Date Added: 2009-02-16
Date Modified: 2009-02-16
On Obama and His Critics
document 29 of 55
Photo by Thomas Gray Salter. A half century of community organizational activism... We cannot run away from the Winds of Challenge and Change. We have to take History and ride with it. Always ahead, always toward the Sun. And always aware that Democracy is natural and, given half a chance, it will always flourish. We have big fish to fry and we're going to have to do it in our own home-grown skillet -- over a long-burning fire from the timber of our own forests. Bear's Lair
On Obama and His Critics
by Hunter Gray, 16 February 2009
For the last several mornings I've kind of had my hands full answering a spate of family and other letters. That's subsided at least for the long moment, so:
If a substantial number of Americans support a torture and related investigation of the Bush/Chaney epoch, fine. My own hunch is that that would produce few, if any, convictions -- but, as with the excellent Frank Church committee investigations that followed the Nixon period, may eventually get not only exposure but some helpful legislation.
But some of the folks who tout that substantial American feeling on that issue, appear to be ignoring the fact that the Obama administration presently enjoys an extremely high popularity rating in this country, at least in the 70s percentile and maybe even higher.
The hymn of outright hatred of the Obama setup, carried by Rush Limbaugh et al., is constant. More subtle and muted -- but plenty poisonous versions -- are certainly being hustled by most Republicans.
They want Obama et al. to fail -- whatever the cost to this country and, to some extent, the world.
Likewise with a portion of what calls itself the Left in this country. [Not all of the Left by any means.] But much of the really statistically insignificant "organized Left" would dearly love to watch the Obama efforts collapse. Many of them were against him from at least the moment he announced his run. [Jealousy?] I am not sure that many of those people even want to see any successes since they seem to be at their "best" when they carp from the sidelines.
Yes, I certainly see the Afghanistan thing as a disaster and my hope that Obama et al. can avoid involvement there is, frankly, not strong. I might add that I made myself singularly unpopular on the informal DSA discussion list [ASDnet] when the Afghan War was looming -- by opposing it and pointing out that Jenghiz Khan had steered clear of that place, the Brits had really gotten nowhere in that setting, and the Red Army certainly hadn't.
But, that said, it seem very clear to me that the Al-Qaeda forces [the Taliban dimension appears more ambiguous] would cut the throats of all of us -- if it could. That's an obvious and tangible fact, whatever the complex of social and political streams that produced That. This doesn't let the "western world" off the hook -- but the Al-Qaeda motives and real actions could not be more transparent.
It hasn't been a month since the Obama inauguration. I hadn't hatched when FDR took office but I did soon thereafter and my memories of those years -- Depression, Dust Bowl refugees, War -- are clear. Difficult as the times have always been, this period now has to be one of the very worst I've ever seen.
And I see the Obama victory as highly significant in a positive sense -- in some ways. And at least hopeful on others.
I certainly think there's a danger that the Obama administration could drift into the Bill Clinton mold. Given that, criticism of Obama is warranted. [Better some than none.]
But if The Critics want the "hurting" mass of the American people to listen -- and act -- then those criticisms had better be short on shrillness and long on people-empathy and savvy thoughtfulness.
Sam Friedman responds: Hunter and I are friends and respect each other, and do this in part by keeping our disagreements civil and friendly. (At least most of the time.) This response is a friendly expression of partial disagreement.
I agree with Hunter in his ending points on this message when he says: "But if The Critics want the 'hurting' mass of the American people to listen -- and act -- then
those criticisms had better be short on shrillness and long on people-empathy and savvy thoughtfulness."
Indeed, what I have done in my political work always takes this perspective. Last night, at a meeting, for example, I proposed that we invite the organized Obama supporters in this locality to join us and some other groups (Citizen Action, e.g.) in a broad-ranging demo next month to mark the anniversary of the war, the lack of health care, the victimization of the undocumented and foreclosures. And I am always friendly even when I disagree with proposals by the "Progressive Democrats" in and around our group, such as when someone last night handed out forms and urged everyone to run for positions in the Democratic Party machinery at upcoming primary elections. My language was strongly critical, but totally friendly, and raised no hackles whatsoever.
