The Great Debate on Obama: Is the Obama Phenomenon Good or Bad for Black America?

Workers Action
Ever since Barack Obama became a candidate for president, many of his unquestioning supporters have labeled his critics on the Left as conscious or unconscious allies of, first, Hillary Clinton and, later, John McCain. As a result, Obama was left free to gravitate as far to the Right as he felt convenient – and he […]

When Black folks start imagining an Obama that does not exist, we are in deep trouble.
Dr. Glen Ford

The following is a transcript of Dr. Glen Ford’s contribution to “The Great Debate on Obama: Is Obama Good for Black America?” which took place in Harlem, New York City. Dr. Ford was among those taking the “no” side of the debate along with several other prominent speakers. For the comments of the other speakers, please visit the Black Agenda Report.

Ever since Barack Obama became a candidate for president, many of his unquestioning supporters have labeled his critics on the Left as conscious or unconscious allies of, first, Hillary Clinton and, later, John McCain. As a result, Obama was left free to gravitate as far to the Right as he felt convenient – and he took every advantage of that freedom.

What we wound up with is a president-elect whose Cabinet to-date is mostly a Clinton Cabinet – and worse.

Obama’s military portfolio is in the hands of a Reagan/Bush-One/Bush-Two war criminal, Robert Gates, whose crimes go back to Iran Contra and the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors.

Obama’s economic mechanisms will be in the hands of the very same robber baron bankers that set the stage for catastrophic meltdown through their actions under both Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Nobody forced Obama to put together an administration that even the New York Times describes as “center-right.” (I think it’s much more Right than Center.)

Nobody forced Obama to break into a sprint to join Bush in bailing out the bankers.

Nobody forced Obama to browbeat the Congressional Black Caucus to reverse itself and support the bailout the second time around.

Nobody forced Obama to elevate Susan Rice – a fanatical advocate of so-called “humanitarian” military intervention – to UN Ambassador, a woman who wholeheartedly supports George Bush’s war against Somalia, which created what the UN has called Africa’s “worst humanitarian crisis.”

We don’t have to wait any longer to know what kind of president Barack Obama will be. His presidential appointments are presidential deeds – and by those deeds we know him!

Barack Obama has chosen of his own free will to put his face at the head of an administration whose most powerful portfolios – War and the Economy – are manned by the worst thieves and warmongers available.

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton looks like a relative moderate in this Obama configuration. And that is bad news for Black people, and the entire planet.

I maintain that this outcome – this “center-right” government in-the-making – became all but inevitable early in the process, when many Black progressives failed to challenge Obama even once on any important political point, before or during the primaries, when it would have made a difference.

This blind-faith, unquestioning Obamism abdicated all leadership responsibility, allowing Obama to play to the Right to his heart’s content.

Obama faced no organized Black opposition to his call for an expanded military – one hundred thousand additional soldiers and Marines – as if that would not inevitably lead to more and bigger wars and less resources for human needs.

When the effects of the subprime meltdown began to be felt in earnest, Obama refused to endorse any kind of moratorium on foreclosures or freeze on interest rates. His position was to the Right of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. But he paid no penalty, because there was no organized Black criticism.

Meanwhile, those of us who warned of Obama’s constant rightward drift were damn near called traitors to the race.

The Obamites demanded that everyone withhold judgment until after the election. Of course, by then it would be too late. It has been too late for a very long time.

At any rate, Judgment Day has finally arrived. And we see Obama taking great leaps and bounds to the Right. Farther Right than I ever anticipated.

But, you know what? I’m not mad at Obama. He’s just another cynical center-right politician, doing whatever he can get away with.

The people I’m mad at are the ones who let him get away with it – the people who still see their primary job as protecting him!

He’s the president-elect of the United States. He’s in bed with billionaire bankers and war criminals, and folks want to protect him. He doesn’t need our protection. WE need protection from HIM!

But this seems to be very difficult for some many of our folks to understand because, this entire experience has been…damaging.

It’s one thing to get carried away on the strength of hundred of years of pent up aspirations.

It’s to be expected that wishful thinking might temporarily get the better of us.

But when Black folks start imagining an Obama that does not exist – an Obama who has made some kind of Covenant with us, the evidence of which is nowhere to be found – then we are talking about a people who are in trouble.

I’ve got to admit that I sometimes get totally lost in the ill-logic that makes Obama good for Black people AND good for thieving bankers AND good for war criminals – all at the same time!

But, Dr. Smith has passed on to me the latest writings of Amiri Baraka, whose thought processes are believed by some to be a kind of Rosetta Stone on all things Obama.

Baraka explains how Obama’s choice of arch-Zionist and former hedge-funder Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff – the gate keeper to the White House – was a “very smart choice” and, by the way, good for Black people.

The logic goes like this: Rahm Emanuel will keep the other Zionists with bad intentions at bay, off of Obama’s back.

Amiri Baraka puts Obama’s political choices in a whole new light. Rahm Emanuel is not a dangerous Zionist. Oh no. He is the anti-Zionist, who wards off the really bad Zionists. Like garlic.

Transcript of Dr. Glen Ford’s Comments
Executive Editor
Black Agenda Report

Now we can understand why Obama needs George Bush’s war criminal, Robert Gates, as his Secretary of Defense. Gates is there to guard Obama’s far-Right flank against even worse war criminals who might be out there, laying in wait.

The same thing goes for the Robert Rubin clones at Treasury and the Council of Economic Advisors. There are actually even worse Wall Street thieves lurking around, trying to create trouble for Obama and – by extension – Black folks. Obama’s bankers will keep the really bad bankers off balance – or so the logic goes. And by this logic, Obama can and should surround himself with all manner of villains, to guard his far-Right flanks against an even worse class of villains.

The worst thing about Amiri Baraka’s logic is that I sense some of you actually agree with it.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at