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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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AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, what’s interesting is that, you know, boy, the Obama you’re painting, Brother Glen Ford, is a superman. My god, you’re really making me appreciate even more his provenance, his purview, his almost providential predilection—sorry for all those Ps; I’m a Baptist preacher—for some kind of superpower. I mean, where is this guy? Who is this man that you’re portraying here? Obama exists within the political confines of a Republican right-wing assault and resurgence that has been driven, as we both, I think, can agree, by subtle and not so subtle racist intransigence, the denial of his very humanity. You’re not speaking anything about the birtherism, about the rise of the tea party, the "teavangelicals," who have organized their political dissent under the rubric of a religiously coordinated and affirmed belief that really subverts the potential for grasping hold of the very progressive policies that we would speak on. You’re acting as if he’s existing outside of the confines of that intransigence and that resistance to him and the very denial to himself as a human being, much less the president of the United States of America, of a certain level of dignity and respect.

So, in that context, all of which—a lot of the stuff that you talk about, I absolutely agree with. And your point is that since I agree with it, then I’m really complicit in the very evil that I point to. Well, Glen, I am a Baptist preacher. I ain’t got no kind of idealistic notions that peoples who argue about justice don’t have blood on their hands, as well, including the black left, including the American left, that sits around and engages in rhetorical revolutionary analysis without getting inside the game that people actually have to play. And this is what I mean by that sports analogy. If you come to any poor spot in American culture where people are being deprived of certain resources, Obama’s practices as concilitatory to a right-wing methodology, as you have already articulated, or in acknowledging the political realpolitik that—the realpolitik that’s on the ground—that is to say, taking the heritage of a—or the Republican pedigree of a conservative ideal and then translating that into a workable solution to actually existing problems for poor people, is the best we can do right here. What is not good are ideals and rhetorics that don’t have the practice—don’t have the possibility of changing the condition that you analyze. Otherwise, you’re engaging in a form of rhetorical narcissism and idealogical self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s professor-preacher Michael Eric Dyson. Now, I want to ask Glen Ford of  Black Agenda Report, as you talk about Obama, President Obama, being the more effective evil, are you saying it would be better to have Romney in the White House?

GLEN FORD: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that with Romney in the White House, even Dr. Dyson and others, many others, would join in the resistance to austerity, the resistance to war. Apparently, they cannot muster the energy to do that under a Democratic president, under the first black president. It’s their behavior that does in fact facilitate these austerity assaults and these war—this warmongering, because they don’t resist it, and they accept it as something that is a  fait accompli, that is an inevitability. But what our obligation is, is to resist austerity. I do not accept that Obama has to make these so-called compromises. I don’t think their compromises; I think they’re part of his overall plan to have a grand accord with the Republicans. But if you accept that, then you’re saying that the Democrats could not on their own stop these assaults on Social Security. And that’s just not true. But they cannot be expected to stop these assaults on entitlement programs if there is a Democrat president in office who is putting his bully pulpit and his immense prestige within the party itself towards these compromises. That’s what Obama has done. That’s how he facilitates it. And, yes, if you do not—if you do not have an effective critique, make effective demands against this president, then he will go on his right-wing-drifting merry way.

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