some, the first five months of Obama’s presidency have marked the
dawn of a new era; a time when governance is filtered through the
channels of pragmatism and diplomacy. For
others, these five months have confirmed a belief long-held before
candidate Obama overtook Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic
Party’s presidential nominee - that he was not the change-agent
he had so eloquently claimed to be.
between these two factions are those who believe that while President
Obama has acted less progressively than candidate Obama spoke, there
are immense democratic possibilities within his administration that
cannot simply be disregarded. Henry Giroux is one of those believers.
this final installment, he speaks on why Obama must be pushed up
“against the wall.” It would take progressives to do the pushing,
he says. For that to happen, however, we must come to terms with
the realities of President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies,
and “take him seriously in terms of what he said he might do.” Progressives
can’t afford to “believe in heroes.” Obama is not one. He is a politician
who, while brimming with great promise, is commander of the world’s
most powerful army:
BARACK OBAMA, HISTORY, AND THE MYSTERY OF MYTH
“All of the talk about a
post-racial society in light of Obama’s election is meaningless
as long as young people of color are disproportionally criminalized
at younger and younger ages, allowed to disappear into the growing
ranks of the criminal justice system and increasingly viewed as
a racial threat to society rather than as a crucial social, political
and economic investment.”
“We need more than a president who speaks movingly about
children, but does little to address the urgency of the immediate
crisis. We need more than sloganized language of “change” and
“hope,” one that goes well beyond philanthropy and individual
charity and transforms government in the interests of both children’s
and democracy’s future.”
How do you gauge the first 4 months of President Obama’s
think President Obama symbolizes a mix of the best and the worst.
I think that, in his heart, he’s a genuinely good person. But that’s
not enough. I don’t think we judge people by their intentions. I
think we judge them by their policies. And I think we have to understand
that Obama is the tip of the iceberg.
think Obama has opened up a space of possibilities; but I think
that we fail in our inability to, in a sense, push him left. He’s
already made a number of bad judgments. Everything from the financial
advisors he surrounds himself with; to his views on education; to
his views on foreign policy; to his views on torture, rendition
and “State Secrets.”
those decisions are not undoable. And I think with Obama,
there is a sense that as more people recognize that power comes
from the bottom-up, and not the top-down, we’ll seize the possibilities.
Speaking of bad judgments, what does the selection of Arne
Duncan say about President Obama’s conception of education?
says that he doesn’t know much about it. It’s outside of his league.
If he really believed that education and democracy matter, and public
education is important, he would never have turned over the schools
and education policy to a guy who’s basically a free-market fundamentalist-militarist.
He had a much better pick: Linda Darling Hammond.
match between Linda Darling Hammond and Arnie Duncan is like Muhammad
Ali fighting a blind man. That’s the difference between her and
Arne Duncan. And he chose Arne Duncan.
[Duncan] doesn’t know anything about education. He hasn’t read Paulo
Freire, or any other critical educators. He really believes education
is a business, that students are customers.
What does the selection of Judge Sotomayor say about President
Obama’s conception of justice?
think he’s attentive to questions of representation. He’s a former
constitutional lawyer. He knows exactly what Bush did the last eight
years, and I think, in a way, the politics of centrism gets in the
way for him. I think she’s certainly a choice with enormous potential,
but there were better choices.
is a consummate politician, and he tends to lose sight of the deficit
that comes to bear around questions of justice.
needs to recognize that to be a President that matters,
is to lead with courage. He can’t just simply be a centrist. He
can’t just simply aim to please. He can’t just simply cater to normalized
notions of power that exist in Washington.
He’s got to unsettle.
no such thing as “post-partisanship” in Washington.
That’s a joke. And I’m surprised he hasn’t learned anything from
Obama’s historical election has been
interpreted by many as the realization of Dr. King’s dream, the
fruition of color-blindness, and the culmination of a “post-racial”
society. What prompted these impulses of irrationality?
think that there was such a need to not only believe that we had
made great strides around issues of racial justice, but hope that,
in some ways, that struggle was coming to an end. I think it was
part of a dreamscape, wedded to a kind of liberal ideology that
has always been somewhat dishonest about the realities of racism.
I think it was a redemptive moment; one that was assuring but also
deceiving. It was one that was therapeutic and mobilizing, but also
unwilling to admit that the battle had just begun. It seems to me
that in that moment of redemption, there was a moment of exhaustion.
A “moment of exhaustion”?
It ignored questions of power and prisons. It ignored the educational
deficit and the attack on immigrants. It
ignored the rising incarceration and ongoing re-segregation efforts
around American schools.
whole generation of young Black men and women are being consigned
to a life of utter disposability and excess. Think of Katrina! How,
after Katrina, can we ever talk about a “post-racial” society! Katrina
is the un-redemptive moment.
How do agents assert their will on this administration?
can’t believe in heroes. We have to believe in social movements.
Let’s push him up against the wall. Let’s take him seriously in
terms of what he said he might do. Let’s open the contradictions.
Let’s mobilize in front of the White House. Let’s use direct action.
What advice would you give to Obama, in matters of foreign
and domestic policies?
first thing he should do, in terms of progressive possibilities,
is think of the world his children are going to inherit, and then
think, under that scope, of all children. If he can't do that, he
can't possibly muster-up the courage to perform complex and difficult
tasks that address long term investments.
has to align himself with progressive forces, and bring in dissenting
voices. He’s got to expand the influence of the powerless, so they
can register their voices and be heard.
[This is the final installment of a 3-part series titled,
“Let Us Make Haste While We Can: A Conversation with Henry Giroux.”
to read any of the commentaries in this series.]
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Tolu Olorunda, is an activist/writer and a Nigerian
immigrant. Click here
to reach Mr. Olorunda.