Archive for the My Struggle On the Left! Category

On The Burden of History

Posted in Cultural Matters, My Struggle On the Left! with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by playthell

        The Great Encounter

  Malcolm, Martin and the Black Freedom Struggle

The publication of Dr. Manning Marable’s new book “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” has sparked yet another debate on the place of Malcolm in the pantheon of black leaders.  As always this soon becomes a conversation on the relative importance of Malcolm’s ideas, leadership style and accomplishments when compared to Dr. Martin Luther King.  Now this debate has gone global through Facebook; particularly the Study Group organized by Rev. Matthew, a Christian minister with a graduate degree in theology fromPrinceton.

Recently he posted a video of Professor John Hendrik Clarke, an excerpt from the documentary “A Great and Mighty Walk,” discussing Malcolm and Martin, and asked for comments.  I watched the video, in which Clarke gave Dr. King some props, but it struck me as close to damming with faint praise.  He pointed out that since Dr. King “died for what he believed in, and we are still here talking,” who are we to criticize him.  But then, he fairly quickly went on to sing the virtues of Malcolm at the clear expense of Martin.

It seems the fact that Malcolm expoused a Black Nationalist philosophy and was finally  willing to call himself an “African,”  was quite enough for Clarke.  However in Malcolm’s case, this recognition was quite an evolution; for the first few years that I knew him he called himself an “Asiatic Black Man.”  Since Dr. Martin Luther King was present at the Independence ceremony when Ghana was born in 1957 – at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah – and had known many African students in Atlanta in his youth, unlike Malcolm he knew exactly what his relationship was to Africa.

John Hendrik Clarke viewed Africa in much the way that ancient Greeks wrote history: myth and fact combine in the narrative to create a desired reality.  I doubt that there is a black person on earth who had the good fortune to hear Professor Clarke give a lecture on the golden age of African Civilization that did not fairly burst with pride.

Clarke belonged to another age, he was of one heart with the 19th century African Redemptionists like Bishop Alexander Crummel and Edward Wilmot Blyden.  From his comments on Malcolm and Martin alas, it appears that ostentatious declarations of one’s African identity weighs heavier on Professor Clarke’s scale than leading a mass movement that transformed a nation and expanded the horizons of black Americans beyond the wildest dreams of his generation.  I see the matter differently!

          Queen Mother Moore

She tutored us all in Radical Politics…including Malcolm X 

I knew John Hendrik Clarke very well…he was introduced to me by Queen Mother Moore in 1962.  He was one of my major mentors – along with Queen Mother and Harold Cruse – I loved him dearly, although he and Cruse couldn’t stand each other!  And like everybody I was enthralled with his eloquent and passionate lectures on African History – the breadth of his reading was amazing.  But what the Professor is saying in “A Great and Mighty Walk” is sophistry; which means that it sounds profound until you subject it to a rigorous critique based on the historical evidence!

Clarke says that he doesn’t know of anything important that came out of the Great March onWashington…duh?  How about the Omnibus Civil Rights Bill that transformed the South…and the nation?  I grew up in the South under segregation – as did Clarke when things were at their worse – and in my hometown of St. Augustine Florida, where Dr. King walked with the black community on some of the most dangerous marches of his career, that Bill changed black folk’s lives and life chances qualitatively.  Andrew young, who was there, has just produced a film on it.

The St. Augustine struggle was pivotal in the passage of that landmark legislation – see “Let the Trumpet Sound” by Professor Stephen B. Oates, and “Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his writings on the life and work of Dr. King – and it was the 1964 Civil rights bill that made it possible for the people of my hometown to rise up and overthrow that evil century old de jure racial caste system that made our lives so miserable under the force of law.

The fact is that in the South, where the real life and death struggle of our people was taking place, Malcolm X played no significant role at all!!!!   He was barely known by most southern blacks, and most of those who did know of him thought he was crazy!!!!!!  It was the Christian clergy that led that great transformative mass movement and the black church was its base!

  A Typical Church Meeting, Albany Georgia 1963
 The incubator of the Struggle

Hence Malcolm X, with his foreign religion and talk of taking up guns against the white South, was viewed as some sort of heretical maniac!  For the last couple of years I have been interviewing the survivors of the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement and when Malcolm X is mentioned in conjunction with their struggle they stare at me incredulously: like country cows staring at their first steam engine.

I had left town and relocated in Philadelphia, where I was born and spent the first few years of my life, and I was a staunch admirer of Malcolm by the time Dr. King came to St.   Augustine.  Hence in preparation for my interviews I have been reading the materials on the Civil Rights era in the historical archives of the city.  Since St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city, they have excellent archives because history is their business.  Thus one can follow the progress of the Movement on a day to day basis.

Reading accounts of the heroism of my friends and neighbors in 1964, when the Civil rights bill was being debated, I am astonished at their bravery in the face of injury and death!  When I asked them where they found the courage to conduct the night marches – so that people could go to work during the day – they said it was the fact that theMarches formed at either St. Mary’s Baptist Church onWashington St.or St. Pauls’ AME onCentral Avenue– which is nowMartin Luther King   Boulevard!

They told me it was the great preaching and singing that fortified them because they were convinced the “God was on our side.”  On one of the most dangerous night marches where they knew that the local redneck leader, “Hoss” Manucy, was laying in wait with members of the “Ancient City Gun Club -” which we later learned as a result of an investigation by US Marshalls was organized by deputies in Sheriff L. O. Davis’ office – two of my old friends told me “It was when we heard that Jackie Robinson was going to march with us that we decided to do it.  We thought if Jackie Robinson was going to march with us we couldn’t lose!”

To these people Malcolm X was just a crazy loud mouth guy talking tough inNew York!  And the contemptuous things that he was saying about Dr. King – whom many regarded as a modern day Moses bordered on blasphemy!   He had no admirers that I have been able to find inSt. Augustine.

While Malcolm was talking a good fight surrounded by fanatical body guards in northern cities, Dr. King and Jackie Robinson was marching with them in the shadow of death.  While Malcolm was running his mouth about what he would do to the white devils in Harlem, my neighbor’s Goldie and Richard Eubanks shot it out with Klan members and killed a couple of them!!

Then they were put on trial for murder facing the death penalty.  Had it not been for the brilliant and fearless lawyer William Kuntzler, who was sent by The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Goldie and Richard would have been electrocuted in “Old sparky” which is what we called the electric chair in Florida.

Jackie Robinson, who was a former Calvary Officer in the US Army – where he faced a possible court Marshall because of his militant stand against racism in the military and only the intervention of Heavy-Weight Champion and national hero Joe Louis prevented it – once got tired of Malcolm’s heckling and called his bluff straight up.  When the LA police invaded the Mosque and beat up the “Fruit Of Islam,” badly injuring some of them, Jackie called Malcolm out when he responded by hiring a lawyer and pursuing a legal remedy instead of taking the kind of militant action that he always TALKED ABOUT!

Jackie Leading  on the Front Line  A Dangerous Night March in St. Augustine
A Real Warrior
A Swashbuckling Calvery Officer
Comrades in the Struggle
Martin and Jackie

To Jackie, a fearless soldier in the struggle, Malcolm X was all blow and no go!  Malcolm never said a word in response because he knew that Jackie was right!!!  It was these kinds of instances that began to shake Malcolm’s faith in the philosophy and tactics of the NOI.  His shock over the discovery of Elijah Muhammad’s serial affairs with his secretaries shook his faith, and his remarks about the Kennedy assassination brought matters to a head.  But it was his growing doubts about their tactics, which was to stand on the sidelines and belittle the activists who were putting their lives on the line, which began Malcolm’s alienation from the NOI.

One of the advantages of having lived through the era as an active participant is that I can fill some of the gaps in the Malcolm/ Martin narrative from actual experience. However Malcolm X’s speeches are available on recording and printed transcripts, so what he believed and when he believed it is a matter of public record.

The excellent historian of the movement and Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson – who was a grat admirer of Bob Moses, a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committe, who were considered uncontrollable guerillas by the Civil rights Establishment; which is why they made John Lewis change his speech before delivering it at the Great March when a Catholic Cardinal threatened to walk out – has complied a volume “The Co-In-Tel-Pro papers of Malcolm X,” which examines the FBI files on Malcolm.  Carson, who is the Editor of the Martin Luther King Papers, shows that in his last days Malcolm was desperately reaching out to the Civil rights leadership in the hope of affecting an alliance.  The late great actor/activist Ossie Davis was his emissary.

John Henrik Clarke
A great thinker, but wrong on Malcolm and Martin

 This was confirmed in my interviews with Charles Kenyatta for a 7000 word cover story on Malcolm’s last days for Spin Magazine, written at the height of the last period of Malcolmania when Spike Lee’s movie came out.  Having lived through this period as a gun totin Maoist revolutionary in the Revolutionary Action Movement, and a featured lecturer on African and Afro-American history on “The Listening Post,” which was a pioneering talk radio show on WDAS am– a major black radio station in Philadelphia, produced and hosted by Mr. Joseph H. Rainey III – I had many personal conversations with Malcolm X.

Whenever he came to speak in Philly, Camden New Jersey, or Wilmington Delaware, he would come on the program to hype his appearance because all of these venues were in the broadcast range of the station.  I admired his selfless commitment to the liberation of our people, and at the time I favored his militant stance – which was purely rhetorical – over the “passive resistance activism “of Martin Luther King.

Joseph H. Rainey III Interviewing Jackie Robinson
“The Listening Post” Was also Malcolm’s Favorite Show

 During this period of the 1960’s I even said some of the same kind of foolishness that Professor Clarke is saying on this video – after all he was my mentor at the time. I was always coming up from Philly to visit him at his office in the Harlem YMCA, which was right across the street from the Schomburg Collection – the original public library which is right next to the present center that was designed by my neighbor Max Bond.

However it is time for the militant Marxist and Black Nationalist – and as a “Revolutionary Nationalist” I was both! – to admit that we were wrong and the civil rights movement was right in their tactics!!!  That is something that few of the Sixties “revolutionaries” are willing to admit, although the historical record is indisputable on this question.

I confess that I was not that enthusiastic about tackling Dr Marable’s 600 page tome because of some of the quotes that I have heard from it.  Like the claim that Malcolm X was the most important black man of the twentieth century.  That claim is prime faice nonsense!!!!!  There is no objective measure by which one can demonstrate that Malcolm X was more important than Martin Luther King, and no professional weighing the evidence of the two men’s careers would ever make such a statement.

Among historians such extravagant claims in the absence of compelling evidence to support them are routinely dismissed as “special pleading.”   In whose estimate is Marable’s claim regarded as a fact?  Certainly not the people who put their lives on the line in the bloody struggles that transformed the South and this nation!!!

That struggle ended the legal system of apartheid that I grew up under, opened up the professions so that the militant black professorate who now scoff at that movement in proclaiming the virtues of Malcom X could exist, and put a black family in the White House.  On my score card Malcolm’s achievements do not even come close to Martins – no contest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Furthermore, if you compare Malcolm with his counterparts who were engaged in real revolutionary struggles such as Dr. Franz Fanon, Nelson Mandela, Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, et al he sounds positively naïve…a babe in the woods.  For instance Dr. Fanon, who literally wrote the book on the function of violence in mass transformative movements with revolutionary objectives, said that the establishment of an Islamic state in the twentieth would be “a return to primitive Medievalism” at the same time as Malcolm saw it as something African Americans should aspire to in our struggle to create an advanced revolutionary society.

