When Barack Obama leaves the White House in January 2017, what will black America, his earliest and most consistent supporters, have to show for making his political career possible. We'll have the T-shirts and buttons and posters, the souvenirs. That will be the good news. The bad news is what else we'll have.... and not.
The Obama Legacy, Pt 1: Top Ten Things Black America Will Have To Show For 8 Years of President Obama
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon (Bruce has kindly consented to let us reprint this article in full. It is also found online here.)
To hear our black political class tell it, the election of the first black US president was its ultimate achievement to date, a giant step toward fulfillment of a previous generation's insurgent agenda for social transformation. Is that real? Has the career of Barack Hussein Obama really advanced any of the historic goals of the Freedom Movement? Is the question even fair?
With corporate media already speculating about next year's midterm elections, and the presidential contest of 2016, it's entirely appropriate to discuss the president's legacy. And fair is fair --- the black political class doesn't want its meager achievements compared to the agenda of those who fought for our freedom a half century ago, it probably ought to abandon its ceaseless self-promotion as the inheritors of that tradition.
It was the overwhelming black and brown vote, along with the utter, unwavering and uncritical support of African America which made President Obama's career possible. When he leaves office in January 2017, what will be the top ten things we can say black America gained or lost from his two terms in the White House?
10. We'll still have Obamacare, the cynically misnamed “Affordable Care Act”. The problem is that Obamacare was written by a health insurance company lobbyist to prolong his employer's parasitic business model, not to make health care available or affordable. A third of the health care dollar goes to advertising, profits, fat executive salaries, lobbying and the paperwork occasioned by thousands of insurers who make more money denying care than providing it, instead of a single payer, like Canada, Medicare, or social security. As Physicians for a National Health Plan point out, Obamacare will not curb medical costs or stem the tide of bankruptcies caused by health care bills. It won't force most employers who now don't offer affordable coverage to offer it in the future, because the administration is allowing employers to write its enforcement regulations, and it will leave millions more, all poor and disproportionately people of color, uncovered altogether.
Worst of all, Obamacare's 2016 effective date reveals it as a promise the administration never intended to keep. Back in 1965, when computers with less power than today's laptops were the size of boxcars, the Johnson administration passed Medicare and put it into effect the same year. That's the real comparison between the achievement of Obamacare and the effective results of a previous generation's struggle.
9. We'll probably have reductions in social security proposed and enacted by a Democrat, something no Republican could have initiated, that sets the stage for further reductions in benefit by either party.
In the tradition of Democrat Bill Clinton, who did what Republicans tried and failed to do, “ending welfare as we know it” in the 1990s, Barack Obama has promised Wall Street that he would curb “entitlements” the code word for cutting Medicare, Medicaid and social security.
With poverty at record levels, the ending of many defined benefit pension plans and the broken promise of retirement security from 401K plans looming black seniors will still be more dependent on social security than anybody, and the value of real benefits will be declining, if Barack's first negotiating offer to Republicans is any indication of his stance on this issue.
8. We'll have solidly in place a new tradition of bailing out banksters and speculators, and lots more immunity from prosecution for corporate scofflaws.
The so-called “Bush bailout” was only accomplished when George W. Bush in the last weeks of his presidency, and opposed by Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress called candidate Barack Obama to Washington to persuade reluctant Democrats to vote for it. After failing to pass the first time, Obama swung half the black caucus and enough Democrats overall to secure the passage of the $3 trillion Bush bailout. Once Obama assumed office, the $3 trillion became $16 trillion, with a free pass for the Federal Reserve to shovel more public money at Wall Street at will.
And for corporate lawbreakers, whether you were Goldman Sachs, knowingly peddling worthless securities to pension funds, or Bank of America, which foreclosing and evicting tens of thousands in cases where it couldn't prove actual ownership, a phone, cable or internet provider handing over access to billions of calls and emails, or British Petroleum, murdering its Gulf Coast ecosystems, livelihoods and its own workers, the Obama administration's Justice Department has come up with infinitesimal fines and immunity from prosecution for past and future crimes as the answer.
