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"Effective Evil" or Progressives’ Best Hope? What to Make of Obama's Presidency

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report and Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University, spar over Obama's record.


AMY GOODMAN: This is  Democracy Now!, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," as we turn to our two guests for a discussion and debate about President Obama’s speech and record. We turn to Michael Eric Dyson, who’s joining us here in Charlotte, North Carolina, professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., author of many books, including  Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson and Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. And in New York City, we’re joined by Glen Ford, a veteran journalist, executive editor of  BlackAgendaReport.com.

Talk about your response to his address, Michael Eric Dyson.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, it was—it was electrifying, in the sense that Obama had before him the task of repudiating all of the myths and the lies and the deceptions and the deliberate distortions generated just a week earlier in the Republican convention, but also to rally the base, so to speak. And various aspects of that base had been either disaffected because they felt that they were marginal or that his progressive agenda that he had initially articulated had not come to fruition, but many of them had been chastened by the intransigence of a Republican Congress that refused to acknowledge anything of word that the man could put forth. So he’s operating in a very difficult zone. So he’s got to organize his resistance to the Republicans, galvanize the base, give a speech flowing enough in poetry but rooted enough and public policy. Starting with Michelle Obama a couple nights before that and then Bill Clinton himself, in his vintage form, Obama, I think, took the baton and ran the last leg, and did so with aplomb, with verve and with oratorical flourish.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford, your assessment?

GLEN FORD: Well, it certainly isn’t the sports-like assessment that I just heard from the good doctor. But we at  Black Agenda Report have for some time been saying that Obama is not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil. And we base that on his record and also on his rhetoric at the convention. So, we would prefer to talk about what history-making events have gone down under his presidency.

He's, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law. And I think that possibly the biggest impact, his presidency—and I’m not talking about his—all this light and airy stuff from the convention, but actual deeds—I think probably what will go down as his biggest contribution to history is a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks, into Wall Street, under his watch, and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, what’s interesting is that, look, despite the poetry of my dear friend Glen Ford, the reality is, is that the American left will never be able to participate not simply in the pageantry of American politics and the light and airy stuff that conventions engage in. Of course, the fluff and the desiderata may be absolutely true, as Mr. Ford has indicated. But the reality is, is that Obama is as progressive a figure who has the chance of being elected in America. Friedrich Engels is not going to be the secretary of labor, and Marx will not be the secretary of treasury, bottom line.

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