A lot of folks I think of as leftists have told me they are considering not giving their vote to Barack Obama in November. They say they feel cheated that the actions of his administration didn’t live up to the soaring rhetoric of his campaign, and are opting out in protest.
I’m no Democratic Party loyalist, nor am I uncritical of the President. But their disappointment to the point of opting out frustrates me nonetheless. My frustration can be summed up by the question, “what in the world did you expect?”
It speaks to an uncritical liberalism not worthy of the left to assume that by electing a Black liberal to the presidency we would experience a revolution of values and priorities in governance. As leftists we know, or should know, that the institutions of government in the U.S. only allow change to occur in increments, and always within the parameters of the interests of those who control those institutions.
This is what I believe Derrick Bell meant when he wrote,
Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an ultimate act of defiance.
I’ve used that quote often because I believe in it. It is, to me, a statement relevant to the condition of all oppressed people in America. The system of governance under which we live, and the elites who control our institutions of power, both public and private, will never voluntarily concede to the demands of justice. In order to win justice, we need a complete reorganization of power.
To expect a reorganization of power via the election of a president is simply unrealistic. It is a notion based in the magical thinking that if enough of “us” are elected to government, we can overcome the limits of our institutions and create “change we can believe in.”
Obama is just a man, barely a liberal much less a progressive, and the party he represents, the office he holds, and the institutions to which he is accountable will never allow any such magic to be conjured.
But I did vote for Obama-Biden in ’08, and I will do so again this year. Why? For a couple of reasons.
First, I believe the Republican Party has become the instrument by which a growing right wing movement hopes to exercise unjust power of a sort far worse than the horrors we are witnessing at this moment. If voting for a Democratic ticket slows them down, even slightly, and preserves the political space within which we can use the time we steal to do something, to organize ourselves, to seek an alternative or at least duck and cover, I’m there. I don’t care how many IDs I have to produce or how long the line.
Secondly, while Obama-Biden may only represent a difference in degree and not in kind from Bush-Cheney, McCain-Palin, or Romney-Ryan, I’ll take those degrees of difference. I’ll take them because, even from my perch in my very comfortable and well-stocked home, I know those degrees are measured in terms of human suffering.
It may not be the revolution of values and action that I am working for, but that work requires opportunity, certain freedoms of expression and of movement, and I may sound paranoid by saying this, but I feel those freedoms threatened, and more and more each day. Voting for Obama is just a tactical maneuver to be sure, but politics is made up, not just of vision, but of tactics.