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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

IDENTITY POLITICS IS FOR SUCKERS!!!

When I first embarked on this multi-installment series, I had high hopes that it would represent a successful milestone and turning point for this blog.  I would offer a more detailed account of my journey from genuine Barack Obama fan to bitterly disappointed detractor, stunned and reeling after three years of betrayal (I’m sorry, I just don’t know what else to call it when the same individual who called for reigning in executive power and secretive government as a candidate has now become the premiere advocate of dramatically expanded executive power and extreme secrecy).

I hope that I’ve demonstrated in this series that I’m not some knee-jerk Obama hater and clarified that my support for Ron Paul’s candidacy over the previous year was based entirely on Rep. Paul’s consistently principled positions regarding war, torture, the drug war, the corruption of the Federal Reserve (his assessment largely shared by respected mainstream economists, including Simon Johnson), and the post-9/11 assault on civil liberties.  As many of the President’s defenders reflexively dismiss all his critics as “racist,” I wanted to reiterate that my support for Paul’s candidacy is in no way an endorsement of the shameful, race-baiting tactics he embraced in the 1980s and ‘90s — and no indication that, in my estimation, the congressman has sufficiently addressed this egregious error in judgment (indeed, when responding to journalists’ questions about his infamous newsletters, Mr. Paul bears an uncanny resemblance to his evasive, imperious, full-of-crap colleagues — a sight that is otherwise rare).  This matter unquestionably remains a blot on Rep. Paul’s record, however much I respect his integrity on those other issues dear to my heart.

Beyond the clarifications, I also wanted to reflect on my previous positions and, if possible, pivot. I’d spent the previous year metaphorically jumping up and down shouting that folks should BAIL ON THIS ROTTEN ESTABLISHMENT“Abandon the crooked establishment that has so clearly abandoned you!” I exhorted on this page and elsewhere.  I hoped to see principled progressives and conservatives reject the establishment’s two lame choices: President Obama and Governor Romney, WHO AGREE ON FAR TOO MUCH.  In addition to participating in hundreds of conversations on-line, I distributed as many posters and fliers as I could in my own community, directing people to this site and hoping my ideas would prove infectious…

Apparently they have not.  It seems I have yet to pen the 21st-century equivalent of “Common Sense” or doodle the perfect “Tammany Tiger” political cartoon — the one that spreads like rebellion, wildfire, or the bubonic plague (of shrewd political thought, that is).  Fair enough.  So I set out to write this blog — this multi-installment series — prepared not only to explain what I’ve been up to and why (for the first time presenting my thesis about this presidency), but also to help myself to a nice serving of humble pie.  After all, virtually all of my publicly-expressed hopes for the last few years have failed to materialize.  I can’t help feeling a little foolish.

So here’s what I’m saying going forward…

I can understand casting a vote for nice-guy Barack Obama over vulture-capitalist robot Mitt Romney.  I’m sure that plenty of people for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection will be doing precisely that this fall.  Many of them, I’m sure, understand perfectly well that the President has not delivered on the promise of his election, but they also know that a second term for Obama means thousands of appointments (judges, technocrats, etc.) across the government that will go to competent, generally progressive individuals, rather than aggressively partisan, crony-zealots with little or no relevant expertise (the typical appointee under the last Republican president).  Democratic voters know that President Obama’s government will probably be more war averse than Romney’s, somewhat more inclined to regulate out-of-control corporations, and at least willing to contemplate the needs of the poor (not that food stamp enrollment didn’t EXPLODE under George W. Bush, because it did).

That said, MANY Obama supporters are apparently confused about the President’s actual record.  In the interest of opening a few closed minds, the following is a SHORT LIST OF FALSEHOODS that many Democrats still believe about President Obama:

– He fought to close Guantanamo Bay (au contraire; not only did the President fail to push Congress to close GITMO, he blocked the effort by Secretary of State Clinton and Attorney General Holder to get Congress moving on that front);

– He made good on his commitment to end the war in Iraq (rather he doggedly pushed the Iraqis to extend the U.S. military presence beyond the Bush-negotiated agreement and, failing to win their permission, continues to support a vastly militarized, largely privatized, State Department-occupation of Iraq);

– He fought for the Public Option’s inclusion in the ACA (wrong again; Obama specifically had the Public Option killed — when it had passed in the House and had the votes to pass the Senate — complying with the terms of his campaign promise-betraying backroom deal with AHIP, the insurance lobbyist group);

– He ended warrantless wiretapping, rendition and torture, military tribunals, and indefinite detention (100% wrong; Obama has only cemented and expanded on the radical authorities Bush and Cheney claimed);

– He opposed subjecting American citizens (uncharged with any crime) to indefinite detention/execution by the U.S. military (instead, the President INSISTED that American citizens not be exempted from these provisions of the December 2011 NDAA, and had the law amended to reflect that preference)…

And hundreds of other decisions that have come out of this White House, from the very beginning, with the President standing with banks, corporations, neocons, the forces of austerity and conservatives, generally — and repeatedly brushing aside the concerns of labor groups, economists, scientists, environmentalists, foreign policy experts, civil libertarians, and progressives (whom his first Chief of Staff famously called “retards”).