The truth is that Malcolm X was just beginning to develop an understanding of world politics in general and revolutionary politics in particular.  All one need do to understand how little Malcolm X understood about the implications of his own preachment about “Nationalism” “capitalism” and armed struggle is to read his contemporary Harold Cruse, especially the essay “On the Intellectuals and Force and Violence.”

Dr. Franz Fanon

A Real Revolutionary/Activist Intellectual

Harold Cruse 

A far deeper radical thinker than Malcolm X 

One the critical points Cruse makes in this essay – which is contained in his canonical text, “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual” – is that the black people who actually did pick up guns to oppose white violence in the South were neither Muslims nor Black Nationalist.  For instance Robert Williams – whom all the northern nationalist revolutionaries latched onto as their symbol of the quintessential black revolutionary because he resisted the Klan with guns – was an ex-Marine, and President of the Monroe north Carolina branch of the NAACP.

Furthermore, the only organization that took up the responsibility of defending Civil Rights worker in the Deep South from Klan violence was a group of staunch churchmen The Deacons for Justice! Malcolm X was around when these things were happening, but he never joined in these efforts.  Instead, the NOI played off their inactivity by denigrating the goals of the Civil rights movement as misguided.

The Deacons were led by Robert Hicks, a former star football player in high school and an all-black semi-pro league, Hicks was a leader of the NAACP, headed his all black segregated paper mill workers union.  He was active in fighting for voter’s rights as head of the Civic and Voters league.  And of course, he was a deacon in the church.

Hicks was not only a great husband and father to his own children; he was a father figure to all the children in his neighborhood who collectively called him “Dad.”  In other words he was a solid American citizen! In all of this Robert Hicks is characteristic of all the men who actually took up arms against racist white aggression.  Malcolm X only hurled threats at whites from the safe precints of the north, and he had as many body guards around him as the US President when he did it.

The truth is that most of the movement Malcolm X stood on the sidelines up North and denounced the brave struggles of black southerners led by the preachers in the Southern Christian Leadership council.    And he was very ashamed of the role he had played in his last days.

 Robert and Mable Williams: Real Warriors!
 Where was Malcolm X?
A Movie Reenactment of the Deacon;s Stand
The real thing was more dramatic 

Hence Marable’s assessment of Malcolm’s importance is embarrassing hyperbole!!!!!!   Yet even this is not enough for the hero worshipping haigiographers like Leroi Jones aka Amiri Baraka, who has attacked Dr. Marable because he said “Malcolm X was not a historian.”  To anybody that has the slightest understanding as to what the art and science of historical writing that was a perfunctory statement that borders on the banal.

Not only was Malcolm not a “historian,” which is someone who composes an original narrative about past events from primary documents, he was not even a good history teacher; which is someone who teaches the texts composed by historians.  In fact, Malcolm’s lack of historical understanding led an entire generation of black nationalists, and radicals of various persuasions, dangerously astray on a critical issue.

It was Malcolm’s thesis about the “House Negro” and the “Field Negro” that led the radicals down the dangerous path of anointing the least educated ghetto elements among us the natural leaders of the revolution.  This resulted in what I call “the romance of the lumpen” which began with RAM and reached the height of absurdity in the Black Panther Party.

Eldridge Cleaver: Minister of Information 

A Lumpen Psuedo-intellectual and BPP Icon 

This was a giant step backward for the radical tradition among Afro-Americans. It was a dramatic retrogression from the black Marxists of earlier decades, who were sober intellectuals and disciplined workers with solid personal values, good work habits and a willingness to study complex theories of politics and economics. They aspired to the highest achievements of mankind under the assumption that nothing was too good for the working class, that these achievements were the heritage of all mankind!

They understood that not only could the Lumpen-Proletariat not lead a revolution; they couldn’t even be organized; that they were in fact dangerous to a revolutionary movement because their “street hustler” values predisposes them to petty criminality and thus places them in a position to be arrested and turned into informers against the movement in order to avoid incarceration.  All of these things came to pass in the black radical movement as we recruited these criminal types.

We looked not to previous militants like Paul Robeson, Ben Davis, William L. Patterson, Harry Heywood; people with a wealth of experience in organizing a radical revolutionary movement, seasoned veterans who could have steered us away from self-destructive actions, in favor of people who didn’t have a clue about what is required to make revolutionary movement in an advanced capitalist state…people like Malcolm X.  As the eminent historian Dr. Gerald Horne has pointed out: The rise of Malcolm X was only possible because the FBI had destroyed the real black revolutionaries in the 1950’s, thus creating a vacuum of militant leadership which Malcolm X filled.

It is long past time for the surviving elders of the Black Liberation Movement of the last half of the twentieth century to fess up and admit that we were wrong; not compound our blunder and mislead another generation of black youth’s by trying to make Malcolm X into something more than he was. Chanting the silly mantra that had Malcolm lived he would have had the answers to the present crisis that confronts us.

At the time of his death Malcolm X was a confused and demoralized man desperately looking for a viable program, and was murdered by the thugs he had trained.  The ultimate irony is that he said on the record “If somebody was saying the things I’m saying about Elijah Muhammad and I didn’t personally know that it was true, I’d kill them myself!”  So he died by the rules he lived by.  Thus the claim that “he died for us” is a far more fitting eulogy for Dr. King…one could argue that Malcolm X died from his own folly.

Malcolm After the Gunmen Opened Fire in Audibon Ballroom

Murdered by Assasins he trained: An enduring tragedy

Four Revolutionaries Who Survived

Playthell, John Bracy, Dr. Muhammad Ahmed aka Max Stanford and Askia Muhammad Ture

Note: Between the four men in this picture are founders of the Revolutionary Action Movement, Black Studies  in the University, and the Black arts Movement.  All of us began in the Civil rights Movement, and evolved into radicals as the white resistance stiffened.  We were all discipline activist intellectuals who  read all of the canonical texts on the mordern world revolution.  And we all personally knew Malcolm X, much beter than we knew Dr. King.  And we all shared  Malcolm X’s views over Dr. Kings.  Hence my position in this essay is the result of long and sober reflection.


Below are links to video clips from speeches by Dr. King and Malcolm X.  I have chosen clips where they both speak on the same topic: the importance of self-esteem.  Listen to the difference in how they approach the subject.  While both agree on the importance of self-esteem Malcom’s description of how black folk should control business in the black community, which he saw as a revelation,  was old news to Dr. King, who was from Atlanta; which enjoyed a booming black business community…as did the black communities in Florida where I grew up.  The fact is that Malcom X, and black nationalist in general, have a nihilistic view of the Afro-American experience, whereas the Civil Rights movemet was driven by a heroic optimis!  That;s whay all the great gains for black Americans were produced by the Civil Rights Movement!

Double Click to hear Dr. King

Double Click to hear Malcolm X

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Janurary 17, 2012

Is the Liberal/Left Self Destructive?

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Katrina Vanden Hueval: Editor of The Nation

Notes on the Folly of the Left

The protesters  in the nascent movement have been criticized for being too decentralized and lacking a clear list of demands.” writes Ms. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the influential left/liberal journal of opinion “The Nation” regarding the Wall Street rebels.  She goes on to pronounce: “But they are bearing witness to the corruption of our politics; if they made demands to those in power, it would suggest those in power could do something about it. This contradicts what is, perhaps, their most compelling point: that our institutions and politicians serve the top 1 percent, not the other 99.”

Not content with spewing this bit of spurious prattle – since it is only those in power that can solve our problems – alas Katrina’s analysis goes quickly downhill and descends into pure  foolishness: “The movement doesn’t need a policy or legislative agenda to send its message. The thrust of what it seeks—fueled both by anger and deep principles has moral clarity.”

This would be quite sufficient if we were discussing the mission of a Church or Synagogue, whose raison d’etre is helping their supplicants find “moral clarity.” But the aspirations and goals that she ascribes to the movement can only be achieved through the art of politics – which is the process by which relationships of power are formed.  To conclude otherwise is to retreat into fantasy!

Speaking of the burgeoning movement against criminal avarice of the Plutocracy symbolized by the anti-Wall Street Protests she tells us: “It wants corporate money out of politics. It wants the widening gap of income inequality to be narrowed substantially. And it wants meaningful solutions to the jobless crisis. In short, it wants a system that works for the 99 percent. Already Occupy Wall Street has sparked a conversation about reforms far more substantial than the stunted debate in Washington. Its energy will supercharge the arduous work other organizations have been doing for years, amplifying their actions as well as their agendas.”

Bill Mahr: An insightful, witty, comedian….

…..But no political philosopher!

Apologist for the apolitical confusion of the Wall Street activist appears to be  multiplying like wild rabbits.  The kind of well intentioned albiet confused blather we hear from Ms. Vanden Heuval is repeated ad nauseum among the liberal/left cognoscenti.  It is echoed in the smug too-clever-by-half drivel spouted by Bill Mahr on the Rachel Maddow show recently.  Silly Willy went to great lengths to poo poo the importance of politics, and gave but little indication that he clearly understood who the real enemy is, let alone how to develop a strategy to defeat them.

Indeed, intellectual leaders of the American left actually encourage this kind of misguided and dangerous thinking on the part of celebrity entertainers like Bill Mahr, whom Isometimes think is taken far too seriously – after all, clever and verbose fellow though he is, he remains a clown of renown, not a scholar whose opinions are based on years of serious study!

Ms. Vanden Heuval has no such excuse alas.  As the majority of her commentary on the anti-Wall Street rebels, “Will Occupy Wall Street’s spark reshape our politics”  demonstrates, Ms. Vanden Heuval is a woman of surpassing intelligence. And as Editor of the “Nation” magazine she has rich sources of information readily available to her

Yet these facts beg the question of how she could have concluded the following: “Many, if not most of the protesters are openly wary about the embrace of the progressive establishment.  Rightly so. The movement, unlike the Tea Party, is not based on electoral strategy, and there is a concern about being co-opted.” This kind of flawed thinking led the demonstrators to deny Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to speak in Atlanta, turning away a powerful natural ally.

When we consider that the Tea Party strategy resulted in the election of over eighty Congressman, who succeeded in blocking funding for President Obama’s regulatory regime to check the power of the Wall Street Bankers and stop them from driving the economy over a cliff again – and the American people being soaked for hundreds of billions to bail them out – plus just last night we saw the Grand Obstructionist Party kill the President’s jobs bill, it is fair to ask is the liberal left self-destructive?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 12, 2011










An Open Letter to Dr. Cornel West

Posted in Cultural Matters, My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2011 by playthell

Pundit, Poet and Philosopher Share a Bright Moment

On Dr. King, President Obama and Politcal Reality

 Dear Cornell

            After reading your Op-Ed column on Dr. Martin Luther King in the New York Times, I felt compelled to sit down and write you a letter.  Since the conversation that I want to have with you is about public matters i.e. the fate of our nation and the Presidency of Barack Obama, I decided to make it an open letter and put it on the internet so everyone can see it.  I feel it is my duty to respond to your column because you are such an influential public intellectual and moral scold people listen when you speak.  Like E. F. Hutton on finance, you da man with many people on matters of morality and politics.

Since I have publicly pledged to praise saints, celebrate heroes, unmask charlatans and chastise scoundrels I could not remain silent. You have all the trappings of intellectual and moral authority – Harvard education, PhD, author of influential texts, able orator, Princeton Professor of Religion – but the more I watch what you are doing with these powerful assets…I fear you are squandering them my brother, and you are in danger of hurting us all with your folly.

