Monday, April 28, 2008

Obama, Wright, 1968, 2008

Left Unity for
A Left-Center

By Keith Joseph
Rutgers SDS Member

I know Jeremiah Wright… Well, I never met him, but I know his ideas, he is a part of the American political left. Nothing he said outraged me, or even upset me. I agreed with a lot of it, and disagreed with some of it. If we were to meet in person I imagine we would get along just fine, and we probably could do some good work together.

Obama had to distance himself from his pastor in order to remain a viable candidate -- a smart move. Gary Wills, writing in the May 2008 NY Review of Books, pointed out that Abe Lincoln, who Obama invoked when announcing his own candidacy, was associated with John Brown and the "radical" abolitionists. Like Obama, Abe had to distance himself in pubic from the "extremists." But the abolitionists remained the left wing of Lincoln's coalition, and although he publicly disavowed them (gently) he was secretly and indirectly connected to them.

About 100 hundred years later, in 1968, Robert Kennedy's candidacy for president represented a similar coalition. His brother, John Kennedy's election marked the achievement of full citizenship for Catholic (Irish and Italian) workers (that's why Kennedy's picture hangs in all those Irish bars). Bobby Kennedy continued to lead those "white" workers and he was bringing them into an alliance with the Civil Rights Movement (Kennedy was meeting and marching with two of its most prominent leaders, Dr. King and Caesar Chavez). In other words, Kennedy's campaign was a next phase in the Civil Rights struggle. But the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and the FBI repression of the left made it difficult for a left wing to get into that coalition and soon King and Kennedy would also be murdered.

These assassinations sent most left wing forces in the United States into a disorientating tailspin that we have yet to recover from. If it were 1968, Hillary would be Hubert Humphrey, McCain would be Nixon, and Obama would be Bobby Kennedy. Some of our friends on the left have asked us to "Recreate '68." Yes, but let's not repeat the blind rage, instead let's do it over and send Humphrey and Nixon packing. So, we must build a John Brown, Malcolm X, Jeremiah Wright bloc— a left bloc allied to but independent from Obama's campaign.

As Malcolm and the movement developed, he emphasized uniting with other left forces. He and King drew closer together, but after Malcolm's assassination left wing forces pushed liberals and center-left forces away and into the hands of the right. Obama's campaign is the potential rebirth of the Kennedy-King Coalition. And it is time for the radical left to do what Malcolm would have done—get into the coalition as an independent force, consolidate a left wing and build a liberal and left coalition to stomp the war loving right wing in this country while building our own independent left movement.

We have a couple of immediate basic tasks: Obama must be the Democratic Party candidate—By Any Means Necessary. We should plan to camp right outside of Denver during the Democratic Party's Convention and hold anti-war demonstrations and our own left convention. If right wing Democrats try to force Hilary-Herbert Humphrey-Clinton on us we march on the convention and make sure Obama gets the nomination--By Any Means Necessary. In November, we must make sure Obama defeats the war criminal John McCain. And finally, after the election, we must be prepared to convene anywhere in the country (Florida, Ohio etc.) to make sure that the Supreme Court does not decide the contest.

Some of our fellow leftists have been very critical of Obama. The problem with their criticism is that they want Obama to be a leftist. He is not a leftist, he is a representative of the progressive, democratic wing of the capitalist class and he is making an appeal to workers of all nationalities to support him. Obama is a liberal. He is a center-left candidate. He is a part of the mainstream of the Democratic Party. We are the left! It is time we got back in the game.


Humor Times/James Israel said...

At first I, too, thought Wright was ok. But now he seems to be intentionally sabotaging Obama's campaign. Why would a black preacher try to bring down one of his own flock, another black man who could make history for his own race? The only reason I can see is that he was offended by Obama distancing himself. If that is the reason, it is an extremely shallow, self-centered one, and therefore, Wright is showing his true colors -- an egomaniac, like so many other "charismatic" preachers.

Anonymous said...

It's not where Obama stands politically right now, it's whether if elected he'll end the Iraq War, negotiate with Iran plus turning things around here at home. And then what sort of world? It'll be up to us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! This is the most refreshingly plain spoken and adroit response shot to all this nonsense about supporting Obama being equivalent to somehow selling out. Your realism and hopefulness and clear-eyed anecdotes are super welcome. I have my own thoughts at, but now thanks to you I have new ones...

Alex said...

In response to the last paragraph, where you say we "want Obama to be a leftist," I think this is misrepresenting many left critics of Obama, such as Paul Street over at ZNet, or a recent Chris Hedges article:

I think the point of these critiques is not necessarily to try to turn Obama into a socialist, but merely to remind people to keep some perspective. I have no problem with critical support (though I choose to support the Green Party), but too often, including many postings on this blog, people seem to be emphasizing support OVER criticism. As soon as you stop criticizing, you have lost your political independence.

Obama's candidacy gives me hope, not because I believe he will bring change, but because the disillusionment that will quickly set in after his election will hopefully galvanize progressive activism.

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