I N   C O N C L U S I O N…

The conversation over the last few days has been dominated by revelations in a New York Times article about how President Obama has managed his government’s secret drone assassination program.  Among the many tidbits of information in this generally worshipful (obviously administration-blessed and facilitated) article is the fact that America now accepts as legitimate the once radical notion that national boundaries and international law are no obstacles to sending flying death machines anywhere the president secretly decrees, with the object of murdering people whose identities and activities are essentially mysterious, even to those ordering their deaths (“EXECUTION BY PROFILING” is the order of the day, turning the CIA’s drones into an official flock of George Zimmermans — all Arab-looking men of military age, beware!).

THE POINT: Just as most conservatives were starry-eyed during the majority of George W. Bush’s time in office, failing to see (until it was too late) what a reckless, godless, radical profligate he was, MANY liberals are similarly glossy in their perception of Barack Obama… and on the same basis: IDENTITY POLITICS.

– But where conservatives saw a good, hardworking man of faith in George W. Bush, surrounded by a council of cool-headed, veteran grayhairs, what they actually got was a petulant, apathetic, and impatient child surrounded by an ideological cabal of rabid, grasping extremists.

– And where liberals today see in Obama a careful, principled progressive battling against a conservative tide, what they’re really getting is a very conservative corporatist, battling progressives and working aggressively to mitigate the global backlash against the outlandish criminal predations of the .1% (he’s even done a considerable amount to thwart, co-opt, and pervert the Arab Spring, which helps explain why America’s image has continued to plummet in the Muslim world under this president).

And he’s doing it all in broad daylight, thanks to the cover provided by right-wing bigotry (which induces most thinking people, at least, to rally around the President); highly effective “liberal” branding; a terribly propagandistic media; and truly breathtaking left-wing hypocrisy — everything the left declared “fascist” under Bush it now condones, either explicitly or with its deafening silence.  And that is President Barack Obama’s real accomplishment and lasting legacy: Cheney’s fascism normalized; the left muted in the face of neoconservative ascendance.

Yes, Barack Obama seems like a liberal, with his community-organizing past and Kenyan ancestry.  Yes, he can convincingly make some liberal-sounding noises, and has occasionally governed as a halfway decent center-left politician.  But one day this chapter of American history will be seen through dispassionate, nonpartisan eyes.  And the tale that’s told will be one of lost opportunities — of easily-within-reach, desperately needed, and historically proven solutions utterly ignored — in favor of a doomed attempt to salvage a corrupt, morally repugnant agenda that most of the world was in the process of shrugging off.

Now that he’s not winning any elections for the GOP, George W. Bush has become a pariah to the Republican establishment.  No one on the right dares even speak his name. If we on the left keep seeing President Obama through the rose-tinted, hyper-partisan lenses of the last few years — NEVER challenging him from the left — I say we’re running an awful risk of resembling our conservative counterparts five or so years from now, regarding Barack Obama: mortified to even acknowledge his existence.

I hope that doesn’t happen.  But as things currently stand, I’m worried that a lot of people on the left will one day realize the enormous extent of what’s been lost over these last few years — and how expertly they’ve been played for suckers.  Only with the Bill of Rights and Posse Comitatus officially retired by our current leaders — and with a new “President Bush” or possibly a “President Palin” in the Oval Office — what exactly will these Democrats have to say about anything then?

Probably not much.

[That’s right: one final digression before I conclude my series on identity politics…]

“National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney… believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion ‘transactions’ — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States.”

— from the April 20, 2012 edition of Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!

“And we uncovered widespread surveillance of different, you know, peace and justice groups, environmental groups, all kinds of different groups. And that, in turn, started an inspector general investigation that was just released in September of 2010 that showed that the FBI was opening these investigations with what they called factually weak predicates, sometimes even speculative predicates. So it wasn’t that they thought that the groups were involved in any criminal activity now, but just that it was a possibility in the future they might be… And that was the sole criteria that the FBI was using to open preliminary inquiries… those investigations remained open for years, with no evidence of wrongdoingthe victims of these investigations would be put on terrorist watch lists.”

