Creating a better world through words and images

Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

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!

My friends, this is a blog that’s been a long time coming and a blog I never hoped to write. This is the one where I deal with the fact that the left has failed to stand on principle (as I see it) and mount a primary challenge against the President… and the right, after some kerfuffle and griping from the base, is similarly preparing to abandon its principles and coalesce around Mitt Romney, the most transparently self-serving, reversible man in politics today.

This is the blog where I try to make peace with my enormous disappointment that there are fewer Americans who cherish habeas corpus and due process than I ever would’ve imagined — and reconcile myself to the fact that the oligarchs, elite criminals, and neoconservatives have, against the odds, turned their 2006-08 Waterloo moment into a stunning victory (thanks to corporatist “Democrats” who, boiler-plate rhetoric aside, refused in 2009 to mount even a timid defense of liberalism — despite the fact that 30 years of trickle-down economics and eight years of appalling GOP leadership had discredited modern conservatism entirely).

After months of Obama-bashing and Ron Paul-boosting, this is also the blog where I try to clarify myself on matters concerning the intersection of RACE and POLITICS:

1) Despite my support for Ron Paul’s candidacy, I believe he still has much to answer for with regard to his past courting of racist “paleo-conservatives.” (That said, I maintain that Rep. Paul has gotten a bum rap in the media, whose disproportionate attention to this matter would seem to suggest that Paul’s controversial 1980s-90s newsletter was some kind of outlier — and that the Southern Strategy wasn’t enjoying its heyday at the time, with Republicans from Buchanan to Reagan pandering outright to racists.); and

2) While many who criticize the President are apparently motivated by prejudice, I do not believe that racial animus has anything to do with my critique of his policies (I didn’t like them when they were Bush’s policies; I don’t like them any better now).

I hope the preceding statement will not come off as the classic white-male-American denial: “I’m not a racist!” (For one thing, I couldn’t make such a sweeping declaration without adding a caveat or two… like admitting that there are racist stereotypes — and other useless and offensive junk — in my head; stuff I picked up when I was very young, for the most part, and have been working to eradicate ever since). If anything, I’m more inclined to support President Obama on account of his race (just as I would be more apt to back the first woman president or the first openly gay president; as a liberal, I celebrate the rare moments when the marginalized and downtrodden overcome the odds and prevail).

If you want the whole truth, I count myself among the millions (billions?) of human beings who found Obama’s election genuinely inspiring, and I will always remember where I was on the day he was inaugurated.

I was awfully happy on that day.

NEXT: Part 2 — Some Kind Words for the President!

February is nearly over and I have yet to post a new blog… and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Invitation2Artivism.com recently celebrated its ONE YEAR anniversary, and I’ve marked the occasion with a lot of questioning and reassessing my commitment to this site, its value, and my priorities.

I LIKE that Invitation2Artivism has enabled me to reach out to others, including fellow activists (from CODE PINK to the Occupy movement and beyond), with information and a perspective about current events that is somewhere between uncommon and eccentric, I suppose. I’ve tried — not always successfully — to be factual, clear, reasonable, and honest in this blog, without making a fool of myself (despite the fact that my honest feelings about the state of the world are mostly angry and despairing ones).

I QUESTION whether this site hasn’t been too much about blogging (and creating ridiculously elaborate political cartoons — some of which require a legend to decipher) and not enough about furthering my creative projects… which I hope will soon become OUR creative projects. (In short, I remain interested in collaborators, and I feel I have not done enough to communicate that interest — I badly need to update my “Projects” page, for one thing). I also wonder, after the past few months of participating in various OWS gatherings, how to strike the perfect balance between educating myself (and trying to share the benefits of that education) from my home, versus marching, rallying, and speaking out in person, with those in my community. Both, I feel, have value.

Whatever the future of this site, I should be clear that I have no intention of abandoning it… and I will continue to evaluate how it needs to grow (original video clips ARE in the works). I’ll also take advantage of this opportunity to THANK YOU, reader, for visiting Invitation2Artivism and helping me grow as a writer, artist, and activist. Some truly wonderful people have contacted me through this site, including some impressive artists, activists, and a marvelous poet (hi, Gianna!). I regret that I have often been slow to respond (I’m probably “too busy,” as I imagine myself to be, writing a vitally edifying and urgently needed play about “Zombie Nixon” or somesuch nonsense — forgive me, the self-amused nerd in me will never die, and these ditties keep me going).

Finally, since I’m already sharing a bit more on the personal side than I normally do here, let me encapsulate my February for you… I started the month working unhurriedly on a couple of ambitious blog entries (as yet unfinished, as I’ve been devoting more time to creative writing, placating my nagging muse… and feeding Zombie Nixon). Come mid-month, I found myself in Sacramento, sharing Valentine’s Day with my wife and visiting Occupy Sacramento. On the holiday, OS conducted an afternoon of teach-ins, culminating in discussions and presentations prescribed by Eve Ensler’s “V-Day,” to raise awareness of, and help reduce, sexual violence. The day was meaningful for me and the event powerful (kudos to the organizers, especially Kim). The trip was, overall, fantastic, especially the wonderful hours I spent with my wife. After leaving Sacramento, I came home to learn of personal troubles in my family, including serious concerns about some young people I love very much (“normal” life stuff, I suppose, however disruptive).

I’m just recently coming back down to Earth from all of the unusual rigmarole, reverting to my routines: newsing, reading WAR And PEACE with a group of friends, doodling, trying to be a decent husband/son/brother/uncle/friend, and endeavoring to contribute something meaningful to my community, local and global.

I look forward to continuing our conversation and CREATING SOME ART!!!

James

***********************************************************************************

I’ll close with a bit of free verse (that’s right, no charge) concocted from a comment I penned a week or two ago somewhere on the World Wide Web:

On a more personal note...