Archive for Barack Obama

Barack or Mitt: Which Way America?

Posted in Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 2, 2012 by playthell

             Richie Rich versus a Man of the People

Barack Tackles the Housing Crisis; What Would Mitt Do?

As the presidential election approaches President Obama is turning up the heat on the Grand Obstructionists Party and forcing the Republicans to take a stand against his proposals to address the economic desperation of millions of Americans.  His speech in Falls Church Virginia yesterday, proposing a government led solution to the housing foreclosure crisis, is his latest challenge.

He has already forced the GOP to take a stand on whether our government should directly address the unemployment crisis by putting forth the “American Jobs Act,” a comprehensive proposal that would rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and create massive employment opportunities as they construct the underpinnings of a new high tech “Green Economy.”

The Republicans who control the purse strings in the House have said a resounding no to this bill; in spite of the fact that it cuts the payroll taxes for 98% of American businesses. It also gives a complete tax holiday on up to 50 million dollars for companies that add workers, and provides a “Returning Heroes” tax cut for companies that hire veterans.  The bill would also prevent the layoff of over a quarter of a million teachers, at a time when we desperately need more teachers.  And that’s just a glimpse of all the critical economic issues this bill addresses.

By blocking its passage and trying to kill it, while vociferously opposing a picayune tax on the rich to fund it, the Republicans have made their contempt for the struggling masses of Americans crystal clear.  Although this fact should have been clear when they opposed the economic stimulus bill.  If there are those who still don’t get it, who remain unclear about which party is fighting for the working class, the President’s proposal to help 10 million beleaguered home owners and the Republican response should leave no doubt.

Although the details of President Obama’s proposal are too complex to fully explicate in this commentary, a few facts will suffice. First off all, the President’s proposal offers a broad refinancing plan that will save the average home owner $3,000 a year; then he proposed a uniform set of rules that borrowers and lenders must play by, with strict disclosure requirements designed to prevent conflicts of interest, and a greatly simplified mortgage contract that anyone can understand.

The President pointed out in his speech that his “Consumer Protection Bureau” – another magnificent gift to the American people – will chastise those who violate the rules the way they did to bring on this crisis. Furthermore the President’s proposal exempts unemployed home owners, whose homes are federally financed through FHA and other government programs, from foreclosure for a year.  Other major banks, including Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, are following the President’s lead.

To demonstrate the government’s commitment to strong enforcement of the new laws President Obama has created a task force composed of federal and state investigators from the Department of Justice; Housing and Urban Development, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  These policies will change the nature of the mortgage business, and put the government firmly on the side of the consumer.

Mitt Romney has offered no proposals to address any of these critical issues, and like all Republicans he opposes the President’s initiatives.  This bespeaks a basic difference in approach to the problem by the President and Mitt Romney, the Republican front runner.  And it tells us all we really need to know about where each party stands.  “While government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief,” says the President.

Mitt Romney, whom we are constantly told is the business wizard we need to save the nation from a Republican induced economic disaster, offers a very different solution.  “But the idea of trying to stop the foreclosure process kept it from occurring, kept the market from bottoming and recovering.  You have to let the market work and let home values recover as a result of that.  Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process.  Let it run its course and hit the bottom.”  This is the same approach Mitt took to toward the auto-industry in his now infamous New York Times Op-Ed piece: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

The difference between President Obama’s and Romney’s view of the American auto-industry, is that the President wouldn’t cold bloodedly allow a couple of million auto-workers, and other’s in related industries, to be thrown out of work, while Romney said tough shit!  Its thing with the housing crisis; President Obama’s wants to assist homeowners, whose only economic asset is their homes, and Mitt Romney views them as deadbeats who can’t pay their bills and thus should be left to the Darwinian machinations of the capitalists marketplace!

Their diametrically opposed perspectives on these critical issues mark the difference between a community organizer who worked to empower the poor – instead of taking his Harvard Law degree and rushing to a white shoe law firm – and a money grubbing vulture capitalist who is indifferent to the poor.

It is the difference between a Saul Alinsky Radical who fights for the poor, and a latter day Social Darwinist who believes the present distribution of wealth and power is the natural order of things….and only the strong should survive: survival of the fittest.  Like Barack, I want a government that helps the unfit become fit to survive.  It’s not only the Christian thing to do, as he pointed out at the prayer breakfast this morning: it is difference between civilization and barbarism!

 The Choice is Clear!!!

The Faces of Reaction and Progress

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Feburary 2, 2012

Chilly B Kills It!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on January 25, 2012 by playthell

     Here’s What It Is!!

 President Obama on the State of the Union

Once more President Obama demonstrated the power of magnificent oratory in his State of the Union address last night.  Like a theatrical performance, its power derives from three sources: The script, the performer and the setting.  Last night all three elements blended to perfection and the product was a special verbal alchemy which invests the words of the speaker with the power to touch the souls of the audience and elevate their spirits.  Such performances can even drive the listener to act on the orators suggestions:  In this case, to go out and vote for him.  And when the speaker is a gifted orator with no peer in the race, it is hard to see how he will not get his way.

That’s why the first time I saw Barack Obama speak at the Democratic Convention there was no doubt that he was no ordinary politician, and was destined to do great things.  History has since invested that suspicion with the gravitas of prophecy.  A close analysis of the content and structure of the president’s speech last night reveals an architecture which I think will prove a blueprint for success.  It began with a brilliant use of the military as metaphor; he gave the soldiers props and cited their remarkable ability to work together to solve serious problems under the most trying circumstancs.

This seized a traditional Republican issue away from them at the outset by appealling to the patriotism of the average American.   It also put Congress, which sits in the safety of posh offices far from harm’s way, on the spot by contrasting how the dysfunction resulting from partisan bickering puts the nation at risk, while soldiers routinely risk their lives to achieve objectives the government has defined on battlefields around the world.

In the same opening passage the President spun off a series of successful military missions which he ordered as Commander-In-Chief, among them taking out the arch-villain Osama bin Laden, the most hated man in America! The President’s achievements were so heroic the Republicans dare not hesitate to applaud even though it was exposing their campaign narrative, which cast the President as an appeaser, as a baseless lie.  It was a brilliant intro.

This was seamlessly followed by a succinct statement of his hopes and dreams for the future of our country that was both visionary and possible:

Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.”  It is a vision that no one who wishes the country well can disagree with.  Hence the President was on his way to pitching a shutout!

Then he hit upon yet another winning theme: attaining the American Dream.  He defined it as “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.” And he persuasively argued that  “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important.”

