The Black Commentator: An independent weekly internet magazine dedicated to the movement for economic justice, social justice and peace - Providing commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans and the African world.
Dec 2, 2010 - Issue 404

Reflections On Horace Campbell's Progressive View
Of Barack Obama's 2008 Election
By Dr. Martin Kilson, PhD Editorial Board



Prologue: Conceptualizing Obama’s Emergence

The Syracuse University social theorist Horace B. Campbell’s book Barack Obama and Twenty-first Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA (New York: Pluto Press, 2010) stands out prominently among a raft of books that followed the November 4, 2008 Election 53% victory of the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket over the McCain-Palin Republican ticket. Professor Campbell’s book stands out especially because it is informed by an historically progressive or radical vision of Barack Obama’s election as the first ever African-American President of the United States. As such, Campbell’s radical vision also implies the possibility of radical socio-political transformations in the character of American society as it evolves through the 21st century.

Although the title of Campbell’s book suggests that it contains prescriptive stepping stones en route toward progressive socio-political changes, this is not the case. Rather the intellectual discourse and socio-political analysis in Campbell’s book focus on the interplay of ideological-and-historical dynamics that placed an African-American political personality at what might be called a “developmental tipping point” in 21st century American civilization. While I use the term “developmental tipping point” to characterize the historically unique context of Barack Obama’s political emergence, Campbell uses the term “revolutionary moment”. In the “Preface” to his book, Professor Campbell formulates his particular progressive understanding of Obama’s political emergence by noting that although “Obama is not a revolutionary”, he is nonetheless “caught up in a revolutionary moment in world history”.

Then, in nearly one-half of his book, Campbell applies this characterization of Obama’s political emergence to a long historical sweep of progressive American political dynamics. Especially dynamics that eventually resulted in the post-Civil Rights Movement era of full-fledged African-American political participation. Accordingly, for Campbell it was Black Americans’ long and bitter Freedom Struggle - let’s call it - that, by the late 1960s onward, transformed our American racist-oligarchy democracy enough for it to accommodate the rise of a progressive electoral process that would facilitate the first ever election of a Black president of the United States. Thus, in Professor Campbell’s words:

“The [Obama] revolutionary moment in U.S. politics is underscored by the convergence of forces that brought the country’s politics to an inflection point at the wake of the election season 2007-2008. At the revolutionary moment, Obama, as a student of the black liberation school, tapped into the...optimism embedded in the message of hope. This was the same hope and optimism that had buoyed blacks when they were regarded as less than human (by the three-fifths clause) in the United States, to assert their humanity and win their civil rights. [My] first chapter interrogates the traditional sense of revolution...within the context of fundamental transformation in society...

Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics is an attempt to clarify the revolutionary ideas and the harnessing of the energies of youth for a fundamental break with old politics, economics, militarism, and racism. The Obama election campaign’s quantitative task of mobilizing over 3 million small donors, close to 8 million volunteers, 13 million e-mail addresses and more than 2 million Facebook partners induced a qualitative change in the politics of the United States. This superlative quantitative organizational capacity, which engineered the election victory in November 2008, is the essence of a leap in politics.” (pp. xiii-xiv.)

Intertwining Campbell’s Historical Vision & Obama’s Emergence

For the sake of discussion, if progressive social analysts can be classified along a two-fold continuum with “radical-progressive analysts”, on one side, and “pragmatic-progressive analysts”, on the other side of the continuum, I would then locate Horace Campbell among “radical-progressive analysts” and I’d locate myself among “pragmatic-progressive analysts”. In operational terms therefore, a “radical-progressive” analyst like Campbell has a propensity to interpret prominent progressive political events in our racist-oligarchic corporatist American political culture as “systemic-leaps”. On the other hand, a “pragmatic-progressive analyst” like me interprets prominent progressive events in our racist-oligarchic corporatist democracy as “transformational stepping-stones”.

In operational political terms, I suggest that these two progressive analytical postures translate into quite different understanding of institutional outcomes of progressive events in American politics.. As I understand Professor Campbell’s discourse and analysis in Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, he seeks in part to uncover the multi-layered ingredients of prominent historical progressive events antecedent to Barack Obama’s electoral successes in the 2008 Election Campaigns. To this end, Campbell pursues a broad-gauged inquiry into antecedent historical developments that, by the late 1960s onward, eventually facilitated full-fledged political participation status for Black folks in America’s racist-corporatist democracy. In Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, Campbell dedicates 120 pages to this analytical purpose.

Although Campbell’s inquiry into antecedent developments is quite informative, it isn’t always clear how his inquiry relates to the operational political dynamics that executed the Obama 2008 Campaigns’ electoral successes. Starting at Page 120 in Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, Campbell commences a discussion of the intricate political pathways of Obama’s 2008 Campaigns’ successes. This discussion occurs in Chapter 5 which is titled- “Fractal Wisdom and Optimism in the Primary Campaign Of 2008”. Professor Campbell uses the term “fractal wisdom” (or “fractal outlook”) quite often in his book, but while I know the term is related to the field of fractal geometry it isn’t clear to me precisely how the term advances the discussion in his text.

However, Campbell’s main discussion in Chapter 5 makes a significant contribution to our understanding of what might be called the “operational-nuts-and-bolts” of how the Barack Obama Campaign’s goals of gaining the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency of the United States were achieved. Furthermore, Campbell expands on his discussion of the “operational-nuts-and-bolts” of the Obama Campaign for the White House in his Chapter 6 which is titled- “Between The Past And The Future: The Democratic National Convention.”

The Operational Nuts-and-Bolts of the Obama Campaign

Campbell’s discussion in Chapters 5 & 6 revolves around three core analytical ingredients:

l) Ideology of hope

2) Activist Young Voters

3) Bottom-Up Electoral Mobilization

For Campbell, the analytical ingredient of “ideology of hope” functioned as a kind of inspirational spearhead for the Obama Campaign, and the orientational content of the Obama Campaign’s “ideology of hope” stems from an African derived “humanist philosophy of Ubuntu”. According to Campbell, “In South Africa, the term Ubuntu emerged to point to the ways in which we share a common humanity” (p. xiv). He quotes a speech by the South African activist theologian Desmond Tutu in which Tutu remarks that Ubuntu is “the principle of caring for each other’s well being...[and] Ubuntu means that people are people through other people”. (p. 9) Furthermore, Campbell makes sporadic references to African-American historical figures like Harriet Tubman who espoused what Campbell calls Ubuntu-type “principles of self-organization”. (p. xv) It was, then, through Obama’s association with the activist strand of the Civil Rights Movement during his post-Harvard Law School years as a community organizer in Chicago that he encountered Ubuntu-type humanist ideas that he, in turn, translated into political “ideas of hope”. As Professor Campbell puts it: “The Obama campaign built on the revolutionary gains of the civil rights movement and the continued quest for real equality in American society.” (p. xv)

Thus throughout his Chapter 5, Campbell presents an analysis of how his notion of Ubuntu-type “principles of self-organization” and the related “ideology of hope” functioned as guiding inspirations for a road map to electoral victories for the Obama campaign. In Campbell’s words:

“The Obama campaign was nourished from the beginning by the engagement of a progressive grassroots force which was like a seed waiting for the right conditions for germination and growth.

