Wed, 8 April 2009
How Black Democrats Evolve Backward in the Age of Obama
A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by Bruce Dixon
Back in 2005 or 2006 a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus – that's all the Democrats in the House of Representatives, was underway. The topic at hand was approval of the latest Bush war budget for Iran and Afghanistan. Georgia's venerable John Lewis, a man who laid his life and limb on the line innumerable times during the 1950s and 60s in the Freedom Movement against white supremacy in the South rose to speak. Rep. Lewis reached beyond his fellow Democrats, anchoring himself in the permanent moral and political truths espoused by his former colleagues in the Freedom Movement, people like Kwame Toure, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Not another dollar... not one more dollar... not one more life,” he reportedly intoned, explaining why he could not, would not vote to fund the wars. The assembled Democrats fell silent in the face of Lewis's potent message of moral outrage, and the caucus adjourned soon afterward.
Nobody knows what happened in the interim but when the House Democrats met again a day or two later the honorable representative from Georgia sang a very different tune. This John Lewis seemed grounded no longer in the historic movements for justice at home and peace abroad, and no longer responsible to his own overwhelmingly black and antiwar Atlanta constituency.
This Lewis seemed invested soley in his status as a Congressman among pro-war House Democrats. He felt himself moving, he told them, toward their position, and in a surreal churchy kind of call-and-response he seemed to invite their encouragement, which they willingly gave. “Cmon over, c'mon over, John!” cried several, and Lewis did just that, eventually voting to continue to fund the war.
For Rep. Lewis, the institutional gravities of Congress and the corporate-sponsored Democratic party were stronger than the living will of his constituents and the memory of the Freedom Movement combined. So the question for Black America now is, if a black congressman near the end of his career with a safe seat and the historical stature of a John Lewis could not speak and would not vote for truth against power in the Bush era, what can we expect from elected black Democrats now that a black face is in the White House? Will any, ever find the backbone to stand up when a black president bombs an innocent country, when a black president co-signs for Wall Street parasites or Pentagon predators, when the first black president continues to send military aid to more than 50 out of 54 nations on the African continent? African American commentators seem reluctant to ask or answer this question.
But corporate America and the right wing know the answer very well indeed. The reprehensible David Horowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal on the occasion of Obama's inauguration that
'When President Obama commits this nation to war against the Islamic terrorists, as he already has in Afghanistan, he will take millions of previously alienated and disaffected Americans with him, and they will support our troops in a way that most of his party has refused to support them until now. When another liberal, Bill Clinton went to war from the air, there was no anti-war movement in the streets or in his party’s ranks to oppose him.'
The answer is that black Democrats and elected leaders will lose and are already losing their willingness to speak truth to power. At best, many wlll sit down and shut up. The least principled will become cheerleaders for what they once opposed. Black politicians, and black politics in the age of Obama are de-evolving and becoming less connected to the permanent interests of African American people in the age of Obama. For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon.