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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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So, I’m saying, in the real world of actually existing political practices in which the left has any hope of participating, you can’t just stand on the sideline throwing mud. If a Glen Ford was down here in Charlotte, North Carolina, engaging in talking to people, engaging in the brilliant analysis he does, maybe the nuances of existential angst of people who are tired of idealism on either side, but engage in the actual politics that we can engage in, that might make a difference in your own analysis.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford of  Black Agenda Report?

GLEN FORD: Well, the good doctor is certainly not going to get us to defend a lack of coverage of people for healthcare. The fact of the matter, the real history of healthcare is that Obama’s bill was actually born in the Heritage Foundation—that’s a right-wing Republican think tank—in the late '80s. Essentially the same bill was a Republican bill in 1993. Bob Dole ran on that bill in 1996. Mitt Romney picked up that bill for Massachusetts later on. And it then emerged as the Obama bill. The year 2009 was the year for single payer. What Obama actually did was to browbeat, isolate the part of the Democratic Party, which was a majority of the Democratic Party—and the Republicans took no part in this—in order to impose this regime, which in fact puts the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies in the money flow for billions and billions of dollars and does not reduce the rising costs of healthcare. It can't, because their profits are all tied to it. And as those costs of healthcare continue to increase, the pressures for austerity then increase. And they are already being used as excuses for austerity. And then Obama comes with his model for austerity and his $4 trillion cuts, introduced by his hand-picked commission for deficit reduction.

So, you’re painting—this is the attempt of people who want to defend Obama from the left—you attempt to say that he’s a victim of all these Republican forces, but in fact he is the initiator, from within the Democratic Party, of these austerity measures. He is the initiator of preventive detention. Preventive detention, which is—savages the Bill of Rights, I think it basically abolishes the rule of law in this country. It was just a theory under Bush. It was a presidential opinion that inherent in the presidency was the right to detain, to lock up, and throw away the key forever, anybody, including U.S. citizens designated by the president. But that was just the president’s opinion. It fell to President Obama to nurture and guide through Congress a bill, actual legislation, that brings for the first time to the United States a preventive detention without trial. That is making history. That’s part of the Obama legacy. And that was not a Republican concoction, you see.

And that makes him the lesser of two evils, not because he is more evil than the Republicans even, certainly not than Hitler, as you tried to put on us. It’s because he can accomplish, because people like yourself insist, even though you acknowledge most of these crimes that I’ve elucidated have been committed under his watch, even though you acknowledge this, you continue to support him, and you make him a  fait accompli, and you allow him to bring in more and more of the right-wing agenda, which then passes, in ways that the Republicans could never get it passed, just as George Bush could never complete his assault on Social Security. These Republicans couldn’t do it, either. They can’t—they can’t put the ax to Medicaid and Medicare. They don’t have the power. But, if President Obama puts his muscle behind the $4 trillion of cuts, then the deed is done. That makes him the more effective evil.

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