Obama Slipping: Black America Waking Up

The final unraveling of Obamaism – at root, a kind of delirium centered on a corporate-crafted Great Black Hope – will be nowhere near complete until the hallucinogen is substantially purged from the psyche of its core constituency, Black America.

Tentative moves by outfits like the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party to explore the possibility of a primary challenge to Obama are encouraging, to be sure. But Obama’s awesome power to neutralize and disfigure progressive politics in the United States owes its potency to the First Black President’s psychological hold on African Americans, historically the nation’s most Left constituency. As long as Obama’s very presence in the White House continues to mangle African American political perceptions, effectively neutering Blacks as a social force, the chances of a progressive revival are nil.

Therefore, probably the most important political developments of the late summer are taking place in Black America – some of them “on tour.” Among activists, at least, Obama’s “Black Wall” finally cracked with the Euro-American assault on Libya. It was the straw that broke the bonds between Obama and Black nationalists and leftists, who were forced to choose between icons: the heady symbolism of a Black President versus Mother Africa. Spurred by former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s ongoing “Eyewitness Libya” tour, a distinctive, Black-led anti-war movement is emerging, one that is radical, anti-imperial and, specifically, anti-Obama.

On the mass level, the Black break with the president will be wrenchingly painful and drawn-out. Obama-ism, like other theatrical products, requires the suspension of disbelief, a willed walling off of reality. Had it not been so, the poseur from Illinois could never have caused the vast majority of African Americans – the group most suspicious of the workings of power – to conflate the fate of The Race with a center-right, corporate politician.

Having invested so much in the Obama persona – and endlessly reaffirmed that commitment in countless settings with fellow African Americans – it is inevitable that Black folks undergo the harshest “withdrawal” experience imaginable. The realization that the dream was a chimera is one thing, but to awaken to a catastrophe in which the Great Black Hope is revealed as the Great Black Betrayer, is another magnitude of pain. It will be an ugly – and uneven – spectacle.

The unevenness is seen in the results of an ABC-Washington Post poll that shows only 54 percent of Blacks agree with Obama’s handling of the economy – down from 77 percent in previous polling – while 86 percent approve of his presidency, in general. (The survey was taken before the climax of the debt ceiling fiasco.) By any rational measure, Obama’s economic approval among Blacks – who were hardest hit by the Great Recession and have the most to lose from the Obama/Republican cuts – should be in the basement. However, a near even split among African Americans on any Obama-related question is highly significant.

The gap between Black general approval of Obama – which is both a function of the Black unity imperative and a reaction to raging racism on the white Right – and revulsion at the president’s economic agenda, will grow. However, it is not to be expected that a majority of Blacks will register a general rejection of Obama to pollsters (perceived as “white folks”), barring an unforeseen calamity. (Which, in this age of accelerating decline and overlapping crises, may happen sooner than we think.)

“A near even split among African Americans on any Obama-related question is highly significant.”

Regarding the ugly side of Black withdrawal from Obama-mania: Al Sharpton and radio’s Tom Joyner have colluded to keep Black folks corralled and harmless with a phony “Jobs and Justice” rally on the Washington Mall, August 27, the day before dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. On Sharpton’s MSNBC talk show, the “Have-Mouth, Will Get Paid” preacher and the Obama-worshipping DJ barked the word “jobs!” at each other for an eternity without putting forward a single proposal to boost employment. How could they, without embarrassing Obama, who has no jobs-creation plan worthy of the name?

Joyner, the DJ, gets down and dirty attempting to maintain the defensive “Black Wall” around his leader. He recently castigated former friends Cornel West and Tavis Smiley for daring to criticize the president, claiming their breach of Obamite discipline emboldened Mark Halperin, a (white) senior political analyst on MSNBC, to refer to Obama as a “dick” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show. That kind of bullying was very effective during the presidential campaign, when lists were made and asses threatened to be kicked. But, those times are over, especially since the Libya attack.

The two heretics, now partnered on the Smiley & West radio show and in the midst of a 16-city “Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience,” have made Black opposition to Obama more broadly acceptable, by virtue of their celebrity.

Smiley, the television host, said the “wretched debt-ceiling legislation signed by the president is a declaration of war on the poor.” Obama’s last State of the Union Address, he says, was the first one since 1948 in which the word “poverty” did not appear.

West, the Princeton professor, asks: “Is Barack Obama actually who he says he was when he used the democratic rhetoric of King, or is he in fact the technocratic, pro-business acting president who gives lip service to the condition of poor people but no serious focus, lip service to working people but no jobs bill, lip service to fairness but policies that reinforce the kind of wealth inequality that already ravages the landscape of our society. That’s the fundamental question. And that’s far beyond polls.”

“Smiley and West have made Black opposition to Obama more broadly acceptable, by virtue of their celebrity.”

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan appeared as a guest speaker at the tour’s stop in Chicago, warning, “There will be blood on the streets” when the poor of the U.S. revolt. Farrakhan, who pulled off the “Million Man March” in 1995, was also a featured speaker, along with Cynthia McKinney, at the “Harlem Millions March,” August 13. A consciously Black opposition to the First Black President, on issues of peace and economic justice, is taking shape.

In this ferment, the Congressional Black Caucus struggles to find its own mission and identity, apart from the White House. Twenty-four of 40 CBC members voted against the Obama/Republican debt ceiling bill. Now, the Caucus is on a five-city, combination jobs fair/town hall tour, calling for targeted job creation programs and offering on-the-spot opportunities. More than 200 companies are said to be represented on the CBC tour, offering 10,000 positions.

“We want [Obama] to know that from this day forward . . . we’ve had it,” said the Dean of the Caucus, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, at a press conference during the debt ceiling debate. “We want him to come out on our side and advocate, not to watch and wait.”

“What the president is doing is not the same as what we’re doing,” said caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II, of Kansas City, referring to Obama’s current “jobs” tour. “We have real jobs to give real people who are unemployed.”

Obama has nothing to offer but austerity, suffering and war. Thus, his current “listening tour” of the Midwest. Former presidential booster Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist, advised the White House that it is better to keep silent than to offer minor jobs measures that would “just make President Obama look ridiculous.”

For Obama, this is turning into a long, hot summer, from which he may not recover. The final denouement of the Age of Obama will arrive when substantial portions of Black America reject him. For many, the process will be excruciating, and majorities of African Americans may never fully relinquish the illusion. But, the Obamite grip on Black political activity is already being broken