I am employing the term folly in the same sense as the two time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman in her path breaking book “The March of Folly.”  Here the term folly refers to the decisions people make – - usually leaders of nation states – that all observable evidence suggests is against their own interests.   And there can be no doubt among partisans of the working classes and foes of the plutocrats, which you claim to be, that the Tea Party /Republicans are avowed enemies of our agenda.  Yet you are at this very moment engaging in activities that if continued will aid a total takeover of our national government by these vicious enemies of the working class.

Thus I have no doubt that in the present struggle for the soul of our nation and the survival of organized labor – which is the vehicle through which the working class defends their gains and advance their interests – you are missing your true calling in this great fight.  As a self-declared spokesman for the working class and the poor, the proletariat and lumpen-proletariat, you are curiously at odds with the actual spokesmen for the working class, the elected leaders of the great unions, who correctly view President Obama as the only friend of poor and working class Americans among all the people who are likely to become the next President of the USA!

Even as I write the Teamster Union President Jim Hoffa is on WNBC TV reaffirming their support for the reelection of the President; although they have some sharp disagreements with him about strategy.  They do not question that Barack is their friend and the Republicans are the enemy; and if empowered would callously take away rights that the working class struggled for a century to win.  The contrast between what the leader of one of the world’s most powerful unions had to say on this matter, and what you have been saying, highlights the fundamental disagreement that I have with you about your criticism of the President.

Dr. Nathan Hare – who holds two PhD’s, one in sociology and one in Psychology – is a longtime intellectual warrior in our struggle, a man who was on the front lines of engaged scholars when you were running about in knee pants in the wilderness of Sacramento chasing fire flies, states the problem succinctly. In a recent statement on Facebook, Dr. Hare argued that black critics of President Obama must first make it clear that there is no alternative to supporting the President and the Democratic Party in the coming elections. That is the only way your criticism can be constructive rather than destructive Corny.

The difference is clear: constructive criticism is a critique that will help us defeat the Grand Obstructionist Party in the coming elections.  Destructive criticism is the kind of loose and mindless diatribes that confuses and demoralizes people to the point where they decide that they cannot vote for either party and stay home…effectively turning the national government over to the Republicans.  I am afraid, Dr. West, that this will be the result of your misguided, overly-emotional and often irrational attacks on the President.  Alas, I am increasingly hearing threats to remain at home on election day from your acolytes.

Unlike you, the Teamster leader made it clear that there was no chance that organized labor was going to abandon the President because the Republicans are the enemy of the working class.  While he didn’t like it, he understood the compromises the President has made.  They get it that the President was forced into certain compromises in order to get anything done and avoid disaster.  But you, Dr. West, don’t get it!  You talk in terms that suggest the President has betrayed the entire progressive legacy because he was forced to compromise!

When in fact, the very concept of compromise means that you have to accept something you don’t want in order to get something you want.  Whereas the Teamster leader was clear in his purpose and what must be done, you prattled on in your NY Times Op-Ed in such a muddled fashion one could easily conclude that you think President Obama could have solved the problems you rightly highlight but just wouldn’t do it!!!  And therefore deserves defeat in 2012 – which goes without saying if your first charge is true!   If you are not saying this, then what the fuck are you talking about?

What for instance do you mean by the following passage?  “The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.”  Considering that on two thirds of the issues you mention here the President actually proposed policies to do just what you said he should; I am constantly amazed at how people print stuff like this from you and don’t seem to recognize that it is muddled non-sense!

The only other person who manages to get away with publishing incoherent gibberish on a regular basis is Stanley Crouch, but at least he has the refuge of poetic license and people are so hypnotized by his use of language they don’t notice that he is making no sense.  Your argument is the kind of stuff one expects from an impassioned but not very well educated undergraduate student…someone who has listened in on the conversations of mature intellectuals and got bits and pieces of the conversation and is now trying to reconstruct it –but doing so badly!

It is embarrassing to hear someone who is widely regarded as one of the nation’s premiere intellectuals say things like: “The administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.”   First of all the bank bailout or TARP was passed during the last days of the Bush Administration, and was an admission that their economic policies had failed.

Thus the task of any serious analyst of our present economic mess is to point out with clarity that the Republicans now running the House, and all of their presidential candidates, are advocating those same policies – only now they are on steroids!  Your failure to address this issue is itself enough to disqualify you as someone we need take seriously.

The problem with the kind of editorial you have written for the Times is that you are not required to suggest any policy options or strategies for achieving them. It does not take much to demonstrate that your argument is morally pretentious empty rhetoric, a hysterical rant that leads nowhere. Do you really think this nation, and the black community especially, would be better off if the banking system had failed…if the president had stood back and allowed the world financial system to collapse?  If you do you are the most highly educated moron in history, a worthy ally of the Tea Party!   If you don’t believe it you are a dangerous charlatan and hypocrite and therefore of one heart with the so-called “Tea Party Patriots.”

Instead of pointing out that President Obama has passed the most stringent regulations on Wall Street since the 1930’s, and nominated Elizabeth Warren, the brilliant Harvard Law professor and longtime advocate for the poor, to head the new agency, you attack him for saving the world financial system from collapse! Instead of denouncing the Republicans for refusing to confirm Professor Warren and fund the agency tasked with implementing the new financial regulations, while opposing any attempt to tax the rich, who are sitting on record profits, you attack the president for the success of the business community which is the engine that propels this economy.

Rising profits in the corporate sector is proof that the President’s policies to save the economy from a great depression that many economists believe would have been worse than the 1930’s has succeeded!  That’s how capitalism works Cornell!   And, in spite of the fact that both of us wish it were otherwise, Americans overwhelmingly support capitalism!  If the democrats were in control of the Congress however, they would have done away with the Bush Tax cuts and raised the effective corporate tax rate by terminating many of the tax write offs that they presently enjoy.

It is the Republicans that are preventing this from happening…but you continue to blame the President.  Your actions in this regard is leading some of your critics to conclude that you are really a paid agent for the plutocrats – especially since your so-called “Poverty Tour” designed to embarrass the President is paid for by a major commercial bank!   They think you a false witness with a hidden agenda designed to so confuse the issues that many who voted for President Obama in the last election will stay at home this time and give the election to the Republicans.

That’s what some folks are beginning to say about you Corny.  However I am not one of them.  In my view it doesn’t matter if you are a paid agent of the reactionary right or not, because I can’t imagine what you would do differently if you were a paid agent.  As the New York Times columnists Charles Blow has demonstrated by crunching the numbers: If everybody who voted for the President votes for him again in the coming election, but 10% of Afro-Americans who voted stay at home, Barack will lose!  Hence whether you were paid for your role in this or not is a distinction without a difference. The result will be an unmitigated disaster for the least among us…the people you claim to care about the most.

While your Op-Ed is full of hysterical moral preachment and pretentious sophistry masquerading as deep thought, with false analogies popping up everywhere like Banquo’s ghost, you never rise to what I believe is your true calling in the great struggle to determine whether civilization or savagery shall triumph in America.  Sometimes you tease us with the possibility that you recognize your role, but you never rise to the occasion.

A poignant case in point is the following observation: “King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.”  Obviously this transformation is a matter that is far beyond the control of any politician; this is work for preachers, philosophers and theologians.

If you had been unable to recognize it before, the implications of your observations in the Op-Ed should have clearly defined your calling.  You are a professor of religion at Princeton, a position which invests you with great authority on the interpretation of biblical texts.  Hence instead of dispensing bad political advice and spouting questionable historical analysis, what we desperately need you to do is lead an assault on the theology that fuels so many of the arguments of the far right.  How is it possible that you can stand silently by and bear witness to far right evangelists preaching a false doctrine that converts Jesus Christ from the champion of the poor and down trodden, into the God of billionaires that grind the poor underfoot to make the rich richer?

How have you chosen to attack President Obama instead of Rick Perry, an unabashed foe of the working class who literally wraps himself in the bible, that is leading all Republican candidates in the polls, when Barack is the only friend of the poor who has a chance of being elected to the Oval Office?  Why are you not running around like a watchman in the night yelling “Blasphemy!”  “Sacriledge!” to the top of your lungs?

Was it not Jesus who said: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?”  Did not Jesus Christ despise usurious bankers so much that he drove the money lenders from the temple with violent action?   If I, a man whose devoutly Christian senior daughter has declared “an un-churched heathen,” is offended by this perversion of the teachings of Jesus why aren’t you?   If their false theology offends a wretch like me – an avowed atheist beyond salvation – why are you so nonchalant Chilly Willie?  You who claim to love the lord every chance you get !  I have wracked my brain seeking an answer to this enigma.

If you are not a stealth provocateur out to do the president in for money or personal animosities fueled by envy, revenge or blind ambition, then you have misread your role and tragically squandered your splendid gifts worse than anyone I can think of now or in the distant past!  Ten years ago you ran around the country urging people to vote for consumer advocate and political gadfly Ralph Nader rather than Al Gore, the Democratic candidate.

In doing so you helped to elect George W. Bush; if the thousands of wayward Democrats had not voted for Nader in Florida, Al Gore’s margin of victory would have been so large that the controversy which put Bush in office would never have been an issue.  Not only are you far too arrogant and self-righteous to fess up your role in this disaster, and seek forgiveness from the multitude of Americans who were injured or killed by Bush’s decisions on the economy, taxes, war and peace: You are doing it again!!!!!

It seems that you never learn, or you refuse to learn, but I warned you that your misguided preachment could result in the election of George Bush and it did.  In fact, I published a commentary of several thousand words laying out the dimensions of the impending disaster titled “On Choosing the Lesser Evil” and I have posted it on this blog to remind people of the destructive role you played 10 years ago.

It is inconceivable that you learned nothing from that experience; but alas, either you learned nothing or you are clear in your purpose to destroy the Presidency of Barack Obama no matter what. That would make you a helpful ally of the Tea Party if not an agent.  Should these right wing anti-government zealots achieve total control of the US government; the sins that they commit against working people of all colors will also leave an indelible stain on your character. It would be poetic justice worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy to watch you wander about like Lady Macbeth crying “Out damned spot!’ in a futile attempt to white-wash your role as midwife to the calamity.


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 29, 2011


There is No Alternative to President Obama and the Democrats!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 31, 2011 by playthell


 He has brought about monumental changes for the American People


On Egotist and Fools Errands

There are rumors abroad that Dr. Cornell West AKA “Professor Longhair” and his sidekick Tavis Smylie, a verbose bald heated charlatan, are planning a demonstration to urge people not to support the reelection of President Obama.   Say what?  The last thing we need is another idiot movement among the hapless left to start some sort of Third Party, or even talk about running somebody against President Obama!

Both of these are self-defeating strategies, and I regard such talk as nothing more than a retreat into fantasy by a confused and impotent left that refuses to face the real problem in American politics: A Republican Party that hates the working class and is openly contemptuous of the public interests…yet millions of white workers voted to put them back in charge of the House of Representatives where all revenue bills must originate. This has not only brought the massive plans for reshaping American society to a halt, but has put him into a position where for the first time in American history the US will default on its debts!

Thomas Jefferson, whom I regard as the most thoughtful of the revolutionary Founding Fathers, put our problem succinctly in a prescient observation offered up two centuries ago.  “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate,” he argued. “They will elect and return the worse people to power.”  Yet West and the confederacy of well credentialed dunces who egg him on like a deranged Greek chorus, think our problem is President Obama?

Try as I might, I cannot fathom a syllogism that explains how a reasonable person can arrive at such a conclusion.  How a Princeton Professor, who is actually smart enough to belong to that august assemblage of outstanding scholars, could arrive at this conclusion.  The Grand Obstructionist Party is wreaking havoc on the nation and they attack the President?

