“…Barack Obama and the Democratic Party prefer comfort and privilege to justice, truth and confrontation. Its guiding ideological stance is determined by what is most expedient to the careers of its members. It refuses to challenge, in a meaningful way, the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state…” (Chris Hedges, “Why Liberal Sellouts Attack Prophets like Cornel West”, Truthdig, 5/23/2011).
As we approach the 2012 presidential election cycle, the liberal apologists and administration defenders for President Obama have begun their unrelenting assault on all who would dare to analyze and critique the first African-American president. The most high profile casualty of this attack is Dr. Cornel West, Professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University and author of Race Matters.
West campaigned for Obama at 65 campaign stops in 2008, at the time an uncritical supporter, falling under the deep spell of Obama’s “hope” and “change” marketing. West, Professor Michael Eric Dyson and multi-media mogul Tavis Smiley made up the forefront of the black left-liberals and academics that defended Obama at this historic moment. Even iconic civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte and Congressional Black Caucus members have received scorn for challenging Obama’s corporatist and imperial agenda since taking office. West is absolutely correct in describing Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” West goes on to point out that Obama has now “become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it” (Chris Hedges, “The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic,” Truthdig, 5/16/2011).
Foresight Trumps Astonishment
It must be stated: where was the criticism from West, Dyson, Smiley and others who feel betrayed by Obama today when he was running for office in 2008? Obama’s corporate agenda was on full display if anyone cared to pay attention. The political, economic, and social crisis is deep for working people, poor and youth – particularly for African-Americans, who voted 97% for Obama in 2008. For example, at 16.8% black male unemployment is more than twice that of white men (7.7%) according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The previous lack of criticism of Obama and the current attacks on West from the establishment reveal the lack of militant leadership for the working class, poor, and people of color. Justice newspaper, Black Agenda Report, and a tiny minority on the radical left stood against the stream and explained the character and agenda of an Obama presidency. The bailouts to Wall Street, the extension of the “War on Terror”, the corporate education and health-care reforms, plus the tax breaks for the super-rich have only benefited the wealthy and ruling elite.
The Time is Now for a Political Alternative
The debate continues between West, Democratic Party and Obama administration lackeys, and political free agents like Rev. Al Sharpton. We must learn from the valuable lessons of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and former Georgia Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. They made a clean break from the Democratic Party (the graveyard for social movements) and launched independent electoral challenges in San Francisco and at the federal level respectively in 2008.
The recent remarks by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka about the need for labor to oppose all candidates carrying out big business’s agenda are the result of growing anger by workers at the willingness of candidates to drop their promises once elected. It also reflects the unrelenting attack against unions and collective bargaining rights. While the labor tops make these noises in a non-election year, they will most likely line up behind the coming 2012 wave of lesser-evilism. Still, Trumka’s speech is indicative of a questioning and ferment in the ranks of the labor movement.
The time is now to run independent working-class candidates in every city and state on an program of economic justice for working people: union rights, good jobs, quality services, and an end to war spending. These campaigns would be a stepping stone to building a party of the working class and poor in the United States.