No matter that the current president happened to be speaking at a town hall for young Britons, and that he was fresh off a round of golf with the same prime minister who's just been exposed for hoarding a vast portion of his inherited wealth in a tax-free shell company in Panama. There is never an inappropriate time or place when one of the most powerful men in the world gets a hankering to deliver sanctimony to the world's oppressed.
On this side of the pond, American protesters have gotten into shouting matches with both Bill and Hillary Clinton at their campaign events. Over in the U.K, meanwhile, British protesters have been out in the streets, calling for the resignation of David Cameron over the Panama Papers scandal.
Thus did Obama issue his subliminal warning to a whole swath of the transatlantic proletariat: Leave the poor plutocrats alone!
"You can't just keep yelling at them (the Clintons and by implicit extension given the venue, Cameron) and you can't refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position," Obama lectured from high atop his pedestal.
There's that word again: purity. It's that straw-man quality of the left that neoliberals find so peculiarly odious. If you have the audacity to demand that the criminal justice system stop abusing and killing and unfairly imprisoning you and your loved ones right now, this very minute, then you are being unreasonably pure. The ongoing threat to your bodies should not be viewed as an existential emergency or as state terrorism run amok. It should be viewed as just another academic topic for polite discussion with your betters. If you have the gall to loudly demand swift justice and basic human rights, then you are simply being annoying. And just as bad as that annoying purity, Obama went on, is the cynicism. Aren't you getting the message that the wage-suppressing, job-destroying free trade deals masking global corporate coups are cause for celebration?
Since the recent police killings of unarmed black people in Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island and elsewhere, Obama has appointed various task forces to study the "issue." He's even invited some BLM activists to the White House for co-optive photo ops. Having been given a temporary "seat at the table," they should have been properly grateful.
Over in Chicago, site of Obama's future billion-dollar shrine to himself, neoliberal pal Mayor Rahm Emanuel has bared his own pathological pragmatism by refusing to resign after covering up the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. He is most recently showing how open he is to compromise by also ignoring the recommendations contained in a scathing report which proves that the Chicago Police Department is, indeed, institutionally racist.
The mayor is taking the initiative to eventually start making some of the changes to prevent further police murders, eventually:
CITY’S PLAN Eddie Johnson, the new police superintendent, has held “bridge meetings” with residents in recent days and has pledged to continue those. The Chicago police have also started using “restorative justice” to connect officers with young people of different cultures to discuss race, bias and other issues. “Trust is at the heart of good policing, safe communities, and is the central challenge facing Chicago today,” Mr. Johnson said in the mayor’s statement. “These reforms are a down payment on restoring that trust.”Meanwhile, over at his Saturday event in London, Obama called for young people protesting at the Clintons' campaign events, and marching against systemic racism, to "be more open" to compromising with their political leaders, even when their trust ratings are in the tank. He was specifically referring to activists who complained about Hillary Clinton's characterization of black youths as "super predators who must be brought to heel" during passage of the 90s-era crime bill, which has had the effect of incarcerating minority citizens in higher numbers than there were slaves in the mid-19th century. Michelle Alexander has famously dubbed this practice of imprisoning people for relatively minor offenses The New Jim Crow: a modern variation of actual slavery.
Jim Crow and mass incarceration are "problems" rather than outrages calling for mass outrage, according to Obama: “Too often what I see is wonderful activism that highlights a problem but then people feel so passionately and are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step and say, ‘How do I sit down and try to actually get something done," he said while standing up and waving his finger, the better to be seen and heard all the way across the wide Atlantic.
Obama did what the rich and powerful always do whenever victims of injustice call them to account. They turn around and make themselves out to be the long-suffering victims. The president declared himself ever so sorely miffed at the "harsh tone" of the activists.
During the years of slavery in the United States, the rich and powerful had also urged patience and compromise from those impatient "purists" demanding an immediate end to the ownership of humans by other humans. The abolition movement was also chided for being too rude and too demanding. Even President Lincoln was initially an advocate for incremental change, gradual freedom for the enslaved... until the Purists convinced him otherwise
William Lloyd Garrison, the firebrand founder of the anti-slavery Liberator newspaper, at first went along with the slow and steady advice of political leaders. But in his opening editorial, he apologized for his previous equivocation:
"I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly ask pardon of my God, my country, and my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity....
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice."
Barack Obama: You can't just keep yelling at them!
W. L Garrison: On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen - but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.
Obama: People.... are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step... and sit down.
Garrison: I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.Guess what? Garrison and the abolition movement stuck a fork in the apathy and they did make the slave-owning plutocrats topple from their pedestals. Lincoln eventually issued his Emancipation Proclamation, but it was the enslaved who effectively freed themselves.
People have always had the power. Now, as then, they are refusing to just sit down, shut up, and wait.