Slogans of ‘Hope’, ‘Change’...and ‘Yes we can’ [emerged]... Hope trumped despair and apathy as thousands of young people were inspired to tap into their potential. Each slogan had a message that came from historic campaigns of women, youth, workers, or the peace movement. ‘Si Se puede’ [‘Yes we can’] had been the slogan of the United Farm Workers. The song by Sam Cooke “A change is gonna come’ had ushered in the civil rights movement... Martin Luther King Jr. had called on youth to recognize the fierce urgency of ‘Now’, and Obama used the same urgency to call for a break with the ‘culture of fear’. Obama constantly referred to the ‘fierce urgency of now’ in detailing the conjuncture of the 2008 primary and the electoral contest.” (pp. 123-124)

Of course, in operational terms the Obama campaign had to move beyond what I’d call its rather romantic humanist “principles of self-organization” to fashion concrete electoral mobilizing agencies and mechanisms. Happily, as the Obama campaign commenced a formal on-the-ground infrastructure by mid-2007, the campaign had a cadre of professional political organizers (individuals like Marshall Ganz and David Plouffe) who grasped the intricacies of concrete electoral mobilization. Moreover, their grasp of electoral mobilization was guided by progressive populist values, not establishmentarian or populist values which had defined the electoral mobilization mechanism of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic Nomination. Accordingly, while the Clinton campaign’s electoral mobilization was inspired by what might be called a “top-down authority paradigm”, it was an alternative “bottom-up authority paradigm” that inspired persons like Marshall Ganz and David Plouffe who shepherded the Obama campaign’s electoral mobilization.

Horace Campbell’s book demonstrates a keen understanding of these contrasting orientations underlying election-mobilization mechanisms of the competing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Here’s how Campbell initially formulated this crucial understanding of what differentiated the eventually successful Obama campaign from the unsuccessful Clinton campaign:

“Unlike the divisive top-down [Clinton campaign] operation of [Mark] Penn [Clinton’s chief adviser], the Obama team organization grounded in the grassroots template of a civil rights movement. It was an effort to build a bottom-up movement, training leaders who would develop capacity in their own communities and have the energy and motivation to link local action with national purpose. It was a campaign plan based on the principle of ‘scaling up’ to change society’.” (pp. 124-125) (Emphasis Added)

It should also be noted that the Obama campaign’s “scaling up” organizational outlook had real power-related goals to achieve. First among those goals, as Campbell viewed the issue, was “an effort to make a break with the old top-down [Democratic} party which was a ‘hostage to money’ and professional consultants.” Second among those goals was to establish a nationwide progressive-populist electoral mobilization mechanism that could, at the least, stand toe-to-toe with the Clinton Machine and, at the best, electorally vanquish Hillary Clinton. As Campbell formulates this progressive-populist electoral development of the Obama campaign:

“The...break with the old [top-down politics] in the process of the Obama campaign was manifest in the fact that the Obama campaign was able to mobilize more local volunteers on the ground in key states earlier than the Clinton campaign. This was especially important for caucus states [like Iowa], where a massive ground operation was necessary. On the ground, face-to-face mobilization was especially important in smaller states and caucus states. There was a feedback loop between [on-the-ground] volunteers and the fundraising capabilities so that the more volunteers there were, the more the campaign was able to raise small contributions, the total of which could now be counted in hundreds of millions of dollars. Fundraising [in turn] facilitated and strengthened the campaign organization so that the ambitious [Howard Dean-influenced] 50-state strategy would have resources.” (p. 125)

Campbell’s View of Obama Primary Campaign’s Path to Victory

Throughout what I consider the core chapters of Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics - namely Chapters 5-8 - Professor Campbell’s view of the Obama campaign’s path-to-victory is presented on two analytical levels.

On one of the analytical levels employed by Campbell to probe Obama’s path-to-victory, his discussion focuses on the campaign’s skillful interlocking of a “message of hope”, on the one hand, and grassroots fundraising, on the other hand. On the second analytical level used by Campbell to probe Obama’s path-to-victory, his discussion focuses on the historically unprecedented success the Obama campaign had in producing a maximal mobilization of the Black Voter Bloc. That Black Voter Bloc mobilization on November 2, 2008 resulted in some 64% of eligible Black voters entering the voting booths around the country, and over 85% of the Black votes were cast for the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket.

Writing in Chapter 5, Campbell argues that there was a kind of symbiotic interplay between the Obama campaign’s “message of hope” and its successful grassroots fundraising. As Campbell puts it: “Obama’s message of hope created a dynamic that intervened to challenge the Clinton money machine....The medium of social networking [e.g., YouTube, Facebook, etc.] was used to reach a very wide constituency with the message of hope. Hope [in turn] motivated new forces to donate to the campaign, and the fundraising allowed for the infrastructure to mobilize the ground operations. Most of the major news outlets marveled at the fundraising capabilities of Obama... It could not be separated from the message of sharing and hope, along with the infrastructure of change.” By the end of the primary season, there were over 1.5 million people who had donated to the Obama campaign, and nearly half of them had made donations of $200 or less.” (p. 136)


Comparative Fundraising in Obama & Clinton Campaigns

January 2007-August 2008

Source: Horace Campbell, Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics (2010) p. 137.

As shown in TABLE I which is based on data in Campbell’s book, the Obama campaign’s clearly outperformed Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2007-2008 Democratic primary contests. As Horace Campbell observed:

“The Obama grassroots organization had become a money machine. Money attracted money, so that big donors gave generously to the Obama campaign. Not to be left behind, those in the financial services industry [Wall Street] gave to everyone. Obama received large donations from bankers and hedge fund managers. Although the $59 million from these sources represented only 15% of the amount raised in the primaries, this was more than the $53 million raised by the Clinton campaign. In an effort to present a safe face to these capitalists, Obama chose Penny Pritzker as National Finance Chair [who was]...a billionaire heiress of the Hyatt hotel chain...” (pp. 137)

Following Campbell’s keen discussion in Chapter 5 of the importance of the Obama campaign’s unique and unprecedented grassroots fundraising mechanism, Campbell reports how the grassroots-fundraising dynamic both intertwined with and spun-off a grassroots-youth mobilization dynamic. He reports that by the fall of 2007, “Every Obama campaign office in each caucus state [e.g., Iowa, Maine, etc.] developed competitive forms of attracting young people [and] this tradition was later carried over to the elections of 2008 with rewarding outcomes. It is now history that young people provided the energy to propel the massive enthusiasm for the Obama victory in Iowa.” Furthermore says Campbell, Obama’s Iowa victory “came through on-the-ground, face-to-face, door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor organizing strategies that built a cohesive ground plan that could go from Iowa across the country.” (p. 143)

According to Campbell, it was ultimately a genuine progressive liberal mindset that Barack Obama had fashioned for himself that, in turn, enabled the Obama campaign’s electoral mobilizing mechanism to fashion itself through a variety of progressive activist trajectories - like the feminist movement trajectory and the Civil Rights Movement trajectory. It was on the occasion of the Obama campaign’s momentous primary victory over the Clinton Machine in the January 2nd, 2008 Iowa Caucus that Barack Obama mustered the intellectual and ideological courage publicly to both identify and ally the Obama campaign with the Black American side of progressive activist trajectories in American political history. Campbell quotes from Barack Obama’s victory speech on the night of his campaign’s Iowa Caucus victory as follows:

“It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights. ‘Yes we can.’ It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land. Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world.” (pp. 143-144)

However, it took several primary elections after the January Iowa Caucus election before what Horace Campbell points out as this first concrete evidence of a Civil Rights Movement-friendly ideological-tilt by Barack Obama got translated into a decisive Black Voter Bloc tilt in favor of the Obama campaign. My own research on the 2008 Obama campaign (originally published in a series of articles for Black Commentator. com), revealed that in neither the January 8, 2008 New Hampshire primary (won by Clinton-39% vs. Obama-36%) nor the February 10, 2008 Maine primary (won by Obama- 59% vs. Clinton-40%) were the number of Black voters large enough to have electoral significance. But just two weeks before the Maine Caucus election, there was the January 26 South Carolina primary which exhibited a seismic-level electoral surprise. Although polls taken in South Carolina in November and December 2007 found Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama among Black voters favoring Clinton by a 2-1 margin, a new set of polls taken just two weeks before the January 26 primary showed Obama ahead of Clinton by a double-digit margin.

