By Brian Browne
How sad when the reflection bears more substance than that which is reflected.
This article will be unpopular in the main. That is reason enough to compel its writing. Popular acceptance should never be a pursuit for a commentator on the political economy who seeks to do so with a modicum of integrity to his beliefs. For me, popularity is mostly an assured bygone but at times an incidental byproduct of the quest to adhere to the finer truths among the rush of what is said and written for public consumption. Much of what passes as news analyses and information is like the fast food that entices us along every main street and avenue of every modern city. It fills but does not nourish. The taste is good but is of scant benefit. Consuming it prevents you from that which is better for you. I am sure some who read this will attach this negative description to what I am about to say.
My pen leans left. I try not to disguise it or apologize for it. It is from that perspective that I make this case. So be it.
The near veneration of former President Obama is a sad testament to how far black people have been led down the primrose path that leads away from our better future. We have been led to believe we move forward; but what I coming is a replay of bleak aspects of both our remote and immediate pasts. The path we now tread also betrays our tradition of progressive politics which has been an ethical, if not always effective, counterbalance to the American establishment’s attempt to control the known world while keeping us subservient at home. We always stood against the conservative establishment’s penchant to throttle the poor at home and to pillory recalcitrant but nonthreatening nations as the hallmark of an imperial foreign policy that exploits ideals such as democracy and humanitarian intervention to mask more pecuniary aims.
President Obama is not the creator or the harbinger of a new and better age. He is a creature of his era. He does not define our times; the times define him. He adroitly took advantage of what had been laid out before him. Thus, you cannot understand the elevation of Barack Obama without first understanding the impact of Bill Clinton. There is no Obama without Clinton just as there is no Clinton without Reagan. Therefore, we must delve into history before we treat the Obama administration in earnest.
A mercenary compromise was performed by black politicians thirty years ago. In exchange for greater access to the establishment and its lucre, many blacks aspiring toward high profile political careers relinquished their predecessor’s roles as the foremost guardians of modern progressive politics in America. While black politicians were lining up and crowding the doorway to tender their half of this Faustian deal, the Democratic Party was undergoing its own cynical transformation. The party began to tear from its liberal moorings. The Rooseveltian New Deal – social security, public works, public assistance to the poor – had been the hallmark of the party for half a century. This served the party well.
But the social-economic forces that begot the Reagan election changed things. Conservatism had regrouped to overturn the public order of things and with it, change the moral foundation of public policy and discourse. A more selfish, materialistic worldview would ascend. Ambitious young Democrats desired to be elected into office more than they wanted to champion programs for the poor and vulnerable. They formed groups such as the New Democrats and the disingenuously named Progressive Policy Institute, for progressive it was not. They co-opted the label “progressive,” redefining its use in the American political lexicon to mean what it was not. By this subterfuge, they would dupe many naive souls into believing this group of Democrats wanted to safeguard the Rooseveltian legacy when their aim was to purge it.
New Democrats warred against the New Deal. As Reagan jerked the nation rightward, New Democrats were only too eager to follow his direction. The New Democrats would also form the Democratic Leadership Conference. Bill Clinton was its head. Black politicians who wanted to join the exclusive club to partake of the bounty given only to the elite not only checked their coats and hats at the door. They checked their consciences as well. As Reagan pulled white Democrats to the right, black Democrats ran after the white ones. (Only after he was elected into the White House would Obama show his true inclinations. During a meeting with Democrats, he exclaimed that he was a “New Democrat.” He dared not say it while on the campaign trail; it would have undermined his false progressive posturing. But once in office, he suffered no such inhibitions. He could then boast that he had chosen to be a slave on the very ship he was to captain.)
For a few pieces-of-eight, these black politicians sold their right to think independently and forfeited their position as the most left-leaning force in American electoral politics. Blindly following Clinton’s course, black politicians were in effect legitimizing Reagan. This is why President Obama could list Reagan as among his heroes even though Reagan launched his presidential campaign in the Mississippi birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan and never did anything during his years in office to atone for the obvious racism he came to represent. To this day, no mainstream black politician has the fortitude to call Reagan a racist when he so obviously was.
For these black politicians the movement for fairer black political and economic rights had ended. As long as fellow blacks had the right to vote for them that was all these politicians cared for. Their mission was no longer a collective one but a personal one. For them, politics was simply a game of thrones, not one of moral themes.
Because of the campaign money and political structures he commanded, Clinton had black politicians swarming around him like fleas to an open honey jar. With this phalanx of black hirelings, Clinton maintained the loyalty of black America due to his gifted tongue and his knowledge of black cultural sensibilities because of growing up near the wrong side of the railroad tracks in the South. However, the Clinton years laid the foundations for a diminution that black America is still suffering. Yet, Clinton’s words were sweet to the ear. He explained everything in terms that fooled most people into believing he was doing the bidding of the common man. He told people what he knew they wanted to hear. That he did the opposite had no great bearing on his conscience. His mission was to deceive not to lead.
