Debating Dr. Dyson: Facts vs. The “Wall of Words”


by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Obama is the “most progressive president since FDR.” So says Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. The president has also solved the problem of predatory lending. If there were any facts behind these assertions, the United States would rate a lot higher on the Global Well-Being Scale. Unfortunately, the First Black President’s ability to push forward the Right’s agenda makes him the “more effective evil,” says Glen Ford.


Debating Dr. Dyson: Facts vs. The “Wall of Words”

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Obama put Social Security and other entitlements ‘on the table’ for chopping two weeks before taking the oath of office, and has pursued an austerity partnership with the GOP ever since.”

It was great fun to confront Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the Baptist preacher and Georgetown sociology professor who stood in for the so-called “progressive” wing of Obama boosters, last Friday on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! We got the chance to make BAR’s case, that the First Black President has shown himself to be, not the lesser of two evils on the corporate electoral menu in November, but the more effective evil.

Over the last four years, Obama has crafted a “veritable model” for austerity through his “deficit reduction commission, which came up with the figure of $4 trillion in cuts, which he now includes among his solemn promises to the American people.” Obama put Social Security and other entitlements “on the table” for chopping two weeks before taking the oath of office, and has pursued an austerity partnership with the GOP ever since.

The Affordable Care Act, Obama’s most heralded achievement (aside from killing bin-Laden), “was actually born in the Heritage Foundation—that’s a right-wing Republican think tank—in the late '80s. Essentially the same bill was a Republican bill in 1993. Bob Dole ran on that bill in 1996. Mitt Romney picked up that bill for Massachusetts later on. And it then emerged as the Obama bill.” Obama has locked the drug and insurance corporations so deeply into the federal health care money flow, it will be damn near impossible to dislodge them in the foreseeable future.

He has accomplished “a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks…and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.” In other words, Obama is constructing the classic edifice of fascism, which is aptly described as the unbridled rule of the most reactionary, rapacious elements of finance capital.

Like no other president in history, and far out-Bushing George Bush, Obama has mortally wounded the Bill of Rights with his preventive detention legislation, signed into law while the nation celebrated last New Year’s Eve. Under Bush, a president’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge or trial was merely a theory of the resident chief executive. Obama made the theory into a law that all future presidents will have at their disposal – an alloyed evil worthy of all the superlatives of Hell.

Obama is the war president who simultaneously drone-bombed five countries – Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – and who has boldly redefined war. After bombing Libya for seven months, Obama told Congress that there was no need to trigger the War Powers Act because nothing resembling a war had actually occurred. “It is not a war, as far as Obama’s doctrine is concerned, unless Americans are killed. So you can slaughter as many people in the world as you want to, as long as Americans’ casualties are kept at low or no.”

Obama has mortally wounded the Bill of Rights with his preventive detention legislation, signed into law while the nation celebrated last New Year’s Eve.”

The impulse toward so-called “humanitarian military intervention” now trumps centuries of international law, thanks to Obama. Terms like “national sovereignty” are no longer useful to the Chief Executive of Empire, who commits crimes against peace – the highest crime on the planet – as a matter of daily routine. Under the Nobel laureate president, “wherever the United States deems evil to occur, it will and should intervene militarily. That is anarchy. That is chaos. But actually, it’s called imperialism.”

These are just a few of the damnable highlights of Obama’s presidential record, which should be the basis for evaluating his worthiness of support. Obamite “progressives” like Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson insanely insist in the title to their August 9 Alternet article that “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama’s Record…Which is Why We Are Voting For Him.” The fact is, on progressive terms, Obama’s record is indefensible – which is why Dr. Dyson was compelled to repeatedly agree with my set of facts on Democracy Now!

I’m quite please with how the exchange with Dyson went. His style is to throw up a “Wall of Words,” like an anti-aircraft gunner filling the sky with flak. It’s impossible to engage all of the bits and pieces of subjects swirling around his ascending speech-column – and silly to try, since your job is to make your own case, not to dignify the other guy’s every utterance. However, some of Dyson’s remarks are worth a playback – if only to note how far to the right the political conversation in Dyson’s circles has gone in the Age of Obama.