Because of their scorched earth policy the President is faced with signing a bill that cuts trillions of dollars from the federal budget with no tax increase for the rich, or face the first default by the United States government!  That’s the choice folks; I’d like to know what any of you all knowing readers would do.  But I warn you: If you do not answer that question at the top of your argument I shall immediately dismiss you as a fool or a charlatan!

Among the fanatics in the House are deranged whackos, like Michelle Bachman, who have threatened to bring impeachment proceedings against the President if he invokes section IV of the 14th Amendment to guarantee the nation’s debt, and thereby avoid the catastrophe of default. I think the reason that the loud mouths on the left who are dogging the President don’t want to discuss this is because they know that they bear some responsibility for the Republicans retaking the House only two years after they wrecked the economy!!!

Instead of doing the only thing that makes any sense in terms of realpolitique, support the President – who is the most progressive politician that has any chance of being elected in America today and return the House to the Democrats – the ‘wise guys” on the left help to confuse and demoralize people to the extent that they decided to sit out the election.

Not only did they not work to help elect Democrats as they had two years earlier when they made history…many of these nincompoops didn’t even vote!  Thereby assuring a Republican victory and the predictable horror show that followed!   Now the know nothing blabbermouths on the Left, led by the likes of Professor Longhair and his Greek Chorus, are at it again!

This is god damned foolishness…and if there is anyone who thinks it is anything but damn foolishness I dare you to tell us what it is!!!!!!    Cornell West really ought to sit down and shut tha fuck up!!!!!   He has yet to apologize for his role in electing Bush, yet has the unmitigated chutzpah to present himself as a reliable political theorist in the present crisis.

I have posted a piece the Commentaries I wrote ten years ago when Cornell was advising people to vote for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore – see “On choosing the Lesser Evil”  on this blog.  The danger I warned of then came to pass. George bush was elected and everything went to shit!!!!!   Since I have written on the sins of the Bushmen ad nauseum, I shall not debate them again here.

Anyone who needs instruction on the Presidents outstanding achievements should read “Civilization or Savagery” on this blog.  Since we are still suffering from the decision of the left supporting Nader however, I felt compelled to write this commentary because I’m beginning to hear whispers of this kind of POLITICAL IDIOCY again!  And I shall stay on the asses of the verbose and reckless charlatans who are spouting it!

In an attempt to explain the embarrassing and perplexing actions of Dr. West, some people are speculating that West and Smylie are being paid by corporate interests to attack the President.  I tell them they are paranoid; that Dr. West would never party to such a scurrilous deal.  I argue that West is not an evil quisling but a deluded megalo-maniac!  But I quickly point out that this is a distinction without a difference, because fess Longhair couldn’t be of more assistance to the Tea Party agenda if he were a paid agent!

Is This Nigga Crazy?


Fess Longhair: High Brow Rapper


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

July 31, 2011

A Poot-Butt Professor Dis’s America’s President!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , on May 22, 2011 by playthell

Hip hop Philosopher Professor Longhair and Chilly B.

 “This discussion is in no way about me, it has to do with poor and working people having low priority in US governmental policy including the Obama Administration. My personal words had to do with being disrespected by the President. People are disrespected every day, and they can raise their voices in response to it.” A tweet from Dr. Cornell West aka “Professor Longhair”

Reflections on the Rejected Lover Syndrome

The brouhaha in the black community sparked by Princeton religion Professor Cornell West’s increasingly tasteless and personal attacks on President Obama has all the elements of what my grandmother used to call “A big nigger mess!”  The distinguished novelist and Syracuse University Professor Arthur Flowers offers an observation that is perplexing many thoughtful African Americans all over the country – the present writer included.   ‘It boggles the mind that Cornell West does not understand the destructive role he is playing,” says Professor Flowers”  Nathan Hare, a San Francisco  Psychologist who holds PhD’s  in psychology and sociology had this to say:

“Cornel appeared to have some ambition to play a role in the 2008 election, probably with Hillary Clinton, or a run on his own. He’s never forgiven Obama since day one. Many years ago a brother, taking the words out of my mouth, wrote that Cornel is ‘one thousand miles wide and one inch deep.’ When you can bounce up and down the Ivy League because your university president called you in and suggested you do some scholarship for a change, you are not a big bad Marxist revolutionary so much as a bonafide member of what they used to call “the niggerati;”  a term invented by the iconoclastic  Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston to describe certain literary poseurs during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920′s .

Michel Wallace, a best-selling author and professor in the City University of New York, recently remarked after the Hip Hop philosopher held forth on her campus: “He seems to be living in a different world from the rest of us.”  Well…if you compare Princeton to Harlem – one of the whitest and the blackest towns in America – plus the praises and riches showered on Fess Longhair by the white cultural establishment, he is indeed living in a different world from the rest of us!

There is a special irony about this because his relevance as an intellectual is his role as interpreter of the souls of black folks and proctor of our spiritual strivings for white folks. But the fact that he is so alienated from the feelings of the black majority means that his white sponsors are getting a flawed message from their chosen messenger.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the recent panegyric to Fess Longhair written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and celebrated tribune of the white left Chris Hedges.  So heroic is West’s stature in the estimation of Hedges – whom I regard as one of hysterics of the left – that he feels compelled to cast him in a Shakespearean Dramatis Personae.  Hence the praise song begins with the following hyperbole:

“The moral philosopher Cornell West, if Barack Obama’s ascent to power was a morality play, would be the voice of conscience. Rahm Emanuel, a cynical product of the Chicago political machine, would be Satan. Emanuel in the first scene of the play would dangle power, privilege, fame and money before Obama. West would warn Obama that the quality of a life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power.

Perhaps there was never much of a struggle in Obama’s heart. Perhaps West only provided a moral veneer. Perhaps the dark heart of Emanuel was always the dark heart of Obama. Only Obama knows. But we know how the play ends. West is banished like honest Kent in “King Lear.” 

Methinks, however, that our Shakespeare aficionado is not as clever as he fancies himself.   He has chosen the wrong play.  For as The Bard pointed out: “The play is the thing!”  In this case “Othello” is a more fitting vehicle for exploring the character and motivations of the actors in this modern political drama, and telling lines from Macbeth offers the best assessment of both the object of his veneration and the scribe’s pious prattle.  I would cast Barack and Cornell in the roles of Othello, the Nobel Moor, and Iago: the scheming, deceitful, treacherous, charlatan.

For quite a while it was conventional wisdom among white male drama critics, who didn’t want to deal with the questions of sex and race that supply the dramatic force of the play, that Iago is driven by “A motiveless malignancy,” as one 19th century British critic elegantly put it.   However we are left with no explanation of Iago’s devious behavior toward Othello as he engineers his destruction.

But upon a close reading of the text for a weighty essay interrogating the meaning of the complex color symbolism in the Bard’s work – “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black?  A Meditation on Blacks and the Bard” – I found ample evidence that Iago’s treachery was motivated by thwarted professional ambitions and personal envy of Othello’s position, covetousness of Othello’s beautiful wife and disdain for his racial background.  In rereading the play I find that these lines by Iago in the opening scene of Othello could have been uttered by Cornell in regard to Barack.

“In personal suit to make me his lieutenant/ Off-capp’d to him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: But he, as loving his own pride and purposes…Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certs’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer.’  And what was he?  Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine” Offended by what he considers the great injustice of having been overlooked by Othello in favor of a man he considers inferior in qualifications and character to himself Iago asks Rodrigo: “Now, sir, am I affined to love the Moor?”

Then Iago plots his revenge upon Othello for what he regards as an egregious slight.  “I follow him to serve my turn upon him: We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed…Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago; In following him I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end…I am not what I am.”

Based on his actions, it looks like our poot-butt philosopher Fess Longhair had the same plan.  He certainly has expressed the same grievances.  In fact he sounds like nothing so much as a rejected lover as he tells Chris Hedges:

“I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’ But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people.”

The hurt and disappointment in West’s voice is palpable, he sounds as if he thinks Barack has been two timing him!

Yet this is not the end of Fess Longhairs complaints against the President. He prattles on, shamelessly spilling his guts and airing dirty laundry.

And then as it turns out with the inauguration,” he continues, “I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’ Beginning in Iowa to Ohio. We had to watch the thing in the hotel.”

If this story is true, it raises more questions about Cornell West than President Obama.  The most important question is why did West show up at the inaugural Ball without an invitation in the first place?  What does that say about his sense of entitlement?  After all, I know several people who attended the inauguration, and they all had their invitations well in hand before they ever set out for the capitol.   For instance, my boyhood friend Erroll Jones, the only black elected official in my home town, who is forced to run as a Republican, openly worked for Barack and was rewarded with an invite.  I crashed at his crib while he was cavorting about Washington.

Commissioner Erroll Jones and President Obama

Homeboy  got his invite…whassup wit Fess?

One is forced to wonder if  Fess’ mother really talks the way he quotes her, referring to a chauffeur as “that dear brother.”  That’s the way Fess talks, but its part of his act; I have a hard time believing that his mother actually talks that way.  This may seem like a picayune point, but I make it in order to suggest that there is artifice in his telling of this tale of woe.  And if so, it begs the question as to how much more of his story is contrived?

Since there is no way to tell, it cast suspicion over the veracity of the entire episode, and the cautious observer must view all else he has to say about the President in matters of politics and policy with a jaundiced eye.  Personally, as one who has studied and analyzed all the President’s major moves in 200 essays I feel as competent to assess what he is about as anybody…including Fess Longhair.

My assessment of Barack Obama’s accomplishments during his tenure in the Oval are succinctly stated in the essay “Civilization or Savagery” on this blog.   Suffice it to say that when I weigh the President’s accomplishments against the racism and resistance of the Republican opposition – who have come very close treason – I give Barack an “A.”

Hence when I read Fess Longhair’s vulgar and superficial diatribes posing as serious intellectual analysis, it is hard not to conclude that they were authored by an ignoramus, a charlatan, or a hopelessly misguided ideologue!  Consider this recent public temper tantrum.

“And even at this moment, when the empire is in deep decline, the culture is in deep decay, the political system is broken, where nearly everyone is up for sale, you say all I have is the subversive memory of those who came before, personal integrity, trying to live a decent life, and a willingness to live and die for the love of folk who are catching hell. This means civil disobedience, going to jail, supporting progressive forums of social unrest if they in fact awaken the conscience, whatever conscience is left, of the nation. And that’s where I find myself now.”

Not content with this dramatic baring of his soul, Fess prattles on: “I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator… at least he would have some voices concerned about working people, dealing with issues of jobs and downsizing and banks, some semblance of democratic accountability for Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who are just running amuck. I was completely wrong.”

It is instructive to note here, that the United Auto Workers, the most powerful independent organization in the world representing working people, recently gave the President high marks at their national convention!  Which casts Fess Longhair in the role of “the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family;” a joker our wise Ibo ancestors warned us to beware of.   Yet is is characteristic of  Fess Longhair to think him self as more royal than the King.

Since Dr. West poses as a philosopher from time to time, when he is not making a rap album or playing at politics, I assume that he is familiar with the work of Professor Harry G. Franks, who is in the philosophy department right there at Princeton.  If so he will recognize the title of Dr. Frank’s book, although I doubt that he would have read it because he is afraid that he may bump into himself in the pages.

For the book’s title and subject matter identifies Fess Longhair’s critique of the President perfectly: “Bullshit”   Shakespeare also has more to teach us about the poot-butt Professor’s complaint about being ignored by the President even as he sought the advice of the the great “aritmatician” Laurence Summers, the renowned economist and the former Harvard President who had called Fess on the carpet for academic malingering!

