Recently, I suggested to my colleagues in the National Conference of Black Lawyers that, as president of the United States, President Barack Obama proved to be a hypocrite and a “lowlife, handkerchief head politician”. When I characterized President Obama in this fashion, two colleagues, Attorneys Ron Isaac and Ajamu Sankofa, reprimanded me by saying that I should not resort to name-calling and that, in many respects, President Obama’s work as president improved the lives of black people and many others. A third colleague, Attorney Terry Price, asked me to explain my reasons for my “ugly opinion” regarding the president.
In my response, I expressed appreciation for the moral courage with which Ajamu and Ron responded to my criticism of President Obama. In my view, their reprimands exhibited their heartfelt love and respect for others, including President Barack Obama. Similarly, I made clear that I humbly respected the question posed by Attorney Terry Price; that question being, “Why … hold such a[n] ugly opinion about the President?”. With that said, I want to be perfectly clear in this published statement about the president. Like a black person selling dangerous and addictive narcotics to his or her black neighbors, like a black person robbing or murdering black people, and like Clarence Pendleton (now deceased), Justice Clarence Thomas, and Armstrong Williams, President Barak Obama is a traitor to his race.
Indeed, while he carries on the business of the United States presidency with poise and competence, President Obama holds himself out during the lame duck period of his presidency as though he worked assiduously over the last six and one-half years for the uplift of black people and the poor. That pretense on the part of President Obama is hypocritical and, in my view, inexcusable. To be sure, the president’s administration deliberately conducted itself over the last six and one-half years as though President Obama owed no obligation, moral or otherwise, to black people (or to other oppressed peoples) that would be any different from the obligations owed by one of Obama’s white predecessors. In other words, President Obama considers himself identical with John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush when it comes to Obama’s political and moral obligations as president. If that be the case, then why elect a black man or black woman president?
To be sure, President Obama worked since his election in 2008 for several noteworthy causes:
(1) the reinforcement and the greater enrichment of the billionaires and their multinational financial institutions on Wall Street;
(2) the furtherance of President George W. Bush’s effort to conquer, directly or indirectly, the vast petroleum reserves, the vast natural gas reserves, and the major water routes in and around north Africa and southwest Asia;
(3) the protection and the empowerment of the racially bigoted and genocidal state of Israel;
(4) the political enslavement and hence the cultural and economic genocide of the Palestinian people;
(5) the enrichment of U.S. health insurers and U.S. pharmaceutical companies; and
(6) the modernization of the racially bigoted status quo in the U.S. police state and its imperialist military regime.
Under President Obama, the United States, along with the United Kingdom, targeted Zimbabwe for regime change. When Obama pursued this course against Zimbabwe, he followed a policy adopted years earlier by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and endorsed by President George W. Bush. Under Bush and Obama, the British-American policy of regime change in Zimbabwe aimed to benefit white capital that invested extraordinary sums of money before 1980 in Ian Smith’s racially bigoted Rhodesian police state. Hence, President Obama supported in 2009 the United Kingdom’s unilateral decision about a decade earlier to terminate its subsidies for the “willing buyer, willing seller” program — a program which enabled the black majority in Zimbabwe to buy their land from the racist white minority who, before the end of the Zimbabwean civil war in 1980, owned almost all of the arable and mineral rich land in Zimbabwe. The “willing buyer, willing seller” program resulted from a peace treaty negotiated from September through December 1979 by the Zimbabwean national liberation movement, the United Kingdom (as the former colonial regime claiming at least nominal rule over the peoples of Zimbabwe), and the erstwhile white minority government of Rhodesia. In essence, President Obama supported the white capitalist faction that strove to disgorge sovereign power from the nationalist regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Obama, like Tony Blair before him, labeled President Mugabe a tyrant when in fact the United States and Britain simply wanted to displace Mugabe’s protective nationalist state and maintain exclusive white capital dominion over large tracts of arable Zimbabwean land.