— Mike German, former FBI agent, National Security Policy Counsel for the ACLU (from the June 14, 2011 broadcast of Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!)

[The point of opening with the previous two excerpts from Ms. Goodman’s excellent news program will be evident shortly, so please bear with me as I begin by sharing a little personal information.]

…However seriously I may seem to take myself on these pages, in my personal life I have generally tried to add humor to most settings (when appropriate, I mean). I’m nearly always a hit with the kids, and usually the adults, too. In short, I think I’m funny. When someone remarks to me that “great minds think alike,” I sometimes respond, “ours, too!” I’ve a taste — and an occasional knack — for puns, irony, sarcasm, outright silliness, and dry wit. For instance, when I learned that Hemingway’s favorite example of his own work was a “six-word novel,” I came up with a six-worder of my own, funny (I thought), and eloquent of our times: Privately, each lemming had contemplated revolt.

Those who know me best know that I like to riff, mug, tell stories, affect voices, and even invent songs (in addition to concocting a jazzy beat every now and again, I’ve been making up song lyrics since I was a kid — also something I did at the CODE PINK house in Washington, D.C., a few years back, to help those outstanding advocates for peace try to affect change from the nation’s capital).

But so far as the riffing and singing, such diverting silliness has buoyed me even during moments of solitude (on road trips, for instance) or when my only companion is my Siamese cat, who loves the patter, especially when he’s being sung to.

Taking a moment to distinguish between that which IS and that which is NOT fascism...

SO this morning, after some reading, I’m blathering some nonsense to my cat, who has decided to join me in the kitchen — and RACE is kicking around in my subconscious. Before going to bed the previous night, I’d watched a few clips of political comedy, including an SNL excerpt featuring a fairly racist impression of Rev. Al Sharpton — grossly exaggerating his inarticulateness and lack of expertise (just the latest example of the MSM’s crude caricature of Sharpton, which denies his frequent eloquence and informed views). An enormous, simultaneously solicitous and supercilious mound of tan-and-black fluff at my feet, I was about to let fly with my mocking impersonation of the SNL impersonation of the good Reverend (and get that stupid, bored look off my cat’s face), when it occurred to me that my cell phone’s microphone could be recording me…

Sure, the odds were probably against it, but…

(Okay, I don’t like feeling paranoid any more than the next person, but I did spend nearly half a year at the CODE PINK house in D.C. and I’ve been a political activist/artist since the late 1990s, in and out of the U.S. — currently supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement, regularly attending meetings and rallies in my state. I even helped shut down the Oakland port, which is just the type of civil disobedience that’s currently being redefined in Washington as “terrorism.” What I’m trying to say is that it is actually reasonable for me to suspect that my “government file” has a few more red flags on it than the average Joe’s, and it’s a lot more likely that the NSA and friends have more of an interest in me than, say, my apolitical neighbor, the exterminator.)

So it is POSSIBLE, at least, that my cell phone’s microphone was being used by the federal government to spy on me this morning… possible (especially considering how goddamn entertaining I am — how can those NSA and FBI chair-sitters resist the James Show?). That being the case, when the “paranoid” thought occurred, I had to ask myself: Do I want the FBI or NSA or whomever to have a recording of me sounding like some ignorant white jerk mocking an African-American icon?

No, I did not. Instead, I just shut right up… in my own home… attended only by my cat.

And that’s the reality of living in a surveillance state: a grown man watching what he says and does in the privacy of his home, because he fears his government and knows that the corporations that run his government have been drafting — and passing — laws that equate lawful dissent with terrorism …and if he ever begins to take on the aspect of a thorn in the establishment’s side, that establishment will use anything that appears handy to try to discredit him; that is, after all, their modus operandi — just ask legendary Pentagon whistleblower (re: Vietnam lies) Daniel Ellsberg, CIA whistleblower (re: torture) John Kiriakou, NSA whistleblower (re: nearly a billion dollars in graft and systematic, mass violations of the Fourth Amendment) Thomas Drake, Academy Award-nominated, U.S. government-persecuted American filmmaker Laura Poitras, or truth-revealing WikiLeaks, to name but a few.

The truth is there’s no longer any denying that our government (Bush through Obama) singles out peace activists, journalists, Muslims, environmentalists, and others for blanket surveillance, infiltration, and even entrapment — even when the individuals being surveilled have given no reasonable cause to suspect them of illegal activity. Consider the power nexus that has been exposed in the British government’s and Scotland Yard’s collaboration over the last decade with corporate media-giant NewsCorp, hacking into the private records of news subjects and political enemies alike — Rupert Murdoch’s ideology and agenda, fused with the powers that be in England, America, and beyond…

Now that, my friends, is FASCISM.

