Barack Obama failed to unite the country. He thinks he can unite Democrats.

Barack Obama

A while ago, I wrote,

Cornel West cites what “may have been our last [and lost] chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft,” Barack Obama’s failure “to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street,” the lack of “accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims and the [lack of] transparency of US drone strikes killing innocent civilians,” his silence on stop-and-frisk, his demonization of whistle blowers, and his response to Black Lives Matter and to Israeli attacks on Palestine “with words about the difficult plight of police officers, department investigations (with no police going to jail) and the additional $225m in financial support of the Israeli army. Obama said not a mumbling word about the dead Palestinian children but he did call Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs’.”[1]

Yet the mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow.[2]

This is all true, but I would add that after Obama inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we’re still involved, and won the Nobel Peace Prize,[3] “the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries” in 2016[4] and that Obama’s much ballyhooed accomplishment on climate change is, to be generous, an ineffective non-binding half-measure.[5] I would amplify that Obama clearly cared not one whit for ordinary people, except when he wanted their votes, as he declared in 2009 that “[w]e all know that there are limits to what government can and should do [for the unemployed], even during such difficult times,”[6] allowed what should have been a bailout for homeowners blindsided by the crash in real estate values to become a bailout for bankers instead,[7] and used the promise of health care to bail out health insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms that didn’t even need a bailout.[8] Similarly, his disdain for the left,[9] which I guess just wasn’t neoconservative, neoliberal, or corrupt enough for him, should have been a caution about supporting Hillary Clinton.[10]

Barack Obama failed to unite the country. Jim Geraghty of the mostly neoconservative National Review suggests that Obama thinks he’s going to unite the Democrats:[11]

With each week and Sanders’s continued rise, I’ve been thinking about this report from Ryan Lizza, writing in Politico, back on November 26: “There is one potential exception: Back when [Bernie] Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, [Barack] Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)”

It’s now mid-February, and the results of the latest national poll from Marist/NPR/PBS are: Bernie Sanders 31 percent, Michael Bloomberg 19 percent, Joe Biden 15 percent, Elizabeth Warren 12 percent, Amy Klobuchar 9 percent, Pete Buttigieg 8 percent. (How odd is it that the current leader in delegates is running sixth nationally?) If Sanders isn’t running away with the nomination, he’s starting to get close. If Obama’s going to object to Sanders, now is the time to do it. But according to the [Gabriel] Debenedetti report, he’s not going to. [emphasis added by Jim Geraghty][12]

I am by no means alone among progressives in speaking harshly of Barack Obama. He certainly did himself no favors when he let it slip that he would speak up against Bernie Sanders.[13] And with Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment of Donald Trump being, as I put it, “[t]he stupidest impeachment ever, historically notable first for all the offenses it failed to charge Donald Trump with,[14] second for its utterly predictable futility, and third for its transparent (and apparently failed) attempt to protect Joe Biden.[15][16] so-called “centrists,” including Obama, have absolutely zero credibility with progressives. If Obama wants to see just how far his star has fallen, he should just press on as he apparently intends.

To be fair, few progressives have quite my memory. Mostly they just remember 2016,[17] they’ve seen the shenanigans in Iowa,[18] and are pretty sure the Democratic National Committee is up to its old tricks. They’ve taken note of the narrow focus of Pelosi’s impeachment,[19] and seen Donald Trump’s response to it.[20] They’ve figured out that Obama is indeed just what he says he is, a so-called “centrist,” which, as they understand quite well, in real terms, means maybe just a little left of Attila the Hun. And progressives now range anywhere from pissed to furious.

These so-called “centrists,” Obama especially included, underestimate that anger.

Jim Geraghty, “When Is Obama Going to Speak Up?” National Review, February 18, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/when-is-obama-going-to-speak-up/


Donald Trump

Philip Bump, “Trump is making it very clear how seriously he objects to official corruption,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/18/trump-is-making-it-very-clear-how-seriously-he-objects-official-corruption/


