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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.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right. They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they had to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.

Now, I’ve cut taxes for those who need it—middle-class families, small businesses—but I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires will bring good jobs to our shores or pay down our deficit. I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China. After all we’ve been through, I don’t believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We have been there, we’ve tried that, and we’re not going back. We are moving forward, America.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama, in his acceptance address in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Democratic National Convention. Your response to that, Michael Eric Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, first of all, Glen Ford always is insightful and intelligent, but when you say, look, let’s—our first obligation is to tell the truth, let’s tell the truth on both sides. Let’s talk about the fact that the—you talk about an effective evil, what about the effective political practice of the left that is not always talking about ideals as opposed to the realities? When you said to me that, look, our job is to tell the truth, not talk about getting in the game—but I’m saying if we’re not going to be involved in the political process either to reform it, to restructure it, to revolutionarily intervene on it, or to anarchically destroy it, then the option is that we’re on the sidelines. We have highfalutin discourse and revolutionary rhetoric, but we don’t have the possibility of making a difference in people’s lives.

But, number two, acting as if Obama is the worst thing since Hitler begins to converge with right-wing rhetoric that has already demonized the man, attacked his persona, assaulted his person, and refused to acknowledge the nuanced perspective that might be disappointed, or outright disagreeing with Obama, but acknowledges the hand he was dealt and the conditions under which he serves. When I look at the—when you talk about entitlement reform, Obama is reacting to a hostile Congress that holds the cards. This notion that, before then, that he had outright consideration or at least influence and purview misses the fact that Blue Dog Democrats, Democrats within his own party, were refusing to so-called play ball with Obama. So he had resistance from within, intransigence from without.

Thirdly, when we talk about healthcare, are you not, Glen, going to address the fact that 40-some-odd million people now have the possibility of having their conditions dealt with? Most poor people had to use the emergency ward as a form of health prevention. Now at least they have the condition—pre-existing condition removed. Women have a pre-existing condition removed. Planned Parenthood is there. The predatory lending that was going on with consumer practices have been addressed. The way in which the liberal international policy—yes, liberal, not progressive, not radical, but liberal internationalism—has reintroduced an openness to a Muslim world, despite the complicated and contradictory practices that exist there.

 
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