Neoliberalism in Blackface: Barack Obama and Deracialization, 2007-2012

Article excerpt

Introduction

... when you look at how we should approach Social Security, I believe ... that cutting ... benefits is not the right answer.

Candidate Obama, 2007

We offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs--Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.

President Obama, 2011 (1)

As the quotes above reveal, Barack Obama as president has demonstrated a disconcerting willingness to subscribe to the anti-democratic and austerity-driven tenets of the new post-Fordist regime of capital accumulation. Known variously as "the Washington Consensus", "That cherism", "Reaganomics", "globalization", or "TINA-ism", it may also be referred to as neoliberalism. (2)

Writing in 2005, before the Great Recession, David Harvey offered the following definition of neoliberalism,

   Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political
   economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be
   advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and
   skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong
   private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of
   the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework
   appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for
   example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up
   those military, defence [sic], police, and legal structures and
   functions required to secure private property rights, and to
   guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets.
   Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water,
   education, health care, social security, or environmental
   pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary.

   But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State
   interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare
   minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly
   possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices)
   and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and
   bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their
   own benefit. (3)

The candidacy, campaign, and first term presidency of Barack Obama have been shaped by neoliberalism, the latest regime of capitalist accumulation. (4) Major policies of neoliberalism include privatization, deregulation, laissez faire capitalism, cutting social welfare spending, and colorblind racism. Accompanying this regime has been a politics of austerity, the effects of which have been most visible, among other places, in parts of Black America. This essay will examine the rise and installation of "the Obama phenomenon", its betrayal of Black America especially as it relates to four (4) crises exacerbated by neoliberalism, present a critical review of differing judgments of Obama, and close with an argument on the need for a Black radical democratic agenda as a necessary response to Obama-ism.

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the politics of deracialization achieved its most stunning success. But, the first term (c2008-2012) of the first African-American elected President of the United States occurred amid a backdrop of economic collapse. (5) Let us now rehearse the events which led to Mr. Obama's election.

The Election of Barack Hussein Obama

On February 10, 2007, in Springfield, Illinois, the 45 year-old junior U.S. Democratic Senator from Illinois declared his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. (6) Barack Hussein Obama had served in the Illinois State Legislature as a State Senator from 1996 to 2004, losing his first bid for national office, 61% to 30%, in a contest for U.S. Representative (1st District) in 2000 to the incumbent, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill), a former member of the Black Panther Party. Later, he would run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, defeating black Republican carpetbagger Alan Keyes, 70% to 27%, the largest margin of victory in state history. …