Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everything in Moderation…
Except When I Don’t Feel Like It

Sour Grapes Turned to Whine?

“(He’s) talking down to black people… I want to cut his nuts off..”

These were the words which shocked the world, African-Americans in particular, when Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to Fox News journalists concerning a Father’s Day speech made by Senator Barack Obama that revolved about black men taking the initiative to be more involved in their children’s lives and to and turn away from the ills of crime and social nihilism. For reasons which hundreds of barber shops and hair salons are debating as to why, Rev. Jackson’s comments insinuated that speeches which seemingly scold the urban poor give little weight to addressing macro concerns of corporate and government responsibility (or the lack thereof).

The Rev. Jackson’s words (which he immediately apologized for—uh, he didn’t tap the mic?) were condemned by virtually anyone with a public platform, from both conservative and progressive circles, including his own son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Chicago). Senator Obama, for his part, publicly accepted the apology, and at a recent speech at an NAACP convention, reiterated his commitment to speaking on personal responsibility in the black American community. Much ado has been made concerning the senior Jackson’s presumed political irrelevance and his image to many as more of an opportunist than an activist. For the political left—certainly for anyone a part of senator Obama’s campaign—Jackson’s Freudian slip was a backhanded compliment—a chance to show the unconvinced electorate (among whites, anyway) that Obama is not the firebrand dashiki-in-his-bureau-drawer black candidate who goes out of his way to point the finger at Whitey. For the political far-right, it’s another confirmation of why they hate Jesse Jackson on principle—not that they were even slightly interested in voting for Barack Obama anyway.

Beneath the Rev. Jackson’s vitriol, however, just may be a granule of something worth considering: Specifically, the see-saw of stances taken by various politicians during campaigns, and the developments—or the lack of them—afterward.

I guess the jury is out on how things will continue to develop in this campaign. Senator Obama, far from a far-leftist to begin with, has crept more centrist in recent months—ostensibly, this is to woo the much-vaunted ‘moderates’ and Independents (mostly suburban and rural) who can vote either way in an election, and thus become the main people to cater to once securing the nomination becomes nearly secure. I vehemently disagree with this, as especially with progressive-minded folks, we see ‘our’ candidates seemingly flip-flopping just to appease people who have no vested interest in many (most?) of the issues that frame our point of view. Prison reform? Drug law reform? Comprehensive urban renewal? Mass transit options? Affirmative Action? Gun law reform? Forget it—they’re not interested—ambivalent at best, hostile at worst. Many of these folks are the types who apparently are easily swayed by the rumor-rhetoric that Obama is a closet Muslim, which of course, in the USA means he is a terrorist sympathizer, and his wife is apparently a disciple of the Black Panthers for doing a fist-bump. These are the ‘moderates’? The ‘everyday folk’ who represent real ‘American integrity’?

I’m not buying it.

The internal debate now among various Obama supporters is how heavily to criticize—or to criticize at all—the senator’s seeming shifts on issues like government wiretapping, the commitment of military troops to the Middle East, a blanket repeal of NAFTA, among other topics. Says one side, it’s more important to simply push to get Sen. Obama elected, and the minutia of various issues/grievances/requests as articulated by those who supported him early on will ‘probably’ be addressed in time. Says the other side, maintaining integrity and not waffling on the above-mentioned issues is more important than pandering to people who withhold committing until November. As much as I may sympathize with the former, I tend to identify with the latter. Bill Clinton was elected back in 1992 in part based on the idea that he would bring sweeping change—some of the issues at hand at the time were drug-law reform, welfare bureaucracy, a universal health care plan, and lifting the ban on ‘outed’ gays in the military. Time has since proved that Clinton was hardly any kind of Razorback-state hippie, and on select interviews Clinton fumed at the ‘liberal left’ concerning critiques on his decisions. Of course, once Monica Lewinsky told a secret, maybe the liberal lefts were among the few who didn’t look forward to roasting him at the altar of Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich.

“Since you came here, you have to show and prove…”
Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul”, 1987

How many people have accompanied someone to an event, only to have them ditch you for someone else soon after? You know, someone cooler, or better looking. That’s how a hell of a lot of progressives feel about developments like this. When Democrats regained a numerical advantage in Congress after the 2006 elections, near-immediate change on several fronts was promised again (thank you, Sen. Pelosi), only to have it more or less disappear like some Iraqi gold. Again, time will tell if Sen. Obama is simply “playing chess” to get the house keys, after which he would presumably start initiating and implementing some fair-minded reforms.

I fully ‘get’ that the senator is running for the President of the whole United States and not to be de facto president of Black America. I’m not remotely expecting him to be any kind of Mauist, either. I am, however, keeping a close eye at all these, ahem, adjustments to his policy views, and if (okay, shame on me, when) he gets elected, how all his talk compares to his walk. If the Democrats maintain a majority standing in the White House, there will be even less of an excuse for policy execution than there might be otherwise. Barack Obama being elected to the Presidency will inevitably have thousands of people rejoicing in their homes, campaign offices and in the streets—and heck, why not?

But I’m not celebrating anything if I’m not really welcome to the party.

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