*             *             *

NOW let’s talk about the other kind of “fascism” (the pretend kind). What was I afraid of when I stifled my improvisational self in my own home? The possibility that someone could potentially use a recording of me taken out of context in an effort to make me appear to be something I’m not (granted, it’s not likely that anyone’s too terribly interested in my activities today, as I’m hardly the most prominent activist on the scene… but one day I might appear on the establishment’s radar — and on that day, if past is precedent, their gloves will come off).

Folks on the right, however, would say I was afraid of “the true fascism:” the “Political Correctness (PC) Police.” The right — including plenty of people who consider themselves “liberal” or mainstream — often rebels against the notion that African-Americans can use the “n-word” when whites cannot, or that they can’t call women “dames” or “skirts” anymore. These social reactionaries see “oppression” in an evolved cultural sensitivity toward the victims of America’s history of actual oppression (new social awareness and mores that discourage their “jokes” and pithy commentaries, their “wisdom” based on stereotypes and ignorance).

Not that the right hasn’t tried to wield this “oppressive” correctness to achieve its ends… Last year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart had to defend himself against (trumped-up) accusations coming from right-wingers trying to paint him as a racist, because he sometimes tried to capture the tone and cadence of the risible GOP candidate Herman Cain. Stewart’s montage of himself affecting every accent under the sun (an equal-opportunity satirist) provided a convincing enough rebuttal and that was that: a phony tempest dissipated in a tiny teapot…

But now we come to the point where we have to address that this problem (knee-jerk insensitivity/jealous defense of bigoted notions and practices) goes considerably further than the FOX News/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck crowd… because it isn’t limited to black/white politics or America’s borders.

Many Americans (I hope not most) have apparently made themselves comfortable with the revolting term “Islamofascism.” Many apparently see “fascism” in Muslims’ sensitivity to the West’s unending plunder and desecration of their lands, people, culture, and religious traditions. Why can’t we draw Mohammed? these Americans naively demand, sincerely confused. What’s the big deal about a few smoldering or urinated-upon Korans? Why can’t we constantly depict Muslims as irrational, fanatical, barbaric, misogynist, and subhuman in our cultural, pop-cultural, and political realms? What’s the big deal?

But the answer is simple, and it relates to the same reasons we CAN’T (or some of us choose not to) dress up in black face or use the “n-word” in 21st-century America: Because it demonstrates an extraordinary insensitivity to an ongoing legacy of great historical wrongs, genocidal conduct (also ongoing), and systematic cruelty (the real fascist agenda, the .1%’s agenda, to the detriment of the whole world and freedom everywhere, near as I can tell).

And, no, there’s nothing funny about it…

THE OBAMA ERA — A WIN-WIN FOR THE RIGHT

Before I continue with this, the penultimate installation of this long slog of a series, I would like to commend the President for his recent endorsement of marriage rights for all Americans: THANK YOU, PRESIDENT OBAMA, FOR TAKING THIS BARRIER-BREAKING STAND IN DEFENSE OF CIVIL RIGHTS. After your recent decision to permit federal contractors (those extravagant wastrels) to discriminate against LGBT employees, this genuine step forward is most welcome.

*          *          *

Now, regrettably — having previously acknowledged the President’s many admirable qualities and the myriad ways that he does represent an improvement over his dreadful predecessor — the time has come to broach THE DIFFICULT (paradoxical and painful) TRUTH ABOUT THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY: PRESIDENT OBAMA IS ON COURSE TO BECOME ONE OF THE GREATEST HEROES THAT MOVEMENT CONSERVATISM HAS EVER HAD, The One capable of FINALLY putting ENTITLEMENTS ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK (even though his justifications for doing so are grounded only in ideology, not necessity) and applying THE “SHOCK DOCTRINE” to the United States of America: massive privatization and the dismantling of the social safety net and public sector; extreme wealth inequality; the permanent contraction of the middle class; and the rise of an entrenched police/surveillance-state oligarchy where once stood a democratic, constitutional republic.

Were many of these trends well-established when Barack Obama first came to the White House? Certainly.  They follow an arc that goes back to the early 1980s, at least — but President Obama came into office at THE critical moment for the conservative project of which these trends are part and parcel, with the neocons’ wars reviled and adrift and the oligarchs’ financialized economy imploding.  This make-or-break moment for Milton Friedman’s bleak, authoritarian economics afforded President Obama enormous power and discretion to either scuttle the establishment’s loathsome agenda or rescue it, papering over its glaring defects, preserving its power structure, and consummating its fruition.

