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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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MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, well, well, look, look, look. I have no doubt that what Glen Ford has just articulated is necessary—that is, principled opposition to President Obama. I think that there ought to be consistent and persistent forms of critique, but forms of critique that generate political practices that have the chance of acting on the lives of poor people. For instance, look at redistricting. We’re acting as if John Conyers and Maxine Waters in the Congressional Black Caucus are not facing stiff resistance from the lines that are drawn, the geopolitics, if you will, of their particular districts, that change the demography of the people who will even vote for them. I’m saying, until the left deals with on-the-ground political realities, talking about austerity measures—when you compare the Republicans to the Democrats, or at least to Obama in the last three-and-a-half years, to what the Republicans have put forth, austerity is not what he’s talking about. He’s acting within the context of the cards that have been dealt to him, not trying to evoke a paradigm that has no material condition and no rooting in the actually existing practices that people have to confront.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dyson, let me just ask you a quick question—around the issue of progressives seeing President Obama doing all he can to appease Republicans and we see where that has gone, but with the progressive uprisings of the last year, whether we’re talking about Occupy Wall Street—or the massive uprising in Wisconsin, the biggest in history as they tried to take on Governor Walker gutting public unions, they saw President Obama missing in action.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Sure, absolutely. Well, there’s no question about that. What happened in Wisconsin, what happened with Occupy Wall Street, even though probably they were much—you know, bringing up the rear, so to speak, on Occupy Wall Street, because they finally acknowledged the legitimacy of people’s outrage and then wanted to channel that, again, for their own particular purposes. So I have no truck with that kind of exploitative practice that refuses to acknowledge the progressive agenda and says that here are moments where you can intervene. Some of that fear derives from the fact that in a Republican-controlled Congress, if you can’t even get through ideas that are—that take in part, as Glen Ford has brilliantly argued, some of its elements from the Republican ideology, ain’t no—ain’t no but sense in believing that an outright progressive resistance to certain practices within the Democratic—within the Republican Party are going to work from a Democratic president.

So, that being said, it doesn’t mean that those Occupy Wall Street or what happened with Scott Walker’s recall and the progressive resurgence in Wisconsin are not effective and should not be used to criticize President Obama. I acknowledge that full for. But I think, at the same time, that those moments of political resistance that progressives can engage in, beyond our disgruntlement with Obama—I just want to ask Glen Ford to move beyond the politics of disgruntlement and say—when you ask him the question, here’s the deal. Romney is the other guy. Romney and Ryan is the other ticket, versus Obama and Biden. As much criticism as you want to leverage against Obama and Biden, what are you doing to make certain that a Romney doesn’t engage in—doesn’t become effective? Because if your point is the more effective evil, you think they’re both evil, you’re encouraging a kind, I think, dangerous apathy among voters or the collapse between any distinctions, morally, ethically and, God knows, politically, between two competing parties that will have a significant impact upon their lives, should Romney and Ryan become the president and vice president of America. There’s a big difference.

 
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