Alex Blaze

Do Liberals Criticize Obama Because He's Black?

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 03, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, david sirota, left, liberals, Melissa Harris-Perry, the nation

Melissa Harris-Perry has a column in today's issue of The Nation arguing that white liberals who are disappointed with Obama are racist Obama campaign floatbecause they supported Clinton more at this point in his presidency.

Of course, there's no polling on what white liberals think of Obama; Obama's support has dropped among all race groups since 2009, as most presidents' approval ratings tend to drop after elections; the economy today is doing much worse than it was in 1996, with levels of unemployment unseen in recent American history; Clinton wasn't all that popular with the left in 1996, drawing ire from so many constituency groups for selling them out (we get the phrase "Sister Souljah moment" from Clinton's behavior); and Obama's policy's have generally been to the right of Clinton's, with the major exception being LGBT rights. (David Sirota has a more detailed rebuttal; I'm not interested in writing one.)

That all goes unmentioned in the column, and it's not to hard to understand why. Harris-Perry is pursuing a career in corporate media, and while corporate media like MSNBC will tolerate "liberal" commentary, one thing it won't tolerate is people calling out our political theatre as being just that: theatre. It's fine to take one party's side or the other since neither threatens the powers that be, but to reject them both is to indict our fake democracy.

Moreover, the fact that Harris-Perry cites few of Obama's actual policies (she actually uses the fact that he's passed a lot of laws to show how great he's been without describing if they're good laws... details, details) shows how superficial her comparison is. Instead of actually discussing how high the unemployment rate is, how Obama's done enough to combat it, or why it's out of his control, she says that the difference in the black and white unemployment rates relative to the general unemployment rate is about the same today as in the 90's.

In other words, why would someone with several well-paid, secure jobs care about how well Obama's actual policies work so long as the champagne keeps on flowing?

I subscribe to The Nation and I like the magazine, but if Harris-Perry is moving to Versailles maybe they should reconsider her column. I suspect MSNBC and other corporate, pseudo-liberal media is going to be lashing out more and more against people who criticize Obama from the left.

Psuedo-liberals, for the last four decades, have gleefully participated in the right's McCarthyism, often doing the dirty work of convincing America that anyone who defends poor and working class Americans' interests is outside the realm of reasonable discourse. Eleven years ago Democrats called Nader voters traitors for putting Bush in office (the Supreme Court had nothing to do with it, of course), nine years ago liberal hawks were calling those against the Iraq War the fifth column, two years ago anyone who wanted the public option was an unreasonable, "retarded" socialist, and now anyone who thinks that calling for austerity in the middle of recession is bad economics, bad politics, and bad for themselves and their loved ones is racist.

Traitors, treasonous, "retarded," racist. Those are some pretty big insults in our culture, and fake liberals have no problem throwing them around when the rabble gets too noisy.

These folks know their job: make it seem, to the untrained eye, that America discusses important issues, but also make sure that the left stays marginalized and disorganized. Don't call Harris-Perry stupid or lazy, because she's neither; she just has a career to look out for.


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Chitown Kev | October 3, 2011 8:54 PM

Liberals criticized Lyndon Baines Johnson. Hell, liberals haven't broke off and formed a new party, even (as they did under Harry Truman).

I just had to virtually shout down someone at one of the blogs today that said that the gays weren't and aren't that harsh on Bill Clinton and give race as the reason.

It's not that liberals (white, black, and Latino) criticize Obama. It's the way that criticize Obama that troubles me on occasion. But that's not what Harris-Perry said.

That's pretty much it, since she isn't talking about white liberals not voting for Obama since she says that they did, even more than usual, in 2008, and the 2012 elections haven't happened. She's talking about discourse, and if she wanted a meaningful indictment of what white liberals are saying, she should have cited some statements by white liberals.

She's a clown. A self-serving, morally reprehensible one, but still a clown.

This is why this country is where it is. People treat politics like they do football: you're with our team or you're against us.

I would not say any disappointment expressed by people who consider themselves Liberal are the result of Barack Obama's skin color, but instead the failures and concessions made to the Conservatives. I know the disappointment started for me with the lack of interest in passing ENDA and continued to grow upon seeing a renewal of the Patriot Act as well as several other elements that seemed to show Obama as more of a Centrist than a Liberal which he certainly seemed to run as. Add to this his apparent total unwillingness to stand his ground to the most Conservative Republicans. The result is one has a hard time feeling very good about his leadership. Sure he is in Campaign mode now and talking a bit tougher by saying things those who supported him in 2008, but we are all a bit wiser now. A little once burnt twice shy I suspect. Barack Obama will ultimately get the votes of the Liberal side of the spectrum in all likelihood but it will be only because of the nut job the Republicans are likely to run for the office. The bigger question will be if the majority of those who are Independent and in the middle of the road politically are going to come out and support him for another four years or if they blame him for the failures of the last four years more than the Republicans in the House and Senate. And of course if he can generate enough excitement for his re-election or fear in what the other side might do if given full control of the ship of state. It will be these things which will be key to his re-election but if the country turns the House and Senate back to the Republicans in the process we will likely continue to see the grid lock we do now or a further move to the Center-Right on the part of Obama. This too would be troubling as it shows little conviction on his part in my opinion and gives us the impression his views are solely populist with little real leadership. Bankrupt of any real firmly held views personally which is a little of what seemed to be the case since the Democrats lost control of the House and full control of the Senate.

