Monday, August 22, 2011

Barack Obama, Above Criticism

Randall Kennedy is, justifiably, disappointed in President Obama. In his recently published "The Persistence of the Color Line-Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency," Kennedy noted" Obama has been more conservative than regard for public opinion requires him to be" and criticizes his "excessive caution" on various issues.

But don't count Kennedy as another African-American who has figured Barack Obama out. A critic of the Tavis Smiley/Cornel West campaign to draw attention to the plight of disadvantaged Americans, Kennedy contends that Smiley has "voiced skepticism whether blacks should back Obama." (Our hero is being attacked; time to circle the wagons, guys.)

Smiley and West have embarked on a tour of 16 poor, most of them minority, communities across the nation, highlighting the failure of the federal government to address their concerns. Presumably, Rep. Maxine Waters, frustrated by the policies of President Obama, would approve. Recently addressing an audience in Detroit, the California Democrat remarked "our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why on this trip that he’s in the United States now, he’s not in any black community…we don’t know that.”

Smiley and West, the latter advocating "massive job creation programs and massive investment in public housing, education, transportation and health," have been widely criticized in the black community. As early as February, 2008, in a post entitled, "Who died and made Tavis king" (a headline Kennedy recently quoted), prominent Obamite Melissa Harris-Lacewell remarked "I can't figure out what motivates Tavis."

Clues to Smiley's motivation may lie in an interview West recently had with in which he explained

We’re going to an Indian reservation in Wisconsin, we’re going to hit the brown barrios, the Asian poor communities, white poor communities, the Black hoods and we’re ending in Memphis to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fundamental commitment to sanitation workers there, and of course his assassination.

While reminding the media of Dr. King's support of working people of all ethnic groups, Smiley/West is not content to go to disadvantaged black communities and are not neglecting poor Hispanic, Asian, or white communities. Economic injustice was not banished on November 2, 2008 and recognition across ethnic groups of the obstacles people of varied backgrounds face is critical to building a progressive movement.

This is acknowledged by too few of the progressive/liberal critics, but perhaps they are more exorcised by West's pointed criticism of the President, who

says he has the exact same responsibility to every member of society. I just say it's not true, he's lying. It's clear that he has more commitment to investment banks than he does to poor people. it's just clear when they got in trouble he gave them $700 billion; he subsidized them. They have not made poor people a priority. That's why we're going on the tour.

Barack Obama always will have in the black community apologists such as Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, Mellisa Harris-Lacewell-Perry, and Kennedy. Fortunately, though, we have the likes of West and Smiley around to remind us that the oceans are still rising and the planet has not yet healed.

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