FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Economics of Contempt

by

If it’s spring, it must be time for Barack Obama’s annual drive-by of black America, where he piously lectures African-Americans on the state of their lives. Though the tinsel adorning his rhetorical flourishes is getting somewhat frayed, the president didn’t disappoint this year. Indeed, he treated the nation to two speeches on civil rights in a single week–a rare double-header for the commander of drones.

On April 10, Obama could be found in Texas, delivering an arid speech at the LBJ Presidential Library, studded with pompous non-sequiturs (“history not only travels forwards, it travels backwards”) and awkward allusions to civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, for whom Obama has little natural affinity.

The main takeaway from the Austin speech was that the legislative landmarks of the mid-1960s were about as good as it’s ever going to get. “Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Obama said. There was no mention of new legislation or programs to address unemployment, job discrimination, malnutrition, decaying public schools or poverty. At best Obama made a rather timid call for the defense of the old Johnson era laws, which, in his tendentious narrative, are being gnawed away by the reactionary right.

As usual, Obama confessed no regrets, offered no apologies, copped to no transgressions against any of the battered ideals of the Great Society, even as that very week his administration quietly surpassed the mark of deporting two million undocumented immigrants. (Predictably, Michelle tweeted a few days later that she and Barack just loved the new Cesar Chavez movie.) What Obama doesn’t say outright, but surely believes, is that the brawny liberalism of LBJ is passé, a relic of a bygone political tradition, the legislative ruins of a former age. The president is, of course, the grinning face of neo-liberalism, an ideology that rejects legislative cures for the magical elixir of financial incentives and market-driven remedies. How’s that working out for you, Detroit?

Obama is a master of casual condescension. His true gift as an orator is in making you feel as if your misfortunes in life–losing your job, being evicted from your house, going bankrupt–are the products of your own lack of initiative or some moral failing. And then, remarkably, he entices the victims into applauding their own humiliation. That’s a kind of political prestidigitation even Reagan, with his strange power of seduction, couldn’t quite pull off.

This bag of ineluctable parlor tricks was on full-display a few days later in New York, when Obama spoke at the National Action Network conference. NAN is run by Rev. Al Sharpton, who had, only days earlier, been outed as a former FBI snitch, having deployed a bugged briefcase in attempts to gather damaging information on both mobsters and, more pungently, black radicals. No wonder Sharpton has a running gig on MSNBC.

Obama gave a jauntier talk at the NAN convention, tuning his banal homilies to the rhythms of a Jay-Z rap. You know: Uptown and sanctimonious. His mission that day was to skewer Republicans (easy enough) and offer up some rationale for Sharpton’s troops to remain loyal retainers of the Democratic Party (a more vexing challenge). In the end, he chose to present himself as a vigorous champion of the Voting Rights Act and proclaimed the election of Democrats in the midterms as the last line of defense for the franchise. The audience lapped it up, naturally. After all, he’d made a special visit just to see them.

But in the context of his presidency (or any president since LBJ, for that matter), what does the right to vote mean, if there’s no one to vote for? No one who represents your interests? No one who will speak for you? If each pull of the ballot lever simply rings up the same merciless policies?

The returns are in on the Obama economy. He saved Wall Street, bailed out the banks, declined to prosecute felonious executives and redistributed billions upward into the off-shore accounts of the mega-rich. Pretty much everyone else got the shaft. But no community has fared worse under Obama, than urban blacks. The plight of black Americans is more extreme today than when Obama assumed command. Fresh evidence of this travesty rolls in every day. On April 1, a report by the Ann Casey Foundation described the conditions of black children as being “dire,” significantly worse, in terms of health, nutrition, education and housing, than even Native American children. This bleak assessment received scant attention in the national press.

The new Jim Crow extends far beyond the savage politics of mass incarceration, documented in such striking detail by Michelle Alexander. The American economy is more and more segregated and hostile to the aspirations of minorities. The black unemployment rate remains twice that of whites, a disparity that has not narrowed over the course of Obama’s term. In fact, it’s almost certainly widened since blacks are much more likely to be part of the long-term unemployed and thus uncounted. Even during the so-called recovery, black unemployment rates remained far above recession levels.

The income gap between blacks and whites is widening, with white workers earning nearly $20,000 more a year on average than blacks. The wealth disparity is even more extreme. A recent report by the Urban Institute reveals that family wealth for whites is more than six-times that of blacks, a gap of more than $450,000 per family. Meanwhile, public schools are more segregated than at anytime since 1970.

The insidious economic violence of everyday life in America grinds on, all but unnoticed except by those on the receiving end. Welcome to the economics of contempt.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray) will be published in June by CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail