Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Mr. President

These words juxtaposed with Obama’s face on the Chicago Sun Times unleashed a torrent of tears on Oprah today. She held up the soon to be iconic covers during her interview with James Smith, the Page One Editor of the Sun Times.

The front page featuring the Bushes greeting the Obamas with the caption “welcome” was a tearjerker too.

This is what Smith said of what he was thinking when he created the headline: “Slaves built the White House.”

And I wondered at the sudden mood of racial reconciliation. Where did it come from, in an era where national discussion of race have been confined to a few series on CNN and in the New York Times? This marvel that Obama was elected because of his qualifications, and his appeal, not because of his race?

Has it been simmering under the surface this 10 years now, simmering like our apparent national shame of the Bush administration, unleashed in a torrent of flag waving on the mall as Obama was sworn in?

I’ve always loved the idea of America. I am simply amazed to see that I wasn’t alone in that love, and for the first time, this week, I felt proud of the actuality of the U.S.



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Filed under African Americans, election 2008, race, Social Justice

Obama’s Rick Warren Mistake

Lefties are ignorant about religion, resulting in political mistakes of no small magnitude.

Like the lefties on the Huffington Post suggesting that we embrace what we have in common with Warren as a way of reaching out to religious conservatives. They cite Warren’s anti-poverty work, and his reverse tithing, as examples of what he has in common with us.

While I am in favor of coalition building– and really, who isn’t on the left?– there is a line, and Warren, a vocal prop 8 supporter? That crosses it.

Progressives have religious leaders too, and though I am an atheist, I have met many of them in my work in the Bay Area. People who sleep on the street for a week once a year to know what it feels like to be one of the homeless they serve every day, for example, lit with a fervor that puts my bleeding heart to shame. And who still support LGBT rights– full civil rights, not some piecemeal second-class bullshit– while they believe in god.

Why not put one of these faithful people forward in the inauguration? Upend the idea that piety falls neatly in line with hate, as it does for Warren? Only 30 percent of Americans are religious conservatives, we tend to forget. Lumping religious together with conservative, and mistaking religious for conservative, is a grave error.

Homophobia is intolerable. It is intolerable in and of itself, and in that it upholds a patriarchal system of gendered inequality that has been used to oppress women since the dawn of time. If progressive aren’t going to take a firm stand on this, then who will?

Invite Warren to an anti-poverty summit, along with the numerous other religious leaders who struggle against injustice every day, sans mega church resources. But to invite a proponent of hate to speak at an event that is supposed to represent a summit of a civil rights movement– that is unfathomable.



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Obama Says No to Barbara Walters’ ‘Girly Dog’ (or why I still want a woman to be President)

I am happy that Obama will be our next president for a number of reasons. Really, I am. His recent interview with Barbara Walters actually did a good job of reminding me why I am confident in Obama’s ability to handle the challenges facing the US. For once, I got to see Obama without the horns trumpeting in the background announcing the first, honest-to-goodness, real-life, responsible Black man. Not only does he love his wife but he loves his kids too! And, he has a job! Seriously, who’s not tired of this narrative (please don’t answer that…I know half of America is not tired of this narrative).

Still, as much as I liked the interview, I have to say that I was not at all amused by Obama’s casual display of a kinder, gentler sexism near the end. He talks about not wanting a ‘girly dog’ that ‘yaps’ and ‘sits in your lap.’ Now, I don’t tend to like those types of dogs either but Obama has got to know that dismissing something as girly is just, well, a bit sexist. I can tell that he thinks it’s cute and I’m sure others will swoon over his display of manliness but the whole thing just served to remind me why I still want to see a woman in the White House. And no, Sarah Palin doesn’t count.

Check out the girly dog comment here:


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Filed under election 2008, sexism, women

What Does Obama’s Presidency Mean: Symbolic vs. Structural Change

Barack Obama’s election is a significant symbolic victory, as the first break in the white-man-parade that’s defined the office thus far in American history.

We look better now, don’t we, as a nation? Especially to the rest of world, who were white-manned-out by the uber-Caucasian who’s been in office for the past 8 years. It’s been like watching a bizarre, tragic reality show (“Hee-Haw: The Presidential Years”).