President Obama’s prescription for how America can keep the dream alive was a complex mix of changes in the tax code that would raise the tax rate on millionaires and penalize multi-national corporations that ship jobs overseas; scrapping silly or redundant regulation of business, stringent measures against financial fraud and environmental pollution, government investment in education and Research/ development.  He summed his vision up this way:

As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber…. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place. No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last -– an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.” 

President Obama’s compelling oration was as specific as need be in a State of the Union Address; which is an occasion for stating grand ideas and clarifying one’s philosophical principles.  His task was to speak to the hearts of the American people, not carry on a discourse with policy wonks. Barack more than met the challenge, taking on the Republican charge that he is fomenting “class war” and dismissing it as the joke that it is.  Like a great blues song, where the singer enumerates and laments the troubles of the world, but ends the song on a note of hope, President Obama concludes with the observation:

Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes. No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team.”

The speech succeeded so well that Mitch Daniels, the latest sacrificial lamb chosen to reply to our silver tongued President, came across like a combination of Mr. Potato Head and Chicken Little, preaching gloom and doom!  And to make matters worse for the embattled Republican candidates: all the talk this morning is about another daring raid by Navy Seals in Somalia, that rescued a blond American woman with the improbable name of a soap opera character – Jessica Buchanan – from what seems to be a well armed gang of street thugs!  Life is good for the President just now….. and the Grand Obstructionist Party is in deep doo doo.

                    President Obama and the First Lady

             Good News for the Buchanan Family!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem New York

Janurary 25, 2012

On The State Of the Union!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on January 25, 2011 by playthell

 

 President Obama Reports to Congress: Circa 2011

 

Tonight President Obama goes before a joint session of Congress and presents his “State Of The Union Address.” This regularly scheduled speech to the American people offers a unique opportunity for the President to present his vision of the condition and prospects of American society.  This oration comes at a time when the nation is beset with myriad troubles and woes. We are in a protracted war with the global Islamic Jihad; yet we are bogged down in two Islamic nation’s where the enemy is only nominally located, while the Jihadists metastasize into a more deadly force with each bomb or drone that goes awry and slaughters innocent Muslims.

At home we are beset with increasing violence from anti-government zealots pushed over the edge by right wing verbal arsonists in the mass media, and a protracted economic crisis that has all of our most learned Doctors of Economics befuddled. No one has a compass that shows a clear path to recovery while millions of unemployed Americans sink into despair as their lives becomes increasingly chaotic. Furthermore the mindless zealots that now dominate the electorate have put a group of ideologues in office that are clearly clueless about what this moment requires of our leaders and threaten to make matters worse. 

Thus far the only thing the Grand Obstructionist Party has been clear about in their ill defined mission is that they intend to dismantle the federal government and gut the entitlements Americans now enjoy.  Thus the first act of the new Republican led Congress is to repeal the recently passed Health Care legislation.  This was a landmark event in the history of health care in the United States; it is an achievement that has eluded presidents of both parties for over a century.

Reduced to its simplest terms it is fair to say that Presidents Obama’s most serious challenge is that he is tasked with governing a land where barbarism and civilization contend for the hearts and minds of the vast untutored and backward mob, whose numbers are such that they are now a powerful force in our political culture. The danger these people represent was clearly demonstrated in the last election.

With empty heads and twisted values they are loose cannons who are a danger to their own interests and therefore a menace to the progress and prosperity of our nation. Their fetish for guns and violent, racist, rhetoric has already driven men to bloody murder for spurious political reasons.  These clowns place the President in a position where he is damned if he does and cursed if he doesn’t.  The issues of semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons are a graphic case in point: Those on the liberal left want them banned – as does the Association Of Police Chiefs. The gun freaks in the National Rifle Association on the other hand targets any politician who advocates gun control for political extinction.

Given the President’s historical erudition and political acumen I am certain he has read the tea leaves correctly. This understanding will exert a powerful influence on the shape of the President’s message. Which, in order to be successful, must be crafted to appeal to the sane elements of the American electorate who are interested in real solutions to the nation’s pressing problems.  And he will make a serious mistake if he does not rely on his impressive record of real accomplishment on behalf of the American people in assessing the State of the Union.

 

 

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New york

January 24, 2011

On The State Of The Union

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on January 30, 2010 by playthell

 

 President Obama Answers His Critics…

and  Offers A hopeful Vision Of The Future

 

Once again Mr. Obama’s demonstrated superiority to his Republican predecessors from Nixon to Bush – in terms of intellect, vision and character  – is so apparent that it should be abundantly clear that voting Republican after he has had only a year in office is the antithesis of wisdom.  Taken as a whole, President Obama’s State Of the Nation address was a vision for a New American Century that is not based on our ability to project military might around the globe. 

Rather it is a vision that relies on the power of our science and technology guided by the universal humanism of American ideals, expressed in international cooperation to help raise all of mankind higher. Yet one need only listen to the Republican stiffs who gave the GOP response, the newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonald and Senator Lamar Alexander, to realize that the Republicans have no useful ideas to offer in this heroic effort.  

Although McDonald was an improvement over Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in attempting to craft a reply to President Obama’s eloquent multi-faceted address, this is like saying Spiderman is better looking than Freddie Kruger alas. His speech was a transparent attempt to put a reasonable face on the same old Republican dogma that led the nation to ruin. According to Senator Alexander, the President should have limited his concerns to “jobs, debt and terrorism.” 

Yet these are precisely the areas that were devastated by the previous eight years of Republican rule.  And Alexander’s opposition to the President’s proposal to take fifty billion dollars of the TARP money repaid to the government by the big banks and provide immediate capital to community banks, which would be loaned out to small businesses to stimulate job growth and aid desperate home owners, exposes the fact that Republican thinking is hopelessly mired in antiquated ideas from the mid twentieth century.  That’s why they have nothing to contribute to solving the present crisis, which their flawed policies created; yet this remains a prerequisite to moving the nation into the 21st century.

While it is smart politics for the President to continue to reach out to Republicans and invite them to participate in his efforts to restore the nation’s health in principle, in practice it’s time for the Democrats to go gangsta; put on some brass knuckles and drive dem crazy bald heads outta town, employing any means necessary to realize their agenda!   

The smack in the face he gave the Justices of the Supreme court whose decision to remove all legal limits on corporate spending in elections, overturning a hundred year precedent in a brazen display of judicial activism, suggest that he intends to pull no punches in the ensuing struggle. 

And the dramatic rise of his approval ratings in the polls, from 50% to 71%,  suggest that Mr. Obama is winning the debate.  Yet one thing is certain: if the Republicans succeed in arresting the progress of the President’s programs, there will come a time in this century when America will no longer be the leading power in the world. 

 

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Harlem, New York

Janurary 30, 2110

On The Chaos In Copenhagan!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , on December 18, 2009 by playthell

 Demonstrators For Climate Controls

 

 Will Nationalism Destroy Mankind?

In the movie “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” an alien being comes to earth with the intention of destroying humanity if the nations of our planet could not come together and agree to change their destructive ways.  They  decided to take action because, although human technology was primitive compared to that possessed by the aliens, humans had developed to the point where they were beginning to explore outer-space and their reckless behavior posed a danger to all life in the Solar system.

Although this was but a horrifying fiction, there is more than a grain of truth in this fable about destructive human behavior.  Hence I believe it is a cautionary tale for our times.  Not only does mankind have the means to destroy our planet in less than an hour by setting the world afire in an atomic holocaust, reckless human activity has already set  forces in motion that will destroy our planet within the next century by decimating the natural environment if we don’t radically change course.  This is the raison d’etre for the Copenhagen Conference on climate change that is clumsily deliberating on critical measures, actions which must be initiated immediately…if not sooner, if we are to have a fighting chance to stop this self-inflicted disaster for the human race. Alas, the conference is about to end in a fiasco as President Obama flies in to try and save the day.

 

 President Obama Droppin Science

With his usual eloquence, intelligence and impeccable timing President Obama presented his case for taking immediate action to save our planet. I got the impression that it was a plea from the heart  inspired by the sincere desire to lead the earth’s peoples in bequeathing to his children and theirs a livable planet and a better world.  It was, as in many of his important addresses, an appeal to what Abe Lincoln elegantly identified as “the better angels of our nature.”  After a meeting with a cabal of about twenty key leaders without whose support no effective agreement to save the earth is possible, President Obama mounted the podium and told the assembly “All of you would not be here unless you, like me, were convinced that this danger is real.

“This is not fiction; it is science.  Unchecked, climate change will impose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies and our planet.  This much we know.  The question then before us is no longer the nature of the challenge; the question is our capacity to meet it.  For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest…as the world watches us today, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now: and it hangs in the balance.  I believe we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of a common threat.  That’s why I come here today not to talk…but to act!”

Having announced his intention to be judged by his deeds not merely his mastery of rhetoric, the President addressed head on America’s role in the pollution of our planet. “ As the world’s largest economy, and the world’s second largest emitter,” he said, “America bears it’s responsibility to address climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility. That’s why we renewed our leadership within international climate change negotiations.”  The President went on to enumerate the bold steps his administration is taking, steps the he described as “ambitious.”  And he assured the audience that America will continue to pursue these policies under his leadership “no matter what happens here in Copenhagen.”

Although the President’s vision is both moral and conforms to the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion, he will have to fight tooth and nail with the Republicans to realize it.  Already some of the Republican leadership are vowing to kill any attempt to pass climate control legislation. Yet except for fools, fanatics, opportunistic politicians, and pseudo-scientific frauds who have entered into a Faustian bargain with the polluting industries to confuse the issue for personal gain, the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion support President Obama’s warning that we are rapidly reaching the point of no return. Our planet is in a state of emergency and if concerted action is not taken soon, dramatically reducing carbon pollution in the atmosphere, it will be too late to reverse our descent into the abyss.

Hence the challenge confronting the 192 world leaders assembled in Copenhagen is whether they can overcome their primitive tribal instincts, whose modern expression is the nation state, which are governed by such outmoded concepts as “national interests,” and think in global terms beyond geographical boundaries, viewing all mankind as one species with a common humanity, then take effective measures to save our species from extinction.  Of course, given man’s selfishness and bad faith in conducting international relations, this is far easier said than done. Especially here at home, where the white Christian nationalists who dominate the Republican Party reject science and believe America should be excepted from the rules other nations must follow. These deluded philosophical Neanderthals are totally committed to the dangerous doctrine of American Exceptionalism.  And if they manage to successfully filibuster a climate bill in Congress, or prevent the ratification of an international treaty legally binding the world’s nations to limiting carbon emissions, the Republicans will cease to be simply a problem to US stability and security and become a menace to the world.

The testimony given by representatives of the developing world provides a glimpse of the complexity of the problems confronting the negotiators.  The harrowing tales told by East Africans about the chaos caused by widespread famines resulting from encroaching deserts and erratic rain fall, are rivaled by frightening predictions from Decima Williams of Grenada, who spoke for the Organization Of Island Nations, about the growing possibility that they will disappear beneath the seas as the ocean level rises due to melting glaciers. Even as I write, a massive glacier has broken it’s moorings at the South Pole and is floating toward Australia, imperiling traffic on the high seas en-route.

 The Evidence is Unassailable!

The Magnificent Polar Bear Faces Extinction Due To Global Warming

Nevertheless, as the major industrialized nations responsible for this environmental destruction reach a stage of development where it is possible to consider pursuing clean technologies, the developing nations see the question differently.  Emerging economic powers such as China and India are just now undergoing their industrial revolution, and they feel it is unfair to put the burden of environmental  salvation on their shoulders.  Although along with the US, the greatest offender of them all on a per capita basis, China is the foremost polluter of the atmosphere with carbon emissions.  Yet the Chinese, skeptical about western intentions regarding their rapidly developing economy and jealous of it’s sovereignty, have stalled the negotiations over the question of allowing their emissions of pollutants to be monitored by international watchdogs.

When we frankly consider the difference in the standard of living enjoyed by the citizens of the economically overdeveloped western nations– whose wealth was built upon a world order based on the enslavement of millions of Africans, genocide against indigenous people in the Americans and elsewhere in the non-white world, and colonial exploitation of their resources and labor – it is easy enough to understand why they resent now being told that they must curb the rate of their development because it will aggravate a situation the western countries made in their mindless assaults on the environment during their industrial revolution.  Although China’s affluent middle class – which is 300 million strong – equals the entire population of the US, as does India’s 250 million,  China  has a billion and a half people and India has a billion.

The hundreds of millions of their citizens who have not made it into the middle class live in a very different world, a world that belongs to another age. In rural China workers roam the countryside in search of work, and suicide among poor Indian farmers disgraced because they can no longer provide for their families has become a routine affair!  This kind of desperation is common fare in rural villages and overcrowded urban centers all over the non-white developing world, as hundreds of millions go to bed hungry every night.  For these people, the Darwinian struggle for bread consumes their every waking concern; many are given hope only through the consolation of religion.

This is no less true among the desperate unemployed workers of the US however, as can be witnessed in the insane antics of the so-called “Tea Party patriots,” who are mostly mindless dupes of the religious right and opportunistic Republican politicians.  The marriage of  John McCain, Sarah Palin and “Joe the Plumber” is a dramatic case in point.  Although he was forced to retract it for political reasons, Barack Obama’s observation during the presidential race that poor unemployed whites were turning to God and Guns out of desperation was on the money.

This state of affairs is a prescription for the kind of social chaos that gives rise to religiously inspired messianic movements such as the Hindu nationalists, the Muslim Jihadists and the proliferating white Christian nationalist militias who are arming for a showdown with the federal government in order to “take their country back” from the communist fascist Muslim terrorist illegal alien who has presently commandeered the White House as their signs tell us.   These misguided souls are egged on by sinister wingnut Republican politicians who seem all too willing to create chaos rather than allow the President to govern effectively – which is to say successfully conduct the nation’s business as he was elected to do.

Already we can predict that they will attempt to block any agreement that President Obama enters into with the other nations of the world to save our environment, just as they have confused the health care issue with outrageous propaganda paid for by a private Health care industry vehemently opposed to any form of public option – in spite of the fact that we know nearly fifty thousand people a year die in affluent America because they cannot afford the medical treatment they require!

When all the things are considered finding common ground in Copenhagen is no picayune affair; in fact it is no exaggeration to say that should they overcome nationalist imperatives and arrive at a meaningful agreement that can be codified in a treaty with the force of international law, it would be a minor diplomatic miracle.  Yet if we don’t mend our ways Mother Nature will end our days.  As the present custodians of the earth, our leaders owe future generations nothing less than to produce a treaty that will save our planet.

The peoples of the world should insist upon nothing less, and struggle by any means necessary to make it happen.  In the USA this means starting a movement to oust the environmental reactionaries from office.  This requires undertaking a mass education campaign to teach our fellow Americans why we must save the environment.  The Prime Minister of Greece put it best: We have become like parasites that die out because they devour their host.  Hence our survival as a species demands that we toss the politics of nationalism in the  dust bin of history and put science in command, for we are literally in the fight of our lives!

The View from East Africa

 Encroaching desert: A vision Of things to come

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Harlem, New York

December 18, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama and Rev. Wright

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2009 by playthell

Barack and Reverend Wright  

The President and the Preacher

 

On the African-American Jeremiadic Tradition

 Because of his cool, calm, ostensibly detached speech performances and persona, some folks, especially African Americans of his post-Civil Rights generation, call President Barack Obama, “No drama Obama.”  Many African Americans of the pre-Civil Rights generation even see him as such  despite his background as representing the awesome fulfillment in their lifetime of the African American messianic tradition.       

Unlike the charismatic Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., his former pastor and advisor, President Obama was not raised in the bosom of the black church or African American Baptist and Methodist Jeremiadic tradition.  The son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother, he was raised in a different time, place, and culture by pre-Civil Rights white maternal grandparents in Hawaii. 

How, then, should we understand the historical and cultural contexts as well as the truth of President Obama’s angry claim that his former pastor’s comments do not accurately portray the perspectives of the black church?

In criticism of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah’s defensive interview on the Bill Moyer show, didactic keynote address at the NAACP convention, and defiant, signifying  speech at the National Press Club, a TV reviewer wrote that President Obama’s former pastor emerged as “a voluble, vain and erudite entertainer, a born televangelist who quotes Ralph Ellison as well as the Bible and mixes highfalutin academic trope with salty street talk” (Stanley A1, 14).  

Responding finally to the unrelenting criticism and political pressure of Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain during the presidential campaign, as well as of media critics to denounce his retired pastor for righteously reminding his predominantly black congregation of the wrath and damnation of God to come to America for its alleged if not actual historical sins, President Obama angrily denounced the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah and severed his long, close relationship with him in an April 29, 2008, news conference. 

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive,” President Obama declared, “but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. . . .They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs” (qtd. in Zeleny and Nagourney A1, 17).  While some people may still have questions about the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah’s influence on President Obama, it is more enlightening at this time after the election to question the caricature of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah and to examine the facts about the relationship of his beliefs and values to “the perspective of the black church,” which was and is mainly Baptist or Methodist for most African Americans.

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Generational Shifts in Cultural Identity

“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west,” as typical black elders of the pre-Civil Rights generation of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah who were raised with black brothers and sisters in African American Baptist and Methodist churches know, and as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us in 1963, “we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.  This is tragic.  Nobody of honesty can overlook this” (King).  Is this one of the probable reasons that so many typical white media journalists and pundits, as well as politicians, reduced the complex identity of the unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian Rev. Dr. Jeremiah to spliced controversial sound bytes from his sermons?  

Quoted repeatedly out of context during the presidential campaign by the news media from sermons he preached in 2001 and 2003, the sensational sound bytes, as in yellow journalism, fostered the false impression that he is an unpatriotic, radical black separatist and racist bigot who deserves vilification and crucifixion.   Some in the media and in blogs even exacerbated their historical, political, cultural, and rhetorical disingenuousness or ignorance by questioning President Obama’s reference to his pre-Civil Rights white grandmother’s belief in racial stereotypes and prejudice as that of the typical white person of her generation. 

Typical is hardly an esoteric word.  Nor is that commonly used adjective as difficult to define as the commonly misused and abused abstract nouns patriotism, separatism, racism, and terrorism.  So, what is there about typical that ordinary educated folks don’t understand?   Well, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary reminds us that typical means “combining or exhibiting the essential characteristics of a group.” 

Although academic postmodern theorists and critics like Jean-Francois Lyotard undermine the traditional grounds for belief in the essential or core principles in master narratives of national identity, unity, community, truth, and reality, readers and listeners do not have to be high-school graduates to know that the media have helped to foster and perpetuate the negative racial stereotypes, myths, and prejudice that constitute some of the fundamental characteristics of our shared national identity that President Obama seeks to change.[1]

 Preaching Truth to Power!

Jeremiah Wright - preacher of the gospel An avatar of the Afro-American Jeremiadic Tradition

 Who, then, is the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah?  And how does his dedication, like that of Jeremiah and the other fifteen prophets of the Old Testament, to a social Gospel, and his commitment to an African American sermonic, especially jeremiadic, tradition, like the Reverends Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt T. Walker, and Jesse Jackson, contribute to the complexity of his identity as one of the most respected and influential, until recent political attacks, African American ministers in the nation?[2] 

President Obama’s former spiritual advisor and the retired senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), a primarily African American megachurch in Chicago, Illinois, with more than 6,000 members, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah is the Philadelphia son of a Baptist minister, a veteran of the U. S. Marine Corps and U. S. Navy, a graduate of Howard University (B.A. and M.A. in English), the University of Chicago Divinity School (M.A. in Divinity), and the United Theological Seminary (DMin).

A highly distinguished national and international preacher and speaker, as well as an accomplished musician and writer, he is the author, editor, or co-editor of more than eight books, many articles, and a vast number of sermons.  He also serves on several national committees and boards of directors.  His numerous awards include eight honorary doctoral degrees and three presidential commendations.