In like fashion, President Obama stood for other injustices against formerly colonized peoples. For example, under President Obama, the United States completed George Bush’s conquest of Iraq and Afghanistan, while also furthering the U.S. military incursion into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Under President Obama, the United States organized an insidiously bigoted embargo against the economy of Iran, so as to crush its research and investments in nuclear energy. This happened while the United States protected Israel’s nuclear armaments (which pose a genocidal threat to Arab peoples in southwest Asia and to African and Arab peoples in north Africa). Under President Obama, the United States imposed extraordinary political and economic pressure against the Venezuelan people’s experiment with economic egalitarianism, against the Cuban people’s experiment with a morally conscious socialism, against the Iranian people’s experiment with revolutionary Shi’a nationalism, and with the Colombian people’s rebellion against tyranny.
As for the president’s work here in the United States, I am displeased with his determined effort to ignore the fundamental needs of black people and the poor. During Obama’s presidency, the racially bigoted American police state murdered scores of unarmed black men, women, and children, with many of these atrocities recorded by video cameras for the world to see. Moreover, during Obama’s presidency, white vigilante murder of black people, whether pretending to be legitimate as with the heinous murder in February 2012 of Trayvon Martin, or whether brazenly illegal as with the slaughter less than ten days ago of nine A.M.E. parishioners in their church in Charleston, South Carolina, became a new blood sport. In fact, white police (and sometimes black police) appear to be “hunting” for the opportunity to kill unarmed black people. Meanwhile, a few white civilians find a delusional need to defend themselves with deadly force against unarmed black people who happen to be walking home from a convenience store (Trayvon Martin), who happen to be at church studying the Bible (the “Mother Emmanuel” Nine), or who seek neighborly assistance after a car accident (19-year-old Renisha McBride who died outside Detroit in November 2013 of a gunshot wound to the back of her head). In essence, white nationalism posits today a new form of legalized lynching. As a counterpoint, President Obama responds with nothing of material significance except to eulogize nine of these unwitting martyrs’ deaths during a nationally televised funeral.
Like all of you, including Ajamu, Ron, and Terry, I understand that we, as black people, live under a racially bigoted regime of white capital supremacy, a genocidal regime of enormous power that evolves for its benefit, but that never disintegrates on its own accord. However, after scores of black men were tortured in Chicago by white police who tortured black men for more than two decades with impunity while Barack Obama represented many of these black men in the Illinois state senate, and while thousands of black people live today in prison, with many facing execution, for crimes they never committed or after being convicted in racially bigoted tribunals that President Obama never condemned, we make a horrible mistake by excusing Obama for failing at a job he volunteered to do: and that is, to enforce the constitutional precept of “equal protection of the law” for all people, including black and poor people, not just for the benefit of a rich and privileged white constituency. In my view, we make a horrible mistake by accepting from Obama his uniquely gifted form of tokenism while he gives the power of the U.S. presidency to tyrannical regimes in Saudi Arabia and Israel, to capitalist elites who benefitted from court-ordered injunctions against the “Occupiers”, and to state prisons where black men make up a disproportionate number of those on death row or otherwise incarcerated.
During most of his first two years as president, Obama fought mightily for health care reform that enriched health care insurers and multinational pharmaceutical companies. During that period, he also “bailed out” billionaires and their agents on Wall Street, including the opportunist Maurice “Hank” Greenberg of A.I.G. Moreover, President Obama’s first two years in office showcased his expansion of the U.S. military’s dominion over much of southwest Asia and northern Africa. Although I referred to these achievements earlier, I restate them here for a reason. During most of Obama’s first two years in office, he enjoyed the benefit of a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate, while also enjoying the benefit of a legislative majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. With those majorities, Obama could have mobilized a substantial reform of federal sentencing and habeas corpus. That majority could also have legislated immigration reform, so as to protect immigrants from unjust deportation. In fact, with his congressional majority during his first two years in office, President Obama could have pushed effectively for legislative relief for historically black colleges and universities, so as to establish a long term program for the uplift of the black nation, both in the United States and abroad.
