Wed, 12 March 2014
Promises To The Poor, or Promises to the Rich? Which Ones Does Barack Obama Intend To Keep?
A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The most important things about a promise, as David Graber in his book Debt: The First 5000 Years explains, are who makes it, and to whom it's made.
Promises made among equals are freely made and freely kept, or freely disregarded when the parties deem it convenient. If your brother in law doesn't repay you the money you lent this time last year you might be disappointed but you're unlikely to involve the courts and the state in your family affairs. On the other hand, if your brother in law borrowed that money from Bank of America, a late payment or a series of them is certain to bring punitive repercussions down on the debtor, backed up by the full force of the state.
So the promises which poor men and women make to each other are not at all the same as promises the poor are obliged to make to the wealthy or to the state in whatever sort of society they live. Governments enforce the promises the poor make to the rich, ultimately at gunpoint.
But what about when the wealthy and powerful make promises to the poor? Wealthy corporations and the politicians fronting for them invariably promise thousands, tens of thousands of new good-paying local jobs in return for this or that tax break, suspension of environmental regulation, loan guarantee or other piece of corporate welfare. Nobody blinks an eye when it turns out they've lied, and practically no mechanisms exist to restore the public property malefactors obtain in this way. The promises of politicians, both during and after their campaigns seem to have the same character.
By the first days of his presidency, Barack Obama made direct promises to see NAFTA renegotiated, to raise the minimum wage in his first months in office, to close Guantanamo, to create a path to citizenship for the undocumented, to make union organizing easier, to cease kidnappings, secret imprisonment and torture, and craft an open, transparent process for the drafting of what became known as Obamacare. The thing of it was, that all these were promises made to poor people. Thus they were of little and soon disregarded. But they were not his only promises.
Barack Obama made other early promises as well -- to wealthy interests, to the Pentagon, to Wall Street and London banksters, to charter school sugar daddies, the galaxy of public employees and private contractors euphemistically known as the “intelligence community.” He promised them that no torturers would stand trial, military manpower and budgets would continue to rise, that greedy drug companies and private health insurers would be protected over the public, that so-called “entitlements” would be reined in, and that Wall Street would be protected against the mobs and their pitchforks, and apparently that public education would be privatized. Unlike his promises to the poor, President Obama has striven mightily to keep all these.
With a good 33 more months left in the White House, President Obama apparently has a few more promises to make. He'll likely keep some of them. If the first 63 months of his tenure are any guide, and you want to know which promises will be kept, the handwriting is on the wall. The promises made to the wealthy and powerful will get first priority. The pledges made to the legions of ordinary people who made his career possible, not so much. For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.