An important demonstration of his and his congregation’s dedication to the social Gospel are the more than 70 TUCC ministries that serve the community, including HIV/AIDS, Drug & Alcohol Recovery, Health Advisory, Can-cer-vive, Domestic Violence Advocacy/Care, Housing, and Career Development.[3]  These facts suggest that the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah’s comments, beliefs, and values are consistent with the tradition and perspective of many urban black American Baptist and Methodist churches.

  The Trinity Church in Chicago

 Trinity Church UCC

 A Modern Temple of the Social Gospel

 The commitment of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah to the African American jeremiadic tradition is more dramatically demonstrated in the complete fiery sermons delivered in TUCC than on the video sound bytes by sensationalizing journalists and newscasters.  ABC News reporters Brian Ross and Rehab El-Buri, for example, open their March 13, 2008, yellow-journalism column “Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11” with the sensational, fallacious statement that “Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor says blacks should not sing ‘God Bless America’ but ‘God damn America.’” 

According to these reporters,  “The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s south side, has a long history of what even Obama’s campaign aides concede is ‘inflammatory rhetoric,’ including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own ‘terrorism.’” Based on an alleged review by ABC News of “dozens of Rev. Wright’s sermons,” Ross and El-Buri claim to have “found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans” (Ross and El-Buri). 

 So let us examine more closely their claims and those of some anti-Rev. Dr. Jeremiah bloggers.  Even though many people will express different interpretations of  historical facts, of patriotism, of racism, of terrorism, and of the invention of HIV, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah was speaking truth to the people and to power as a preacher and prophet in the African American jeremiadic tradition when he engaged in hyperbolic rhetoric and passionate denunciations of America for its national sin of racialized slavery, for its violation of the founding principles of the nation with institutional anti-black racism, and for its selective demonizing and violent destruction of non-democratic, non-Christian peoples as suspected threats and terrorists to the United States. 

In “Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country,” a speech on American slavery in 1847, Frederick Douglass stated:  “So long as my voice can be heard on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation.  In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of this country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.  It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people” (qtd. in Foner).  While it is rarely mentioned when speaking of the great abolitionist and moral clarion, Frederick Douglass was also an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church.

 Frederick Douglass

 Frederick Douglass

 He Cursed America For Her Sins!

 This is the tradition to which the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah bears witness.  According to the responses in the blogs of some people, especially African Americans, ABC News and other media are shamelessly guilty of reprehensible yellow journalism for sensationalizing, distorting, and misrepresenting the rhetoric and character of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah by quoting him out of historical and cultural context.

In “Confusing God and Government,” his April 13, 2003, sermon, he did not say, for example, that blacks should sing “God damn America.”  Assuming the traditional role of the preacher and prophet in many black American Baptist and Methodist churches and communities, like his father the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Sr., he passionately declared in righteous indignation that “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’  No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people.  God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.  God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme” (qtd. in Cooper). 

Why do so many people, especially those with access to such research engines as Google, blind themselves to the unpopular, unpleasant facts about our government?  Why have so many newscasters, pundits, politicians, preachers, and everyday Americans failed to understand the relationship of the sin of blasphemy in the adverbial clause, i.e., “for as long as she acts like she is God,” to the American and African American jeremiadic traditions? 

In other words, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah prophesies that until America repents its sins of overbearing pride against God and man—for acting like God, “for killing innocent people,” and “for treating our citizens as less than human”—the nation is destined for divine—not man’s, not the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah’s—wrath and damnation.   Perhaps more Americans would understand better our complex national identities, moral transgressions, and historical fate if they learned and lived the lessons of the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, as well as the lessons in classic books on American and African American language, literature, and life!

We learn, for instance, in the Old Testament of the King James edition that the prophet Jeremiah is empowered by the Lord to curse the political corruption, oppression, immorality, and idolatry of the king of Judah, his son Shallum, and the Hebrew nation.  “Woe unto him,” the Lord angrily declared in the voice of Jeremiah, “that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong, that useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jeremiah 22:13).  

Similarly, in preaching to his predominantly black working-class and middle-class congregation, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah was justifiably angry at the crimes and sins of our government for breaking the covenant with God that all men are equal and endowed with such inalienable rights as life and liberty; replacing that covenant with the myth of white supremacy. 

 The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was also similarly impassioned with righteous indignation at the injustice of the Memphis government.  As Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, reminds us in “The Last Wish of Martin Luther King,” two sanitation workers, “Echol Cole and Robert Walker, had been crushed in a mechanical malfunction; city rules forbade black employees to seek shelter from rain anywhere but in the back of their compressor trucks, with the garbage” (15).  

The night before he was assassinated on April 4 while supporting civil demonstrations by black Memphis sanitation workers in 1968 for higher pay than $1.27 an hour and for more healthful working conditions, he completed writing his Sunday sermon with the jeremiadic title, “Why America May Go to Hell.”[4]  Like the anti-war voice of the post-1963 Rev. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the voice of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah was radical.  

Both voices were in the tradition of the antebellum David Walker, a free North Carolina black man who owned a second-hand clothing store in Boston and whose jeremiad, “Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles” (1829), culminated in rebuke and scorn by the government and his death by anti-black racists.

Like the Rev. Dr. King and David Walker, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah was impassioned and provocative in developing  his jeremiad on American national sins:   “y’all looking to the government for only what God can give.  A lot of people confuse God with their government” (qtd. in Cooper).

Reverend Dr M. L. King

 Dr. M.L.King

A Great Preacher in the Prophetic Tradition

 The Sacred and Secular Origins of the American Jeremiad

 As defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, jeremiad means a “lamentation; a writing or speech in a strain of grief or distress; a doleful complaint; a complaining tirade.”  It is derived from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who, between the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., predicted the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem as divine punishment for the Israelite violations of the Mosaic covenant.   Jeremiah also prophesied the future redemption and restoration of Israel after its atonement in a golden age. 

The complete rhetorical structure of the American jeremiad, according to David Howard-Pitney in The Afro-American Jeremiad (1990), has three elements: “citing the promise; criticism of present declension, or retrogression from the promise; and a resolving prophecy that society will shortly complete its mission and redeem the promise” (8).[5]

The corridors of American history resound with the cries for justice and prophecies of national disaster by blacks in the tradition of Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets.  Many cultural historians argue that the messianic rhetoric of the American and African American jeremiad has its ori­gins in the Judeo‑Christian tradition, the Bible, and New England Puritanism. 