However this time the words of Iago describe Fess himself, especially in his role as leader of a radical movement posing an alternative to the politics and policies of Barack Obama – a role for which he has demonstrated himself to be unsuited.  What Iyago says of Cassio is also true of Cornel, a great pretender: “That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows/ More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric…mere prattle without practice.”

These lines from Macbeth brilliantly sums up the place of the Poot-butt Professor in the sweep of history, notwithstanding his ability to bogart his way into the national conversation through bombast and base pretense, compared to the monumental achievements of Barack Obama he is, “but a walking shadow, a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more.” As for the panegyrics of Chris Hedges, and other white leftist intellectuals, ‘it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


*** My  analytical essay on Shakespeare can be found in the anthology “Othello: New Essays by Black Writers,” edited by Dr. Mathili Kaul, former President of the Shakespeare Society of Cambridge England.  Professor and Chair, Department of English, University of New Deli, India.  Published by Howard University Press.

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 22, 2011

Civilization Or Savagery?

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Playthell on politics with tags , , on April 24, 2011 by playthell

Contemplating Questions from the Audience

Why we should Support President Obama and the Democrats

When Sister Betty Dopson called me about participating in a debate evaluating the performance of President Barack Obama I told her that I would welcome a chance to engage this question with thoughtful black folks under certain conditions.  Then I wrote the conditions out and posted them on Face Book.

The rules are simple.  Our debate must center on politics and policy; not religion, philosophy, ideology, our hopes and dreams, or political fantasies.  If these issues were going to be the topics of discussion I felt she would fare far better by calling Drs. Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson; who are popping up everywhere these days bashing Obama; spouting mumbo jumbo masquerading as wisdom.

The increasing theatricality of this duos performance is creating a sensation on the political chittlin circuit; the boys are really rocking the house.  One learned friend and well seasoned soldier in the struggle said he checked them out recently and they looked like a high brow rap duo.  So I decided to give them stage names befitting their act: “Professor Longhair and Chilly D. Knowledge, the Hip Hop Philosophers!” Professor Longhair has already recorded a rap album, which hastened his departure from Harvard Yard, from whence he fled to Princeton, one of the whitest towns in the world; in spite of George Curry’s futile pleas for him to spend some time at a black college.

Chilly D Knowledge has not only publicly expressed his desire to record a rap record, he is subject to break out in a rap routine right in the middle of an academic discourse. I’ve witness his act on more than one occasion.  Since Fess Longhair has called for critiques of President Obama, I decided to give them a taste of their own medicine and critique them!

Alas, after subjecting their pugnacious polemics to rigorous examination, I don’t find that these Hip-Hop philosopher’s critique of President Obama makes much more sense than the nonsense routinely spouted by other rappers …which, needless to say, portends disaster!  If that’s the best we can expect from our most highly trained minds, we are in big trouble indeed!  But I am getting ahead of the story; I shall have more to say about these two Ivy League trained rappers later.

I have come before you this afternoon to talk about the President’s politics and policy, viewed within the context of the political realities of American society at the moment.  Something usually left out and ignored by Obama’s critics.  They simply select those facts that fit their ideological predispositions devoid of context; yet facts mean nothing without the proper context.

Let me begin by offering a working definition of what I mean by politics and policy.  By politics I am referring to the process by which human beings create and shape relationships of power.  And power is the ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it; the ability to get others to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it, and the ability to get the most and the best of whatever there is to get.  Last, but certainly not least: Politics is the art of the possible!

If it is not possible it is not politics and belongs in the realm of religion, philosophy or wishful thinking!  Areas of debate that I have vowed to avoid.  However just for the record: As a human being I too have hopes, dreams and fantasies. But I know how to distinguish them from reality. Unfortunately, the political ideologues and religious mystics cannot.   It is this distinction that I wish to make clear today.

By policy, I am referring to the choices the Obama Administration has made in addressing major problems – foreign and domestic.  I am speaking to the President’s Agenda, his vision for the nation and the world, as expressed in presidential edicts, legislative initiatives and international diplomacy. I have followed his presidency closely; in fact I have posted over 150 essays online analyzing all of his major moves in foreign and domestic policy.

It is as if I have been looking over his shoulder while also watching the opposition’s hand in the mirror. The central question I seek to address today is whether President Obama has played the horrendous hand he was dealt upon entering the Oval Office as well as it could be played under the circumstances – the realpolitique.

My admiration for the brilliance of the President’s vision, and his performance in trying to convert his vision into the policy of the US government and the law of the land, is unambiguous and unequivocal.  Barack Hussein Obama is the most humane, talented and visionary President in the history of the United States!  And he is the most progressive Chief Executive who is likely to occupy the Oval Office in our lifetime.  Hence I believe we must seize this moment and rally round the president and the democrats…the consequences of the Tea Party taking over the government are too horrifying to contemplate.

On the other hand, I am convinced that if we restore the People’s House – where all revenue bills originate – to the Democratic Party, and reelect the President, we will witness a neo-Periclean age in America!  Like the rule of Pericles during the golden age of ancient Greece, with a Democratic Congress supporting him, President Obama’s second term would be characterized by a halcyon era of public building and radical but humane restructuring of the American economy so that we would again lead the world in economic productivity and technological innovation.

Our lives would also be immeasurably enhanced by a flourishing of science and the arts.  All this would be made possibly through the agency of the government and paid for from the public purse.   This is anathema to the Republicans, who took the country in a very different direction for eight years. Thus it will require a radical reversal from the course the Republicans have set the country on, and that has caused the President to spend much of the first two years just trying to turn the ship of state around.

That’s why the President is trying his best to repeal the Bush tax cuts, withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cease open ended American involvement in foreign wars.  He wants to invest these resources in rebuilding our nation instead. One need only look at the major themes of Barack Obama’s vision for America in order to recognize what he is about. The President is a visionary, a man with his eyes planted firmly on the prize: and that prize is winning the future. He is a pragmatic technocrat not an ideologue; he is interested in getting things done; not winning name calling contests or esoteric ideological debates.

This is what has gotten him in trouble with the left intelligentsia and many Black Nationalists – who are content with being confined to effete debating societies on the fringe of American political life, with no hope of taking power and actually having to solve real problems.  Sometimes I get the feeling that they would be satisfied if Barack would just haul off and tell those racist right-wing white folks to kiss him where the sun don’t shine, even if he never passed a Bill!  But such people are clueless about the political process; they simply don’t understand how the game goes.  We must not listen to them!

Barack on the other hand is a master of the game; he is a highly intelligent man who does his homework.  A refreshing alternative to George Bush:  Dirty Dick Cheney’s poodle who couldn’t tell his rectum from a hole in the ground!  This President fully comprehends the issues.  For instance, Barack clearly understands that much of the unemployment problem is structural rather than cyclical.

Hence the real answer to the employment problem in the short term is to use the government as employer of last resort and put people to work rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, while fully funding our scientific community to conduct the research and development that will create the new economy and produce the jobs of the future.

That’s what the stimulus bill was all about.  Although Paul Krugman – a Nobel Laureate in Economics, Princeton Professor and New York Times columnist – argued the stimulus should have been twice as large, and history has proved him right, the Republicans are still using it against the President, even among people his measures  has helped.  But Barack did the best he could with the Congress refusing to add more.

Further evidence that the president has his eye on the future can be found in the fact that he has placed the highest priority on educational excellence and is willing to fully fund a system that can dramatically raise the level of educational achievement.  Nobody knows better than him the value of a great education – indeed he and our First Lady are the quintessential examples of what a great education can do.

Thus their very presence in the public eye is an inspiration to millions of American youths who were not born to wealthy or influential families. The President also understands that some of our brightest minds are born into poor families, and he knows that in order for our country to compete with the rest of the world – especially the emerging Asian countries – we are going to have to make a first class education available to all of our children.

This is of special importance to African Americans, who desperately need all of the help we can get in the matter of education!   Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office is the only thing that prevents the Republicans from further defunding public education in favor of a voucher system that will fund private segregated schools with public money.  He is trying his best, against odds that often appear insurmountable, to transform his vision for educating American children into government policy.


Yet when discussing policy choices one must be ever mindful that there is an opposition party, the Republicans aka the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party! -  and their leadership vowed from the outset that their paramount goal will be  to see to it that Barack Obama’s presidency fails, forcing him to leave office in defeat and disgrace after one term.  They would then nullify every gain the American people have made under President Obama; as they have already begun to do in the Republican controlled House of Representatives where they are refusing to fund the new health initiative, the Evironmental Protection Agency and the new financial regulation laws aimed at curbing the excesses of Wall Street.

Then these radical, racist, White Nationalists would use Barack’s failure as irrefutable evidence that no black man, or half black man sired by a full blooded African, can manage the affairs of the most powerful nation in the world – even if he and his African father both earned graduate degrees from Harvard.  The widely respected right wing pundit Patrick J. Buchanan has already said as much in his vociferous criticism of the President’s appointment of Justice Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  He insisted that she was unqualified in spite of having graduated with honors  from Yale, the nation’s most respected school for the study of Constitutional Law.

For most of the history of this country it was taken as a scientific certainty that mixed blood people were inferior to both full blooded whites and blacks.  In the 19th century both black and white intellectuals believed this.  This conception of mixed race people was unique to the world.  Everywhere else – Africa, Asia and Latin America – people who are mixed with Europeans, Arabs or Asians were considered inferior to whites but superior to blacks.

As Dr. Renee C. Romano shows in her book, “Race Mixing, a seminal text published by the Harvard University Press, all through the twentieth century it was considered a disgrace for a white woman to bear a black man’s child.  It was almost invariably viewed as evidence of a character flaw or mental illness in the white woman.

Given this history, need I argue that if Barack should go down in flames and disgrace it would be an existential disaster for the status of all African peoples in the estimation of a racist world; a world that  has justified our oppression for centuries on the argument that we are inherently inferior to the lighter races in intellectual capacity. This is an inconvenient truth for the rabid black Obama bashers.  Some folks might even view their reckless rhetoric as evidence that blacks are so confused if just left alone they will destroy each other on their own.

But the White Nationalist are not going to leave it to misguided blacks, they are determined to do all they can to destroy the Presidency of Barack Obama too.  The brilliant comedian Wanda Sykes put it best when she observed at the White house Correspondent’s Dinner last year, some of the things said by Republican politicians and their shills at the FOX Television Network, and WABC AM – the White Apartheid Broadcast company, border on treason.  But they hide behind the First Amendment.

Thus the government can do nothing to restrain them as the sow discord among the American people for a living. The media corporations employ them for as long as they can because they get great ratings. But considering the potential these guys have for destabilizing the country by inciting the untutored mob to irrational acts, these media corporations are proof of Karl Marx’s observation: “A true capitalist will sell a hangman the rope to hang him with if he thinks he can make a profit!

The unceasing racist invective hurled at this President, and the mounting death threats are unprecedented.  Barack’s picture is the favorite target used by white militiamen, and the Secret Service says they are getting four times the volume of assassination threats they have received for every other President!  I have publicly accused Sean Hannity of trying to get the President assassinated.

You can witness it on YouTube, when me and the activist media watchdog Scott Pellegrino tried to crash the “Talkers Magazine” convention and disrupt the presentation of a “Lifetime Achievement” Award to Bob Grant – the father of the present generation of racist verbal arsonists!  I notice that all of the Barack’s critics were missing in action on that one, when he was only a candidate.  And they are still missing in action now that he is President, when it comes to opposing or critiquing the verbal arsonists who launch barrages of racist lies about him every day!

