24 January 2010

Assessing Obama

In a couple of weeks I am going to participate in a panel discussion among faculty at the University where I teach - a retrospective on Year One of Obama. The event is being sponsored by students from the Republican and Democratic clubs on campus. It should be fun. Over at The Nation there is a little symposium on the same topic. Here are the two best contributions:
Adolph Reed Jr.
Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

In January 1996 I wrote the following about Barack Obama in my Village Voice column: "In Chicago, we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program--the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics."

In 2007 Matt Taibbi described him as "an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum."

In 2006 Ken Silverstein noted Obama's deep financial industry connections. Glen Ford, Paul Street and many others have stressed those and other disturbing connections, including his penchant for supporting more conservative Democratic candidates against more liberal ones.

Obama indicated no later than the summer of 2007 that he intended, if elected, to extend the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan.

The only surprise about his presidency is how many ersatz leftists cling to the fiction that he's anything other than a superficially articulate neoliberal Democrat in the Clinton mold and that his administration would act in any other way.
Glenn C. Loury
Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University

From where I sit, the high point of President Obama's young administration was its inauguration. Much seemed possible on that glorious day, but it has been downhill since. Hope, it would appear, is more easily inspired than it is justified. And those eloquent speeches about change during Obama's historic and euphoric campaign look now to have been precisely what the candidate's detractors said they were--just words.

Specifically, my hope had been that elevating a progressive African-American Democrat to the nation's highest office would do two things: help to bring about an effective engagement with America's unresolved problems of racial inequality, and begin to reverse our headlong march toward a Hundred Years' War with radical Islam. I did not expect these things to happen overnight, but I did expect to see movement in this direction. This administration has shown scant inclination to do either, which is disappointment enough. But worse--far worse--is the likelihood that Obama's failure even to attempt such changes will discredit the very idea that these are worthy objectives for any Democrat.

Obama has said little of substance about racial inequality since moving into the Oval Office, and what he has said leaves much to be desired. His speech to the NAACP convention was a rehash of his by now familiar "family values" homily. His comments on the arrest last summer of a black Harvard professor were shockingly inept. Our black president seems eager to address the American public with passion about the race issue when his "friend" has been mistreated by the police, but not if it means stressing policy reforms that might keep tens of thousands of troubled black men out of prison.

As for the new American militarism, Obama has not really changed the direction in which we are headed. Indeed, and ironically, his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize attempted to justify American military hegemony as the necessary precondition of global security and prosperity in the second half of the twentieth century. His conduct of the "war on terror" and, most distressing, his escalation of our involvement in Afghanistan's civil war is eerily reminiscent of the approach of his immediate predecessor.

This is not change of any kind, let alone of the kind that we can believe in.

Most of the symposium consists in one of two types of comment: "its all been down hill" or "stop your leftist whining, be patient." Given what Reed & Loury have to say you can see where I stand. Loury is in the "down hill" mode and Reed thinks its been up hill, as usual.

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Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

I vote for downhill. The Nobel speech was the real killer for me. That was ridiculous, at best.

24 January, 2010 23:49  

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