Obama clearly chose the latter course.

Why, you ask?  Because his basic disposition is pro-corporate and conservative (the furthest thing from socialist, as he keeps telling us)… because he has been far too inclined to defer and cater to the corrupt old establishment (staffing his administration with Wall Street insiders and the worst of the Clinton and Bush old guard before he was even inaugurated: Summers, Geithner, Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal, John Brennan, etc.)…

And, most importantly, because President Obama basically believes what the right believes: that entitlements and the public sector positively must face serious cuts and regressive restructuring; that the “Too Big To Fail” financial institutions must survive at all costs, even if their unreformed practices threaten a second global meltdown; that a boundless, neoconservative approach to counterterrorism, based on Donald Rumsfeld’s privatized, unaccountable model, is somehow ideal; and that, even though the richest Americans and corporations are taxed at historically low rates — and even though simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would add $4 TRILLION to the Treasury over the next decade — the public sector and entitlements should bear the brunt of this economic contraction…

Let me emphasize that last point: ALL PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS TO DO TO PUT FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS BACK IN THE U.S. TREASURYAND ELIMINATE THE CASE FOR DRASTIC CUTS TO ENTITLEMENTSIS TO SIMPLY LET THE BUSH TAX CUTS EXPIRE.

*          *          *

But the President is light years from making the perfectly reasonable case for letting the Bush tax cuts expire and preserving vitally needed government programs.  He’s clearly taken to his role as the politician who is going to convince Americans that we (needlessly) need to CUT TRILLIONS to essential programs and services that we built, programs like the deliberately sabotaged U.S. Postal Service, Medicare and Social Security — neither failing nor insolvent, despite the many attempts to portray them as such — while we continue to underwrite the largely fraudulent global finance system (again, to the tune of TRILLIONS) and perpetuating the TRILLION-DOLLAR wars that fuel terrorism globally… all the while, neglecting our crumbling infrastructure, privatizing our school system, and curtailing civil liberties.

Folks, this is pure SHOCK DOCTRINE economics; Neoliberal plunder (jackbooted capitalism).

It’s also about the most outrageous case of bait and switch imaginable: “Heavens to Betsy, if Wall Street doesn’t get trillions of dollars, immediately and with no strings attached, the sky will fall!” Then, after we’ve transferred some $16 TRILLION to the miscreants (without actually restoring them to solvency), they go right back to business as usual and turn the conversation to AUSTERITY.  They propagate an irrational brand of deficit hysteria that’s as oblivious to recent history (austerity’s dismal track record in Europe) as it is to everything America did to emerge from our last Depression, when we spent our way out of a deeper hole than the one we’re in today and built the foundation for an extraordinarily prosperous half-century (with infrastructure investment, shared benefits, a social safety net, expanded civil rights, and an intelligently regulated banking system — all anathema to today’s political leadership).

Another way of illustrating the nasty little trick that the 1%’s pulled off here (successfully, thanks to the active agency of this White House), has been expressed in the following JOKE: A banker, a union worker, and a right-winger sit down at a table with a plate full of a dozen cookies.  Before the other two can react, the banker snatches ELEVEN of the twelve cookies and stuffs them into the pockets of his suit.  He then turns to the right-winger and gestures to the plate, saying “Watch out, I think that union guy wants your cookie!”

That’s the moment we’re in.  That’s the real conversation America is having, right now (with the President standing right behind the “savvy” banker, echoing his prudent-sounding concerns about the need to privatize our cookie dough and chocolate chips…).

*          *          *

I KNOW THIS ARGUMENT IS COUNTERINTUITIVE… but I don’t think it’s wrong.  Many center-left Americans will be understandably confused at the suggestion that President Obama has (personally, assiduously, and with obvious intentionality) delivered such momentous victories for the right, but the conclusion is inescapable, especially when I remind myself that a) actions speak louder than words; and b) “following the money” usually tells me everything I need to know about a politician.

Unfortunately, President Obama is no exception to this rule.

NEXT: Part V – Identity Politics is for Suckers!

Black Face (or, “Identity Politics Is For Suckers”) -- Part 3: Obama's Putrid Predecessor

OBAMA’S PUTRID PREDECESSOR

While regular readers of this blog understand that I am highly critical of the current administration, I don’t mind conceding that, in many ways, President Obama has provided a vitally needed breath of fresh air from his putrid predecessor.

George W. Bush in the Oval Office was the embodiment of elitist indifference, an unprincipled, boorish, and petty man (arrested adolescent, really) whose catastrophic eight-year tenure resolved in massive, firmament-collapsing debacles at home and abroad, with the nation’s economy and markets in free fall, two calamitous wars stagnating and adrift, and global respect for America in the trash bin… alongside the Constitution, right where Bush, Cheney, and the bipartisan consensus had placed it.

