A friend called me the other day. “Bill,” he
said, “How will all of this enthusiasm for Obama translate
into anything long-term?” He went on to comment on the potential
this upsurge of support for Senator Obama COULD have for a
progressive movement. The discussion led me to draw some conclusions
I would like to share with you.
First, and as I have noted in previous columns,
we must all be clear as to what politics Senator Obama holds
and what politics he does not hold. He is not the political
reincarnation of The Rev. Jesse Jackson (and his ’84 and ’88
campaigns) and he is not the leader of the progressive movement.
In reviewing his platform and his speeches, I do not see much
difference from the platform of Senator Clinton, a fact which
I think helps to explain some of the intensity between the
two of them. Thus, we should not try to make of him something
he is not. Such an approach will lead to long-term problems.
Second, and also as I have noted, the waves
of enthusiasm for Obama derive from a variety of different
sources, some completely idealistic and others grounded in
an absolute hatred of what we have experienced in the Bush
years (and to some extent during the earlier Clinton
years), and, therefore, a demand for something very different.
Yet what complicates all of this is the unevenness
in Obama’s platform. What we confront is potential
for change in a progressive direction rather than leadership
in a progressive direction. In other words, Obama opens up
possibilities, but as can be repeatedly demonstrated, there
are inconsistencies in his views and approach, as well as
times when he is just wrong. The unilateral attack carried
out by the US
against Al Qaeda in Pakistan by the Bush administration
just recently was perfectly consistent with what has been
advocated by Obama. The consequences of such actions are simply
So, what does this mean?
keep coming back to Obama’s own words when he speculated as
to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would do vis-à-vis
the presidential elections if he were still alive: pressure
all the candidates! Pressure, however, needs organization
and it needs courage. It means that we have to point out to
the campaign and the candidate precisely when we think he
is wrong, and in doing so we should point him in the direction
that needs to be taken.
But when the campaign is over, whether it is
at the Democrat Convention or in November, if there is nothing
to build upon, the enthusiasm will evaporate as it has on
so many other occasions after energizing electoral campaigns.
I would suggest two steps:
are tremendous dangers AND opportunities in this election
season. Casting caution to the wind and uncritically supporting
any candidate is a recipe for disaster. We must expect that
there will be immense tugs to the Right on any elected official.
If progressives are not prepared to push back and keep Obama’s
feet to the fire then every reservation that many of us have
about his candidacy will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator.
He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies
and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.