We are all overjoyed that Bush is being replaced by Obama, a man so visibly different from what we’ve had to endure over the past almost-decade.

But symbolic victories do not typically result in structural victories. In fact, symbolic victories often paper over significant problems that remain unsolved, like when the success of Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administration was held forth as proof of Bush’s equanimity, and the end of the need for affirmative action.

Are you already thinking about Nelson Mandela, or is it just me?

Mandela was, in a way, in a much better position to achieve structural change than Obama is today. Apartheid as a system of government had been newly broken, and was ripe to be radically mended. And, unlike Barack Obama, Mandela was actually a progressive leader who sought profound change.

There are limits to what even the most extraordinary people in the most extraordinary circumstances can accomplish, as the example of Mandela, and the tattered remnants of Apartheid that continue to structure South Africa, suggest.

As a nation, we expect too much of Obama. We need to to our part; he can’t do it all.

As intellectuals, we insist on miscasting Obama as a liberal. This miscasting is antithetical to doing our part.

Perhaps this mistaken insistence is still in justification of slapping down Hillary Clinton in the primary, which, as my progressive peers argued, was merely support of a more progressive agenda.

As a former Hillary supporter, it’s absurd that I’m the one saying this, but really: Get over the fucking Clinton thing already. Obama wasn’t a progressive then, and he’s not now. If admitting that gives you pause and makes you consider your screwed up gender and race politics, well, all the better.

But the point, really, is this: We as progressives need to understand that, despite the fact that he’s a powerful symbol of the successes of civil rights, which was a progressive movement, Obama is not one of us.

We need to formulate a progressive agenda for him if we want his candidacy to result in progressive change. So get off your asses at progressive media outlets, stop making excuses for your poor politics during the primary season, and start making some suggestions, RIGHT NOW, for what a progressive agenda might look like.

Let’s use this symbolic victory to create structural change.


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Filed under African Americans, race, sexuality, Social Justice, women

What the presidential election does not (and might) mean

OK, I’ve officially regained full use of my critical faculties, or at least enough that I’m ready to start calling the media on some bullshit. Because something unexpected happened, everyone is scrambling for causes, effects, and the ultimate meaning of an event that many people thought they’d never see. Many of the causes, effects, and ultimate meanings currently being offered are misleading, wishful, or just crazy. Here’s my attempt at a breakdown of some of the myths and potential truths:

What the election doesn’t mean:

1. That we have achieved racial equality in America. You’d think this went without saying but, as htg points out below, that is not the case if you judge by the people being interviewed on American TV.

2. That the upward-mobility narrative of America really works. (The variants of this belief currently circulating among those interviewed on TV are ‘Anyone can be president’ and ‘Only in America.’) Yes, Obama is not a privileged white man whose grandfather and great-grandfather belonged to Skull and Bones. But one of the reasons he stands out is that so few black men have the opportunity to make it to Harvard Law in the first place. An exception does not make the rule invalid; instead (and again, you’d think this went without saying) the exception makes the rule.

3. That America has been reborn as a progressive country. Obama got a bigger percentage of the popular vote than any Dem since 1964, it’s true. But almost half the country was still willing to vote for a party that brought them Bush, the Iraq war and the Washington bailout. McCain is a member of a party with a sitting president more unpopular than Nixon after Watergate. That he got as much of the vote as he did suggests a ideological commitment to conservative values among many voters that overrode everything else.

4. That Obama is safe. I was impressed by McCain’s concession speech because I thought he was visibly trying to drain aggression from his followers; I actually thought he was doing his best to try to keep Obama alive. I doubt his words will have much effect on the kind of people the government has so far arrested with assassination plans, but I appreciated the attempt.

Things the election might mean:

1. When Americans wanted to believe positive transformation is possible on a national level, the thing that most signaled that transformation for them was a vision of racial justice (of a certain kind). That is, electing a black man seems to have offered Americans an indisputable sign that their country had reclaimed its ability to improve rather than decline.

This is an interesting one, and I’d like to hear my fellow bloggers weigh in on it. On one hand, I think there is something positive about this link between racial justice and national progress. It shows that there is some knowledge in the national consciousness that racial violence is at the core of our national history and that the association of America and democratic promise can only persist in the world at large to the extent that we address that history and present-day reality.