Be that as it may, the January 26 election vividly clarified that in a southern state where Black voters were 30% of the Democratic Party electorate, the first ever viable African-American politician to vie for a major political party’s presidential nomination may have had what might be dubbed “a natural electoral advantage”. This is suggested by the data on the January 26 South Carolina primary shown in TABLE II. The overall Black Voter Bloc in South Carolina voted 78% for Obama, compared to 19% Clinton and 2% John Edwards. Furthermore, data from Exit Polls showed that 75% of South Carolina Black voters said they “were ready to elect a black president”, and 90% of Black voters said that they believed American voters generally “were ready to elect a black president.” However, in the final November 2, 2008 Election only 43% of White voters supported the Obama-Biden ticket compared to 56% of Whites favoring the McCain-Palin ticket.

Table II

Racial Breakdown of Votes in South Carolina 2008 Primary

SOURCE; Washington Post (January 27, 2008)

Campbell’s View of Obama’s Presidential Campaign Mobilization

Now as Campbell informs us in Chapter 5, by February 2008 when the Obama campaign digested the electoral meaning of the South Carolina primary, the future Obama Presidential Campaign was partly “built from the traditions of Fannie Lou Hamer and Jesse Jackson.” (p. 151) This interfacing of the Obama Presidential Campaign dynamic with the progressive activism tradition of the Civil Rights Movement commenced within a month of the South Carolina primary. It was a development that was partly effected through Camp Obama and its director Marshall Ganz. Camp Obama was a summer institute training center for the overall Obama campaign’s hands-on organizers, which convened in various parts of the country. Its director Marshall Ganz was a well-seasoned community organizer who had produced a Harvard University PhD Thesis in 2000 titled Five Smooth Stones: Strategic Capacity in the Unionization of California Agriculture. It was through Ganz’s union organizing endeavors that he gained broad knowledge of progressive grassroots activism among African-Americans during the 1950’s and 1960’s heydays of the Civil Rights Movement.

Thus, as Horace Campbell commences his quest to probe the unique features of the Obama Presidential Campaign mobilization, he identifies the crucial role of Ganz and Camp Obama. As Campbell puts it, there were “historic linkages between Marshall Ganz of Camp Obama and the teachings of Robert P. Moses [a founder of Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee - SNCC] and Ella Baker. The tradition of political organizers finding their own voice was carried forward from the civil rights movement, and enriched the organizing efforts of the Obama campaign. Obama and his ‘machinery of hope’ defeated the old [Clinton-led] Democratic Party machinery in June 2008 [the final primaries], and built new networks as young people and the historically disenfranchised blacks made their claim to the democratic equation.” (pp. 148-149)

For Campbell, there was a fundamental electoral-mobilization benefit stemming from the Obama Presidential Campaign’s early adoption - via Marshall Ganz’s Camp Obama - of the progressive-grassroots activism ethos fashioned by the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Campbell describes that electoral-mobilization benefit as follows:

“Obama’s campaign strategy [became] all-inclusive in terms of its message and medium, money (democratization of fundraising), and machinery/infrastructure (which was grassroots based). Obama’s message of hope and racial healing (reconciliation) and a sense of our shared humanity...transcended the boundary of race, class, and gender. Indeed, there [was] hope and optimism for a more democratic electoral politics in the twenty-first century if this new pattern (or mode of political organization) is consolidated...” (p. 149)

Of course, it’s one thing – and a crucial thing too - to inculcate the inner ranks of the Obama Presidential Campaign with a genuine progressive-populist or progressive-grassroots voter mobilization mindset. But it’s quite another thing to concretely operationalize a progressive voter-mobilization ethos or mindset among the thousands of Obama Presidential Campaign organizing cadres.

In Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, Horace Campbell’s discussion of the Obama Presidential Campaign provides - among the sizable literature on Obama’s election - one of the rare accounts of what might be called “groundwork-campaign dynamics”. Campbell’s rare account occurs in Chapter 7 titled “Ground Operation for Victory”, and also partly in Chapter 8 titled “Beyond Messiahs: Networks for Peace and Transformation in the Twenty-First Century”. As Campbell informs us, “The [grassroots election mobilization] strategy had been refined and perfected to contest the swing states [Colorado-Florida-Indiana-Iowa-Missouri-North Carolina-Ohio-Virginia]... David Plouffe, the campaign manager, was at the core of a team that harmonized [campaign] message with strategy. One report noted that Plouffe knew every district in the country, where the Obama camp was, and where they could win. With this knowledge of the electorate among members of the team, the campaign could make projections, slice and dice lists of volunteers by geographic micro region, and pair people with appropriate tasks.” (p. 201)

Interestingly enough, the manager of the Obama Presidential Campaign - Plouffe - selected states in the South as testing-ground for the campaign’s progressive-grassroots voter mobilization strategy. According to Campbell, “Obama’s key operatives laid out the campaign’s strategic vision for the election in a PowerPoint presentation where Plouffe stressed that Georgia was home to 600,000 unregistered African American voters, all of whom the campaign was going to work hard to register and turn out.” Another state in the South was also selected as a testing-ground place. That state, moreover, was a full-fledged “swing or battleground state” - namely, Florida. As David Plouffe’s early August 2008 post-Democratic Nomination Convention PowerPoint presentation explained, the groundwork-campaign dynamics shouldered the special and intricate task of electorally interconnecting three key voter blocs, namely, the Hispanic Voter Bloc, the Black Voter Bloc, and the 18-25 Voter Bloc. As Horace Campbell described this intricate voter-mobilization task:

“In Florida, the Obama campaign had initiated an organization and planned to register 630,000 eligible Hispanics, 593,000 African Americans and 236,000 18 to 24-year-olds, not yet on the rolls. By the end of September 2008, the Obama campaign had already spent $39 million in Florida, and the more than 50 [statewide] offices were staffed with 500 or more paid members, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, organized in 19,000 neighborhood teams. These teams were [in turn] part of the local communities where operatives were connected to the 770 offices opened across the country, more than twice the number used by McCain.” (p. 201)

After erecting viable groundwork-campaign dynamics in Florida immediately following the early August Denver Democratic Nomination Convention, the Plouffe-led Obama Presidential Campaign traveled to another key Southern battleground state - North Carolina. In order to witness first-hand the Plouffe-led groundwork-campaign dynamics in North Carolina, Horace Campbell flew down to North Carolina from his home base at Syracuse University. As he tells us: “I traveled to North Carolina to see the volunteer effort and to grasp how the ground operation unfolded in this state where there were officially 50 offices and 23,000 volunteers.” (p. 202). Of course, the choice of North Carolina as a core testing-ground state for the Obama Presidential Campaign’s grassroots voter-mobilization dynamics was self-evident. It so happened that North Carolina provided the progressive Democratic elements that informed the Obama Presidential Campaign an ideal opportunity to “slay-two-dragons-with-one-sword”, as it were.

