Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse- making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself. All of that history is how progress stalled. That's how hope was diverted. It's how our country remained divided.Even professional misanthrope Newt Gingrich couldn't have made the dripping disdain implicit in this paragraph any plainer. Black-on-black violence, rather than being a desperate symptom of crushing poverty and lack of opportunity, is rendered into an "excuse". Stop complainin'! Get off your butts and stop asking for government welfare (which that other "New Democrat", Bill Clinton, effectively destroyed anyway, with the help of Newt). Starvation is no excuse for not raising your kids to be upstanding American citizens beholden to flag and authority. Blame yourselves, not your oppressors. It's the authoritarian way.
Of course, there were myriad other hypocrisies and self-condemning truths sprinkled throughout Obama's faux-lofty rhetoric. Some examples:
Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms, as a promise that in due time, the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men and that all should have an equal chance.(Not today. Maybe someday. Gradually, the war on drugs that singles out minorities disproportionately may stop. But not on my watch. Gradually, someday, in due time, the rights of people will take precedence over the rights of corporations. Sarah Palin may be a dolt, but she sure was right about that "hopey-changey" thing being a complete canard.)
For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate. Even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes, inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.(Obamian verbal gymnastics at their best, in which he feels our pain, acknowledges all that is wrong in America. But not a word about how his own Wall Street-friendly policies have contributed to growing income disparity and wage stagnation, and how he himself has championed the corporate privatization of schools. In Chicago, for example, displaced minority students are being herded like sheep to their new non-union charter schools by $10/hour escorts -- to protect them from all that black-on-black violence, dontcha know.
And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.) With that courage, we can feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.(Even as he spoke, his administration was meeting with Republicans in desperate hopes of making yet another deal to reduce a deficit that has already been cut to the point of no return for the millions of people whom austerity has already victimized. Obama called for good jobs and just wages, but failed to renew his call for a higher minimum wage, failed once again to note that his own policies have contributed to America becoming that bleak, vast wasteland. He spoke like a candidate for office rather than the leader of the country. Typical, but especially grotesque given the setting and the occasion for Wednesday's speech.)
And now, for a final thunderclap of presidential cognitive dissonance:
And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else's laundry or shining somebody else's shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. (Cheers, applause.)
Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities.
America changed for you and for me.(He got elected, so everybody celebrate and bask in his glory. Never mind that in 1963, the economy was healthy, labor unions were still strong, and wages were still relatively robust, taxes were progressive, and there was still actually such a thing as the middle class. Never mind that the NYPD has now secretly designated Muslim mosques as terrorist organizations, and that the Obama administration has praised police spying against innocent Muslims. Never mind that Obama is still considering the stop-and-frisk NYPD Commissioner as new head of Homeland Security. America has changed, all right. And not for the better.)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow has written a brutally honest piece about MLK's magical transformation from "Dangerous Negro" with ties to Communism, to the cultural icon now so acceptable to the authoritarian likes of Barack Obama. To his credit, Blow did not join in the liberal veal pen cheering of Obama's Speech. Decrying the nostalgia of the old-timers and the new old-timers at Wednesday's staged retrospective, Blow writes:
Yet there remains a sort of cultural complacency in America. After young people took to the streets as part of the Arab Spring, many Americans, like myself, were left wondering what had become of American activism. When was the last time our young people felt so moved that they took to the streets to bring attention to an issue?
There were some glimmers of hope around Occupy Wall Street and the case of Trayvon Martin, but both movements have lost much of their steam, and neither produced a clear leader.
So as we rightfully commemorate the March on Washington and King’s speech, let us also pay particular attention to the content of that speech. King spoke of the “fierce urgency of now,” not the fierce urgency of nostalgia.
(I was struck by how old the speakers skewed this week during the commemorations.) What is our fierce urgency? What is the present pressure? Who will be our King? What will be our cause?As many readers pointed out, it was the Obama Administration itself which crushed the Occupy movement. And the "Trayvon Movement", which initially included a boycott of tourist dollar-dependent Florida by millionaire black entertainers, simply fizzled.... because, well, Capitalism. My comment, in answer to where all the new dissenters may be:
Now that the Occupy movement has been stymied, the most dangerous Americans are independent journalists and whistleblowers. It takes at least a generation to declare a subversive a hero. So someday, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and a whole host of subversives who are still little kids might get their own national holidays. This of course is if America as we know it survives for another generation, and "the nation" hasn't been rendered into just another chunk of wasteland real estate, pillaged and despoiled by the multinational capitalists who own the world in all but name.
Two of the speakers at Wednesday's ceremonies have recently spoken out strongly about the steady downward spiral of human rights in America. Jimmy Carter, who has publicly railed against our government's campaign of kill lists and drone terror, recently observed that this country no longer has a functioning democracy. And Civil Rights icon John Lewis praised Snowden, comparing him to Thoreau and Gandhi, before suddenly walking back the accolades and claiming he was misquoted by The Guardian newspaper. I suspect that some higher-up must have given him some friendly advice. Lewis, you may remember, was asked to "tone it down" once before, in the first March on Washington.
As the late revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon so saliently observed, "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it."