By The Progressive on April 02, 2008

The praise for Sen. Barack Obama is getting over the top. Novelist Alice Walker recently said that Obama is “our Mandela.” And after Obama’s speech, I heard people say he was “a cross between Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson.”

To me, he’s more reminiscent of Tiger Woods: He wants to wear the green jacket and be part of the club but he’s not going to change the rules of the game.

Until the controversy broke about his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama himself frequently played the race card — on black people.

Shortly before the Texas and Ohio primaries, Obama was speaking to a mostly black audience and said, “I know some of ya’ll, you got that cold Popeye’s out for breakfast. I know. That’s why ya’ll laughing. … You can’t do that. Children have to have proper nutrition.”

In South Carolina, he told the state Legislative Black Caucus that a good economic development plan in the black community would be “cleaning up the garbage.”

Now, if white politicians had said these things they would have been pummeled.

And even in his much-heralded speech, Obama went out of his way to criticize welfare, decry “the erosion of black families” and stress the need for black fathers to spend more time with their kids.

This Bill Cosby routine goes down well with white voters, but it further stigmatizes blacks.

And while Obama gets points for not tossing his church pastor under the bus, he loses points for running away from the critique of American empire-building and oppression that his pastor offered.

Obama fobbed off his preacher’s entire sermon as an expression of the “anger and bitterness” of an older generation of black men.

What Obama refused to say was that Wright made some solid points: about the genocide of the Native Americans, the immorality of dropping atom bombs on Japanese civilians in World II, the killing of millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, and the deaths so far of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Obama also went out of his way to distance himself from the Palestinian cause. He said his pastor was wrong to “see the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

Many progressives, black and white, want Obama to be bolder. We’re against the death penalty and for national health insurance. We want an end to the drug war and most of the police powers that have accompanied it. We don’t just want the soldiers out of Iraq; we want a non-imperialist foreign policy.

While Obama likes to invoke King’s “fierce urgency of now,” I don’t hear him quoting King about how “America is the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet” or that the struggle is against the “evil triplets” of “racism, materialism, and militarism.”

Many whites tell me they support Obama because they believe a multicultural face would send a positive signal across the country and the world. There may be some truth to that.

I’ve also been told that Obama’s speech challenged whites to have a conversation amongst themselves on racism. That’s positive, I guess, too.

But the hunger for change that underlies Obama support remains the most important thing he has going for him.

And until he embraces bold new policies, he won’t be a change agent.

Kevin Alexander Gray is a writer and activist living in South Carolina. He managed the 1988 presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the state. His forthcoming books are “Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics” and “The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.” He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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