These media myth makers are creating a separate reality, fabricating “facts” that don’t exist.  They are confusing a lot of people who simply are not paying close enough attention, or have the basic knowledge of the issues to distinguish fact from fiction.  One wise wag has observed: “It is not what you don’t know that is most dangerous; it is what you think you know that is untrue which constitutes the greatest danger!”

This is why racist right wing verbal arsonist like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others of their ilk must be opposed.  They are spreading dangerous disinformation, and it is the responsibility of progressive intellectuals and artist to respond with counter-statements.

As Harold Cruse pointed out nearly fifty years ago, the mass media can be as formidable a weapon as the military in persuading people to do one’s bidding.  In America today, where the masses are addicted to bread and circuses, the comedians can play a powerful role in parodying and ridiculing the Republican reactionaries. Yet while Saturday Night Live has been great at this, Wanda Sykes is the only black stand-up comedian that I’ve see who is ridiculing some of these characters on the right with brilliance, candor, and even militancy.

She riotously funny too; which is of critical importance, because as Mao Tse Tung pointed out during the great revolution that ushered China into the modern world: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.  In order for art to be effective as propaganda, it must first succeed as art!”  This is why we need our greatest artists in the fight.

I was waiting for a killer routine from the gifted comic Chris Rock. But then I saw him on Oprah yesterday.  After telling us how brilliant she thinks Mr. Rock’s commentaries on the News are, the Queen of Empty Headed Chatter asked him about three big stories in the news: Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump, and the Tea Party.   It didn’t take long to recognize the sad fact that the killer routine that could reduce the Republican icons to cartoon characters, figures of ridicule, would not be forthcoming from this comic. The rappers could also be a powerful weapon against right-wing reactionaries; with their vast popularity among youths of all colors and nationalities… but they are too busy selling wolf tickets to each other.

Therefore the responsibility of repudiating the dangerous propaganda of the right wing Republican shills in the media – print and broadcast – falls to the writers and intellectuals,  who are best equipped to do it.  But the three most vocal black intellectuals – Drs. Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson and Boyce Watkins, all pampered professors in rich white Universities – are avid Obama bashers!  Instead of opposing and exposing the lies of the Tea Party Republicans, who are out to crush us all and strangle our dreams, they appear to be competing with racist far right fanatics to see who can dog Barack the most!  Right now, as far as I can see, they are running neck and neck!

It matters but little that the Tea Party is coming from the right, and the black Obama bashers are coming from the left, when we look at the results it is a distinction without a difference!  As the black numbers wizard Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist with the New York Times, recently pointed out: If all other groups vote just as they did in the last election, but ten percent of black people stay home, Barack will lose the next election and the Republicans will assume the reins of power.

Hence the black Obama bashers will have aided the Tea Party takeover of the government.  And while they will suffer little from the fallout in their plush academic enclaves, removed from the turmoil that will follow, unemployed working class and formerly middle class public sector workers in general, and black people in particular, will face a cavalcade of horrors!

Right-wing mass media has been a critical force in manufacturing and shaping the rage against President Obama amongst racist economically insecure working and middle class whites; the people who make up the core of the Tea Party.  Some of their propaganda has even influenced the opinions of a segment of the African American population too.  KRS1 and some other clueless rappers have been distributing a video produced by right-wing propagandists for instance.

I fell out of favor with a friend in Atlanta because she objected to my writing a commentary calling Glen Beck a con-man who was inciting mentally instable whites to violence.  She wrote me a scathing letter telling me that Beck was “A man of God who was speaking for all Americans who think the country was heading in the wrong direction.”   I cannot repeat what I told her in the House of God, but suffice it to say that we unfriended each other on Facebook and have not spoken since!

The right-wing media have a fertile field to work in, since well over 50% of white folks voted against Barack.  These disgruntled whites have been outraged about their loss ever since.  They remind me of the “Lost Cause” crowd among white southerners in the years following their defeat in the Civil War.  In fact their language and the language the Lost Cause fanatics employed are similar: “We want our country back!”

They talk as if the United States has been occupied by a foreign power.  I am convinced that millions of white Americans feel a physical revulsion every time they see a picture of the President or the first family chilling in the White House; even as beautiful as they are.   In a country where millions of citizens were not blinded by racism they would be the model of the family that every parent dreamed their kids would have.  Cause there may be bugs on some of those Washington mugs…but ain’t no flies on the Obama’s.


Yet, despite all of the hatred flowing from the right-wing media, and the wish washy support from the left, Barack Obama has amassed an impressive record of achievement that will be given high marks by future historians.  The day after he won the Presidency I presented a commentary on WBAI raising the question “What Is To Be Done?”  I said the two most pressing problems that commanded the immediate attention of the new president was stabilizing the crumbling world financial structure, which would stave off a devastating economic collapse, and negotiating a New Nuclear Arms agreement with Russia.

Barack handled both of these monumental problems with the intelligence and grace of an experienced Statesman.  Watching him perform I had the same feeling I felt when I first saw him speak at the Democratic convention that nominated John Kerry.  I was so impressed that I sat right down and wrote a commentary titled “Hope Is Reborn In Bean Town,” in which I argued that he was the future of the Democratic party!  Four years later he was President of the United States! And he has met every challenge in the same way, with great intelligence and exceptional judgment, as he won one victory after another on behalf of the American people.

Of all the spurious and unfair charges leveled against the President, the most bizarre is the charge from the black Obama bashers that “He ain’t done nothing for black people!”  My first response to this bogus charge is to say to the accusers: “You define your humanity too narrowly.”  I am a homo Saipan, an inhabitant of planet earth, a citizen of the United States of America, a senior citizen, and a black man who is a member of the working class.

Hence anything the President does to save the planet is good for me.  Anything he does that strengthens America is good for me.  Anything he does that helps senior citizens is good for me.  Anything he does that benefits the working class is good for me.  And they are good for all black people.  Since the last time I looked, like the 18th century scientist Benjamin Banneker described himself to Thomas Jefferson: “I am a negro of the deepest dye.”

Anything the President does for women, Like the Lilly Ledbetter Act for instance, which makes it illegal to pay a female worker less money for the same work as a male, is a Godsend for the black community, because most black children are living in female headed households.  Thus, like most of the benefits from the President’s legislative victories, black people benefit as much or more than any other group of Americans.

Anything the President does to make health care more affordable, or extend the age under which children can stay on their parent’s health insurance is good for the black community. Removing banks from the college loan business and thus reducing the payments on student loans is good for us. Drastically reducing the disparity between the penalties for powder and crack cocaine helps the black community!

The 20 billion dollar clean-up fund for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico helps the blacks who make their living in the sea food business.  Approving the payout of 1.5 billion to black farmers for past discrimination against them by the Agricultural Department obviously benefits black people.  When president Obama saved the Auto-industry he saved three million jobs in the mid-west, many of them held by black workers who would have been reduced to poverty!

Barack also signed an executive order – “The President’s Initiative on Historically Black colleges and Universities” – which increased government aid to these critical institutions by 100 million dollars and rescued many of them from bankruptcy.  This will save more than a few of our future scholars and leaders.  The President has also has resurrected the moribund EEOC, and doubled its budget!  Plus he appointed a brilliant black attorney to head the Justice Department, which explains why these white militiamen can’t take a crap without the FBI watching!

Alas, instead of applause for a job well done under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, the President has been called everything but a child of God by fire breathing racist and free market zealots on the right, and petulant disgruntled ideologues on the left.  He is always judged by the things he has been unable to achieve rather than his spectacular successes.

Even his humanitarian mission on behalf of the beleaguered Libyan rebels is being painted as an imperialist attack on an African nation by the left and clueless Black Nationalists.  Before he acted much of the left was calling for him to aid the rebels.  By the way, I opposed the mission; but not for the reasons given by these factions.  I opposed it because we can’t afford it.

We cannot continue to expend American blood and treasure in foreign wars attempting to reshape the world in our image.  I believe that we should reduce the vast military budget by half and scrap the idea that we are the planetary policemen.  Which is a worldview anchored in the dangerous and bogus doctrine of “American Exceptionalism!”

In fact, I think we should follow the Chinese example and quit meddling in the internal affairs of other nations.  But as a member of a minority in a racist country whose people have faced the possibility of genocide, and my Native American ancestors were the victims of genocidal treatment by the European settlers who became white Americans, I can never be against intervention wherever there is the possibility of genocide.  I say send in the Marines to stop it!  Preferably with UN sanction.

However it has not escaped my notice that many of the same characters, who are denouncing the humanitarian mission in Libya, are the same people who denounced President Clinton for not preventing the genocide in Rawanda.    Even though the only way that genocidal attack could have been prevented was by attacking the would be perpetrators before they launched their attack. Had this happened I’m certain that we would have heard the same hue and cry of “imperialist aggression” on the part of the US.

Unfortunately the subject of American foreign policy is too complex for me to tackle within the time frame allotted to me.  But I have written at length on the foreign policy of the Obama administration, and I have written nine pieces analyzing the complexities of the present uprising in the Arab world.  My three thousand word commentary, “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of folly,” published on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and presented over WBAI, now reads like prophecy. They are all posted on my blog. But if you are interested in my views on the subject put your questions to me during the Q&A.

It is enough to recognize that the Republicans opposed everything that President Obama has achieved on our behalf.  And these are life enhancing – indeed life saving – achievements.  It does not require a novelist’s imagination to conceptualize how different life would be if the Republicans controlled the white house and the Congress.

All you need do is look at the savagery of the so-called “Prosperity Budget” of Congressman Paul Ryan to understand that the choice in the coming presidential elections is a choice between civilization and savagery. I believe that any black person who advises other black people not to work and vote for Barack Obama and the democrats is a fool, a charlatan, or a traitor to their race!


A Speech by Playthell Benjamin

Presented to the Committee Against Media Offensive to African People

Queens New York City, April 24, 2011

Barack Obama’s Record as a State Senator and US Senator

During the first -8- eight years of his elected service Senator Obama has written 890 bills and co-sponsored another 1096. Now, I would list them all but Obama’s list is simply too long, so I’ll mainly categorize them.
He either wrote or co-sponsored the following as a State Senator:
233 bills regarding healthcare reform,
125 bills on poverty and public assistance,
112 crime fighting bills,
97 economic bills,
60 human rights and anti-discrimination bills,
21 ethics reform bills,
15 gun control,
6 veteran’s affairs and many others.