This seems to me to be basic when trying to build a left in this country or anywhere.
But Hunter also says "Likewise with a portion of what calls itself the Left in this country. [Not all of the Left by any means.] But much of the really statistically insignificant 'organized Left' would dearly love to watch the Obama efforts collapse. Many of them were against him from at least the moment he announced his run. [Jealousy?] I am not sure that many of those people even want to see any successes since they seem to be at their "best" when they carp from the sidelines."
This raises different issues from what Hunter first said. Clearly, I do not want to see people suffer, and take part in struggles to prevent people suffering. But I also notice that Hunter does not say what he means when he implies that he does not want to see the Obama efforts collapse. I emphatically do want to see Obama's efforts to extent and worsen the occupation of Afghanistan collapse. I also want his efforts to kill people on Pakistani soil collapse. When his administration acts to support the owning class by attacking auto workers, I want to see those efforts collapse. When his administration's ICE sytematically target immigrant neighborhoods for repression, I want to see those efforts collapse. When his administration supports ineffective pap as a way to deal with global warming, and fails to do what might actually work, I want to see those efforts of his collapse.
More fundamentally, I want to see Obama's efforts to defend capitalism collapse and to see this system replaced by a democratic movement of the people it has been exploiting and oppressing for centuries.
This is where Hunter and I fundamentally disagree--and we do it in a friendly way and respect each other despite the disagreements.
FInally, I want to take issue with what may perhaps be an implication of what Hunter says about Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. As I read it, he makes his point about the hostility of Al Qaeda in a way that seems to defend the occupation of Afghanistan. Now, like Hunter, I think of Al Qaeda as an enemy indeed. They are primarily an enemy, I would add, to the people in the lands where they are strong. And that is where the main political battle about them should be waged--and by the people of those lands.
Insofar as I can tell, these local battles against fundamentalist reactionaries--whether in Muslim or Christian or Jewish or ... form--are harmed by the US coming into countries and committing mass murder while occupying the land. This makes it very hard for other forces to organize and fight back. Indeed, often, when they do so the US is one of their enemies, as with the Iraqi labor movement. And the potentially extremely strong Iranian labor movement is weakened by the US/Israeli hostility and threats to that country.
Thinking back 8 years to to 2001, when Al Qaeda did attack the US and kill a lot of people, I and many of my workmates opposed the impending invasion of Afghanistan even though we had worked in the World Trade Center and had undergone varying degrees of distress as a result. (Some of us lost relatives or friends in that atrocity.) We understood then that an invasion and occupation would increase hostility and kill far more people that Al Qaeda could--and that the way to battle Al Qaeda was politically (and perhaps police). I think that subsequent history shows we were correct. As I remember it, Hunter agreed with this perspective then--and I hope he still does and that I am mis-reading what he wrote this morning.
In any case, let me end with best wishes to Hunter, and Sky, and Eldri, and indeed to all (who read this).
And by saying that I have begun reading Alice Azure's book of poetry and am incredibly grateful that she has written this wonderful art! I plan to read through the book over a couple weeks so I can savor it fully.
Hunter Gray responds: I have no problem with the tenor of your message, Sam. But we obviously disagree on several key issues. However, I am disturbed when you draw faulty implications/assumptions regarding, for example, my position on the Afghanistan tragedy. I thought it was quite clear in my post that I did not see possible -- or perhaps probable -- Obama involvement in that bailiwick as good. You're 'way off base on that. I do think there have to be rational ways in which to deal with the obvious threat by Al-Qaeda. I have a thought or two but am inhibited by my lack of knowledge regarding that part of the world.
Cornet Joyce comments: Well, now we at least know what the gripe is. For my part, I thought the "talk about a trial" was meaningful only as an introduction to something more substantial. On the face of it, it resembles the progressive rallying cries of the Vietnam era that attracted tens of dozens to mass rallies.
