Opinion

Black People and the Legacy of Barack Obama

Former US President Barack Obama
Black People and the Legacy of Barack Obama

“Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency was a curse on black America’s political heritage.”

— Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report

It is no secret that the folks over at Black Agenda Report have never cottoned much to ex-President Obama. It was, after all, BAR’s executive editor Glen Ford who, long before Obama’s 2008 election, and in reference to the great bulk of black elected officials throughout this nation-state, including most especially, the Congressional Black Caucus, coined the term “black misleadership class.” Once Obama actually took the oath of office in ’08, Ford promptly placed him at the head of that class. And, throughout the ensuing eight straight years, BAR’s senior columnist Margaret Kimberley has wielded an especially sharp pen against this country’s “First Black President” (a sobriquet Ford, Kimberley & co derisively employ as a way of reminding us exactly who and what Obama is not).  BAR’s post postmortems of Obama’s late presidency have been equally rough – and directly on point.

“Obama Gets Paid”

In her May 2nd column entitled Obama Gets Paid, Kimberley, as she routinely does, excoriates Obama apologists as they feverishly defend his recent acceptance of a $400,000 check for speaking to those Wall Street hedge fund managers and investment bankers – the selfsame ones who helped crash the US (and damn near world) economy in ’08.  Again, for eight solid years, Obama, President Obama, steadfastly refused to prosecute nary a one of them.  The principal defense deployed by Obama die-hards is, basically, that “everybody does it,” especially everybody, that is, who’s ever been president.  They point to the 1990 tour of Japan by then former President Ronald Reagan. St. Reagan (one of Obama’s two most favorite presidents) collected a cool $2 million for delivering a few stock speeches in the land of the rising sun over eight days.

Or, Obamaphiles remind us of ex-prez Bill Clinton’s apparently innate ability to still garner whopping speaker’s fees and honoraria from any venue anywhere even to this day – if and only if, of course, the price is right.  According to CNN, since 2001, that proclivity has yielded both Bill and wife, ex-Secretary of State Hillary, a jaw-dropping $153 million and counting.

Yes, it is now common practice among certain ex-presidents: Bush (I & II), even Nixon, eagerly embraced what St. Reagan referred to as the “mashed potato” circuit. Yet, somehow Obama’s most ardent supporters conveniently skip over or ignore altogether former President Jimmy Carter. That may be because Carter has consistently refused to partake of either the mashed potatoes and/or rubber chickens. Instead, to this day, despite brain cancer and his 90-plus years of life, ex-prez Carter devotes his entire presidency to a wide array of ways and means of delivering real goods and real services to real people.

Of Presidential Libraries and Largess

Obama was in town the other day, fully refreshed from his three-month Hawaiian vacation, a $65 million book deal, and, as noted, his $400,000 oration. Obama was here to hobnob with Chicago’s One Percent and to finalize plans for his presidential library, to be set in a 200,000 square foot space age building just south of his old employer’s (University of Chicago) campus.

Obama also actually stopped in at the University itself where he mingled with a few star-struck students.  And then he and Michelle dropped an unsolicited $2 million on Chicago’s summer jobs program.  Why so generous?  The purpose of this money, so sayeth Obama, is to “train the next generation of leadership…the Michelle Obamas of today and the Barack Obamas of today.”

That money is certainly needed and much appreciated, especially given the fact that Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first presidential chief of staff, seems to miraculously find funds for any and everything except Chicago’s South and West Sides – where the bulk of Chicago’s one million black  citizens just happen to reside.

President of All the People

The obvious question, which has many black Chicagoans (and black people nationwide) scratching their heads, is this:  Where was all of this heartfelt concern, and more importantly, money and resources, for black folk when Obama for eight whole years reigned as this nation-state’s “First Black President”?

He and his blinkered supporters still argue that:

* The Big Bad Racists Republicans would not let Obama do anything to specifically help black people.

* That he is “president of all the people of America, not just black people. (But aren’t we Americans, too?)

* That, as St. Reagan taught us, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Thus, programs and policies which specifically and purposely benefit Hispanics, gays, white women, the “working class” and the poor naturally, automatically “trickle down” to black people.

* That, targeting black people would alienate those oh so sensitive and always aggrieved “white middle class” folk who see the world as a zero-sum proposition: If blacks win (at anything), they lose (everything).

Black resistance, black revolt and black struggle against white supremacy and white racism began when those very first Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Dutch slave ships appeared off Africa’s West Coast as far back as 1444. That freedom struggle continued unabated right up until 2008 when black people basically decided that having a putatively “black” man in the White House was more important than the freedom struggle itself. Prior to Obama’s ascendancy, the standard that all presidents and presidential candidates had to meet as far as black people were concerned was this: What will he do for us as a people? At least, that is the standard I was taught as a child by my parents, who, until John Kennedy came along in 1960, voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates at all levels of government based on this simple question.

After 2008, at family gatherings I was often persona non gratis because I dared to continue to ask this question.  One of my elderly aunts actually stood up at the Thanksgiving table in 2014, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, “Blasphemy!” For her and millions like her, Obama’s blackness was enough.  He didn’t really have to do anything for black people because just seeing him and his black family in the White House wiped away the 400-year-old still festering wounds that had been and continue to be inflicted upon black people as a whole.   That is all Obama did for black people – get elected.

And now? Now that Obama is safely out of office and in no position to help anybody except (as detailed above) on a very occasional, very personal and very individual level, well….that is what his recent foray into Chicago means. Margaret Kimberley is absolutely right:  Because of Obama, black people are in the worst shape they have been in since Dr. King was so brutally murdered forty-nine years ago.

Because of Obama, we must now contend with a straight up and open white supremacist/white racist in the once again lily white White House.

But on a more optimistic note, we will survive Donald Trump.  It’s what we do best.

By Herbert Dyer, Jr/Counterpunch

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