A clear look at Clinton’s major goals show how successful he deluded working class and black America into believing he was for them when he was actually undermining their core economic interests. First, he repealed New Deal financial regulation. This caused a boom of predatory lending that would bust a decade later, causing legions of black people to lose the only significant wealth asset they had, their homes. Thanks Bill. Second, he passed a crime bill highly discriminatory to black nonviolent drug users. This massively increased the black prison population without a like increase in white prisoners although white drug use is higher per capita than black. Strange how that happened. Thanks again Bill for loving black people so much that you want to keep more of us under lock and key.
Third, his gutting of social welfare added to the suffering and destitution of millions who, through no fault of their own, had fallen through the cracks and had no real chance at employment. He expanded the cracks to make it a bigger hole that would be easier to fail down. In desperation, many of these people would resort to crime. Also, because of Bill, people with criminal records even for minor drug offenses could not receive in public assistance or live in public housing. Again, with no place to stay, little to eat and nowhere that would hire them to work, many had no alternative but to resort to even worse crime. Thank God, Clinton’s crime bill had been enacted to handle them. The private prisons Clinton championed were more than happy to take the influx. It meant greater profits. Fourth, Clinton would cut social services to balance the budget. As a result of this so-called prudence, the nation slank into mild recession. Without government running a deficit, the private sector is prone to contract. That is a cardinal lesson of empirical economics but not the conservative dogma to which Clinton affixed the fate of the nation.
Clinton executed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This accelerated the exit of factory jobs from American industrial cities. Clinton was shutting the door that was the traditional entry of blacks and other minorities into the working and middle classes. Bill wanted to privatize Social Security which would have decimated the pockets of the elderly poor. However, his tryst with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment trial gave old people a reprieve. Bill was no better at foreign policy. He watched and forbade strong UN action as the massacre slowly unfolded in Rwanda. He made a mash of Haitian democracy and still is meddling there to this day. Unknown to most, Haiti has significant untapped gold and oil reserves and picturesque land that would make for beach resorts. Bill wants a chunk of it all. His reckless policy of NATO’s eastward expanding is the parent of today’s trouble with Russian over the Ukraine. Clinton set in motion a dynamic that has brought the world closer to war much in the same way the series of competing blocs and alliances facilitated WWI.
This is the man whom Black people loved although his track record suggests that his vocation is to spite us. Black apologists will claim the economy grew under his watch. True but inaccurate. The GDP grew but most of that growth was based on a boom in debt. Lending went on a spree that would ultimately kill or maim those who participated in it. Wages stagnated because of Clinton’s embrace of Republican anti-union and labor policies. However, financial deregulation allowed banks to lend money at rates that the previous generation of Americans would have recoiled against as being usurious. People borrowed to the hilt. This was fake affluence. GDP growth was a mirage. It was vinegar at the bottom of the champagne glass. The bottom would come years later in the 2008 financial crisis. President Bush II would bear much blame for the crisis and rightly so. Clinton would get off free in the public mind; in truth, he was more responsible for it than Bush. When it comes to our economic well-being, Clinton was as much an enemy of black people as any Republican of his era.
In short, during the 1980-90’s, a wretched transformation had occurred. The Republican party was becoming a throwback to the 19th century Democratic party that controlled the southern United States during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The party of Lincoln was turning into a party that would have expelled Lincoln had he the misfortune being alive for the politics of today. The New Democrats meanwhile were turning their party into the Old Republicans of the Eisenhower-Rockefeller-Nixon type. Black politicians would be more influenced by the ideology of Reagan than that of Roosevelt.
The stage had been set. Obama would climb it. He was among those black politicians who decided to ride the train where all the gravy and money were stored. There was little allure in remaining a local community activist when he obviously had the talent for a much larger role. He had studied Clinton well. He would mimic man from Arkansas. In fact, there could be no Obama without there first being a Clinton to pave the way and set the mold.
To his credit, Clinton was an innovative political mind. At the height of his political prowess, Clinton had the intuitive ability to see things before they took shape. Obama lacked this uncanny gift.
Obama was president eight years; yet, there is not one important original thought or idea attributable to him. The signature health care law that bears his name was actually developed in Republican policy laboratories and was first implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican rival in the 2012 election. While Obama’s persona may be original, his policy ideas are a rehash of a rehash. This is a remarkable lapse. However, he has compensated for this absence of originality by being a most brilliant imitator. He is smart, vain and disciplined. Thus, he studied carefully how to make the ascent to high office and how to proceed once there. Clinton was more glib and convivial but prone to scandal and excess. Obama would be a study of rectitude and measured tones. He would not go off script or let his guard down. He would be free of personal scandal. What Clinton had created Obama would perfect: the triad of a liberal tongue, a conservative mind and a calculating heart. As with Clinton, the people would love the show without even knowing the reason why and without ample evidence from his policies that the show-master even cared for them.