The historians George Bancroft, Perry Miller, Henry Nash Smith, R.W.B. Lewis, Sacvan Bercovitch, Ernest Tuveson, David Noble, Wilson Moses, and David Howard‑Pitney credit sacred and secular myths of origin as the foundation of the providential interpretation of Ameri­can history and America’s self‑righteous mission of saving the world and establishing the kingdom of God on earth. 

For example, in his ten‑volume History of the United States (the first volume appeared in 1834 and the last in 1873), George Bancroft, the father of American history and the most widely respected nineteenth‑century interpreter of America, celebrated a providential view of Americans as a chosen people covenanted by God to save the world—not to purify America—and usher in the millennium by spreading the American way: freedom, individualism, capitalism, and democracy.

This is the Judeo‑Christian myth and mission, secularized in the ironies and paradoxes of the American Dream, that informed our nation’s City-upon-a-Hill “civil religion” of 1630, whites only Naturalization Act of 1790, anti-Europe expansionist Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and transcontinental Manifest Destiny of 1845 as well as our   imperialism in the Spanish‑American War of 1898.  This myth of origin and mission of ourselves as a Chosen People also informed both President George Bushes’ declarations of a new world order of the American way in the wake of the balkanization of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in our own time.

In addition, recent studies in the field of African American studies by such historians as John Blassingame, Nathan Huggins, Lawrence Levine, and Leslie Owens argue persuasively that vestigial elements of African religious customs have endured through the process of syncretism, that is, the merging or hybridization of African and non‑African cultural patterns and sign systems. Perhaps the most illuminating discussions of the relationship between African religious survivals and black messianism are in Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976) by Eugene Genovese and Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms (1982) by Wilson Moses.

 Derived from the Hebrew mashiah, or “anointed,” messiah, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the Hebrew title … applied in the O.T. prophetic writings to a promised deliverer of the Jewish nation, and hence applied to Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of that promise…. An expected liberator or savior of an oppressed people or country.”  In Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms, Moses concisely summarizes the Judeo­-Christian tradition of messianism:

The belief in a messiah grew out of the Hebrews’ experience of oppression at the hands of the great Middle‑Eastern empires. It symbolized their hopes for an improvement in the fortunes of their nation and the restoration of their ancient ideals. The messiah would usher in a messianic age. The chosen people would revolt against their political oppressors and revitalize the conservative values advocated by the prophets. Messianic ideas were adapted by the early Christians, who saw Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited messiah (Christos in Greek means the anointed one).

After the death of Jesus, the early Christians began to await his second coming, at which time he would inaugurate a messianic era of a thousand years’ duration. This belief came to be known as millenarianism or chiliasm, from the Latin millenarias and the Greek chilios (a thousand)….  A messianic people are a chosen or anointed people who will lead the rest of the world in the direction of righteousness.  The messianic people traditionally see themselves as a conscience for the rest of the human race—some­times as a suffering servant or a sacrificial lamb, some­times as an avenging angel. (4-5)

 During the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the African American jeremiadic cry was “No more water, the fire next time,” as well as “We shall overcome!”   The recurring jeremiadic shift between lamentation and righteous anger is grounded in the contradictions and paradoxes of a nation founded simultaneously on the principles of freedom and equality and on the practice of slavery and inequality. These contradictions, however, find synthesis in the mixed emotions of faith, perseverance, and hope in the cry from black folk for social and moral justice, cries which have deep historical roots in the Old Testament tradition of Jeremiah and the other prophets, as well as the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States. This tradition has also been syncretically combined with elements of sub-Saharan African religious beliefs and values.

Perry Miller’s The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939) reveals the sacred Puritan roots of the secular myth of Americans hold of themselves as a chosen people, whose exodus from the corruption and bondage in the old Crown‑dominated church in England took them to the promised land of religious freedom and “a city upon a hill” in America. 

In The American Jeremiad (1978), Sacvan Bercovitch identifies the American Jeremiad as the crucial rhetorical ritual that has charac­terized the major writings of Anglo-American culture since the Puritan era. This rhetorical ritual involves three stages: promise, declension, and prophecy. According to David Noble in The End of History, the promise of the first stage held that “the exodus of the Puritans as a New Israel was leading toward the millennium.” The second stage of the Jeremiad was the assertion of declension:

“Although the Puritans as a Chosen People had crossed the frontier threshold from the medieval past in which history had no meaning, they, as individuals and as a group, had not fully accepted their responsibility to make history a progressive path toward the future Kingdom. They were slothful. They were distracted and pursued false and evil values. And they received divine punishments for their failures to act as a Chosen People. This Progressive jeremiad … established great tension in the community of saints as the distance between the perfection of the promise and the imperfection of daily activity was examined and deplored.” (Noble 5)

 The third and final stage of the jeremiad was “a proph­ecy that the Chosen People would accept their responsibility, reject their sinful life­styles which looked so similar to those of the corrupt medieval past, and construct the environment for the Kingdom in the immediate future” (Noble 5).  This myth of God’s covenant with Puritans as a chosen people informed John Winthrop’s sermonic proclamation on the Arbella in 1630 of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a city upon a hill.”

Spreading from the New England Puritans to all colonial Protestants in the eighteenth century, the Puritan jeremiad became political and American by 1776. “The promise was a virtuous republic,” writes David Noble.  “The Revolution was the exodus from the Egyptian bondage of monarchy.

The new citizen‑saints found themselves living in a state of declension, reflecting their failure of the promise and the gap between the ideal republic and their imperfect political experience. But political prophets pointed out their failings, explained their sufferings as punishment for those failures, and pointed toward redemption and the fulfillment of the promise in the future” (6).

More important for black Americans, Moses indicates, is the evolution of two varieties of American messianism: hard‑line and soft‑line. Hard-line messianism “eventually developed into the doc­trine of white racial supremacy, ruthless expansionism, religious intolerance, and economic insensitivity”; the latter grew “out of the unrealized ideals of the Jeffersonian tradition and the American enlightenment, which came to emphasize America’s mission to preserve the inalienable rights of man.” According to soft‑line messianism, “the American mission was not to dominate the rest of the world, forcing it into the paths of righteousness, but to serve as an example of the spiritual per­fection that human nature could aspire to in an atmosphere of political freedom” (Moses 8).

Many students of American history are familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s advocacy of political, religious, and educational freedoms as principal author of the Declaration of Independence and Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and founder of the University of Virginia.  Fewer are familiar with his advocacy of the myth of white supremacy in Notes on the State of Virginia (France 1785, England 1787), which includes an American jeremiad that contains a classic ironic illustration of the fusion of oppositional varieties of messianism:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events; that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. (289)

 Although Jefferson believed that abolition followed by deportation was the best solution to his personal guilt and fear about the national sin of slavery, Notes also reveals his belief in white supremacy.   Such racist comments as “the blacks are … inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” (270) and that blacks prefer white mates “as uniformly in the preference of the Oranootan [sic] for the black woman over those of his own species” (265) were answered in black jeremiads by “Othello,” Benjamin Banneker, and David Walker.