His first year in the U.S. Senate, he authored 152 bills and co-sponsored another 427. These included:
**the Coburn-Obama Government Transparency Act of 2006 – became law,
**The Lugar-Obama Nuclear Non-proliferation and Conventional Weapons Threat Reduction Act, – became law,
**The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, passed the Senate,
**The 2007 Government Ethics Bill, – became law, and

**The Protection Against Excessive Executive Compensation Bill, In committee


Barack’s Accomplishments As President


On the environment:

* Included funding for “green” jobs in the stimulus bill

* Initiated first steps to develop a legally-binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide

* Dedicated more than $60 billion for clean energy

* Instituted “cash for clunkers,” getting more fuel efficient cars on the street

* Acknowledges reality of climate change and his desire to work on an international policy like Kyoto

* Emphasized the value of science (not political opinion) within the EPA

* Allocated $2 billion in stimulus cash for advanced batteries systems (for automobiles)

* Declared (via EPA) carbon dioxide a threat to health, the first step towards regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act

* Funded Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which gives $2.8 billion to cities

* Put over 2 million acres of wilderness, thousands of miles of river and a host of national trails and parks under federal protection, the largest conservation effort in 15 years
* Funding a $475 million initiative to restore and clean the Great Lakes

On healthcare:

* Overturned the federal funding ban for stem cell research

* Instituted better standards for comparative research in medicine and an agency to handle this

* Added staff to the FDA and brought back emphasis on science

* Allocated over $1 billion to the National Institutes of Health, whose budget Bush let stagnate

* Eliminated funding for abstinence-only education

* Signed an executive order repealing the “Mexico City policy” or “global gag rule” that withheld U.S. funds from organizations that discuss or provide family planning services abroad

* Announced US would resume contributions to the UN population fund for family planning and more than double the previous contribution made in 2001

* Appropriated $19 billion in the stimulus package to help implement an electronic medical record system

* Set aside billions in budget to overhaul the health care system

* Enacted Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization, providing healthcare to 11 million children

* Established 65% COBRA subsidy for 7 million unemployed Americans

* Allocated $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs

* Provided $87 billion to states to bolster their Medicaid programs during the downturn

* Increased funding for urban HIV/AIDS Prevention and Awareness

On Education, Equality, Public Safety, Families, etc.:

* Expressed a desire to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

* Described the Defense of Marriage Act as “unfair” and “discriminatory” and said they supported it being overturned

* Includes atheists in his definition of Americans

* Extended tax credits for mothers to return to college, for tuition, and for college textbook purchases

* Has agreed to make the visitors’ lists to the White House public

* Signed executive order requiring Guantanamo to be closed within 1 year and allocated funds/personnel for that purpose

* Included provision in stimulus legislation that, for the first time, supported the ideas of Net Neutrality-like non-discrimination and openness for the Internet

* The administration demonstrated a new commitment to fighting for change on the UN Human Rights Council by announcing it will run for a seat next year, reversing the Bush administration boycott

* Announced that the U.S. will support a United Nations declaration urging nations to decriminalize homosexuality

* Created office of Urban Policy

* Gave Department of Justice $2 billion for Byrne Grants, which funds anti-gang and anti-gun task forces (cut during Bush years)

* Allocated $5 billion for early learning programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and programs for children with special needs

* Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act to protect Americans from unfair and deceptive credit card practices

* Enacted the Making Homes Affordable Program

* Boosted credit flow to small businesses

* Increased focus on funding for high speed rail

* Funded the Community Oriented Police program (COPS)
* Appointed first Hispanic justice to the Supreme Court and most qualified Supreme Court candidate in decades

On foreign affairs (see link for more complete list):

* Secured $5 billion in aid commitments “to bolster [Pakistan's] economy and help it fight terror and Islamic radicalism”

* Foreign affairs experts insist that Obama’s engagement with the Muslim world has been at once remarkable and under-appreciated…”He has been able to dramatically change America’s image in that region”

* Led global response to the economic crisis through the G20, obtaining commitments of $1.1 trillion to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable economies


Less Preachers and More Policy Wonks!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on April 13, 2011 by playthell

Dr William Julius Wilson: Sociologist

Reflections on the Black Agenda Special

Last Sunday MSNBC aired a special on “The Black Agenda” hosted by Ed Shultz, who is rapidly emerging as the foremost advocate of working class interests in the commercial media.  The usual suspects from the black community were called upon once again to plead the cause of African Americans before the nation.  Although there were a variety of black voices – some would say a cacophony – the stars were a small group of preachers and philosophers.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were the elder statesman of this group, but Drs. Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West were the brightest stars of the moment.  As I analyzed the composition of these panels, I knew the chances were better than even that the discussion would soon degenerate into a tower of Babel.  Alas Dr. West and Rev. Sharpton did have a smack down before it was over.  I thought they were about to slap each other for a minute!

Observing the panels tasked with discussing the economic plight of the black community, and what social policy options the government should adopt to deal with such nagging problems as sub-standard education, out of wedlock births and the ‘Prison Industrial complex,” which is the term of art for the high incidence of incarceration among young black men, I wondered why Dr. Dyson and West were there at all.

Did we not have enough preachers dominating the discourse among black Americans already?  For the last half century the discourse about the fate of black Americans have been monopolized by clerical voices. Martin Luther King, Leon Sullivan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan are all men of the cloth.

Hence the thoughtful observer is compelled to wonder: In a discussion about policy matters in the Twenty First Century do we really need to hear from a Princeton trained philosopher, who is also an ordained Baptist minister and a Princeton Professor of Religion who talks like a Baptist preacher – such as Dyson and West?  Well, if I had been putting the panel together neither would have been on it.  As a former Professor of Afro-American history, I am well aware of the historic and contemporary importance of the black church, but it is high time for a separation of the affairs of church and state in the black community.

Some preachers, like Jackson and Sharpton, are able to clearly separate the two realms. And by virtue of their long history in the struggle, where they participated in bringing about monumental changes, they have earned an honored place in any important discussion on the present condition and collective strivings of black Americans.   Yet if we are to find solutions to these intractable problems we need less rhapsodizing about our hopes and dreams, and more strategizing about realizable policy options. This means, of course, that we have to begin to choose spokesman on the basis of expertise rather than their public relations profile.

If I’d had my druthers Cornell West would have been replaced with William Julius Wilson, Professor of social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the world’s foremost authority on the problems of the postindustrial city and the plight of the black poor. And Michael Eric Dyson would have been replaced by Dr. Bernard Anderson, author of the economic section in the annual Urban League’s “State Of Black America” report.

Anderson holds a PhD in economics from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the foremost authority in the world on the position of black Americans in the American economy…especially black workers.  Dr. Anderson began his career with a land mark scholarly study “The Negro in the Public Utility Industry” which was published over forty years ago.  He has written many scholarly papers.

Reigning Authority on Black Economic Issues!

At a recent conference on the economic crisis in America Dr. Anderson, now a Professor in the Wharton school stressed several critical points: The depth and breadth of the economic crisis has worsened, increasing racial disparities, and threatening to wipe out gains made towards reducing those disparities in the 1990s. The unemployment crisis reflects a structural change in our economy.The link between job creation and economy growth has been weakened. Economic growth no longer results in job creation. Thus in recent recessions we have experienced the phenomenon of “jobless recovery.”  Direct public job creation by the government is imperative to economic recovery.

Dr. William Julius set out to bring a new understanding of the causes of urban poverty and its influence on the disorganization of the family and other deviant behavior among the “underclass,” which is the fashionable term for what Karl Marx called the “lumpenproletariat.”   I first met Bernard Anderson during the mid1960’s when we were both working with the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan in developing the Opportunities Industrialization Centers in Philadelphia.

Bernie was writing his PhD thesis at the time, and I was developing a “Minority History” curriculum, which was adopted by the Philadelphia Board Of Education under the leadership of Dr. Connie Clayton, then spread to 100 cities through OIC.  Many of these ideas would find their way into the formation of the first full fledged degree granting Black Studies department in America, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

It was in Amherst that I first met Bill Wilson in 1969; he was on the committee that interviewed me and recommended me for a Professorship, although I was only twenty seven and a college dropout!  Way back then Dr. Wilson was driven by a desire to understand the role that social forces like class, education, geography, cultural values and racial discrimination, played in the persistence of widespread poverty among black Americans in the world’s most affluent society.

Over the last few decades Professor Wilson has written a series of scholarly books, each a seminal text in the field of race relations i.e. color and class in America. In these in-depth cutting edge works Dr. Wilson has instructed the nation on the problems on race and poverty in American cities: “Racism, Power and Privilege,”  “The Declining significance of Race,”  “The Truly Disadvantaged,”  “When Work Disappears,”  “Sociology and the Public interests,” etc.

When compared to the weighty works of William J. Wilson and Bernard Anderson, the writings of Cornell West and Michael Dyson is light weight pretentious prattle!  Yet even if one finds the writings of these men profound; they do not address serious policy questions with any depth.  On the other hand both Wilson and Anderson are eminent scholars who have been seriously studying these problems for nearly half a century!!!!!

Need I say more?  While charismatic leaders are an essential element in building mass transformative movements, in order to succeed one must also have able theoreticians to properly assess the situation, identify the critical problems, and devise systematic solutions based upon the prevailing relationship of forces.  To accomplish this we need fewer preachers – sacred or secular – and more hardnosed policy wonks!


Playthell Benjamin
Harlem New York
April 13, 2011

On Dr. West And Comrade Dix

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on April 11, 2011 by playthell

A Modern Neo-Leftist Minstrel Show?

Some Reflections on the Black Left

Although I had read, met and talked to the ubiquitous Dr. Cornel West on several occasions – and even spanked him in print on three occasions – I had never heard of Carl Dix until I began to get requests from shills for the Revolutionary Communist Party posing as interested fans of my radio show “Round Bout Midnight,” imploring me to have him on.  When I asked them to send me some information on Comrade Dix I got a torrent of propaganda from the RCP.

After quickly perusing the pamphlets my first reaction was to throw them all in the trash and go on about my business; since communist theory had proven not to be the science communist claimed it is, and I once believed it was. Furthermore, the proto-typical communist society – the Soviet Union – had been thrown in the trash bin of history by the people who had lived under it for half a century!  But because I am not a knee jerk anti-communist, in the Pavlovian way most Americans have been successfully programmed to react upon mention of the word; plus I believe in giving the devil his due, I carefully read the propaganda tracts……and then quickly threw it in the trash!

Right away I could see that the most impressive thing about these people was not their intellectual grasp of the world situation – I expect that from any communist worth his salt – or their elaborate, albeit mechanistic and dogmatic, critique of capitalist society.  What impressed me the most about the RCP was their total lack of any sense of reality!

To begin with, anybody who does not know that the best way to insure that you will not be taken seriously by anybody except a lunatic fringe in American society if you label yourself a “revolutionary Communist,” has probably been living in a cave in the Australian Outback and can’t figure out what time the 3:15 comes in. That’s the most charitable explanation for this clueless communist presenting himself as someone that thoughtful people will take seriously in 21st century America politics.

Furthermore there is an outbreak of religious revivalism sweeping the country – with blacks and Hispanics in the vanguard. Thus standing up and dissing God from the podium, the way Comrade Dix is inclined to do, reduce the already scant appeal he has with what he defines as his core constituency.  In America communist and communism was so successfully demonized and discredited in the twentieth century, that identifying oneself as a Communist today is like confessing to child molestation in the public mind…if not worse: a godless blasphemer!

Hence I was naturally hesitant, suspecting that a conversation with the shadowy Comrade Dix would probably be a bit bizarre, and perhaps more than a bit of a bore.  So I dragged my feet on the matter and put it on the back burner.  After all, it was a weekly show and there were so many fascinating things to discuss in the world of politics and culture.  Especially since I was often partnered with Dr. Gerald Horne, whom I believe to be the most versatile and prolific historian presently writing in America …and perhaps the most learned man in the nation on world politics.

However the call for Dix’s appearance by party apparatchiks, who consider him a wise man with a vital message, continued unabated.  Communist are relentless in pursuing their agenda once they target you – something the great Afro-American labor Leader and democratic socialist A. Phillip Randolph learned early in the last century. This realization led Randolph to break with the Communist Party, although he had previously considered them an ally.

I guess I was a natural target since I was on the only non-college radio station in New York where a self-confessed communist revolutionary could express his views uncensored.  So, just to be rid of them, and because I had begun to suspect it might be interesting to debate with an articulate intellectual anachronism, I invited Comrade Dix onto the show.  Just as I expected he turned out to be an impassioned ideologue who thinks in terms of Marxist clichés.