One dragon was the age-old vicious and cruel tradition of North Carolina racism. Another dragon was the post-1970s era North Carolina Wall Street-structured “financial vampire squid” - as Campbell dubs it - which comprised gigantic banks like Bank of America and Wachovia and centered in Charlotte. Accordingly, in order to create a new liberal electoral politics in North Carolina capable of challenging these two dragons, Campbell says that the North Carolina Plouffe-led voter mobilization cadre recognized that this task “required a level of cooperation across racial and ethnic lines in a state that had been at the forefront of the Jim Crow traditions symbolized by Senator Jesse Helms.” (p. 202) Campbell then proceeds to elaborate this keen observation:

“As a stronghold of politicians of the Ku Klux Klan variety, the white supremacist Democratic Party of the South dominated North Carolina until 1968, when the political establishment supported the Southern Strategy of the Republican Party under Richard Nixon. Jesse Helms, one of the senators for North Carolina from 1973 to 2003, had symbolized the white Southern backlash against racial integration and rights for all citizens. Helms was an open supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and enjoyed the distinction of being one of the few lawmakers in the United States to boycott and protest when Nelson Mandela addressed the joint houses of Congress in 1990.” (p. 203)

Fortunately for the electoral goals of the Plouffe-led Obama Presidential Campaign, during era of the 1990s into the early 21st century there were basic demographic changes in North Carolina that would serve well the Obama campaign’s electoral goals. As Campbell relates these crucial North Carolina demographic developments: “Between 1990 and 2005, approximately 103,000 African-Americans called the Charlotte area home. Hispanic migration during that same period totaled about 60,000. From 1995 to 2000, the Charlotte metropolitan area had the third-highest numbers of black migration in the nation, trailing only Atlanta and Dallas. The result was that the percentage of black Charlotte voters had increased from 26% in 1995 to 35%.” (p. 204)

No doubt it didn’t require special political savvy among the Obama Presidential Campaign do discern the potential electoral significance of the foregoing North Carolina demographic changes among the key Black Voter Bloc and Hispanic Voter Bloc. Accordingly, as Campbell informs us: “In this Dixiecrat territory of Southern conservatism, the Obama election campaign invested heavily to change the electorate. This decision on the part of the Obama team emanated from their study of the electorate and their knowledge that the political economy and demography of North Carolina had changed. Demographic change in the state from 1975 to 2008 had weakened the old conservative institutions, and there were millions of new immigrants. ...The new Hispanic...population multiplied from over 70,000 in 1970 to over 600,000 in 2004. ...The migration of African Americans from the North back to the South [produced] ...the third largest number of blacks returning to the South.” (pp. 203-204)

So by mid-October - just a couple of weeks before November 2 Election Day - the North Carolina segment of the Obama Presidential Campaign had erected a viable voter-mobilization mechanism. This was strikingly visible, for example, in Forsyth County, North Carolina, which was thoroughly Republican until the Obama campaign’s voter-mobilization changed all that. Thus, as Campbell informs us:

“By the time voter registration [in Forsyth County] ended in October, the Democratic Party had registered 103,996 voters compared with 74,879 for the Republican Party. [Moreover], for the entire state of North Carolina, the difference in registration was Democrats 2,871,589 to Republicans 2,005,386. This was a margin of more than 866,000 for one of the most important states of the Confederacy, and the constituency of Jesse Helms. So proficient was the campaign operation of the Obama North Carolina team that the North Carolina Board of Elections could not keep up with the numbers that were being registered.” (p. 208)

Analytical Note on Black Voter Bloc and Obama’s Victory

Now in my analytical synopsis of Horace Campbell’s keen discussion of the Obama Presidential Campaign’s skillfully designed road to electoral victory in key battleground states like Florida and North Carolina, I draw special attention to the Black Voter Bloc. I did so because throughout his book Campbell recognizes the crucial role of African-American voters. However, as I read through Campbell’s core Chapters 5-7, I was surprised that he never presents a segment that focuses specifically - and in some depth - on the importance of the Black Voter Bloc. No doubt if Horace Campbell has the opportunity to produce an updated second edition of Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, I’m sure he’ll correct this analytical deficiency.

The following discussion of the special role of the Black Voter Bloc in Obama’s election as the first African-American president of the United States, is based on a chapter I contributed to a forthcoming book on the November 2, 2008 Election edited by the University of California-Berkeley political scientist Professor Charles Henry. The book is titled The Obama Phenomenon:Toward a Multiracial Democracy (Forthcoming 2011. University of Illinois Press).

To my knowledge, one of the best studies of the overall electoral significance of the Black Voter Bloc in the 2008 presidential election was produced by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. Authored by the Joint Center’s director - David Bolitis - and titled Blacks and the 2008 Elections: A Preliminary Analysis (December 2008), this report’s overall summary finding was that the 2008 electoral performance of the Black Voter Bloc was record-breaking. To quote David Bolitis:

“The total share of the national vote represented by black voters between 2004 and 2008 increased from 11% to 13% according to Exit Polls, and the black share of the vote in many individual states increased substantially. In addition to record-setting [black] turnout, President-elect Obama received 95% of the black vote, bettering President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 94% in 1964, the previous high.”

Another significant finding, produced by the Joint Center’s report on the 2008 presidential election, warrants mention. Namely, in the process of generating an unprecedented share-of-votes for the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket, the Black Voter Bloc also produced an unprecedented high Black voter turnout. There were 24.8 million eligible African-American adult voters as of the 2008 presidential election, and from those voters emerged record-breaking Black voter turnout results. David Bolitis characterized those results as follows: “With 16.6 million black votes cast, 2008 black turnout would be 66.8% - smashing the previous record of 58.5% in 1964; the post-Voting Rights Act turnout high was 57.6% in 1968. Furthermore, while the final vote for the 2008 pre sidential election has yet to be determined, it is likely that black turnout - for the first time in history - will surpass white turnout in a U.S. presidential election.” (Emphasis Added)

There’s anther way, however, of characterizing the unique significance of the Black Voter Bloc in the Obama-Biden ticket’s victory over the McCain-Palin ticket. Although the Republican McCain-Palin ticket gained an overall majority of White voters on Election Day (56% vs. 43% for Obama-Biden), it was the massive Black Voter Bloc support in key battleground states that put the Obama-Biden ticket on top. Thus it was Black Voter Bloc support that ensured the 50% Obama-Biden win in Indiana (49% McCain-Palin). It was Black Voter Bloc’s 90%-plus support that ensured the 51% Obama-Biden win in Ohio (47% McCain-Palin). It was Black Voter Bloc’s 90%-plus support that ensured the 52% Obama-Biden win in Virginia (47% McCain-Palin). And it was Black Voter Bloc’s 90%-plus support that ensured the 55% Obama-Biden victory in my home state of Pennsylvania (44% McCain-Palin).

A fuller perspective on the Black Voter Bloc’s unique significance to the November 2, 2008 election victory of the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket is provided in data shown in TABLE III. Whether in high Electoral College states (e.g., California, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio) or in medium-size Electoral College states (e.g., Missouri, North Carolina, Michigan), the Black Voter Bloc level of support for the Obama-Biden ticket was massive - consistently at the 90%-plus level.


Black Voter Bloc Preference in 2008 Presidential Election

SOURCE: David Bolitis, Blacks and the 2008 Election: A Preliminary Analysis

(Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: Washington, DC. Dec. 2008)

In regard to the nationwide voters’ preference between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin, the overall Black Voter Bloc favored Obama-Biden by 95% to 5% for McCain-Palin. As shown in data provided in TABLE IV, the Jewish Voter Bloc was second in supporting Obama-Biden which it did a 77%, while the Hispanic Voter Bloc was third in supporting Obama-Biden at 67%.


How Selected Voter Blocs Voted in 2008 Election

SOURCE; Derived from Exit Polls.

Thus, in light of both the state-level Black Voter Bloc data shown in TABLE III and the nationwide Black Voter Bloc data shown in TABLE IV, there is little doubt of the Black Voter Bloc’s unique importance in facilitating the 2008 presidential election success of the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket. These Black Voter Bloc data for the 2008 election lend credence to the observation on this issue by the late University of Maryland political analyst Professor Ronald Walters (a prominent and regular contributor to Black I might add). In an article appearing in Black Commentator (February 19, 2008. Issue 132), Professor Walters offered the following cogent appraisal of the significance of the Black Voter Bloc to the success of the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket.

“Without the black vote, there would be no Barack Obama in the White House. Take away the states where the Black vote influenced an Obama victory - North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, and John McCain would have won the election. Our [Black citizens’] claim on policy fairness [from an Obama Administration’s domestic programs] is strong.” (Emphasis Added)

Concluding Thoughts: (I) Campbell’s View of Obama Era Playbook

I remarked at the start of this review essay that progressive social analysts can be classified along a two-fold continuum with “radical-progressive analysts”, on one side, and “pragmatic-progressive analysts” on the other side. I then located Professor Horace Campbell among “radical-progressive analysts” and placed myself among “pragmatic-progressive analysts”. What this classification of progressive social analysts means in operational terms is this. Namely, that “radical-progressive analysts” like Campbell have a propensity to interpret prominent progressive political events in our American oligarchic-corporatist democracy as potential “systemic-advances” toward a substantially progressive America. On the other hand, a “pragmatic-progressive analyst” like myself tends to interpret prominent progressive events in our oligarchic-corporatist democracy as potential “transformational stepping-stones” towards a fulsomely progressive America.

