Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Glen Ford
Sen. Barack Obama is forsaking the position of most African-Americans on the issue of ever-escalating U.S. military spending. And progressive black leaders are letting him get away with it.
For decades, Black America has maintained a general consensus in favor of “butter” in the national “butter or bullets” debate. The call for a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild America’s cities has been a constant in African-American public discourse, inevitably coupled with demands for lower military spending.
The collapse of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty under a tsunami of Vietnam expenditures proved that war spells the death of urban domestic dreams.
Now, however, for the first time since World War II, we witness a self-imposed silence on war spending among a number of black opinion-molders who would be shouting their heads off at the prospect of an even larger U.S. military establishment. The reason for this voluntary stand-down: Barack Obama supports the addition of nearly 100,000 soldiers and Marines in coming years, and he doesn’t want to be embarrassed by loud black voices of protest during his dash for the brass ring.
“I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines,” Obama told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last April.
That’s precisely the number favored by President Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates over a five-year period at a cost of $108 billion, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. Sen. Hillary Clinton would add at least 80,000 troops, Rudy Giuliani wants 70,000 additional pairs of boots on the ground, somewhere on the planet, and Mitt Romney would add 100,000.
To what purpose? Both Republicans and front-running Democrats claim to be aiming for dramatically lower U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, over varying, vague spaces of time. Where will the new troops be deployed? A central lesson of human history is that armies are raised in order to be sent somewhere.
Obama, the Great Black Hope (and, apparently, a Great Hope for many whites who consider themselves anti-war), cannot plausibly claim the “peace candidate” mantle while simultaneously serving as a member in good standing of the club that lobbies for ever-increasing military budgets.
Obama has definitively chosen guns over bread, bullets over butter. The money is already earmarked for the generals and admirals and defense contractors, with his signature prominently affixed.
In a sense, the election is over, since all the “viable” candidates are members of the Military Spending Club. None of Clinton’s or Obama’s promises for urban revitalization, infrastructure repair, real health care reform, vastly increased federal aid to schools or affordable housing can be taken seriously so long as they support a
The handwriting screams from the wall, but African-Americans who could previously be trusted to speak truth to power lose their voices when confronted with the stark reality of Obama’s position.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, an Obama endorser, sits quietly on the sidelines, uninvited to campaign with “his” candidate, but not daring to point out the “guns and butter” contradictions of an Obama presidency.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will almost surely endorse Obama before the South Carolina primary, swears to high heaven that he will not be silenced by anyone, any time, anywhere — but keeps his mouth shut when it comes to Obama’s set-in-stone military spending commitments.
Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, refuse to confront Obama’s ridiculous claim that blacks have come “90 percent of the way” to equality, or their candidate’s commitment to massive additional war spending.
If progressive leaders in the black community don’t speak out, and if Obama doesn’t come around on military spending, he will not be an agent of “change” — certainly not of the kind “you can believe in,” as his campaign placards advertise.