Revolution #148, November 23, 2008


The Obama ’08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?

As part of the analysis of what the Obama presidency does and does not mean, Revolution is reprinting the following article. The views expressed by the author are, of course, his own, and he is not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution and on the website. This article is reprinted with the permission of Glen Ford.

There is no doubt that history has been made, “for reasons that go beyond the obvious ‘first Black’ aspect of race.” 2008 was the first year in modern history that Blacks made no demands on the Democratic candidate—and consequently, were promised nothing. This was the election cycle in which the Black who began as a supposed “underdog” became the most heavily-funded candidate of all time. There are many lessons to be learned—but few of them palatable to folks still drunk on ObamaL’aid. 

“This generation will have to learn from damn near scratch what a real social movement looks like.”

Without question, the nation has experienced an election of historical significance, for reasons that go beyond the obvious “first Black” aspect of race. This has also been the most-hyped presidential campaign in U.S. history, if for no other reason than the simple fact that every presidential campaign is more hyped than the last, since hype is what corporate media sells. But what has the experience taught us?

We have learned that a large and decisive national minority of whites can be persuaded to vote for a certain kind of Black man for president if that Black man possesses the following characteristics:

A family history that includes no African American lineage, and is thereby untainted by the negative cultural baggage associated with North American slave descendants. (This is similar to the special white dispensation afforded in past generations to Afro-Caribbean baseball players.)

An eagerness to embrace racist political icons such as Ronald Reagan, while vociferously denying that white racism is and has been “endemic” to America. This man must also be willing to without hesitation denounce, repudiate and otherwise vilify other Black individuals—even those who have been personally dear to him—at the first sign of white displeasure with that person.

A compulsion to telegraph whites that he shares their disdain for Blacks as a group. This specially endowed individual must be prepared to castigate Blacks in every arena of life, from incompetent child-rearing (the cruelty of fried chicken breakfasts) to failures of Black manhood (acting like “boys” rather than responsible adults), the shame of Black female promiscuity (stopping black girls from having babies out of wedlock is “the single biggest thing that we could do to reduce inner-city poverty”) and Blacks’ collective lack of good hygiene (“You know what would be a good economic development plan for our community would be if we make sure folks weren’t throwing their garbage out of their cars”). But the Black man who would woo white presidential votes must have the smarts and discipline to never, never, never subject whites to such egregious, blanket group criticisms.

“This specially endowed individual must be prepared to castigate Blacks in every arena of life.”

He must possess an imagination fertile enough to declare that Blacks have already come “90 percent of the way” towards racial equality—a statement without statistical validity based on any social or economic indexes, but one which assures whites that their long suffering at the hands of bothersome Black complainers is nearly over. This Black president-to-be must implicitly promise that his own election will provide the missing ten percent, and bring the race issue definitively to a close.

We have learned that whites took the candidate’s words to heart, en masse. A CBS/New York Times poll taken one week before the election showed that 68 percent of whites believe that Blacks and whites “have about an equal chance of getting ahead” in American society. This fantastic conclusion was clearly inspired by Barack Obama’s singular success, since less than half of whites gave that answer in July. Even more astonishingly, 43 percent of Blacks said the same thing —a response unlike any ever recorded in the history of professional polling, and totally divorced from Black realities. We have learned that Obama-L’aid kills healthy Black brain cells.

We have learned that Black politicians and activist-poseurs have an infinite capacity to celebrate not having engaged in struggle with Power, and that the Black masses can be made drunk by the prospect of vicariously (through Obama) coming to power. Having failed to make even the mildest of demands on Obama in return for unquestioning support, Black misleadership vowed they would press for firm commitments on issues of importance to African Americans once Obama had passed the final hurdle. (White progressives who were similarly self-neutered during the campaign also promise to begin acting like real people’s advocates, any day now...just you wait and see.) We have already learned that “Progressives for Obama” of all ethnicities, who failed to put pressure on the candidate early on, when it might have made a difference, are full of crap.

“Sixty-eight percent of whites believe that Blacks and whites “have about an equal chance of getting ahead” in American society.”

We have learned that even in failure and collapse, the Lords of Capital are smart enough to know they desperately need a new face, and are willing to bankroll the Black man who can provide it. During this election cycle we learned that capital can switch its party allegiances in an instant, first vetting and then jump-starting the Black candidate who would become the biggest campaign spender in U.S. election history, by far. In 2008, the Democrats became the party of Big Capital, whose choice was Barack Obama. We have learned that capital is never blind to color, when it can be used to capital’s advantage.

We have learned that this generation will have to learn from damn near scratch what a real social movement looks like—which will be doubly hard, since they have been misled to believe that this year’s frenzied electioneering was actually a “movement.” Now it is over, and one Black man is moving—into the White House, having never promised his Black supporters a single thing of significance. But of course, hardly anyone Black made any demands of Obama.

Some folks never learn that Power concedes nothing without a demand.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at 


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