Interestingly enough, in the first two-thirds of Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, there was a “hopeful-expectant thrust” in Campbell’s discussion of the historical antecedents as well as the progressive-grassroots voter mobilization features of the Obama campaign for the Democratic Party Nomination and later for the presidency. In the first two-thirds of the book, Campbell’s discussion revolves around several core analytical ingredients-- ”ideology of hope”, “activist youth”, and “bottom-up voter mobilization”. As Campbell puts this in Chapter 5: “The Obama campaign was nourished from the beginning by the engagement of a progressive grassroots force which was like a seed waiting for the right conditions for germination and growth. Slogans of ‘Hope’, ‘Change’...and ‘Yes we can’ [emerged]... Hope trumped despair and apathy as thousands of young people were inspired to tap into their potential.” (p. 123)

Put another way, what might be called the “emotive thrust” of Campbell’s discussion of the development of the Obama campaign’s successful bottom-up political/electoral mobilization, was one that looked forward to some kind of radical-progressive impact on our American socio-political system. Campbell clearly alludes to this early in his book. There he remarks that although “Obama is not a revolutionary”, he is nonetheless “caught up in a revolutionary moment in world history.” (pp. xiii-xiv) Campbell then informs his readers of one of the core purposes of his book: “Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics is an attempt to clarify the revolutionary ideas and the harnessing of the energies of youth for a fundamental break with old [American] politics, economics, militarism, and racism.”

However, as Campbell’s text reaches its last two chapters - Chapter 8 & Chapter 9 - we encounter an analytical shift in the ideological dimension of Campbell’s discourse. This analytical shift tilts away from what I call Campbell’s generic “radical-progressive analyst” mode, and thus takes on something like my own “pragmatic-progressive analyst” mode. In so doing, Campbell provides some keen pragmatic-leftist and critical-theory type appraisals of the first two years of the Obama Administration.

Writing in the next-to-last chapter of Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century American Politics - Chapter 8 - I thought Horace Campbell provides some analytically intriguing formulations toward a viable progressive interpretation of what might be called the “Obama Era Playbook”. Campbell’s core first-level formulation regarding the “Obama Era Playbook” is quite negative. For example, on Page 247 of Chapter 8, Campbell remarks that “Within one year [2009 to 2010], the limitations of achieving [progressive] change through the electoral process became clear to American society. Those who were looking to Obama as a [progressive] messiah were disappointed.”

And earlier in Chapter 8 on Pages 219-220, Campbell proffers a quite shrewd observation. Namely:” After the euphoria of the election victory and the celebrations associated with inauguration, reality intervened. It was... the reality that the working people were being squeezed by the banks, the militarists, and the insecurity generated by the depression. By the end of December of the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. Government had committed over $11 trillion to save the financial system.” In a Table, Campbell enumerates specific corporatist cliques benefiting from those $11 trillion U.S. government handouts - via both the previous Bush Administration & Obama Administration. For example, some $700 billion for Troubled Asset Relief Program, $6.4 trillion Federal Reserve Rescue Funds, $182 billion to American International Group (AIG), and $45.4 billion FDIC bank takeovers.

Campbell conceptualized the allocation of multi-trillions of dollars to corporatist cliques as part of what might be called “Two Entrapment Axises” that engulfed the Obama Administration virtually on day one after Inauguration Ceremony. In Campbell’s words - “The economic team of Geithner and Summers (a disciple of the banker and political insider Robert Rubin) represented one wing of entrapment for Obama.” (p. 224)

Furthermore, Campbell suggests that - for reasons partly reaching back to Obama’s Harvard Law School days - President Obama is ideologically deferential to neo-liberal views on America’s corporatist democracy. As Campbell puts it:

“To inspire confidence in the very forces that precipitated [the economic] crisis, Obama named insiders such as Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner to top positions in the Treasury and the National Economic Council. ...By naming Lawrence Summers to be his chief economic adviser, Obama was making his peace with the hedge fund and derivatives forces...” (p. 223)

What about the second wing of entrapment? As Campbell conceptualizes the “Two Entrapment Axises”, the second wing of entrapment is closely interlocked with the “financial wing”. As Campbell puts it: “The barons of the armaments industry backed up the bankers, so that when Obama entered the White House, the financial wing of the entrapment reinforced the security wing held by Rahm Emmanuel, General [Jim] Jones, and Robert Gates.”

Campbell proceeds to proffer a rather shrewd analytical deduction from the phenomenon of “Two Entrapment Axises” that defined the systemic boundaries of the Obama Administration, so to speak. Campbell’s analytical deduction is that “Obama understood that he was trapped between the financial oligarchs and the military industrial complex.” (p. 224) As if this wasn’t bad enough vis-à-vis the high expectations for the Obama Administration held by liberal and progressive Democratic Party elements, Campbell argues that American progressive forces generally are not prepared to contest the “Two Entrapment Axises” now controlling a great deal of the Obama Administration.

There remains one final observation I’d like to make regarding the “pragmatic-progressive” segment of Campbell’s analysis. That observation relates to what I think is a keen kind of pragmatic-realist perspective that Campbell has towards the future impact of progressive-liberal and overall leftist forces on the next two years of the Obama Administration. Campbell exhibits this pragmatic-realist orientation in the middle of Chapter 8 (titled “Beyond Messiahs: Networks for Pease and Transformation in the Twenty-First Century”), where he remarks as follows.

“Unlike King [and the Civil Rights Movement], there was not mass movement that was organized [after Inauguration] to hold Obama accountable... The structures of the government and the Democratic Party contained the pollution and corruption of values that King had fought against. There was a grassroots coalition that had come together from different networks to elect Obama, but from the corridors of the [Democratic] Denver Convention, corporate elements strategized how to win the elections and then demobilize the enthusiasm of youth.” (p. 222)

Then, Campbell proceeds to put the icing on the cake, so to speak - the cake of the foregoing pragmatic-realist characterization of the state of affairs among progressive forces in the Democratic Party. This he does through a trenchantly critical commentary on the shabby condition of progressive forces both within the Democratic Party and American life generally made by the Princeton University philosophy scholar Sheldon Wolin. In Wolin’s most recent book , he introduces the intellectually powerful term “inverted totalitarianism” to characterize the rise during-and-after the Ronald Reagan presidential era of a full-fledged oligarchic-plutocratic corporatist American democracy (e.g., the top 1% of income groups now claim over 20% of national income). From Professor Wolin’s book - titled Democracy Incorporated: Managed and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2008) - Horace Campbell quotes the following:

“The American left has crumbled. It sold out to a bankrupt Democratic Party, abandoned the working class and has no ability to organize. Unions are a spent force. The universities are mills for corporate employees. The press churns out info-entertainment or fatuous pundits. The left no longer has the capacity to be a counterweight to the corporate state.” (p. 235. Campbell)

Let me say finally that while I share much of Wolin’s keen radical-progressive critique of the state-of-the-American Left, I refuse to share the heavy pessimism his critique emits. As a 79-year old African-American intellectual and former Harvard University political science academic (a Black intellectual forged ideologically during the militant progressive 1950s-1960s epoch of the Civil Rights Movement), I fully imbibed the historically deep radical-humanist ethos that defined the African-American Civil Rights Movement. A radical-humanist ethos of Black people-hood struggle and Black freedom struggle that extends back-in-time to great American slave rebellions, to great Black Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth, and to great 20th century Black radical personalities like W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, AME Bishops Henry McNeil Turner & Reverdy Ransom, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamer, and Rosa Parks, to name just a few.

