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We now have four years of the very first Black presidency behind us.
Despite the insane vilification of Barack Obama and the extraordinary overreach of the country’s rightwing politicians and media, the most extraordinary, lowdown, miserable NRA ad going after the President’s children, and the wild portrayals of Fox News mouthpieces whose hypocrisy fairly oozes from their on-camera personas and dependence on a forgetful viewership over time, a few million folks on the other end of the political spectrum did, in fact, reluctantly mark their ballots for his reelection.
Why? And how would Martin Luther King be assessing this first four years of the first African American to occupy that end of Pennsylvania Avenue? Does Mr. Obama embody the Dream Dr. King talked about. Or the Black pride he encouraged (“Walk with your head high! Be a man!”) in other settings outside of Washington, DC?
The enthusiasm with which many progressives (most of them white, of course) greeted the nation’s first nominee of color and helped send to the White House began to fade quickly as Mr. Obama, little by little, day by day, displayed a baffling willingness to maintain the policies of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush. This was immediately true in the initial days of his inheriting the financial mess dumped on his administration in the waning days of the previous Congress and the fiscal disaster that proved to be the worst recession since the Great Depression. Mr. Obama’s Wall-Street-based donors, soon to be in charge of his Treasury Department, the Fed and the Council of Economic Adviser recommended – and he bought into – a multi-billion-dollar bailout, not of the ravaged and savaged homeowners entering history’s worst foreclosure crisis and underwater drag on housing values, but of already super-wealthy investment bankers who eventually were caught making more billions by betting against their own investors.
Then came Guantanamo, which Mr. Obama had promised n his campaign to close and which festers still as a sore on the nation’s conscience. Then Iraq and Afghanistan and, in direct contravention of his campaign promises, signed the first renewal and recently, the second of National Defense Authorization Act which legalizes government wiretaps without a warrant and crushes dissent in the streets and sends drones over foreign and domestic territories to either spy on or kill so-called targets the President unilaterally deems a threat, including American citizens who die without a shred of due process – a charge, a trial and a conviction.
BUT…this is the President who muscled through the Affordable Health Care Act. And wound down the War in Iraq (eventually), and strengthened some of our environmental protections and brought the children of undocumented workers into a state of innocence – if not amnesty.
Mr. Obama and his youthful, attractive family, his winning smile and incredibly confident, articulate voice, along with his squeaky clean image, has maintained a certain level of comfort among a slim majority of Americans. Yet, the political machinery behind his reelection was deceptively competent and engineered such an awesome victory that the self-deceived right and its billionaire PACs were completely blindsided when the President completely swamped Mitt Romney in the Electoral College.
So. On this day when the inspiring ghost of Martin Luther King is heard once again in terms that echo still today and almost singing,
“…But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition…I have dream today…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’…”
…how would Dr. King look upon this Presidency today? What changes in the plight of people of color might he have expected? Would he be justified? King hated the Vietnam Conflict and other wars that pitted Black Americans against other cultures of color. How would he feel about the Mideast, Afghanistan, Israel, the drone wars? How would he view Mr. Obama’s almost blank slate in addressing racial inequality and white privilege, the urban public education achievement gap, and the burgeoning prison populations everywhere, top heavy with Black, Latino and American Indian males?
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