Not only was this election-snatching legacy president, “Dubya,” an incompetent goof-off with respect to everything except politics (his one forte), he was a relentless demagogue who blithely allowed his proxies to lower standards of civility in America. It became standard practice during his time at the helm of our national politics for Republicans to question the patriotism of journalists, critics, and political opponents, alike (obviously, this brand of negative attack remains in vogue, with “secret Muslim” whispers about the President yet lingering in conservative forums; and with Democrats happy to join Republicans in demonizing journalists and whistleblowers as “terrorists” and “spies” — ah, demagoguery, your allure is undeniable!).

In this regard, President Obama represents some actual improvement over his predecessor. By and large, he has not used the presidential podium for demagoguery as Bush did. It’s not his style (and hallelujah for that). Yes, Obama has continued to use secrecy and leaks in as brazenly political and outrageous a fashion as his predecessor, but at least he’s not constantly insinuating that his political opponents are “giving ammunition to America’s enemies” …and for that we can all be grateful.

*          *          *

In short, despite the breathtaking continuity of policy from one administration to the next, I realize that Barack Obama is not identical to George W. Bush. I understand that the personality and style differences between the two men are, in fact, enormous — and that those differences, while seemingly superficial, actually amount to something quite appreciable and valuable: after eight long years of extravagant greed, ineptitude, and savagery, Americans can once again trust that there are at least semi-responsible, somewhat capable human beings in the nation’s capital, individuals with at least a little regard for the common welfare (and that’s an improvement for which President Obama deserves some credit).

Most Americans now realize that our last president, the wretched Mr. Bush, was an unmitigated disaster. Like his role model, President Reagan, Bush was also recklessly profligate, growing the national debt by $5 trillion, in fact nearly doubling it. When Bush and the Republicans controlled all three branches of government, there was truly the sense that Phaeton was in his father’s chariot, the reins flapping about in the wind as the craft careened out of control. The idea that someone responsible was in charge was unthinkable in those heady, terrifying times.

So although I am bitterly disappointed in the policies of the Obama administration, let it be said for the record that I remember how I felt when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were at the nation’s helm…  and it wasn’t a good feeling. Back then, it required considerable effort and empathy to not see Bush and Cheney as outright monsters, for it seemed that there were truly no depths to which they wouldn’t sink. In addition to all the spying and torturing he was up to, Dubya was an unscrupulous Chief Executive who turned law enforcement into a partisan farce, itself criminal. The story of Karl Rove’s takeover of the Department of Justice was dramatically underreported by the corporate media, despite the seriousness of the threat to our democracy (bear in mind, however, that this is the same media that barely blinked when Bush intentionally targeted journalists with deadly force in Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering three men outright).

NEXT: Part 4 – A Win-Win for the Right

[Please forgive this brief interruption in my multi-installment blog, “Black Face/Identity Politics Is for Suckers” — the next installment of which, Part 3: Obama’s Putrid Predecessor, will be posted shortly.]

Last Friday, Afghans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, World Can’t Wait, CODE PINK, and Occupy Wall Street (Oakland and Fremont branches, at least) participated in a rare event: a rally and march in sleepy, suburban Fremont, CA. Well done, everybody! We stood in solidarity with one another in the heart of the nation’s largest Afghan-American community and demanded an end to the longest war in U.S. history (also one of the most futile wars in our history… and expensive, too, costing taxpayers well over a billion dollars per week).

In many ways the event was a real success, but from the perspective of Occupy Fremont, I regret to say that I think we may have taken a small step backward… at least with regard to achieving our goal of promoting and modeling a particularly peaceful, gentle, and civil approach to political activism (Occupy Fremont’s members have officially adopted a stance of doctrinal nonviolence, of course, and it’s clear that many of our members are committed to applying that peaceful spirit as radically, liberally, and inventively as we can… even if that means refraining from shouting “fuck the pigs!” in the faces of our neighborhood police officers …even if it means marching in a way that doesn’t disrupt traffic or inconvenience our community… even if it means offering policy solutions in addition to policy criticisms… even if it means challenging the corporate media’s unflattering caricature of us).

Undoubtedly, we accomplished some positive things on Friday, but I think it bears saying that we also failed to live up to some of our highest aspirations for what Fremont activism can look like — hopefully what Fremont activism will look like: inviting, inspiring, and principled…

RECAPPING THE MARCH 30th EVENT:

Diverse members of the Bay Area peace community came together to peacefully protest the Afghanistan war outside of a Fremont military recruiting office. Speeches were given condemning the war and the politicians who have prolonged it. Signs were held, boldly condemning atrocities committed with our tax dollars. The names of sixteen recently murdered Afghan civilians were read aloud, and we marked their passing with silence, reflecting on the fact that these innocents, human beings with names, are forever lost to the world.