I hope that Professor Sheldon Wolin might one day dip his progressive-intellectual cup into waters of the Civil Rights Movement’s historically deep radical-humanist ethos. There’s much in that ethos to drink from. It should be noted, by the way, that the intellectually progressive philosophy scholar Sheldon Wolin’s book - Democracy Incorporated – a groundbreaking critical-theory skewed portrayal of Reagan-era initiated plutocracization of our social and political system - has received very limited attention in serious news media (e.g., PBS News Hour, MSNBC, CNN) and political organs like Politico, Slate, Huffington Post, Salon, The Nation, Mother Jones, Newsweek, etc.

The foregoing reference to the progressive pessimism of Professor Wolin leads me to one last thought relating to Horace Campbell’s book. In the Chapter 8 of Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, Campbell makes it patently clear that as what I call a radical-progressive African-American intellectual, he does not harbor “progressive pessimism”. As Campbell puts it - “I would differ with those journalists who had declared the death of revolutionary traditions in the United States.” (p. 241).

But, may I ask, where among American progressive or radical patterns does Campbell envision new radical-progressive capabilities? He tells us - in a subsection titled “Peace and the Inheritance of Black Liberation” - that he envisions them among the political activism ranks of African-American society. Here’s how Horace Campbell formulates this issue:

While the organizational forms of the twenty-first century revolution eschew all forms of vanguardism and hierarchy, the history of the struggle for black liberation gave this movement a special place in the memories of liberation. Whether these memories came in the form of the Harriet Tubman principles or self-organization, the Ella Baker guidelines for participatory democracy from the grassroots, Martin Luther King’s dream of equality, or Tupac Shakur’s call for changes, the cultural and political voices from this section of the American progressive camp acted as a force against outright fascism Inverted totalitarianism could not find a base because of the organized and spontaneous activities of black revolutionary forces. Whether in the Jericho Movement, National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), black women’s movement, underground and revolutionary hip hop artists for peace, the liberation theology forces, [etc.]..., the radical black imagination ran deep inside the African American community.” (p. 241) (Emphasis Added)

Concluding Thoughts: (Ii) Limitations of Campbell’s Radicalism Discourse

Now as a “pragmatic-progressive analyst” I can concur fully with Horace Campbell’s foregoing characterization of the long history of Black America’s radical progressive influence upon overall American progressive dynamic. That history was a progressive Black American influence that, as the Columbia University historian Eric Foner’s writings have demonstrated, commenced with the post-Civil War Reconstruction Policies, which meant that the massive blood-letting of a civil war was required before this progressive Black American progressive influence could have its historic impact. And following the passing of those great Black Abolitionist figures like Frederick Douglass and J.W.C. Pennington during the 1880s and 1890s, the historic Black American progressive patterns and ethos were carried forward into and throughout the 20th century by cadres of progressive Black intellectuals, by activist organizations like the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP, by numerous Black trade unionists and their unions like the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, by the National Negro Congress of the 1930s and 1940s, and after World War II by a plethora of both local-level and national-level Black civil rights activist organizations - e.g., Congress On Racial Equality (CORE, Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee(SNICK), and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

However we should note that Horace Campbell’s reference in Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics to the long history of Black Americans’ radical and progressive movements has what might be called “a hidden-analytical purpose”, so to speak. By this I mean that Campbell wants to imply that the glorious historical tradition of genuine Black radicalism and progressivism is relatively alive-and-well today, here in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Here’s how Campbell puts this in Chapter 8:

“...[The] history of the Black Panther Party, and of revolutionaries such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King ensured that revolutionary ideas in society had a firm base. In this sense, I would differ with those journalists who had declared the death of revolutionary traditions in the United States.” (p. 241)

Here I think Campbell indulges in “rhetorical or cathartic radicalism” - a kind of romantic element in the radical-progressive analyst’s mindset, I would say. As a pragmatic-progressive analyst on the other hand, I prefer to indulge a “communitarian radicalism” mindset - let’s call it. Why do I say this? Because the “communitarian-radicalism mindset” isn’t romantic, but rather it is what might be called a “hands-on problem-solving progressive ethos”. So from this kind of progressive analytical vantage point, I sensed something quite curious in Horace Campbell’s discussion in his concluding chapters: In Chapter 8 (titled “Beyond Messiahs: Networks for Peace and Transformation in the Twenty-First Century”), and Chapter 9 (titled “Unbuntu and Twenty-First Century Revolution”).

I thought there were two things analytically curious about Campbell’s concluding discussion. One curious thing was a kind of analytical pretense that the radicalism and progressivism associated with “The history of the Black Panther Party and of revolutionaries such as Malcolm X...” was operationally applicable among African-Americans today, here in the early 21st century. I think Campbell’s analysis is quite mistaken on this important matter. Why? Because different types of radicalism might be appropriate or effective in one developmental or historical period but not in another. Thus while the Black Panther Party guys and gals were crucial in challenging what were nakedly fascist-type White police system’s assaults against the urban Black working class from the late 1960s through the 1970s, large segments of the urban Black working class has faced - since the late 1980s into the early 2000s - a quite different type of social crises.

From the late 1980s onward, large sectors of our urban Black working class were engulfed by a three-pronged “crisis-of-systemic-decay”, let’s call it. First, were the tailwinds of the national-level crisis of “systemic-deindustrialization of American cities”, with capitalist firms investing in either suburbs (around cities like Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Gary, Chester, PA, etc. where few Black folks reside) or in low-wage and often authoritarian countries overseas, China being the major one of course. This caused massive joblessness in cities where most working-class Blacks reside. A second “crisis-of-systemic-decay” involved the downward plunge of urban public school systems into performance chaos. This has been a devastating “crisis-of-systemic-decay” that’s disproportionately affected Black working-class children and youth right into the first decade of the 21st century. Today some 37% of Black children are poverty-ridden!

And, of course, the third “crisis-of-systemic decay” affecting our urban Black working-class involves what might be called “Black societal decay”. This has multi-layered features: 1) Runaway unwed births (now 70% of Black children born to unwed females). 2) Black family disintegration. 3) The notorious spread of Black-on-Black violence and mayhem, with a situation here in the early 21st century where - in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. - thousands of working-class Black males perish at the hands of other Black males more than at the hands of racist-minded White police. 4) The death of what might be called “Black-folks uplift proletarian culture”, which has been displaced by a capitalist-commodified Hip Hop Entertainment Culture that celebrates Black-male Machismo and Black-male Misogyny against our Black girls and women. I might note here that my critical outlook on Hip Hop Culture differs from a rather friendly outlook on Hip Hop expressed by Horace Campbell at several places in Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics. See, for example, pp. 26, 98, 131.

In regard to this last feature of contemporary “Black societal decay” , I grew up during 1930s-1940s in a small Black community in an Eastern Pennsylvania factory town where there was what I call a “Black-folks uplift proletarian culture” that revolved around several Black churches, one of which was an African Methodist Church pastored by my father (Rev. Martin Luther Kilson Sr.). And in the larger Black community in the papermill city of Chester, Pennsylvania - Scott Paper Co. was a major industry - there also was a “Black-folks uplift proletarian culture” that revolved around Black churches, one of which was an African Methodist Church pastored by my uncle Rev. Delbert Kilson.

Above all, what I call the “Black-folks uplift proletarian culture” in cities and factory towns during the first-half of the 20th century, gave special attention to cultivating the working-class Black family and cultivating the Black-communitarian leadership role of Black women, as the writings of the African-American historian Professor Darlene Hine have revealed. I recently wrote reflections on growing-up in two small Black communities in a Pennsylvania factory town 80 years ago - communities that provided a “Black-folks uplift proletarian culture” for their Black citizens. I had my reflections self-published in a booklet titled - Growing Up In Black Communities Of Ambler-Penllyn, PA, 1930s-1940s. I can send a few copies to people if they contact me and provide me their mailing address. Click here to contact Dr. Kilson.

