This past weekend Lupe Fiasco was in Washington, DC to perform at an Inaugural event. While there he performed his anti-war manifesto Words I never Said featuring the lyrics “Gaza strip was being bombed Obama didn’t say sh*t”. After repeatedly performing this song to the crowd’s dismay Fiasco was removed from the stage. This coming after Tavis Smiley provided a Sunday morning commentary on the Obama presidency just a day before the President was inaugurated. On top of all that Dr. Cornel West laced into President Obama for using Dr. King’s bible when West felt as though the President’s governance would have Dr. King spinning in his grave. These three are not new critics of the President. Fiasco has gone so far as calling the President a terrorist.
These three in particular have been routinely criticized by other African-Americans as “haters” without valid points or with personal axes to grind. West famously and publicly bemoaned that he wasn’t invited to the first Inauguration after campaigning so hard for President Obama. Smiley has been aggressively critical of President Obama since the President did not make a personal appearance at Smiley’s State of the Black Union event in 2008. Fiasco has made inconsistent statements and erratic music (Lasers!) that caused many to tune him out with regards to his political views. We may be easily able to disregard these three, but the quick dismissal of them begs the question, is there a place for a black progressive critique of President Obama?
When we have seen them, the critiques have immediately been shut down. Many deride Fiasco however his statements about the President and war lie in more truth than fiction. President Obama has issued more predator drone strikes (the unmanned airplanes that are remotely controlled) in his first four years than George W. Bush did in his entire eight years. The positive is this takes American bodies off the battlefield, the negative is best explained in dialogue from the hit television show Scandal; “the problem with precision air strikes is that they aren’t precise.” Thus we see a drastic increase in the number of innocent civilians murdered by the Obama administration’s secret kill list and drone program.
Fiasco may have his flaws but his questioning of the President on the topic of peace seems to be a legitimate one. Why then are he and ostensibly his critiques so quickly and effortlessly dismissed. Smiley & West have collectively been beating the drum about poverty for seemingly the entire second half of the President’s first term and will undoubtedly be fighting that fight during his second term as well. Having already acknowledged there personal disagreements with President Obama we then have to look at the merits of their arguments. Poverty has indeed risen, we see nearly one in five children (or about 20%) of America’s children are impoverished. The official poverty rate is nearly 15% totaling about 50 million U.S. residents. We continue to see workers wages stagnate or drop meanwhile corporate profits have rebounded nicely from “The Great Recession”. With this great abundance of evidence West and Smiley are still thought to be “haters” who are jealous of the President and all that he has accomplished.
I have no doubt Smiley and West are grinding some sort of personal axe. But even when I mute them, the sad and painful statistics of poverty and income inequality speak far too loud. The initial shot to the economy was done by much of the deregulation of the Clinton administration and continued in the Bush administration. However the most recent statistics have been the doing of the current President Interestingly enough President Obama campaigned against then Sen. Hillary Clinton using the phrase you can’t keep putting the same people in charge and expecting a different result. Meanwhile once President Obama was elected, the economic team he put together to solve the nation’s economic problems were rehashes from the Clinton administration. President Obama often is cited as saying a rising tide lifts all boats but what we are finding is that recent rising tides have only lifted the boats of those who already had money.
So what of the black progressive critique of the President. In many ways one has to ask themselves can a black person publicly critique the President and be supported by others in the black community. Or is the occasion of a first black president still so magnificent that when someone does critique President Obama black Americans will rush to the President’s defense and find fault not necessarily with the critique of the President but with the character of the person doing the critique. We know one thing, Lupe Fiasco, Tavis Smiley & Dr. Cornel West and their critiques of President Obama will never been taken seriously by black Americans. The question is will anyone else’s.