There was a bit of a commotion early in the speechmaking when a 67-year old military veteran (a supporter of the Occupy movement, by the way) became angry and disruptive, convinced that our protest would somehow end up vilifying military men and women. To my dismay, a few of my fellow protesters were immediately up in his face, shouting back at him and apparently inviting violence. Fortunately, I and a couple others, including a young woman from IVAW, were able to intercede, walking with this upset older man past the shouters, putting ourselves between the would-be antagonists, and stopping with the disturbed gentleman at a quiet spot just outside of the rally.

We spoke calmly to the man and allowed him to speak. We also politely asserted that he should, in turn, listen to what we had to say. I pointed him to the language in our flier for this event that stated explicitly: “Help America’s military members understand we recognize their sacrifices and we will work to see that America honors its commitment to their future health and security.” Before long, the old veteran was speaking civilly and even laughing with us. The matter was resolved entirely peacefully, and the gentleman walked away clearly more receptive to our message than when he had arrived (and isn’t that what it’s all about?).

So far, so good. Here’s where we began flirting with trouble…

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS

I first became concerned for the event when it was spontaneously suggested that we take our numbers into the streets for an unplanned, traffic-obstructing march: no permit, no organization, and higher potential for risk.

“Okay,” I told myself, “we can go out on the street for a little bit. Drivers can be inconvenienced a little bit, if it helps raise awareness of this war’s terrible costs.” I told myself that a little civil disobedience in the face of grotesquely immoral policies isn’t the worst thing in the world (far from it). Uncomfortable as I was holding a sign toward the end of the march with car horns blaring behind me, I managed to put my trepidations aside and stay with the group from Paseo Padre to Mowry, then west on Mowry until the confusion worsened and the march did a U-turn, creating more confusion, and…

And then I saw the violence instigators in our midst (maybe ten or so people, mostly young, to be honest)…

Long after we should have called the spontaneous march over and the event a success — realizing that we had pushed boundaries and inconvenienced people enough — I noticed that some marchers were apparently instigating an ugly confrontation with the police, repeatedly halting and refusing to move from the middle of the street, leaning in toward the police vehicles and shouting, inviting escalation…

I’m sorry, folks, but these cops are my neighbors, too. The Fremont police, near as I can tell, exercised considerable restraint on Friday. A few of our fellow protesters, however, clearly did not. By the time the event was over, thanks to the conduct of a few individuals, we resembled EXACTLY the unflattering portrait of the Left that is so often painted in mainstream culture: self-indulgent, angry, rude, out of control (mind you, I witnessed no overt acts of violence by anyone, but the standoff with the police clearly threatened to degenerate into a violent clash — and it seemed to me that the protesters were the ones pushing it to the brink).

The turn of events was unfortunate — but, my friends, it was hardly unforgivable. We’re a young movement. We’re going to make mistakes. Please understand that this blog isn’t about repercussions or blame; it’s about doing better tomorrow.

DOING BETTER TOMORROW

Certainly, we accomplished some positive things with last Friday’s rally, but I am of the firm belief that we can do better in the future. The next time we support an event in Fremont we should be clear to all of our activist guests — the people we invite and with whom we interact — that we are trying to model a different kind of activism in Fremont: positive and hopeful. We need to tell our friends up front (before the next event spirals out of control) that, the way we see it, angry, self-indulgent, and ugly behavior makes it easier for the corporate media to marginalize our movement and ultimately defeat us. If we believe in this movement, we mustn’t let that happen.

Lest I seem too negative, let me point out that Friday’s event was mostly a success: the organizers did a good job of putting the event together; the Bay Area peace community came out in solidarity to end a brutal war; someone was savvy enough to notify the local press; and we undoubtedly increased awareness of our presence in this community… even awareness of our issues.

That said, I believe we need to be more disciplined and focused about our movement — who we are, what our values are, and what we hope to achieve — than to repeat the mistakes that were made a week ago. It is my belief that Occupy Fremont (and OWS) can elevate a model of protest that is thoughtful, hopeful, positive, and WINNING. I hope my fellow activists will agree.

SOME KIND WORDS FOR THE PRESIDENT

Many African-Americans are understandably proud of the accomplishments of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America and the first person of African descent to hold that high office. Likewise, many liberals and longtime adherents to the principle of racial equality feel proud and vindicated by the successes of Mr. Obama and the adroit manner in which he has performed his presidential duties.