The number of Democrats (white liberals, usually!) who cite his recent speeches as evidence that he's seen the light has been alarming. He hasn't decided to take on Wall Street, he's just decided that nothing will get done between now and the election and he needs people to think that he isn't a corporate Dem.

It should be obvious to everyone, and I think it can be taken as a measure of a commentator's honesty, not intelligence, if they're willing to buy into the "Obama's seen the light" meme.

Maybe we criticize him because he is about as progressive as Ronnie Reagan.
Maybe we criticize him because he is owned by Wall Street and the Corporations.
Maybe it is stupid to say that those of us who criticize him are racist. Perhaps those who criticize actual progressives should seriously consider moving left or get out of the way.
Perhaps those who call actual progressives racists would do well to listen to Phil Ochs "Love me, I'm a Liberal" and realize why the left hold them in as much contempt as the right wing does.

Thanks for the musical interlude. Here's the youtube link if anyone wants to hear the song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

We might critize him for being black or whatever. I could careless he is trying to fix bushes problems! Imagine if we had another republican up we would of had the same problems or even worse! I don't know if we should blame him. He is a good person and done so many great things, theres a site all the things he did good. People are blinded because the problems we had before we had Obama.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 4, 2011 4:29 AM

Those who equate criticism of Obama with racism, which includes some commenters here, reflect the increasing desperation of Obama loyalists.

Obama and the entire Democrat Party betrayed everyone but Goldman Sachs, Humana and BP. They lost 30 million votes in the 2010 Congressional races compared to Obama's vote in 2008. Thirty Million was enough to lose them the House.

Obama still has a tenuous lead over most of his probable Republican opponents but his problems are mounting exponentially. "A new CBS News poll finds that 69% of Americans believe President Obama has not made real progress in fixing the economy, which voters overwhelmingly cite as their most important issue." And "A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 55% of those surveyed believe President Obama will be a one-term president, while 37% say he'll win re-election next year." Both from Political Wire

Aside from the Depression, about which Obama has done nothing substantive, the biggest problems he faces are the deepening radicalization of workers, youth and students - Madison and Wall Street - and his embracing the Republican Tea-bagger program in a substantial way on war, taxes for the rich, union busting and his opposition to health care reform.

People can't tell the difference and his new 'Give 'em Hell, Harry" routine doesn't fool anybody who doesn't want to be fooled.

When I voted for Obama I had more personally invested in his election than for any other election, I've voted in .

I genuinely thought that he was a person who could make the US a more equitable society, with the rich paying their share, and the poor entitled to healthcare and a living wage.

I now realise that this was naive of me. That Obama is an opportunistic, career politician, who has to obey his corporate masters.

I don't think voting in the US really matters any more. In our fake democracy you get a choice between Democrat and Republican. But both those parties serve the interest of corporate America. Ordinary people are irrelevant to them.

I am moving towards a position where I am in favour of large scale social unrest to redress the imbalances in our system.

It's only when the masses start banging at the gates of power (like the Occupy Wall Street movement) that any real change happens.

It will be a hard fight, as the rich do want to pay their share. But we must not lose focus.

The rich are the enemy of the US electorate. The 10% of peeple who control 90% of the wealth are the ones who must pay. Whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, black or white, male or female is largely irrwelevant these days.

I think a lot of us thought that he'd at least be a centrist/liberal. Not exactly my politics, but a step up from Bush.

Instead he's been a mixed bag in the "better than Bush" category. Better on LGBT issues, worse on civil liberties. Better on the economy (an uber-small stimulus is better than no stimulus), worse on corporate give-aways. Better on diplomacy, worse on war-mongering.

Part of the problem is how misinformed our population is. Lots of work needs to be done there before we can expect politicians to do anything helpful.

I think your distance from the actual work of governing is showing here, Alex. Amazing things are happening left and right because of this administration. Come visit DC sometime, I'll elaborate.

All this criticism of Mr Obama is well and good. I think we can all agree he's disappointed just about every single one of us. It just makes me cringe though when I read comments from folks who say they aren't going to vote for him come election time because of his performance these last 4 years. So what do they want? A McCain/Palin presidency? I think we can safely say, our lives would be a whole lot worse right now, and not just with LGBT issues! Look what happened in 2010. As was stated, a lot of people didn't vote and look what we got. Looking forward to 2012, we need to pick our battles, and yes, we need to keep having these discussions and hold Mr Obama's feet to the fire, but we have to vote!

