Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri called Barack Obama a house Negro in a tape that surfaced this week. Before that, everyone's favorite spoiler Ralph Nader called Obama an Uncle Tom. The question these zingers beg is similar to the one a lot of progressives want to ask: Is Obama a Clinton Democrat in Progressive clothing--the blather about change nothing more than that old sizzle but no steak routine? Marketing 101?
The reason is simple: I allowed myself to believe that Obama was more liberal than he actually is.
When I was in college I often drove from Vermont to Connecticut on weekends to visit my ailing step-father. He was a Republican. I was not. The cassette I listened to in my silver Honda Prelude was a compilation of Malcolm X speeches, which I knew by heart. To me those speeches were better than punk rock.
I blanched the other day when Ayman al-Zawahiri was framing a critique of Barack Obama with the aid of Malcolm X's infamous distinction between the house Negro and the field Negro because Zawahiri's critique was potentially similar to mine. I want folks to see we have a fairly mainstream--seemingly competent--president-elect. Zawahiri wanted Muslims worldwide to know that Obama was Muslim in name alone. His message: do not be fooled. America is a menace, and Obama is a danger.
Thank God Zawahiri is right about the world, at least the version he inhabits. I think I'm right as well.
Post-80s candor is the hobgoblin here. Privileged language is a rainbow of ghettoized categories that smooths all the jagged edges of social discourse by over-determining who can say what. A person like Ralph Nader, among a certain set in society, would be applauded for calling the half African American president-elect an Uncle Tom to corporate America. People like Bill Ayers would have tilted at the supposed liberalism of Obama. I used to be one of the people applauding back when I was an elitist ideologue.
Are the accusations true? From the point of view of al Qaeda's number two man? Indeed. From the point of view of many radical Americans? Sure. From the point of view of many Democrats? Fewer would say so. And why? Because Obama is an enlightened Clintonian Democrat.
Obama seems to truly believe in a better tomorrow, one that is in direct opposition to our nation's recent past of exploitative social hierarchy and rotten business ethics. He seems to be forward looking. He seems to have a heart. And he has articulated a vision for that better tomorrow. In addition to these estimable characteristics, he also seems to have a great head on his shoulders and a strong desire to succeed that is expressed in measurable accomplishment.
Can you succeed by blowing things up? Look how far that got Osama bin Laden, Ted Kaczynski, and Bill Ayers. Look how far it got George W Bush. It gets you nowhere. Peace activists this week have made a little noise about Obama's hawkish stance on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama is not a dove, but he is smart and sane. And smart, sane people don't hurl bombs.
The Clinton people clamoring on board Obama's peace train signify one thing: a bad frame. It's no peace train. It's a government train. It's on tracks that have led to the same place since Eisenhower first told America to beware the military-industrial complex. Why? Because whether your gig is capturing oil tankers off the coast of Somalia or taking over countries, that's where the money is. Obama didn't invent this dynamic, but you don't get to be president if you're no good at playing the game.
A centrist government in this day and age is precisely what this country doesn't need. It's time for change. This is our moment. Or was that just good marketing? It makes me feel better to think it was a little bit of both.
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