In my previous link dump post, I linked to Bob Somerby’s two posts about Melissa Harris-Perry’s article that
appeared will appear in the October 10 hard-copy form of the Nation and has already caused much rabbling. Much rabbling. I didn’t particularly care for the piece. Somerby outlines a few important facts, including the problem that Harris-Perry implies throughout that white liberals are deserting Obama and never substantiates this claim in any way whatsoever.
I had a couple of other objections, too, though. I’m not familiar with the rest of Harris-Perry’s work, but the way that the article is constructed, especially the way that it ends, smacks of mealy-mouthed, “just asking questions,” Glenn Beck bullcrap. Harris ends the piece by remarking, “If [Obama] is [deserted by white liberals], it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.” Yowza there are a lot of qualifiers in that sentence. Of course, Harris-Perry isn’t saying that such a result would constitute racism, just that we must keep an open mind to the possibility that such a result could kinda sorta be read as racism. While never providing any factual evidence that Obama is in fact being deserted by white liberals.
I don’t pretend to be able to understand where Harris-Perry is coming from. I can only imagine that as a black American, seeing the sort of bullshit that Obama has had to deal with would be immensely frustrating. Maybe racism is a factor in the expectations of the electorate. I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that Obama has on several fronts disappointed the liberal base, which does count many a white person among its members. And much of the criticism directed at Obama, though certainly not all of it, has been unfair.
To me, however, the salient point is that Obama’s been supremely fucked by the situation around him and how that affected liberal expectations. The man came into office with two wars that have done immeasurable damage to America’s self-image and image abroad, an economy that hasn’t been worse since the 1940s and political opposition that never had any intention other than obstructionism. The status quo on civil liberties policies (PATRIOT ACT, FISA, detentions without trials, warrantless wiretapping, etc) was radical, to be kind. Obama inherited all of this stuff.
For my part, I think changing the status quo is quite hard, and although I’m frustrated with Obama on many counts, the combination of inherent bureaucratic stasis and a batshit insane opposition is enough for me to cut him some slack. Other people, though, not so much. But can you really blame them? I can’t. Anyone that looks back on the 2008 campaign and claims that Obama was always blatantly, obviously a “centrist” candidate is full of shit. A lot of people, and not just young ones like me, bought into the idea of genuine change. Change that meant acknowledging the Bush administration’s crimes, accepting whistleblowers who were trying to do good, reducing America’s covert wars rather than expanding them and on and on. And that’s just foreign policy. Domestic policy, especially the way that Obama & co handled mortgage debt and the banks is another animal that I’m not even going to get into now. Charlie Pierce, in a post about Harris-Perry’s article, put it nicely:
The problems I have with him have nothing to do with the fact that he hasn’t saved the country. They have to do with the fact that he thought he needed Tim Geithner to help him do it.
If Harris-Perry looks at liberal discontent with Obama and sees racism as the most likely explanation, she damn well better start looking a little bit harder.