On the other hand, though, this belief only acknowledges that violence at the moment of insisting that it has been fixed and eradicated. The statement ‘Finally a black president’ translates to ‘We do know things were unfair but we admit it only now that they’re not.’ Moreover, while there may be something positive about the symbolic equation between racial justice and national progress, #1 and #2 above suggest how easy and problematic it is to substitute a symbol of racial justice for the actual reality of it.

2. The Republicans for some reason didn’t feel able to or didn’t decide to steal this election. I am not sure what to make of this one. Maybe Karl Rove is just getting tired.

3. Some difference in class politics from what many predicted. Someone once defined ‘presidential election’ as ‘a ritual held every four years in which working-class Americans vote against their class interests.’ I wonder if the Republicans might have given some ground here. It does seem that enough white working-class Americans were worried enough about the economy that the Republicans were not able to play race against class in the way that they had assumed they would be able to do. Which doesn’t mean that Americans think differently about race; it may just mean they feel a lot worse about the economy.

The other complicating factor to be considered re: this point is the college-educated vote. This election was the first time that this sector went Democrat since the early 60s. Given the havoc wreaked in the 401ks of middle-class Americans by the Bush regime, the real shift in question may be the allegiance of middle-class voters, who did and do vote in line with their class interests but no longer see those interests as best served by Republican trickle-down economics.

4. Americans want a brainy president. There’s no evidence whatsoever for this one, but I do think people in America are scared, and they would rather have someone at the helm who seems like he can find his ass with both hands and a flashlight. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they won’t welcome the first brain-dead good ol’ boy to turn up once/if Obama gets the nation on track.

5. The Right will be in shambles for a while. I heard this on NPR this morning. The commentator (why oh why do I never remember names??) was saying that he thinks it will be akin to the end of the Thatcher era in Britain, after which it took 15 years for the conservatives to regroup. Please may it be true.



Filed under election 2008, race, Social Justice

Alas, Prop 8 May Pass

My relief at Obama’s election was quickly eclipsed by despair, as the polls in California closed the instant the President elect was called on CNN, and the prop 8 race was close. I monitored the polls until 11PM, and expected to know the results when I woke up this morning, only to find that the vote was still too close to call. I listen to a story on Prop 8 as I write this now, with cheering pro Prop 8ers sure of their victory.

I realized at some point last night that the fight would continue: gay rights advocates will fight prop 8 in the court, anti-gay marriage haters will try to have existing same-sex marriages annulled.

I’m jaded, I know, but I’ve lived in so many places that were allegedly the most progressive in the country, and have always been disappointed, feeling either stranded on a small island of tolerance– I hate that word, but I am using it intentionally here– or feeling bitterly betrayed by the shallowness of progressive commitment. I live with the small sliver of San Francisco’s black community that hasn’t been pushed out of the city in the Fillmore district. From this vantage point, in the most progressive city in the most progressive state, I have to ask: What does it mean to be progressive in the United States?

Electing a black president is perhaps one of the most progressive acts of the national American electorate in the history of the United States. But I’m not sure how hopeful that makes me feel about the direction the United States will take. One day into the reality of a President-elect Obama, I am sick of the electorate patting themselves on the back for electing a black person, especially as they use their other hand to casually swipe at the rights of another minority group.

My hope is that Obama will eventually change the conversation, and prompt a civic engagement with a universalist bent that will deliver me and the rest of the world from the divisiveness that rules our country, without compromising so much that no good is accomplished during his Presidency.

A tall order, I know.


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Filed under election 2008, race, Social Justice

President Elect

It’s 6 am in the UK, and I’m sleepy and weepy and more sentimental about my country than I have ever felt in my adult life. If 44% of voters in rural counties in Southern red states can vote for Obama, then America, and by extension the world, may not be the place I thought it was. I will take stock in the morning–or rather, the later afternoon–and see if my cynicism has returned in any form. In the meantime, I am still myself enough to offer the following: Hello, Sarah Palin? Were you paying attention? Because that was America telling you to fuck off.




Filed under election 2008