Of course, there’s no doubt whatever that at the root of what I dub the Black working-class’ “three-pronged crisis -of-systemic-decay” stands the overall oligarchic corporatist national-level crisis of deindustrialization of American cities, which is reinforced by so-called “economic globalization” which I view as “neo-imperialism”. Be that as it may, I can say this to Professor Horace Campbell and other radical-progressive analysts. That, from the vantage point of a pragmatic-progressive orientation like mine, I see very few contemporary progressive lessons in what Campbell dubs “the history of the Black Panther Party and of revolutionaries such as Malcolm X”, that are transferable in a productive way to the “crises-of-systemic-decay” now plaguing the 21st century Black weak working-class and poor sector. “The Abandoned”, as the journalist Eugene Robinson has dubbed this sector of today’s African-Americans in his recent book Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America (2010) which I’ll discuss below. So I suspect that Professor Campbell and I will continue to disagree on this issue.

Now there is also a second curious aspect of Campbell’s concluding analysis in his last two chapters that I must mention. In Campbell’s Chapters 8 & 9, there is the absence of a serious discussion of the overall massive and devastating post-industrial social crises and cultural-development crises plaguing a large segment of African-American society today. There isn’t space in this review essay to relate the depth-and-range of these post-industrial social system crises and cultural-development crises, but I discussed aspects of them in an article in Black Commentator (September 27, 2007) Issue 246. In that article I observed that “the social crises plaguing lower-class African-Americans are systemically and culturally tenacious crises. Among them are the following”:

--Joblessness crisis

--Family breakdown crisis

--School dropout crisis

--Unwed motherhood/fatherhood crisis (some 70% of Black children are born to single parents!)

--Macho-male violence/homicide crisis

--Hip Hop influenced macho-male ‘gansta-culture’ crisis

--And last but not least, the high incarceration rate crisis

Furthermore, when we focus mainly on the social crises and cultural-development crises affecting African-American males, the rawness of the post-industrial American system’s downward mobility impact vis-à-vis African-Americans in general is horrendous. The progressive African-American columnist for The New York Times, Bob Herbert, addressed this situation in a recent article titled “The Raging Fire”, The New York Times (November 16, 2010). As Herbert tells us in candid terms: “We know by now...that the situation is grave. We know that more than a third of black children live in poverty [37% in fact].; that more than 70% are born to unwed mothers; that by the time they reach their mid-30s, a majority of black men without a high school diploma has spent time in prison. We know all this, but no one seems to know how to turn things around. No one has been able to stop this steady plunge of young black Americans into a socio-economic abyss. ...The terrible economic downturn has made it more difficult than ever to douse this raging fire that is consuming the life prospects of so many young blacks, and the growing [political] sentiment in Washington is to do even less to help any Americans in need.”

Thus I consider it an analytical deficiency that in Horace Campbell’s Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics, there was not in his concluding sections an attempt to address the most devastating set of social and cultural crises plaguing our weak working-class and poor-sector African-Americans Instead, Campbell limits himself in his concluding sections to friendly generalized commentary on several dimensions of “black revolutionary forces [traditions]”. From my pragmatic-progressive analyst vantage point however, this is not a satisfactory analytical and intellectual response by progressive African-American analysts like Horace Campbell to the devastating social-and-cultural crises plaguing our African-American weak working-class and poor sector.

Above all, I believe that the liberal segment among African-American intellectuals and professional persons are morally obligated to start designing hands-on type of “Black-communitarian problem-solving strategies” - let’s call them. What I call “Black-communitarian problem-solving strategies” can also be called “Black-people helping-hand strategies”, whereby some 5 million middle-class and professional class African-Americans who now exist today fashion ways to reach-out to some of the social crises and cultural crises plaguing our weak working-class and poor African-American brothers and sisters. The ultimate goal of such “Black-communitarian problem-solving strategies” should be a kind of full-fledged “Black Civil Society Revitalization”, let’s call it.

A marvelous example of a Black professional person initiating an “helping-hand response to Black social crises”, was reported by an Associated Press reporter - Jesse Washington - and published in the Boston Sunday Globe (November 7, 2010). It was titled - “Doctor Tries to Steer Blacks From Unwed Parenthood.” As Jesse Washington reported this important “Black helping-hand development”:

“One recent day at Dr. Natalie Carroll’s OB-GYN practice, located inside a low-income apartment complex between a gas station and a freeway, 12 pregnant black women come for consultations. Some bring their children or their mothers. Only one brings a husband. ...Dr. Carroll spends time talking to the mothers about how they should care for themselves, what she expects them to do - and why they need to get married. ...As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Dr. Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston’s poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.” (Emphasis Added)

Within the pragmatic-progressive orientation (which I share)toward the contemporary 21st century condition of social-and-cultural crises affecting nearly 40% of African-Americans in the weak working-class and poor sector, what I call Dr. Natalie Carroll’s “Black helping-hand outreach to Black social crises” must be viewed as a prime example - a template if you will - of a “New Era Black Activism”. Why do I say this?

Because Dr. Carroll’s “Black helping-hand outreach” to crisis-ridden working-class unwed Black females is a far more “genuine Black activism” than the kind of spurious Black activism label that radical-progressive Black intellectuals erroneously attach to so-called “Hip Hop radicals”. As far as I am aware, apart from the Black voter mobilization activity of several Hip Hop capitalists like Richard Simmons, the typical Hip Hop Entertainment doyens like “50 Cents” use their new wealth mainly for gaudy conspicuous consumption and vulgar display. They do not use Hip Hop Entertainment wealth for progressive purposes. For example, for neighborhood renewal investments in the poor working-class neighborhoods they grew up in or in other such Black poor neighborhoods in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago, Buffalo, etc. Thus, the typical Hip Hop Entertainment figures should take a lesson from Houston-based Dr. Natalie Carroll’s Black helping-hand outreach kind of “New Era Black Activism”.

Now returning to my general discussion of Horace Campbell’s failure to directly discuss contemporary social crises facing poor African-Americans. I have no doubt that federal government policies will be required to reverse the post-industrial era crises plaguing some 40% of Black folks. This crisis-sector of Black Americans was recently dubbed “Abandoned Blacks” by the journalist Eugene Robinson, in his important book Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America (2010)). Robinson - an African-American analyst - also presses for federal policies. As he puts it: “What is needed is a kind of Marshall Plan for the ‘Abandoned’ - a massive intervention in education, public safety, health, and other aspects of life, with the aim being to arrest the downward spiral.” (p. 213)

As a pragmatic-progressive intellectual, I’ve come to believe that at some point in the coming decade they’ll be a fairly sizable segment of White folks smashed against the plutocratic wall of corporatist greed and oligarchic authoritarianism, causing them to surrender old crypto-racist feelings about Black people and thereby join forces for a “New Era American Progressivism”, shall we say. It was another Bob Herbert column discussing the progressive economist Robert Reich’s book After Shock (2010) that propelled me to think of the possibilities of a “New Era American Progressivism”. Here’s how Bob Herbert presented new data on what can only be called a viciously oppressive expansion of our American plutocratic corporatist state:

“There was plenty of growth [between 1980 and today] but the economic benefits went overwhelmingly –and unfairly - to those already at the top. Mr. [Robert] Reich cites the work of analysts who have tracked the increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1% of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8% to 9%. In the 1980s, it rose [from] 10% to 14%. In the late-1990s it was 15% to 19%. In 2005, it passed 21%. By 2007 ...the richest 1% were taking more than 23% of all income. The richest one-tenth of 1% (representing just 13,000 households) took in more than 11% of total income in 2007.” (New York Times, August 14, 2010). (Emphasis Added)

The foregoing evidence amounts to a cynically immoral inegalitarian distribution of wealth and social mobility opportunity in our 21st century American society. I’m certain that Professor Horace Campbell as a “radical-progressive analyst” and I as a “pragmatic-progressive analyst”, can link arms and join ranks in order to fashion a “New Era American Progressivism”. Unfortunately, there aren’t presently enough fulsomely progressive attributes in the Obama Administration to jump-start a progressive reformist public policy makeover of our country’s plutocratic corporatist state toward this “New Era American Progressivism”.

