endure – even cheer – for the chance to see one of their own in the Oval Office. For the first time in history, Blacks had made not a single demand in a presidential election; their bamboozlement was complete. A no-risk, public humiliation of Black folks was in order, for the benefit of white voters who might still be wondering if Obama was really the kind of Negro who could be trusted with the keys to the White House. What better day to denigrate Black men, than Father’s Day?
“It was clear to Obama and his handlers that there was no insult that African Americans would not gladly endure – even cheer – for the chance to see one of their own in the Oval Office.”
With a feigned familiarity dripping with contempt, Obama scorned and mocked cardboard characters named “Pookie” and “Ray-Ray” for “acting like boys instead of men,” sitting on the couch watching television while feeding cold chicken to their children who were then let out to roam the streets. "You and I know how true this is in the African-American community," said the candidate.
The larger, intended audience – white people, via corporate media – read the reassuring news: "Obama Tells Black Fathers to Act Like Men" (AFP), "Obama Calls on Black Men to Be Better Fathers" (U.S. News & World Report), "Black Fathers Missing From Too Many Lives" (The Age), "Obama Calls for More Responsibility From Black Fathers" (NYT).
Obama shrewdly chose “the politically conservative (in Black terms) Apostolic Church of God as the venue for his blanket Black male denunciation,” as a reminder to “whites that he was no longer a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, formerly pastored by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, also located on Chicago's South Side,” we wrote.
Like others, we at BAR were outraged:
“Can one imagine Obama or any other presidential aspirant repeatedly hectoring any other ethnic group on moral issues? Singling out Jews for excessive materialism? The Irish for excessive drinking? Of course not; that would be unfair and politically suicidal. But there are large regions of the white body politic in which it is not only acceptable, but damn near required, that politicians demonstrate their impatience with the alleged moral shortcomings of Black people. Barack Obama trolls for votes in those foul waters, at the cost of Black people's dignity.”
“Can one imagine Obama or any other presidential aspirant repeatedly hectoring any other ethnic group.”
Three years later, in the same week that he bowed down to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the assembled nations of the world, in New York City, Obama took his church voice to the Congressional Black Caucus annual awards dinner to very pointedly demand that Blacks stop bugging their president about the economic catastrophe that has befallen them, and his own role in it. “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” Obama hectored. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”
Black Caucus chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver had earlier told reporters, “If Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this [Black unemployment] problem, we probably would be marching on the White House." But Obama came to lay down the law: any marching that you might do will be for my re-election.
The well-oiled crowd cheered.
Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters seemed to be the only Black lawmaker capable of an adult response:
“I’m not sure who the president was addressing. I found that language a bit curious. The president spoke to the Hispanic Caucus… he certainly didn’t tell them to stop complaining and he never would say that to the gay and lesbian community who really pushed him on don’t ask don’t tell or even in a speech to APEC, he would never say to the Jewish community stop complaining about Israel.”
But she won’t hold it against Obama.
“So I don’t know who he was talking to because we’re certainly not complaining. We are working. We support him and we are protecting that base because we want people to be enthusiastic about him when that election rolls around.”
Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee said she “didn’t take offense” at Obama’s language or tone. “I believe I know his heart,” she told PBS host Tavis Smiley who, along with Princeton Prof. Cornel West, has stepped out of the ranks to oppose the president on his record. “The president came in the armor of a brother or a sister,” said Jackson-Lee. “The captain was trying to say, I’m in charge, I want you with me.” The Caucus will continue “crying and complaining, yes we will,” about the pain of their constituents. “We will continue to press the envelope.”
Press what? The Black Caucus, as a body, meekly murmured and mumbled as the administration transferred the equivalent of the U.S. gross domestic product to the banks while Black America disintegrated. Now, with Obama’s numbers falling, he has very publicly commanded them to shut up and perform what he believes is their only legitimate function: to get him re-elected. In the looming contest, he will again resort to Black-baiting whenever it is useful to shore up white support. In that – as with his foreign and domestic policies – Obama is no different than white corporate politicians. His one great distinction, is to have a core constituency that cares more for his security and dignity, than their own.