7. When Obama leaves office, we'll still have gentrification as the only model of urban economic development. To be fair, this isn't the exclusive failure of President Obama, it's the failure of vision of the entire black misleadership class, stretching over decades. But as the most powerful actor in the land, the man whose career is the crowning achievement so far of the black political class, Obama absolutely deserves to wear the jacket for leaving things as bad as or worse than the day he assumed office.
6. The day Barack Obama leaves the White House we'll still have the world's biggest prison state, with three quarters of its inmates black and brown, the insane 40 years War On Drugs, and a black person murdered by police, private security or vigilantes every day or so.
The best the Obama administration and its allies in Congress could do to address the 100 to 1 cocaine to crack penalty disparity was cutting it to 18 to 1 without changing the sentence of a single person already serving unjust time. Hundreds of thousands of black and brown youth are still doing years for mere grams of crack or minute scraps of marijuana. The police and prison state will, as before, remain the nation's preferred means to address poverty, homelessness, mental illness, immigration and many other social, economic and medical conditions.
5. We'll have US troops in more than thirty African countries enforcing Western land grabs and the corporate neoliberal order, and keeping Africa barefoot, sick, hungry and afraid, but well-armed. And we'll have an even larger overall military budget with more troops and more overseas bases than under George Bush.
During the Clinton and second Bush administrations, the US bankrolled, trained and supplied the armies of 52 out of 54 African nations to ensure that the continent remained the poorest and most war-torn on earth. Under its first black president, the US has stepped up the game with actual deployments of drones, mercenaries, special forces and other US military units in more than thirty African countries to enforce the neoliberal order in which Africa's wealth is diverted from its people into the economies and overseas bank accounts of the West and a handful of native kleptocrats.
Martin Luther King told us decades ago that the number one purveyor of violence on this planet was the US government. Barack Obama, who many fancifully associate with King, hasn't changed that one iota.
4. When Obama leaves office, it will be legal and acceptable for US presidents to unilaterally murder with or without announcement of cause anybody, anyplace on the planet within the reach of US drones, special operators and mercenaries.
When Obama assumed office the US was secretly imprisoning and torturing thousands in at least a dozen countries around the world. We are told now that torture and secret jails are used less often now, that the preferred expedient being simple murder via special ops team or drone.
3. The Obama administration will have closed and privatized more public schools than at any time in US history.
This is already an accomplished fact. Under President Obama, the US Department of Education has extended the authority to certify school systems to private agencies controlled by champions of privatization like the Gates, Walton Family, and Eli Broad Foundations, and allowed the same actors to write its Race To The Top program, which allocates federal education dollars to the school systems that disband, privatize, and hand over their assets to private actors the quickest.
2. We can cherish the memory of 8 years of watching that pretty brown family in that big White House, along with unprecedented black unemployment, declining real wages, and the most drastic shrinkage of black family wealth since we began tracking and comparing black and white wealth.
Who needs economic progress when millions can take down those old pictures of Martin, and the Kennedy boys, and replace them with the likeness of Barack and Michelle.
1. After 8 years of Barack Obama, black leadership and black America will have decisively lost and forgotten the habit, the inclination, even the example of standing against unjust and abusive power, and our former reputation around the world as a people of struggle. The height of the black Freedom Movement was only about 8 or 10 years, but it left an example of what it was to stand for justice and righteousness against bad laws and bad governance that inspired us and the rest of the world. Black youth who will reach maturity in the middle of this decade have no examples of struggle to look up to, only accommodations to power and excuses for inaction and ineffectiveness on every front.
All in all, it's not an inspiring legacy. For Latinos, the Obama era will mark historic broken promises on a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and the largest number of deportations by far of any administration in history. For labor, the biggest single broken promises are the failure to push through laws that would make the organization of unions easier, or the renegotiation of NAFTA. For media activists, there are the broken promises on network neutrality and freedom of the internet.
White America gets its card stamped as officially anti-racist ---- there are black CEOs, black admirals and generals, 40-some blacks in Congress and there's been a black president, after all. When the accounting is done, and Obama leaves the White House, everybody gets something.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be contacted at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com or via the site's contact page.