But none of that took place. Instead, the president boasted, though, I admit as a joke, that he was a distant cousin of Dick Cheney. In this and other ways, President Obama made a determined effort to identify himself as part of middle class white America. Yet, he always followed Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s example of solicitously serving the interests of America’s wealthy elite. In contrast, racially bigoted electioneering in southern and midwestern states employed police state tactics that barred thousands of black voters from exercising their franchise in the 2010 elections. Moreover, as an early test of Obama’s administration, Oakland police murdered Oscar Grant, with this racially bigoted lynching videotaped by scores of witnesses on New Year’s morning in 2009. Similarly, the Israeli Defense Force wreaked genocidal death and destruction in Gaza for at least a month leading up to Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009. When the Israeli Defense Force decimated the population in Gaza, and when Oakland police murdered Oscar Grant, President Obama did nothing. Of course, I dare not ignore President Obama’s disturbing refusal to ask the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole to stay the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, a wrongfully convicted black man whom Georgia poisoned to death in September 2011, doing so after seven of nine witnesses recanted their trial testimony against Mr. Davis. To be clear, a few of these witnesses swore under oath that white police officers forced them to testify falsely against Troy Davis at his capital murder trial. Despite this injustice, Obama did nothing to save Troy Davis from being executed. With this history of President Obama’s failure to intervene against racially bigoted injustice, I see little reason to praise the president.
Indeed, with a legacy such as this, Obama deserves to be recognized for what he is: a president no different fundamentally from his white predecessors. If we honestly examine the presidencies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and all the rest, we see that they managed and served a racially bigoted system of white capital supremacy. This system, and especially the regime that put it to work, made modest changes over the years in its form, in its operations, in its constituency, and, occasionally, as time passed, in the skin color of a few of its leaders. Nevertheless, the system remained intact, with its dominion continuously over our people. Indeed, the system today practices torture and subtle police state rule here in the United States, doing so somewhat differently from its practice generations ago during slavery and lynch law. Meanwhile, the mass incarceration of America’s black and poor constitutes a modern-day form of slavery. Yet, in the midst of this seeming apocalypse, President Obama encourages our withdrawal from the following struggles: the fight for human rights, the fight for true egalitarianism, and the righteous struggle for revolutionary change. Instead, he espouses, like Rush Limbaugh, an allegiance to “American exceptionalism”. He does this not simply as the U.S. president. In other words, he promotes American exceptionalism while cowardly refusing to push for genuine legislative reform that would right the wrongs listed in this statement.
With these observations in mind, I stand by my original characterization of the president. As I stated earlier, I acknowledge his charm and his competence as a leader of the U.S. police state. However, I condemn him for his charade at pretending to be concerned about the plight of black people and the poor. If truly concerned about us, where has that concern been hiding during his six and one-half years as president? Similarly, where was that concern effectively exhibited during his career in the Illinois legislature, that is to say, while Detective Jon Burge and his cohort in the Chicago Police Department tortured black men in the South Side of Chicago and forced them to confess to murders they never committed? If truly concerned about us as black people, then why has President Obama ignored the political prisoners who should be freed for rebelling against American injustice? Cannot at least one of these federally convicted political prisoners, such as Veronza Bowers, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Mondo we Langa, Ed Poindexter, Thomas Manning, Leonard Peltier, or Dr. Mutulu Shakur, be pardoned? If concerned about our suffering at the hands of the American police state, then when will Obama call for legislative reform that reverses the racially bigoted sentencing and penal policies of the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996″ and the “Sentencing Reform Act of 1984″?
I see none of that in Obama’s future as president. However, if he offers these reforms to Congress, the effort will be late and grossly ineffective. To be sure, he neglected the chance to enact these reforms during his first two years in office — when he benefited from a congressional majority. As it is, my respect for the man as a shrewd and extraordinarily successful politician does not blind my view of the moral quality of his work. President Obama did very little for black people, as well as for others, who needed his help the most. In that respect, he stands today before black people as a traitor to his race.
Thomas Ruffin, Jr. is a lawyer in Washington, D.C.