Be that as it may, we owe a debt to Horace Campbell’s Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics for enlightening us how the Obama Administration, once seemingly ideologically progressive as it was born in the 2008 primary and presidential campaigns, but slipped, fell, and surrendered to what Campbell shrewdly dubbed its “twin entrapments” - namely, the “financial wing” (Wall Street) and the “military industrial complex”. Insofar as the Bill Clinton Democratic Administrations in the 1990s followed a somewhat similar opportunistic neoliberal trajectory, perhaps we might say that’s a normal political demeanor regarding liberal Democratic Party Administrations in our era of the American plutocratic corporatist state. I hope, of course, that this is not the case!

Epilogue: Obama and the November 2010 Elections

Let me conclude this quite rigorous review essay on Professor Horace Campbell’s interesting and important book Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics. I do so with a brief discussion of the November 2010 Congressional Elections and on aspects of the impact of those elections on the Obama Administration. A convenient way to present this discussion is through reference to the data in TABLE V reporting Exit Poll findings on demographic aspects of the November 2010 Elections.


Voters’ Preferences in the November 2010 Elections

SOURCE: EXIT POLLS as published in New York Times (November 7, 2010) and as published in The Wall Street Journal (November 3, 2010).

The one immediate standout fact emanating from TABLE V –for me at least - relates to the African-American voters. The Black Voter Bloc supported Democratic Party Congressional candidates to a greater degree than any other Voter Category - at a stunning 90%, compared to only 9% for Republican Party candidates. Only the Hispanic Voter Bloc and the Asian Voter Bloc supported Democratic candidates at a strong support-level - at 66% for Hispanics and 59% for Asians. Other ethnic or cultural voter blocs turned their backs on Democratic candidates - such as Catholic voters (mainly White Catholics) giving only 45% support to Democrats but 55% to Republicans, and White Protestants gave a measly 29% support to Democrats compared to 71% to Republicans. Furthermore, White voters in general gave 60% support to Republican candidates compared to 38% to Democrats.

This electoral feature of the 2010 Elections encouraged the political science scholar Professor Zoltan Hajnal of the University of California - San Diego - to pen an analysis of those Elections in an article titled “The GOP’s Racial Challenge”, published in The Wall Street Journal (November10, 2010). Professor Hajnal remarks at the outset that “The 60% of the white vote that Republicans garnered last Tuesday is, by most estimates, the highest proportion of the white vote that the GOP has won in any national election since World War II.”

Now this observation by Professor Hajnal suggests to me that the clearly hyper-rightwing ideological propaganda pattern that was broadly blatant among both mainstream 2010 Republican candidates and their Tea Party ally candidates, galvanized wide segments of White American voters. This fired-up those voters’ “enthusiasm level” nearly double the “enthusiasm level” of Democratic voters generally. As Hajnal informs us, the flip-side of the hyper-rightwing ideological Republican Party candidates’ appeal to 2010 Election White voters meant that “Republicans are alienating racial and ethnic minorities...”

Indeed, Hajnal argues that such general Republican Party alienating posture toward Black and Hispanic voters was already a pattern in the McCain-Palin campaign for the 2008 presidential election. As Hajnal puts this: “Relying on white support is not a new strategy for the [Republican Party]. In 2008, 91% of the votes that John McCain received in his presidential bid came from white voters.” But, says Professor Hajnal, this doctrinaire ideological antipathy of Republicans toward Black and Hispanic minorities---reinforced by the hyper-conservatism of Republicans’ Tea Party allies - will soon pose a major political dilemma for the Republican Party in particular and American conservatism in general. As Hajnal puts it:

“Republicans...face a real dilemma. They may be able to gain over the short term by continuing their current strategy of ignoring or attacking minorities. But that is short-sighted.”

Finally, it must be noted that another major political outcome of the 2010 Election relates to the Democratic Party in general and the Obama Administration in particular. That political outcome was referred to in the New York Times (November 5, 2010) by bold black headlines for its lead story on the 2010 Election published the following day. The bold black headlines read: “Setback for Obama and Democratic Agenda”. Accordingly, with the Republicans gaining a majority status in the House of Representatives - though fortunately the Democrats held on to a small majority in the Senate - they felt legislatively invigorated. As the reporter Robert Pear’s article “G.O.P. To Fight Health Law with Purse Strings” in The New York Times (November 7, 2010) commented on the legislatively revitalized position of the Republicans:

“As they seek to make good on their campaign promise to roll back President Obama’s health care overhaul, the incoming Republican leaders in the House say they intend to use their new muscle to cut off money for the law, setting up a series of partisan clashes... Moreover, Republicans leaders said they plan to use spending bills to block federal insurance regulations to which they object.”

In face of what has clearly been an ideological invigoration of the now extremist-rightwing Republican Party and its House of Representatives majority, a variety of liberal and progressive elements are now advising President Obama and his administration to reach back to that progressive grassroots- mobilization ideology and ethos that galvanized the 2008 Obama campaigns for the Democratic Nomination and for the White House. The editors of the progressive magazine The Nation (November 22, 2010) presented precisely this kind of advise to President Obama in its special issue after the November 2010 Elections.

“The extremist GOP may have won control of the House of Representatives,” observed The Nation’s editorial, “but it does not have a mandate to dismantle government.” The editorial continued in a similar stand-up-and-fight vein:

According to many polls, majorities across party lines want government to work, and they support a range of reforms to protect them against economic hardship and the marketplace. That includes retirement security, education, consumer protection, investment in infrastructure - but not tax cuts for the rich, subsidies for companies that offshore U.S. Jobs, elimination of the Education Department or privatization of Social Security and Medicare.” (Emphasis Added)

After the foregoing candid and forceful presentation of what might be called a “progressive agenda for American fairness”, the editors of The Nation delivered a clarion call to President Barack Obama to wake up from his “bipartisanism fantasy of the past two years” - shall we say - and summon the progressive courage to face-down extremist and crypto-racist Tea Party-influenced rightwing Republican plutocratic arrogance. As The Nation put it: “The nation confronts urgent problems. It is still in the throes of an economic crisis. Poverty and inequality are growing, the middle class is shrinking. President Obama should seize the moment to show that he is committed to standing with Americans who have been shafted. This is not a time to retreat. This a time for the politics of conviction that Obama has said [during the 2008 campaigns] he believes in. Yes we can, Mr. President” (Emphasis Added) Editorial Board member Martin Kilson, PhD hails from an African Methodist backgound and clergy: From a great-great grandfather who founded an African Methodist Episcopal church in Maryland in the 1840s; from a great-grandfather AME clergyman; from a Civil War veteran great-grandfather who founded an African Union Methodist Protestant church in Pennsylvania in 1885; and from an African Methodist clergyman father who pastored in an Eastern Pennsylvania milltown--Ambler, PA. He attended Lincoln University (PA), 1949-1953, and Harvard graduate school. Appointed in 1962 as the first African American to teach in Harvard College and in 1969 he was the first African American tenured at Harvard. He retired in 2003 as Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Emeritus. His publications include: Political Change in a West African State (Harvard University Press, 1966); Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970); New States in the Modern World (Harvard University Press, 1975); The African Diaspora: Interpretive Essays (Harvard University Press, 1976); The Making of Black Intellectuals: Studies on the African American Intelligentsia (Forthcoming. University of MIssouri Press); and The Transformation of the African American Intelligentsia, 1900-2008 (Forthcoming). Click here to contact Dr. Kilson.