*********** 

  The African American Jeremiad

 In Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms, Moses defines the African American jeremiad as “mainly a pre‑Civil War,” ingenious adaptation of messianic traditions in the form of “constant warnings issued by blacks to whites, concerning the judgment that was to come for the sin of slavery” (30-31). 

Diverse scholars from W. E. B. Du Bois, Melville Herskovits, and E. Franklin Frazier to Lawrence Levine, Albert Raboteau, and Orlando Patterson persuasively argue that evidence of the retention and reinterpretation of vestigial African religious traits by black people in the Americas is stronger in the Caribbean than in the United States.

As historian Wilson Moses notes, “The religion of black slaves in the United States was similar to both that of West Africans and that of Europeans. These similarities may be attributed to African retentions, syncretic tenden­cies, and spontaneous parallel evolution” (28).

A dramatic, historical example of the so­ciocultural, sociopsychological dualism, or double consciousness, of black Americans is the connection between revolutionary black nationalism and African religious survivals. This is apparent, on one hand, in the role of conjuring by Gullah Jack, a leader in the 1822 slave revolt of Denmark Vesey, and, on the other hand, in the messianic avenging angel mission that Nat Turner assumed in his 1831 revolt.

Both, similar to the contemporary examples of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Minister Malcolm X, involve a synthesis of orthodox and unorthodox faith in the ritual power of the spoken word:  incantations, curses, blessings, and prayers, as well as the magical power of charms, fetishes, and totems to bridge and balance the physical and spiritual, historical and mythical realms of reality, knowledge, and truth.

 In Spite of his Islamic Veneer

Malcolm_speaking 

 Malcolm X was also in the Afro-American Prophetic Tradition

Some scholars believe that the African American jeremiadic tradition began in 1788 with the “Essay on Negro Slavery” by a free black from Maryland who used the pen name “Othello.” Adapting the American jeremiad and warning of God’s wrathful judgment for the American national sin of slavery, he wrote, “Beware Americans! Pause—and consider the difference between the mild effulgence of approving Providence and the angry countenance of incensed divinity” (qtd. in Moses 33).

There are four important responses to the racial injustice and social inequality expressed in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia and in American life of the time: Benjamin Banneker’s letter in 1791, the Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones’ “Address to those who keep Slaves, and approve the Practice” in 1794, Prince Hall’s speech “Charge Delivered to the African Lodge at Menotomy” in 1797, Robert Alexander Young’s Ethiopian Maifesto in 1829, and especially David Walker’s “Walker’s Appeal” in 1829.

Black Americans have responded historically to the hypocrisy, injustice, and immorality of white Americans both by reacting ambivalently to the prophecies of false prophets and by reinterpreting the prophets and prophecies in a manner consistent with their own bi-cultural African American tradition of faith, hope, resistance, resilience, and resourcefulness. 

Probably the most moving passage in President Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father (1995, 2004), is his tearful memory of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah’s “meditation on a fallen world” in his sermon, “The Audacity of Hope.”  “‘It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year,’” the reverend chants, “‘where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere…That’s the world!  On which hope sits!’” 

 Drawing on the story of a barren and taunted Hannah in the Book of Samuel and the analogy of a bruised and bloodied woman harpist playing on a single frayed string in a museum painting titled Hope, “Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House” before his stories “became more prosaic, the pain more immediate,” our new black president recalls his former preacher’s and advisor’s words.  “‘Like Hannah, we have known bitter times!  Daily, we face rejection and despair…And yet consider once again the painting before us.  Hope!  Like Hannah, that harpist is looking upwards, a few faint notes floating upwards towards the heavens.  She dares to hope….She has the audacity…to make music…and praise God…on the one string…she has left’” (293)!  

 Unlike such false prophets and charlatans as Daddy Grace and Father Divine, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah has scriptural and secular authority for his prophetic mission of warning the nation of divine judgment for transgressing our personal and national covenant with God and man.  Like “Othello,” Benjamin Banneker, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Prince Hall, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah is respected by many black Americans, especially Baptists and Methodists, as an African American prophetic preacher in the tradition of Jeremiah.  Can I get a witness?

 

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[1] Bill Schneider, “Wright Flap May Hurt Obama,” CNN Political Ticker, 21 Mar 2008, 6 Apr 2008 <http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/21>.[2] “Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Biography,” The History Makers, 11 Jan 2002, 6 Apr 2008 <http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=331&category=religionMakers>. 

 [3] “Ministries: Christ, Community, and Culture,” Trinity United Church of Christ, 2008 6 Apr 2008 <http://www.trinitychicago.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=28

>

[4] David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1986) 622.  [5] Martin, Roland S., “The Full Story Behind Wright’s ‘God Damn America’ Sermon,” Anderson Cooper: 360  21 March 2008, 6 Apr 2008 <http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/21/the-full-story-behind-wright%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cgod-damn-america%E2%8%9D sermon/>.

*************

 

By: Dr. Bernard Bell

Professor of Literature

Penn State University

November 2009

 

* This essay was originally published as President Barack Obama, the Reverend Dr.  Jeremiah Wright, and the African American Jeremiadic Tradition.”  The Massachusetts Review (Autumn 2009): 332-343.

 

 


 

 

 

It’s Time To Quit Afghanistan

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on October 29, 2009 by playthell

The Commander in Chief!

 

The Commander In Chief with his Troops

 

President Obama Must  Not  Expand The War

No American President has been confronted with more disasters upon entering the Oval Office than Barack Obama.  And of all the crucial decisions he has been required to make, none is more critical to the fate of his Presidency than the direction he chooses to take in Afghanistan.  Fortunately, President Obama is showing the better part of wisdom by not allowing the Generals, and the congressional chicken hawks who repeat their demands like a Greek Chorus cheerleading for war, to stampede him into sending thousands of young Americans into the murderous quagmire that is Afghanistan.  Any careful  analysis of the facts on the ground in that treacherous terrain, and how this war relates to our strategic objective of defeating Al Qaeda, raises troubling questions that must be addressed before committing more American blood and treasure to that perplexing country – which is called “the graveyard of empires” with good reason.

In the wake of the most deadly month since our invasion of that country – with casualties running better than one a day – I have carefully analyzed the situation, and concluded that not only should the President refuse to order more troops into Afghanistan, he should withdraw the ground forces that are already deployed there.  I can envision no scenario where anything that is commonly understood as a “victory” is achievable in  that country.  First of all, there is not a single instance in the historical record where a full blown insurgency, or people’s war, has been defeated by a foreign occupier.   This is true whether we are talking about the French in Vietnam or Algeria, or the Portuguese in Africa – both of whom committed myriad crimes waging near genocidal wars in their attempt to defeat the insurgents. Even after years of warfare with France the Vietnamese still managed to defeat the mighty US military machine in a protracted war.   

