Sunday, July 21, 2013

Obama on Trayvon Martin: The Word and the Deed

by Jack Gerson

Several weeks before the 2008 presidential election, candidate Barack Obama gave a moving speech on the experience of black people in the U.S., their struggle for civil rights, and his personal encounters with racism growing up and living in the U.S. He appeared to be speaking from the heart, a departure from his frequently emotionless demeanor. The speech was widely hailed, and many liberals, left-liberals, and "anti-racist radicals" declared that we'd seen a glimpse of a new and different kind of politician, one whose experiences and heart-felt connection with the downtrodden masses would give substance to his slogan of "change we can believe in".
Then he was elected. And within days of the election, Obama appointed his transition team. Lo and behold, the foreign policy team was dominated by many of the same tired faces that had dominated policy in the Clinton administration -- Zionists, militarists, and Hillary herself.
The economic policy transition team featured Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers & Co. (the Goldman Sachs "Democrat" team, as opposed to the Goldman Sachs "Republican" team that takes the field during Bush administrations).  It's worth recalling that in 2008 Obama received several times the funding from Wall Street than did Republican John McCain, and that his liaison to Wall Street was Penny Pritzker of the Chicago Pritzker billionaires (I believe that all but one or two of Chicago's billionaires are named Pritzker). Soon thereafter, Obama appointed Timothy Geithner secretary of treasury -- Geithner, then head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, was a proven and craven servant of big Wall Street finance capital.

In education policy, Obama showed his commitment to "change we can believe in" by appointing as secretary of education Arne Duncan, then-CEO of the Chicago Public Schools who was the point person for the corporate assault on public education in Chicago (Duncan had closed many schools, grossly expanded charter schools, promoted high stakes test-based accountability, engaged in blatant victimization and harassment of veteran teachers as well as other forms of union-busting, grossly expanded outsourcing to private contractors while downsizing public schools, etc.).

We all know what followed: gross handouts of trillions to the banks ("They got bailed out; we got sold out") coupled with calls for "shared sacrifice"; moving the locus of war from devastated Iraq to Afghanistan (and then escalating the war there with "the surge"); a national Obama / Duncan education policy that actually deepens the damage done under Bush, advocating more charter schools, more test-based accountability, turning the development of national education standards over to the publishing and education conglomerate Pearson (whose chief education officer is one Sir Michael Barber, the "Speaking Clock" who was in charge of shutting down British schools in Tony Blair's first term and of pushing austerity across public sector programs in Blair's second term), and compelling states to compete with one another for federal funding. Not to mention expanding "Homeland Security" surveillance and harassment; rolling over to the big energy companies; etc. The victimization of black and brown youth -- and especially young black men -- has if anything increased.  (one example: last month Philadelphia announced over 3,000 layoffs of school employees in addition to closing 23 schools, citing as cause a $300 million deficit. A few days later, work began on the construction of a $400 million prison just north of Philadelphia).

Downsizing and privatization of public education. Punitive measures against students, teachers, and schools in the lowest-income communities (that's what high stakes test-based accountability enforced by school closures does). Increased surveillance and harassment. Austerity cuts to essential public programs in cities, counties, and states across the country. Continued and escalating police harassment in the black and brown working class communities (here in Oakland, unarmed black teenager Alan Bluford was murdered by Oakland cops right outside his home; unarmed young black man Raheim Brown was murdered by Oakland school police in a high school parking lot; unarmed young black man Oscar Grant was murdered by BART police while handcuffed and lying face down; etc.) Criminalization of young black men (in Washington DC, for example, three out of every four young black men under age 25 is or will be in the penal system). These are the conditions that breed the climate under which Trayvon Martin was executed by George Zimmerman. Conditions that cry out that it's open season on young black men in the U.S.

Now, in the context of the wave of indignation, anger, and revulsion at the freeing of Trayvon Martin's murderer, Obama has once again given a moving speech that draws on his personal experiences with racism in the U.S. What he says may well be heartfelt. It's important to recognize that. But what he says is intended to corral and confine sentiments within safe channels. We are guaranteed to hear more about the need for us to all pull together, but the goal will be to pull together for austerity (he will say, as he always does, "shared sacrifice"). And he will no more deliver on any aspirations raised than he did in the aftermath of that moving speech he gave in the fall of 2008.
Obama is not Bush. He is Obama. An extremely intelligent and formidable man, but a loyal servant of capital.

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