am sorry, folks. I just have to get my two cents in on President
Obama’s proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and freeze
the pay of federal workers. I will make this brief.
During the campaign,
one of the things that I and a number of other commentators
warned about was the sense that we had from then Senator
Obama that struggle was not a watch-word. In fact, the then
Senator seemed to avoid that as best he could. He wanted
us to embrace Martin Luther King’s vision of the need for
a non-racial and just United States without acknowledging the extent
to which the struggle continued.
Since his election we
have seen a combination of some bold ideas and rhetoric
matched with a consistent pattern of premature compromising.
There have been psychological explanations offered for this
but I think that they mainly miss the point. There is, however,
a psychological aspect that we must acknowledge.
First, President Obama,
as we warned, saw himself primarily reforming the image
of the USA
rather than the substance. The masses that supported him,
however, were looking for substantive change. They were
far from united on the character of that change, but they
were looking for a champion to advance that. Whether Obama
intended on making substantive change is beside the point.
What he clearly decided, evident immediately after the election
and during the transition period, was to seek to stabilize
neo-liberal capitalism and focus on assuring the markets
and investors that he was reliable. His appointments have
almost all been in that direction.
Second, President Obama
has been deeply concerned about being perceived as an “angry
black man.” I hope that this is not too psychological because
I believe that it is central to understanding his tactical
approach. Since the campaign, his response to racist attacks
has been to have a cool demeanor that does not shatter.
Emotion from a black person is often perceived by whites
as threatening and since President Obama wanted to assure
whites as to his stability, he could not afford to show
emotion. Thus, the anger that millions are feeling, regarding
the collapse of their lives, is not something that he can
channel because to do so would be to raise the spectre of
the Mau Mau, literally and figuratively in light of his
Kenyan background...at least that seems to be his fear.
the masses can be dangerous, particularly for those in the
Democratic Party who were uneasy with the Obama phenomenon
in the first place and who have their hands in the till
of Wall Street. The forces that were galvanized by Obama
had (and I would argue continue to HAVE) the potential of
catalyzing a social movement(s) that, among other things,
tackled the gross economic injustice in this country, and
quite possibly taking on climate injustice and elements
foreign policy. In that sense, the decision by Obama to
close down his campaign and morph it into a one-way communication
mechanism rather than a permanent organization was not an
accident nor was it bad tactics. The existence of such a
formation was threatening to the powers that be in the Democratic
Party and, indeed, threatening to those in the White House
who actually did not wish to be pushed.
As a result, we have
been watching a series of bad decisions matched with worse
tactics. The federal worker pay freeze is among the latest
examples and it actually should not have surprised anyone.
The administration most likely believed that they could
carry out a preemptive strike by taking the wind out of
the sails of the Republican deficit hawks. After all, President
Clinton did much the same. The problem is that Obama’s actions
have struck at one side of the heart of his core constituency
and this is very problematic. The federal pay freeze, along
with the compromise on the tax cuts, then, seem to be tactics
in the absence of any sort of strategy; after all, the pay
freeze was allegedly addressing the deficit, but the extension
of the tax cuts worsens the deficit.
A number of people,
in the midst of justified outrage, have suggested that there
needs to be a candidate or candidates to run in the Democratic
primaries against President Obama as a way of challenging
him. While I understand this view, I think that it does
not work as good, progressive political strategy. Progressives
are in a position of weakness. It
is unlikely that a good, multi-racial, progressive challenge
- that has credibility - can be mounted against Obama. I
might be wrong. But what is the case is that progressives
can mount Congressional challenges and, in that sense, mirror
some of what the Tea Party has done on the political Right.
I am talking about going after both the Republicans but
also the right-wing of the Democratic Party. To do this,
as my mentor Jack Odell reminded many of us recently, necessitates
a third force, or independent organization(s) that advances
a progressive agenda. People such as Danny Glover, Ron Daniels,
Barbara Ransby and I have called for such formations for
Ok, so now many of us
have analyzed the world; the time has come to change it.
Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher,
Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized
labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.