The white supremacist, American Exceptionalist and militarists among us have never reconciled themselves to this humiliating defeat resulting from our misguided attempt to resurrect a failed French colonial project.  Hence they view the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a chance for the US to redeem ourselves and reclaim America’s status as an invincible warrior nation.  This attitude is particularly powerful among some members of the warrior class and militaristic policy wonks who presided over the Vietnam debacle.  That’s a major reason why I opposed John McCain’s bid for the presidency.  (see “John McCain is Not qualified to be Commander-In-Chief.”)  It was abundantly clear from McCain’s rhetoric that he would seek redemption for his humiliation in Vietnam by making a stand in Afghanistan. I am convinced such a policy would result in another disaster on the scale of Vietnam.

Afghanistan is a more difficult theater to wage war than Vietnam. Aside from the mountainous geo-physical profile of the country which renders conventional warfare ineffective, there are qualitative differences in the nature of the enemy.  The Vietnamese revolutionaries were atheistic political militants whose strategy and objectives were firmly rooted in Mao Tse Tung’s theories of protracted warfare; which were in turn rooted in the doctrine of Prussian military strategist Von Clauswitz.  The fundamental conception of all warfare in this view is that war is an extension of politics.  Mao put it this way: “Politics is war without bloodshed, war is politics with bloodshed.” 

The Taliban on the other hand is made up of religious zealots who are convinced that they are the carrying out the will of God; hence they are indifferent to the objectives of those who are motivated by politics.  Whereas politics is the art of the possible and thus the strategy of political actors is shaped by that reality, the Muslim Jihadists are concerned with crushing the infidel invaders and establishing Sharia law. 

 Mullah Omar, a fearless warrior and the supreme leader of the Taliban, which began as an organization of militant seminarians from a Madrassa where he once taught, epitomizes this other worldly view.  And if one is carrying out a mandate from God compromise with earthly realities is not an option.   Hence, the Taliban take a very long view of their mission – after all, the Sunnis and Shiites have been slaughtering each other for more than a thousand years over a theological argument and they are still going strong.  Furthermore the Taliban leaders – having defeated a Russian army of a half million men – know that Americans will eventually tire and go home.   It is in the nature of things.  The only question is: How much American blood and treasure, along with innocent Afghan lives in collateral damage, will be spent before American armed forces pack up and go home?  I am arguing that the time to get out is now!

 Mullah Omar

 Mullah_Omar, Taliban Leader

An Authentic Afghan Rebel Leader

Although I could write a book on why we ought to remove our ground forces from Afghanistan, I shall confine myself to minimum essential  reasons for withdrawal.  First of all we have lost any moral authority because we are presently, and for the foreseeable future, supporting a thoroughly corrupt gang of dope dealers and criminals who do not have the trust or support of the majority of the Afghans. Thus they had to steal the last election to remain in power, and the Afghan people know it; what is worse is they know we know it too.  And  it remains to be seen if holding a new election will assuage the cynicism of the Afghan people toward the Karzi government.  It will not in any case win the Taliban, because as believers in Sharia they desire a theocracy.  

Hence it is to the rest of the Afghans that American policy must be directed in the battle with the Taliban for the allegiance of the Afghan people. General  McCrystal  correctly argues that we cannot win this war without winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people first.  At present our soldiers who are entrusted with training the Afghan army to fight the highly motivated Taliban forces, who are inspired to selfless sacrifice by visions of an after life in Paradise with a harem of beautiful virgins at their beck and call, report that Karzi’s army is fueled by hashish and Yankee gold.  Check out the video “The Hashish Army” on You Tube and witness the impossible task our young people have been assigned!  The footage in this video was shot on the front lines in the Afghan mountians, and I think it would be criminal to continue sending brave young Americans – many of whom joined the military because they lacked opportunities in civilian society – into this deadly quagmire.

 Thirdly, the mountainous landscape and difficulty in identifying the enemy means that American forces will continue to kill innocent people attending weddings and funerals that our armed forces mistake for Al Qaeda conclaves.  And this is certain to increase hatred for the “Infidel American invaders.”  It is the best recruiting tool the Taliban and the entire Islamic Jihadist movement could wish for.  The recognition of this simple fact led William Hoh, a Foreign Service officer serving in Afghanistan, to recently resign his post after concluding that the very presence of American forces in Afghanistan is the major factor fueling the armed insurgency!   

 Indeed, the recent statement from Mullah Omar marking the end of Ramadan, the holiest period on the Muslim Calendar marked by intense fasting and prayer, supports Mr. Hoh’s conclusion.  “”The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama,” the statement reads, “who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war… “The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan from the time of  the Alexander…Still, if they are bent on ignoring the history, then they themselves saw with their own eyes the events of the past eight years. Have they achieved  anything in the past eight years?”  Those who are hell bent on pursuing this war will argue that the lack of progress in a war that has already lasted twice as long as world War II is the natural result of bungling on the part of the Bushmen, who squandered the resources in a war of choice in Iraq that they should have committed to a war of necessity in Afghanistan.  A month ago that was my position too.

 However when I consider Mr. Hoh’s comment in light of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s  recent observation that before he joined the Foreign Service Mr. Hoh was a Marine officer who had commanded combat troops in Afghanistan, just as Ellsberg had once done in Vietnam before he became a national security analyst and opposed that war,  therefore Hoh should be regarded as a more reliable authority on the military possibilities than the Generals, I am confirmed in my conclusion that now is the time to quit Afghanistan!  The President should turn the global war against terrorists over to Special Ops and the CIA; and focus on their destruction with the precision of a laser beam.  Policing and restraining the murderous repressive policies of the Taliban – especially their treatment of women and girls – is a noble calling to be sure; but it is a task that should be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and regional organizations with generous American support.

 But let there be no mistake: escalating the war in Afghanistan is dangerous folly – as the distinguished historian Barbara Tuchman – who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for historical writing – defined it in her seminal book: “The March Of folly.”  Which is a term she coined to explain the decision of leaders throughout history who pursue policies that all the observable facts testify is against their nation’s interests.  For Lyndon Johnson the motivation was ego; for George Bush it was ignorant macho.  Barack must not bog this nation down in Afghanistan to prove he is a man, not the wimp the Republicans are sure to label him should he decide to pull out. For saving face is not worth a single drop of American blood.

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Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On The Times

             Harlem New York

October 28, 2009

 

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