I'm a bit surprised at all the focus in this comment thread on Obama and so little on media commentators such as Melissa Harris-Perry.

Harris-Perry had never made it onto my radar until this moment -- but I have noticed other Black commentators claiming that every criticism of Obama is motivated by racism. This is odd, because, unless I am missing something, I hear Blacks, especially middle-class, educated Blacks, criticizing Obama for almost exactly the same shortcomings that similarly socialized whites criticize him for. If the whites are being racist, then Obama's fellow Blacks are, too? -- From what planet and on what wavelength did that nonsense get beamed in upon us?

I can only gather that you, Alex, are exactly right: Harris-Perry is trying to make some "controversial" noise to get some attention for herself. You say, Alex, that she isn't stupid -- but she ain't that smart, either, or else she would have found something to say that is less transparently absurd and more genuinely substantial.

As the 2012 presidential season progresses, I am resigned to the notion that, sooner or latter, we will learn that we are all "racists" in one way or another. The charge will fly through the air faster, with more frequency and more targets, than mashed potatoes during a fraternity house food fight. Whites are racist for not supporting Obama. Blacks are racist (or more precisely, "being tribal") for thinking (still) that Obama can walk on water. The first Obama election supposedly confirmed America as "post-racial" -- and now in the 2012 re-run we will all see how pitifully ridiculous that notion really was.

The problem is, IMHO, that racism, like race itself, is not a clearly defined thing, but entirely a matter of perceptions. For decades America has lamented, When are we going to have an honest dialogue regarding race? -- Well, I have decided, that the magical "dialogue" does not take place because nobody wants it -- not the whites, and not the Blacks, either. Too many times I have posited truly soul-searching questions to Black readers on Black blogs, asking generally but vulnerably what sincere-hearted white Americans like me can do next to fight racism, both the racism out there and the vestigial racism within ourselves ... and I am met with silence. Maybe the Black readers are so flabbergasted with my honesty -- or my stupidity -- that they are speechless. But if I press any of them to respond, I get some let's-all-shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot dialogue-ending retort such as, "It's not my responsibility to educate you, whitey!" ... Well, excuse me for breathing!

"Dialogue" and "It's not my responsibility to educate you" do not mix. Well, duh! Because of this impasse, the 2012 election is bound to be a circus of racial accusations, racial attacks, and attempts at racial reconciliations. It's all useless static, and 95% of it deserves to be tuned out. Blessed are the peacemakers, I only hope they will survive until Thanksgiving 2012.


Chitown Kev | October 4, 2011 12:06 PM

If the whites are being racist, then Obama's fellow Blacks are, too? -- From what planet and on what wavelength did that nonsense get beamed in upon us?


It's interesting to me (as a Chicagoian) that Harris-Perry only goes back to the 2004 Senate race and not back to a time when then State Senator Obama was being accused of being a white liberal elite tool by some in the black community.

Some of the criticisms that Obama is politically pandering to a certain set of at the expense of the black community is not a new criticism of Obama at all. Today its' Republicans, in times past Obama was accused of catering to white liberals at the black community's expense.

Aubrey Haltom | October 4, 2011 1:51 PM

After Obama addressed the Congressional Black Caucus, and told them to "stop complaining", I wondered if he would do the same with a white audience.
After all, unemployment in the African-American community is only @twice as high as the overall national rate.
So what do 'white' audiences have to complain about?

This is media-manufactured bogus narrative, as Rachel Maddow et al have ably demonstrated.

Wilberforce1 | October 5, 2011 12:47 AM

Alex, very astute analysis. I only have a couple of extra points.
The Nation. is a fraud, the far left arm of corporate media. As such, they regularly publish opinion and non-issues to divide and confuse the left, as in the piece you're commenting on.
This was obvious when they stumped for Nader nonstop and got Bush elected. Many on the fake left did this, Michael Moore, Alexander Cockburn, and others. And not one has apologized. But I digress.
Fake liberalism is everywhere in corporate media. MSNBC is the prime example. But there's also PBS, and 'progressive' radio, and others. You can tell they're fake by content, the mountains of evidence and argument that they exclude. But you also can tell by the owners of each venue, which of course includes a PBS sponsored by big corporate dollars.
Maybe fifteen years ago, I asked serious liberals to take control of a TV channel and produce high quality programming. They weren't interested. This despite the fact that we have arguments that would shred the other side. So this really is our own fault. It's the fault of oportunists like Harris-Perry. But it's also the fault of the rank and file left who are too busy in-fighting to take on serious responsibility.