Obama is Clinton redux and that's what he promised. Only the illusioned will be disillusioned. What we are granted for 8 years (presumably) is the lifting of the Merovingian darkness of the Bush regime. We are still adrift on a shark-infested sea but we can see a star or two. Let us count our blessings, meager as they are.
As for being "jealous of Obama," I dare say that progressives were just as "jealous" of bush, and some seem to have been "jealous" of Clinton. "Jealousy" of power is tory lingo, to which Jefferson replied "free government is founded in jealousy, not in confidence."
Sam Friedman responds: Hunter, as I said, I was responding to one possible reading of your words, and I suspected that it was not your real meaning. But I am also responding to discussions I run into elsewhere, including in my antiwar group, where there are some folks who hate the occupation of Afghanistan but are not sure that they support ending it given the alternatives.
So I am DELIGHTED that this in no way is what you were saying.
Cornet and Hunter, My point about the talk about a trial is in part a Brechtian sally. There seems to me to be developing a double standard in some parts of the left in seeing certain actions by the Bushies as having been war crimes and affronts to human decency, but seeing the same action by the Obama administration as being a "mistake" or as just something he has not had time to fix.
All, but particularly Hunter: I hope my nice words about Alice Azure's book did not pass unnoticed. I recommend to everyone that you go out and buy it.
Macdonald Stainsby comments: With all greatly due respect Hunter, not agreeing with Sam, in my opinion, on this point is to disrespect those who lost their lives in the Great War against Fascism, the war that gave birth to the United Nations, however imperfect that institution was.
The number one crime that defendants were hanged for at Nuremberg was the crime of aggressive war: It was agreed, upon the ashes of 50 millions, that the first crime of launching illegal wars upon countries that have done nothing to warrant it was the showhorn that brought in every other massive crime, from the Holocaust to Dresden and more.
Obama's administration is already an outlaw. They have already done what it took 9-11 to do for the Bush Administration: Given themselves carte blanche to attack and kill people in countries that are not at war with the United States.
If leaders who are charismatic and inspire people cannot be held to account when they violate basic tenets of international law (and make no mistake, that is not only what they are doing, Obama's administration has pledged to do this regularly), then these laws mean nothing, the attempts of your forefathers (and mine) to prevent WWIII will be a failure and their clear headed understanding that war itself is the greatest crime will have been lost along side their mortal bodies.
My relatives fought in that war and I was raised with a very clear and blunt understanding of these principles. Of course, just as Bush will not go into the dock I don't expect it of Obama, either. But notions that Obama is not already an international war criminal-- coming from "us"-- means we have utterly given up on those principles.
Pakistani children are not less valuable than the children on our streets. Obama has killed them by executive order.
Hunter responds: I am not ready by a long shot, Macdonald, to consider Obama an "outlaw" or an "international war criminal." That talk may play well with "verbal militants" -- but not by my measure. If you want to tag Bush and Cheney thusly, fine with me -- but I wouldn't look for any criminal convictions.
Obama, now in office three weeks or so, has inherited what's probably the most complex mess since 'way 'way back in this country's history. The parameters of the Disaster are obviously too well known to enumerate here.
Whatever the limitations and whatever the mistakes of Obama et al., we in this country now have the chance to make substantive and positive changes -- something that hasn't been the case for at least eight years. That's going to require carefully done and well implemented -- and enduring -- grassroots community organization. And with well thought out goals and objectives -- and strategies.
That's up to us.
A couple of more personal notes:
I, too, had close kin who fought in the war against fascism and Nazism.
The just passed stimulus bill includes 2.5 billion for Indian Country -- and another 2.2 billion in tax bonding authority for tribes. That, coupled with more appointments of Natives to well-placed Federal offices than ever the case before, is simply one of many refreshing developments.
So let's see what happens over the longer pull.
For many more pieces by Hunter Gray click to his Bear's Lair Library here in mytown. And perhaps save Hunter to your favourites or desktop and visit regularly.
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