  1. [1]Cornel West, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” Guardian, January 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency
  2. [2]Cornel West, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” Guardian, January 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency
  3. [3]Kathleen Hennessey, “Once Lauded as a Peacemaker, Obama’s Tenure Fraught with War,” Military.com, October 6, 2016, http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/10/06/once-lauded-peacemaker-obama-tenure-fraught-war.html
  4. [4]Micah Zenko, “Scary Fact: America Dropped 26,171 Bombs in 7 Countries in 2016,” National Interest, January 6, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/scary-fact-america-dropped-26171-bombs-7-countries-2016-18961
  5. [5]Kasia Anderson, “Pre-eminent Climate Scientist James Hansen Calls Paris Deal a ‘Fraud’; John Kerry Begs to Differ,” Truthdig, December 13, 2015, http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/preeminent_climate_scientist_calls_paris_deal_a_fraud_-_kerry_20151213; Marty Lederman, “The constitutionally critical, last-minute correction to the Paris climate change accord,” Balkinization, December 13, 2015, http://balkin.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-last-minute-correction-to-paris.html; Arthur Neslen and Karl Mathiesen, “Paris climate pledges ‘will only delay dangerous warming by two years’,” Guardian, June 3, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/03/paris-climate-pledges-will-only-delay-dangerous-warming-by-two-years; David Roberts, “No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously,” Vox, October 4, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fossil-fuels; Alissa J. Rubin and Elian Peltier, “Protesters Are in Agreement as Well: Pact Is Too Weak,” New York Times, December 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/world/europe/climate-activists-gather-in-paris-to-protest-outcome-of-conference.html
  6. [6]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy,” White House, November 12, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-economy-jobs-forum
  7. [7]Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (New York: Free Press, 2012).
  8. [8]Brad Jacobson, “Obama received $20 million from healthcare industry in 2008 campaign,” Raw Story, January 12, 2010, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/01/12/obama-received-20-million-healthcare-industry-money-2008/; Gaius Publius [pseud.], “Obama Got $20 Million from Healthcare Industry in 2008. Was Killing Single-Payer Part of the Deal?” Naked Capitalism, February 5, 2014, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/02/gaius-publius-obama-got-20-million-healthcare-industry-2008-killing-single-payer-part-deal.html
  9. [9]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Ed Rendell Tells Democratic Base to “Get Over It” on Rachel Maddow,” Firedoglake, September 23, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/23/early-morning-swim-ed-rendell-tells-democratic-base-to-get-over-it-on-rachel-maddow/; Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/27/late-night-stop-whining-liberals/; Michael Falcone, “Opposite Day On The Campaign Trail?” ABC News, September 21, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2010/09/election-2010-opposite-day-on-the-campaign-trail/; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s view of liberal criticisms,” Salon, September 17, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/09/17/obama_139/; David Neiwert, “President Obama lashes out at his liberal critics: Choice is to ‘get things done’ or feel ‘sanctimonious’,” Crooks and Liars, December 7, 2010, http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/president-obama-lashes-out-his-liber; Heather Digby Parton, “‘It’s always the hippies’ fault’: Why the left treats its idealists all wrong,” Salon, February 5, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/05/its_always_the_hippies_fault_why_the_left_treats_its_idealists_all_wrong/; Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/liberal_blogger_directly_confr.html; Stephen Stromberg, “Joe Biden scolds progressives — and he’s right,” Washington Post, September 16, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/09/joe_biden_scolds_progressives.html; Sam Youngman, “White House unloads anger over criticism from ‘professional left’,” Hill, August 10, 2010, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Barack Obama’s legacy,” Irregular Bullshit, January 10, 2017, https://disunitedstates.com/2017/01/10/barack-obamas-legacy-daily-bullshit-january-9-10-2017-early/
  11. [11]Jim Geraghty, “When Is Obama Going to Speak Up?” National Review, February 18, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/when-is-obama-going-to-speak-up/
  12. [12]Jim Geraghty, “When Is Obama Going to Speak Up?” National Review, February 18, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/when-is-obama-going-to-speak-up/
  13. [13]Justine Coleman, “Obama privately said he would speak up to stop Sanders: report,” Hill, November 26, 2019, https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/472090-obama-privately-said-he-would-speak-up-to-stop-sanders-report; Ryan Lizza, “Waiting for Obama,” Politico, November 26, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/11/26/barack-obama-2020-democrats-candidates-biden-073025
  14. [14]David Benfell, “The whiteness of impeachment,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/15/the-whiteness-of-impeachment/; Democracy Now, “Law Professor: Trump Could Also Have Been Impeached for War Crimes, Assassinations and Corruption,” January 24, 2020, https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/24/donald_trump_senate_impeachment_trial
  15. [15]David Benfell, “It’s still a smoke-filled room,” Not Housebroken, December 6, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/06/its-still-a-smoke-filled-room/; David Benfell, “How the neoliberal (usually known as Democratic) party may well lose in 2020,” Not Housebroken, December 7, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/07/how-the-neoliberal-usually-known-as-democratic-party-may-well-lose-in-2020/; David Benfell, “The whiteness of impeachment,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/15/the-whiteness-of-impeachment/; David Benfell, “The least violent solution,” Not Housebroken, December 16, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/16/the-least-violent-solution/; David Benfell, “The sham (pick your partisan flavor) is on,” Not Housebroken, December 19, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/19/the-sham-pick-your-partisan-flavor-is-on/; David Benfell, “The asterisk,” Not Housebroken, December 21, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/21/the-asterisk/
  16. [16]David Benfell, “One farce down, one to go,” Irregular Bullshit, February 5, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/02/05/one-farce-down-one-to-go/
  17. [17]Donna Brazile, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” Politico, November 2, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774
  18. [18]David Benfell, “Neoliberal hubris and the Iowa fiasco,” Not Housebroken, February 5, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/02/05/neoliberal-hubris-and-the-iowa-fiasco/
  19. [19]David Benfell, “The whiteness of impeachment,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/15/the-whiteness-of-impeachment/; Democracy Now, “Law Professor: Trump Could Also Have Been Impeached for War Crimes, Assassinations and Corruption,” January 24, 2020, https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/24/donald_trump_senate_impeachment_trial
  20. [20]Philip Bump, “Trump is making it very clear how seriously he objects to official corruption,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/18/trump-is-making-it-very-clear-how-seriously-he-objects-official-corruption/; Seung Min Kim, “These Republicans said they hope Trump has learned a lesson from impeachment. He said he hasn’t,” Washington Post, February 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/these-republicans-said-they-hope-trump-has-learned-a-lesson-from-impeachment-he-said-he-hasnt/2020/02/04/fa68c18c-478e-11ea-ab15-b5df3261b710_story.html

