Political Struggle: Don't Take It Personally

Former President Barack Obama speaks about civic engagement last month at the Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus. (Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak | Chicago Tribune via TNS)

Political Struggle: Don't Take It Personally

Former President Barack Obama's $400,000 check from a Wall Street investment bank to give a one-hour speech is both a partial reward payment for previous services rendered and a graphic reminder of how our political system works.

I was going to begin this op-ed by listing twenty-five of Barack Obama's most egregious actions as president. But I realized that an extensive recounting would be misunderstood as just more Obama-bashing, quickly lose many readers and subvert my overriding message.

For some time now I've been baffled by the number of people, mostly middle-aged and older liberals, who retain a moral blind spot where Obama's is concerned, almost a reverential "beyond serious criticism," loyalty that even surpasses that once held for Hillary Clinton. I've tried, not always successfully, to withhold judgment

How does one explain, if, after voluminous, compelling evidence refutes certain beliefs about Obama's time in office, those beliefs remain impervious to reconsideration? Is it because the propaganda has been so blindingly effective? Is it lack of exposure to competing narratives? Do personal investments in this conviction become just too hard to change with the passage of time? I don't know the answer, but I suspect that finding it is critically important to our country's future.

One plausible response is that criticism and critics of Obama's presidency from are being erroneously conflated with Obama the person. The distinction is important. Before Obama became president in 2008, most people knew very little about him. In some respects, he remains opaque. But over the years we learned he was cool, unflappable and possessed a first-rate intellect. Flashing a Kennedy-esque smile, he spoke in paragraphs inflected with folksy rhetoric. By all accounts he's a good dad and husband, plays with the family's two dogs and exhibits a charming, self-deprecating wit. There's no reason to doubt that Obama actually believes in what he says and does, including the "God Bless America" benedictions to his speeches. And yes, having a beer with him while discussing sports might be a pleasure. So where does that leave us?

Recall that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about not judging others by the color of their skin but by the "content of their character." I don't think it does damage to Dr. King's prescription to add attributes like gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity as unacceptable criteria for judging someone.

During his day, King believed that too many "Negro leaders" were dodging the struggle for a new order and were only "figureheads of the old one" (June 11, 1967). Aside from being glad that a black man had been elected president, I believe King would be sorely disappointed in Obama's record as president. But would that failing grade be calculated on King's character criterion alone? Or is there something else at work that's essential for us to consider?

As King matured as a leader and thinker he became anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and a radical activist. As such, it's not presumptuous to add a corollary to his criteria: the ultimate question to ask is, "What class did Obama serve?" After looking at the record, only those in delusional denial can fail to see where he came down.

Here's the takeaway: Obama's numerous debauched decisions ranged from refusing to pursue criminal charges against those responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 to energetically prosecuting more whistleblowers than any president in U.S. history; from continuing the disastrous wars in the Middle East to orchestrating the greatest transfer of wealth ($4.5 trillion) in history to the richest 1% in our country. These policies were neither "mistakes" nor implemented because Obama was a "bad guy," but because that's the role of the president in our class-based system. The president's function is to administer the state at home and abroad for the plutocrats. As David Harvey explains, the role requires that "...no serious challenges to the absolute power of money to rule absolutely" will be tolerated. Perpetual maximization of profit is the abiding principle. Period.

Straying from this basic truth into arguments over personalities only serves the interests of the powerful and unnecessarily antagonizes many good-hearted, potential allies. Finally, it diverts our attention from replacing this irredeemable system with one that responds to our desire for a truly democratic, radically different society. It's nothing personal.

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