An Open Letter to President Obama

Its’ Time to Go Gangsta!


The Embattled President and the Fighting Preacher


You must Use the Power We Gave You!

Dear Mr. President

Few people have followed your career closer than I have.  I remember the first time I ever saw you.  It was when you spoke to the Democratic National Convention that nominated John Kerry, a good enough guy but, an insufferably boring speaker.  After having listened to more than my share of his drone like speeches, it was a blast to hear you.  I was so impressed with both your mastery of the art of oratory, as well as the deep humanity in your vision and the gravitas of your argument; I sat right down to my computer and wrote “Hope is Reborn in Bean Town.”  The thesis of this essay was that whatever future the Democratic Party had, if it was going to be triumphal, you would play a major role in it. 

I don’t claim any special insight; I was not the only one who was captivated by your charisma. Yet not in my most imaginative moments did I ever think that you would become President of the United States four years later.  On that night at the convention you painted a picture of a bi-partisan politics that could bring the nation together and bind up the wounds of the past, then march into a bold new world a strong and united nation – “with liberty and justice for all.”  And you said it with such eloquence and passion that even cynical old political pros began to believe it.  Yet when you announced your intention to run for President I wondered if it was going to be like all the other black candidates who have run for President, you’d make a little splash among black folks and some white progressives then it would be all over.

I was certainly not unique in my pessimism; everybody I knew felt that way in the beginning.  My longtime friend Hank Thomas, the heroic Freedom Rider from St. Augustine Florida, says “When somebody first came to me and asked for a donation for “Baraka Obama” I took one look at his picture and said ‘Barack Obama huh?…This guy’s real name is probably Willie Jones and his street name is “Sweet Pea.'”  His response was typical among those who didn’t see you speak that night.  Before you came along Hank used to call himself “a Colin Powell Republican!”  Now he is an avid Obamaite. 

So let the impetuous youngsters and armchair revolutionaries make light of your ascendancy to the pinnacle of power in the most powerful nation in the world; after all, what do they know of real struggle.  Iyago’s description of Cassio in Shakespeare’s Othello describes them perfectly: bookish theorics who know no more of real struggle than a spinster!  But to those of us who grew up in apartheid America and fought to change it: you represent the fruition of our dreams; the rare and priceless fruit of our labors.  We know that governing is not easy; we understand the political process, and we marvel at your skill at the game.  We admire your humanity and intellectual gravitas, and share your vision for America and the world.  I have publicly offered to beat down anybody who says otherwise, and thus far I have no takers in spite of numerous brazen provocations.  I have repeated slapped your main antagonist Cornell West in public; I done beat that silly bushy head boy like a runaway slave!  But I have yet to hear a peep out of him. I about to conclude that he’s all blow and no go!

The reason that I have been publicly flagellating Dr. West, and trying my best to goad him into a fight, is  not only because he is the most prominent of your critics on the left, but also because his arguments reveal all of the flaws in their case against you.  Listening to Dr. West one gets the impression that he thinks you are an emperor who can shake his scepter and make their dreams come true; not an American President who has countervailing forces that check his power both in the Congress and the Federal Judiciary – which are all co-equal branches of our government.  Dr. West and his cohort of hysterics and ideological automatons on the left resemble no one as much as their fanatical counterparts on the right who have the unmitigated gall to call themselves “Tea Party Patriots.” I regard them as equally dangerous to your enlightened democratic agenda; thus I implore you to continue to ignore them all.  For I have no doubt that that would be in the best interests of this nation.

However, there has never been a time when Thomas Jefferson’s warnings about the dangers of an ignorant electorate were more relevant than right now!  There are two warnings that are especially relevant: An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power, and A people cannot be ignorant and free, it never was and never will be!  The last congressional elections demonstrated the awful truth of both prescient observations.  Hence your task is clear Mr. President.  You should call the bluff of the intransigent Republicans in the House and use this as “a teachable moment!”  You are professor of Constitutional Law, and you should turn the country into a class room again.   

Teach this nation how the constitution is structured so that a majority in house of Congress cannot dictate policy. That in order to become law a measure has to be passed in both houses and signed by the President. Explain how threatening to bring down the world financial system by allowing the US to default on our debts because they can’t have their way is a violation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the intent of the founders. Then you should stand on the provision in the 14th Amendment which clearly states that the legally acquired debts of the US government must be paid, and guarantee the debt yourself!  The Republican ideologues love to wave the Constitution around…well there is no clearer statement on how the Constitution mandates that our debts be handled.  In other words: stare the Grand Obstructionist Party down and dare them to refuse to raise the debt ceiling!  

The Republicans are clearly delusional about how such a reckless policy will benefit them politically. The recent polls show that most Americans correctly blame the disastrous economic policies of George Bush for the economic crisis, and the next largest block of voters blame Wall Street.  The next group blames Congress and hardly anybody blames you! Now is the time to stand up to the right-wing anti-government Republican fanatics!   Channel Harry Truman in 1948, when he denounced the Republican controlled House as “A do-nothing Congress” and drove them into oblivion. 

Take to the bully pulpit Mr. President; you are twice as smart as your Republican opponents, you are the best orator in American politics, and the truth is on your side!  Explain to the people the difference between the stated corporate tax rate and the “effective tax rate.”  Jack Smith, a Harvard trained tax attorney, explained it to me this way: “The difference between the stated tax rate and the “effective tax rate” is what percentage of the stated rate is actually collected after all of the tax loopholes corporations enjoy; which is about 5% on average.  By this standard the US has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world.  Look at GE, the most profitable corporation tn America…yet they paid nothing in taxes.  You can’t get any lower than that!!!”

Go for it Mr. President!  Speak to the people and explain that this is what happens when you put people who passionately hate government – and are therefore contemptuous of the complex art and science of governing – in charge of the most complex society in the world.  You will have all the evidence you need to show that such people cannot govern effectively.  It’s time to go Gangsta!!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

July 6, 2011

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