‘A house built by slaves’

White House

I think a difficulty Ta-Nehisi Coates faces in making his case for reparations[1] may be that, at the remove of the 21st century, we—whites at least—tend to think of slavery as something that happened on southern plantations a long time ago. It’s difficult now to imagine just how intrinsic slavery was to the early U.S. economy and even its way of life.[2] This Washington Post story[3] begins to peel back that delusion with what Michelle Obama called “a house built by slaves.”[4]

As I review this draft, I see the words “white house” and think of two nearby towns that passengers flagged for me as particularly white supremacist, at least in their police forces.[5] I don’t name them because as an Uber and Lyft driver, I frankly depend on those and other police to overlook my own inevitable transgressions of traffic law.

It is very apparent to me that the grace—in my case, a daily average of 137 miles of grace in a very difficult driving situation[6]—police here extend to me and other whites is not something they extend to Blacks. I understand all too well also that my income depends in part on people who are, accordingly, afraid to drive while Black,[7] while I struggle to make a living in the only career option that is available to me, even with a Ph.D.[8]

I can comfort myself with the recognition that ethics can only apply where there is choice. It is still a very uncomfortable position.

Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html


Judiciary

The Washington Post has more[9] on the Federal Judges Association calling an emergency meeting about Donald Trump’s and William Barr’s interference in line prosecutorial decisions.[10] This is the unfortunate the money line: “[Cynthia M.] Rufe’s comments gave no hint of what the association could or would do in response.”[11]

Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/


Pittsburgh

The wind must have been very favorable (judging from the water, perhaps nonexistent) the day this photograph was taken.

As I understand it, those are not the current Fort Pitt (to right) and Fort Duquesne (to left) Bridges. I’m not sure if there was really a park there then, but there is now and it’s at least somewhat larger, with a fountain. The current bridges come into downtown a little farther back.


  1. [1]Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
  2. [2]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/
  3. [3]Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html
  4. [4]Michelle Obama, quoted in Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The place where I live,” Not Housebroken, December 26, 2020,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/pittsburgh-driving-for-the-uninitiated/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/; David Benfell, “The binary between ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ Lives,” Not Housebroken, January 3, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/03/the-binary-between-black-and-blue-lives/; David Benfell “To a Pennsylvania House Minority Leader: When cops profile you, they don’t actually need an offense,” Not Housebroken, January 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/16/to-a-pennsylvania-house-minority-leader-when-cops-profile-you-they-dont-actually-need-an-offense/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  9. [9]Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/
  10. [10]Kevin Johnson, “Federal judges’ association calls emergency meeting after DOJ intervenes in case of Trump ally Roger Stone,” USA Today, February 17, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/17/roger-stone-sentence-judges-worried-political-interference/4788155002/
  11. [11]Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/