It is not a war, as far as Obama’s doctrine is concerned, unless Americans are killed.”

The current resident of the White House “is the most progressive president…since FDR,” said Dyson. Funny, isn’t it, that a president who is purported to be second only to Franklin Roosevelt in leftiness leads the assault on entitlements – the legacies of FDR, LBJ and other presidents and their Congresses – from within the Democratic Party? If Obama is a contender for Roosevelt’s place in the pantheon, then so is his political twin, Bill Clinton. Had we only known that such giants walked among us! If only Barack and Bill had left a record in office that would testify to their greatness. (Sorry, Bill Fletcher, I forgot that the record doesn’t matter.)

Obama has solved the pesky problem of predatory lending, said Dyson with a straight face. “The predatory lending that was going on with consumer practices have been addressed.” The solution must have been sent to the wrong address, probably to a boarded up house. Candidate Obama, who opposed any moratorium on foreclosures as unraveling subprime schemes ravaged Black and brown neighborhoods in early 2008 (Hillary Clinton and John Edwards backed voluntary and mandatory moratoriums, respectively), became the president who, as the New York Times recently reported, refused to spend hundreds of billions in available federal funds on the housing crisis, while five million Americans lost their homes; whose Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, declared he would not spend money on housing even if another $100 billion was available, and who also refused to spend most of $6.7 billion set aside by Congress for groups and regions hardest hit by the crisis; and whose administration bullied state attorneys general to settle the robo-signing “crime of the century” on favorable terms to the banks. Nothing about the U.S. housing crisis has been addressed in ways that are meaningful to the American people, especially Black and brown folks. Except in Dyson’s world (in Fletcher’s world, it doesn’t matter).

Obama has solved the pesky problem of predatory lending, said Dyson with a straight face.”

There’s this term called “liberal internationalism” that’s floating around, which Dyson thinks describes Obama’s foreign policy. Dyson is pleased with “the way in which the liberal international policy—yes, liberal, not progressive, not radical, but liberal internationalism—has reintroduced an openness to a Muslim world, despite the complicated and contradictory practices that exist there.” I suspect that Dyson is still hearing Obama’s smooth talk to Muslims in the summer of 2009. We get an update on Obama vs. Bush policy from Michael Hayden, Bush’s former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. Hayden told C-Span that Obama and Bush’s policies are now quite alike – except Obama kills more people.

We’ve seen all of these continuities between two very different human beings, President Bush and President Obama. We are at war, targeted killings have continued, in fact, if you look at the statistics, targeted killings have increased under Obama.”

We have made it so politically dangerous and so legally difficult that we don’t capture anyone anymore. We take another option, we kill them. Now. I don’t morally oppose that.”

And neither does Dyson, we assume – as long as it’s a “liberal” internationalism.

Dyson, who was speaking from Charlotte and sounding like a delegate to the convention, said folks that don’t “get in the game” of Democratic politics are “engaging in a form of rhetorical narcissism and ideological self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people.”

Not trusting myself to respond to such insulting language, I leave the task to two BAR readers, both of them named John:

Has Dyson forgotten the lessons of the abolitionist and civil rights movement (among others) which taught that through civil disobedience that policies can be influenced from without, regardless of elections? Otherwise, I can't explain his single-minded focus on presidential elections as a vehicle for change. Finally, to say that by not supporting Obama for the principled reasons that you have elucidated isn't doing anything constructive for the poor is the most disingenuous form of cheap shot I have ever witnessed. I was infuriated by this in particular because it is the poor who most desperately need change and for someone to stand up and fight for them. Obama has been missing in action on so many issues that have affected struggling people. So for him to say that by critiquing Obama in the way that you have is actually destructive to the poor is just disgusting.”

The second John likes to deal in deep sarcasm. His letter was sent directly to Dyson:

Like you, I believe it is time to move beyond the reflexive opposition of the black left to imperialist violence, lawlessness and racism, opposition that was formerly embodied by such figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the millions of sisters and brothers in the movements they led and represented. Some call your position grasping opportunism, or perhaps a modern form of Bookerism, but I prefer to name it pragmatism and realism.
“Once again, I would like to thank you for lending such a powerful and intelligent black voice to that cause.”

Nuff said.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].