Adolph Reed on Obamania.
(Interview segment on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News, 2/27/2014)
“The main beef I had with Obamania was not the idea of voting for the Democrat against the Republican-once you’ve gotten to that stage, that’s what there is to to do and there aren’t any other options which mean much, since we can’t have any influence on what the Democrat looks like, it’s going to be a Democrat who is a neo-liberal Democrat and that’s what it is. The problem was that people kept trying to make this more than that-tried to make the election of Barack Obama a much greater statement of an augury of grand things to come which was in no way indicated by anything which he had done in the entirety of his political career and which was contraindicated when you started to look at his material backing from the beginning of his career in Chicago.”
On the packaging and selling of the Obama “brand”:
AR: The narrative of racial transcendence has always been Obama’s packaging. And it sort of worked.
Many people outside the U.S., not just in French cafés where intellectuals hang out but in much of what used to be called the third world and in so-called “hot spots” where you would expect that people’s antipathies and the mistrust of the U.S. would run more deeply than the epidermal features of the person who holds the office of the presidency there was, as I recall, a lot of expression of enthusiasm at Obama’s election with hopes that because he
had third world roots of multiple, complex, fluid sorts that he would be more understanding, whatever that means. But that’s consistent with the future of our national politics-the disconnection of individuals from substantive political and, certainly, the military programs.
DH: What have we gotten from what David Dinkins used to call “our gorgeous mosaic”?
AR: What we’ve gotten-and I think that Obama has completed this transformation, too-is that we have, you know, my father used to insist when I was a youngster that we had one party in America, and that it was a property party and it had two wings and that wasn’t original with him, obviously, but now what we would have to say is that we have a singular if not bipartisan neo-liberal party one wing of which is committed to neo-liberalism that attaches a high value to equality of opportunity that’s enacted in the discourse of multiculturalism and diversity and the other that’s committed to neoliberalism that’s appended to an active opposition to multi-culturalism and diversity. And each side mobilizes an electoral base that made up of those who are either for multiculturalism and diversity or those who are actively opposed to multiculturalism and diversity. Meanwhile, the 80 to 90 percent of policy decisions and courses of action that effect the 85 to 95 percent of the society most crucially-there’s a complete consensus on.
On the cluelessness of the “multiculturalist” political agenda.
AR: The way for us to generate the capacity to make the politicians of whatever party respond is to build the social forces around issues and it’s not just that the issues are right on their own but that the issues we’re talking about are those that have the potential to unite broadly the population and which effect most of the American public when they wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. The things they are concerned about and are anxious about are things like affordable housing and health care and quality education and having a pension.
DH: And that would seem to do more to address racism than 20 years of Tim Wise seminars ever could.
AR: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is one of the things I find bizarre about what was once called, you can call it something else now, identity politics, or anti-racist politics which is it seems driven in all the more shrill ways by scouring the horizon of American life or even the globe for instances that will attest to the persistence of deep racism or old school bigotry when nobody ever said that that sort of racial animus has been overcome or could be entirely overcome.
But the fact of the matter is that if you want to improve the social position of black americans, latino americans or non-whites the most effective way to do it, the biggest bang for the buck, would come from pursuing programs and goals that would enforce the economic well-being and security of the vast majority of working americans. Because not only (does) the vast majority of those non-white groups fall into the working class broadly construed but disproportionately so according to those who focus on racial disparity as a key metric of inequality. So that’s the only way to do it.