And why not?

When it comes to ability, the first African-American Chief Executive has already proved himself to be one of the most capable, hardworking, and generally competent presidents in our history. In terms of the President’s character and style, he is affable and good natured, dignified and suave, civil, sharp, and always focused. Unquestionably, Barack Obama has demonstrated superb temperament and demeanor befitting a political leader and statesman (unlike his oafish predecessor, Bush, who gave spontaneous and unwelcome shoulder rubs to world leaders, blurted profanities into open microphones, and generally made a buffoonish, frightening spectacle of himself and the United States).

In dealing with his political detractors — save for those on the left — President Obama has been a class act and model of poise. Imagine how George W. Bush might have responded to “You lie!” in the middle of a speech to Congress — would “Dubya” have subsequently held a televised Q&A with leading Democratic critics of his signature policy, the Iraq War, before it came to a vote, as Obama did with leading GOP critics of the Affordable Care Act?  It’s hard to imagine on both counts: a) a Democrat actually standing up to Bush; and b) George W. Bush responding in so measured and confident a manner to this hypothetical Democrat.

[This might be a good time to point out the blatant dishonesty of the Republican talking point that so-called “Obamacare” (the ACA) was “rammed down the throats” of the country without any bipartisan discussion or process. On the contrary, the march toward passage of this far-right, industry-friendly (Heritage Foundation-authored, GOP-tested, backroom-deal approved) law was long and sloggy, filled with disrupted/ambushed town hall meetings and a good deal of dramatic debate in D.C., including much repetition of Politi-Fact’s 2009 “Lie of the Year”: “DEATH PANELS!” Contrast that long public battle over the ACA with the way both parties have stealthily and aggressively advanced the cause of privatization over the last few years — undermining schools, libraries, hospitals, the Post Office, etc. — with little/no public comment or deliberation.]

Regular readers of this blog may be surprised at the kind words for President Obama appearing in this space, but I want, for clarity’s sake, to distinguish myself from those Obama detractors who are utterly hostile to the man and have been from the start.

For the record, I have never felt particularly hostile toward Barack Obama — quite the contrary. An admirer of Obama’s since his excellent DNC speech in 2004, I donated a fair amount of time, effort, and money to his campaigns in 2008 (primary through general election) convinced that his candidacy represented the likeliest hope for undoing at least some of the terrifying damage the Bush years had wrought.

To this day, although I feel that Obama’s presidency has been a huge and shocking disappointment, I don’t think my decision to support him in 2008 was naive. I definitely don’t think that I “projected my ideals onto Obama” in 2008 (as the tired line goes), seeing a progressive hero through star-struck, liberal eyes. Far from it. I was scrutinizing the hell out of candidate Obama.

All I did when I chose to support Obama in 2008 was take him at his word (no rose-tinted glasses required). As a major theme of his campaign, Senator Obama explicitly promised to restore the rule of law and scale back the kind of Executive Branch abuses that had become routine under Bush/Cheney. Candidate Obama vowed to eschew torture and the over-broad powers exerted by a U.S. president (Bush) who had reflexively — and secretly — asserted extraordinary (hitherto illegal) powers while demanding independence from not just judicial or congressional review, but from the law itself.

Barack Obama claimed he would defend the law and champion (rather than persecute) journalists and whistleblowers. He promised a new era of transparency and Constitutional governance.

ABOVE ALL ELSE, OBAMA PROMISED THESE THINGS.

Yes, I had seen the good senator throw his reverend of twenty years under the bus — a good man who’d been cruelly caricatured and taken out of context by the media and slandered on a relentless loop. And I was deeply disappointed when Senator Obama pulled his flip-flop on “retroactive immunity” for the giant telecoms. The privacy-flouting corporations knew they were committing the same felony millions of times when they began warrantless wiretapping, primarily of America’s domestic phone calls, on behalf of the most radically un-American administration since Nixon’s, beginning seven months before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001; it would’ve been fitting that they pay some sort of penalty, if only to deter such conduct in the future.

Nonetheless, I voted for Obama in 2008 without giving it a second thought. The only other candidate calling for restoration of civil liberties and the rule of law was Ron Paul, and he’d been defeated in the Republican Primary by Senator McCain (albeit, a John McCain reinvented in the image of John Birch, with a rabid Alaskan mink draped around his ticket to excite the boys… I mean the base (okay, I mean the base boys who comprise the Republican base — quick, somebody feed Rush Limbaugh some porn; he’s getting surly and aggressive again!).

NEXT: Part 3 — Obama’s Putrid Predecessor!