Aside from the gravitas of his argument, which was not wholly without merit, his ideas about how to get his message across were not significantly different from those employed by the Bolsheviks who made the Russian Revolution in 1917!  The guy actually thought he could indoctrinate a mass audience and direct a revolutionary movement with a little obscure newspaper.  As I recall the on-air encounter it was all I could do to resist the temptation to reduce him to a figure of ridicule.  But as I was taken by his sincerity I could not bring myself to do it.

I thought of what the great political theorist and cultural historian Harold Cruse told Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed and me back in 1967.  Committed to a Maoist conception of armed revolution at the time, we were mightily distressed by an essay analyzing the role of mass media in shaping mass consciousness in Cruse’s path breaking book on black political and cultural thought, “The Crisis Of the Negro Intellectual.” Cruise had argued that in the geo-political circumstances of the USA, the mass media was as formidable weapon of the ruling class as the police power of the state.

Professor Harold Cruse

The Premiere Theoretician of the Left

When we confronted him point blank with the question: “Do you think a revolution in the USA is possible or not?”  Harold thought for a moment and said with a wry smile:” Sure I believe a revolution is possible…if you can figure out a way to take over or neutralize ABC, NBC and CBS!”  That was over forty years ago, before 24/7 cable Television, talk radio networks and the internet.  So if the mass media was that formidable back in the day, imagine its power of persuasion now.

However there is a silver lining to some of these developments in terms of providing relatively poor and powerless groups with the means to fight back and get their message out – especially the internet! Judging by his presence on You Tube, Comrade Dix and the RCP seem to be coming into the 21st century – although they could use some lessons in video and still picture production.  As Chairman Mao counsels’: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.  In order for art to succeed as propaganda, it must first succeed as art.”  Thus if the RCP posted well produced videos online it would attract more viewers and spark their curiosity.

In any case “The Crisis” is a book that I get the strong impression Comrade Dix either has not read, or is so blinded by Marxist dogma and fantasies of Communist revolution in America he refuses to believe it.  However had the intrepid revolutionary read Professor Cruse’s text there are several things he would understand that he apparently does not.

For instance, his relationship to the even more obscure Bob Avakian appears to mirror the subservience of black communist cadres to white theoreticians that Cruse disdainfully describes in the old Communist Party – which by the way was a far more effective organization.  For one thing they understood the art of politics far better than Comrade Dix appears too.  But more about that later.

Cornell West and Comrade Dix

Plotting the Revolution

Since Dr. Cornel West is academia’s version of a superstar, he is already well known.  Thus there is no need for such an extensive introduction.  The product of an elite Ivy league education, Dr. West moves easily between the campuses of top tier rich white universities and the black community. He is surprisingly unpretentious in his demeanor, and I believe he is sincere in his commitment to building the Beloved Christian community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As an avowed democratic socialist he is devoted to limiting the power of the capitalist class over our lives and livelihoods, a goal that I share.  Despite the fact that, unlike Comrade Dix, Dr. west understands that socialism can only come to America by democratic means, he too is inept at the game of real politics.  Since he and Dix appear to prefer abstract theorizing to engaging the actual political realities that presently exists in the US, they make a good team on the talk fest circuit…a veritable movable feast.

Ordinarily I don’t pick fights with Marxist, because aside from the fact that they are true believers not unlike religious fanatics, I see the fascist minded white racist as a far greater danger. Unlike Dr. West and Comrade Dix – who apparently think President Obama and the Democrats pose the greatest danger!  However, when these Marxist prophets of perpetual gloom and doom began to spread their nihilistic views to the greater black, Hispanic and student communities, then they must be challenged and critiqued.  This is the raison d’être of this essay.

Except for their affection for engaging in abstract analysis – which strikes me as the intellectual equivalent of a group jerk off session – the elegant, dramatic and somewhat eccentric Dr. West, and the droll dumpy Comrade Dix, is about as different as one can imagine.  And they come off almost like cartoon characters – Mutt and Jeff for instance; or a more intellectual version of the comedy team Stump and Stumpy.  While I am not a Marxist – I have been off that drug for over thirty years now – I am not one of those fools who insist that Marxist revolutionaries have been wrong about everything.

Only an ignoramus or a charlatan would deny that the Marxist Revolutions – along with the rise of African peoples from colonial slavery and apartheid both in Africa and the Atlantic Diaspora – were the most dynamic transformative movements of the twentieth century. The most impressive African liberations struggles were also led by Marxist, with the struggle in Portuguese Africa ranking right up at the top with the most impressive revolutionary struggles of the last century.  And I consider the great Chinese Revolution to be the most impressive social transformation in human history!

In spite of attempts to minimize this event by simple minded American Exceptionalists, it was a marvelous example of human will and ingenuity.  Mao Tse Tung’s leadership of that protracted struggle of hundreds of millions of Chinese was an elegant combination of iron discipline, art and science, penning complex theoretical treatises with scientific accuracy and poetic language – directing the revolutionary masses by culling proverbs from Chinese culture and employing them as if they were scientific axioms.  He may well have been the best ever in the use of slogans to deliver complex theoretical concepts to the masses: “A revolutionary must swim among the people like a fish in the sea;”  “Imperialism is a collusus with feet of clay” etc.  His use of the graphic metaphor was no less powerful: “The atomic bomb is a paper tiger.”

Chairman Mao

The Great Helmsman

However as Harold Cruse argued, Marxism, which is a 19th century European ideology, was never a really good fit for American society.  This is a question of sociology.  The United States is a far more multi-racial and multi-ethnic society than the Russian society which made the first Communist Revolution, an event that served as the model for American communist. In the US the relationship between class, ethnicity and race created a far different social dynamic than was the case in Russia.

For instance, Cruse points out that ones position in the American class structure was determined more by group status than personal qualities like talent and diligence, but the Constitution only recognized the rights of individuals, it was one’s group status that determined the individuals life chances.  Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the father of American sociology, had observed this phenomenon in the 1920’s, when black intellectuals were becoming enamored with Marxist ideology.

Although Dr. DuBois was as enraged by the oppressive racial caste system in America as any communist militant, he concluded that black and white workers joining hands to make a communist revolution was a pipe dream.  Because, as the learned Doctor pointed out, white workers were far more likely to identify with millionaires of their own race and ethnic group than unite with black workers to overthrow them. This was a prescient observation that does much to explain the participation of working class whites in the Tea Party Movement today.  Herein lay the Achilles heel of what passes for critical analysis with Dr. West and Comrade Dix.

While they blather on ad-nuseum about the short comings of President Obama and the Democrats – with Dr, West often rolling his eyes and mugging for the audience like a minstrel clown – these two ideological iconoclasts have little to say about the nature of the opposition they are up against.  To listen to them talk you would think that President Obama really is “Barack the Magic Negro,” and all he has to do is wave his magic wand and make all our dreams come true. Yet whether they actually believe this or not makes little difference in the way they discuss his policy options; which often strikes me as a burlesque on serious analysis.

When Comrade Dix discusses the president he sometimes becomes so excited he appears to be foaming at the mouth.  His speeches, such as his response to the President’s Father’s Day admonition to black men, are little more than impassioned diatribes in which facts are manipulated like silly putty to create whatever reality that serves his objectives.   He appears to loose his grip on reality as he spews a torrent of invective at the President for challenging black men to man up and act like responsible fathers; stop making babies out of wed lock; committing senseless violence against their communities and get their lessons in school because they “can’t all  be Lil Wayne!”  Well, I live in the Hood, and I think it is sage advice, and much needed at this moment in our history!

“It was bullshit when that comedian Bill Cosby said it; and its bullshit when President Obama says it!” Comrade Dix declared.  Although I wrote a reply to Bill Cosby in the form of an open letter, because I thought he did not sufficiently consider certain critical socio/economic factors in his critique of the black underclass – Lumpen proletariat is the Marxist term of art – I think Comrade Dix is full of shit!

His analysis of the realities facing black youths in this society is every bit as skewered as Bill Cosby’s, and I believe far more dangerous!   Black males are in dire straits, every serious study that considers the hard facts of the matter paint a grim picture.  However it is also true that much of it is self inflicted!  And the advice given by President Obama is exactly what their fathers would tell them…if they are worthy of the name!

If I were a young black or Hispanic person and listened to what Comrade Dix had to say I would conclude that any chance of advancing in this society as a result of hard work, discipline and study was nil.  According to the learned communist cadre my only option is to become a revolutionary. Yet if I concluded that this was too risky a business for the dubious rewards, considering the fact that a communist revolution in America is a very long shot, I might just decide to become an outlaw where my prospects would be much better.  And if I pondered too much over the grim picture that Comrade Dix paints so well, I might just cut my throat.  I know even at my age if I bought the Comrade’s rap hook, line and sinker I’d get up straight away and leap out of my high rise window!


Dr. West’s vision is not so bleak. That’s because as a Christian he is fortified with a heroic optimism based in an unfaltering faith that the Lord will make a way somehow if we keep the faith.  Although I believe that both communism and Christianity are equally fanciful; by far the Christian message is the more hopeful and inspiring.  It is a life enhancing messages that enables the believer to overcome all manner of adversity and keep on keeping on.  It is no accident that Jesse Jackson, a Christian minister whose contribution to the advancement of African Americans is immeasurable, advanced the slogan “keep hope alive!”

Rev Jackson, like Langston Hughes, understood that where there is no hope human beings lose their ability to cope with adversity.   And the message from Comrade Dix is that there is no hope for our youths but to become a communist revolution.  This is what he advocates, not to fight for the visionary programs President Obama is trying desperately to implement; programs that will create the new industries that will create the good jobs in the future.

Perhaps Comrade Dix has not noticed that Communist countries are experiencing economic stagnation too.  In fact the best managed societies in the world, with the highest concern for social welfare and individual freedom, are the democratic socialist societies of Scandinavia.  This is a goal that is within reach fror American society if we conciously choose to take the necissary measures and tax the rich to pay for them.  People will quiclkly learn to love these benefits and demand more; just like social security, unemployment compensation and other socialistic reforms that were inspired by the great depression paved the way for medicare and Medicaid decades later.  This is the only path to real reform in this society.   Of course, Dr. West recognizes this; that’s why he is a Democratic Socialist not a revolutionary communist.

In his zeal to convince young black and Hispanic people that  Communist revolution is their only option Comrade Dix sacrifices context, nuance, and ultimately truth upon the alter of expedience.  Hence his analysis of the life chances of black and Hispanic youths in American society leaves no room for them to envision success in their society; even as immigrants from all over the world flock here because they find it the richest and most open society on earth – a place where they come to realize their dreams.  And this hopeless scenario is accompanied by a dismissal of anyone who attempts to counsel our youths against the negative habits that they have bought into; behavior which will insure that Dix’s grim predictions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While there is undoubtedly some truth in Comrade Dix’s analysis of America’s racist restrictions on the life’s chances of our youths, it is astonishing that Comrade Dix presents this as primarily a question of race rather than class.  Nowhere does he make obvious distinctions. Are the children of the black middle class in just as hopeless a situation?  Are white youths who drop out of school, have out of wedlock babies, and do dope all day likely to succeed in this society?

There is a clear path to the middle class under normal circumstances, when the country is not in an economic recession, and that path is a college education. I have a friend in Atlanta, he is a hero of the civil rights movement and a decorated Viet Nam war hero, he was the poorest person in my high school graduating class but is now by far the richest – a multi-millionaire.  Life for him wasn’t no crystal stair, and he cannot understand why people don’t get it: “You can move from poverty to the middle class just by obtaining a college education!” he always says.

Countless Americans from all backgrounds have travelled this road to Success.  And many black folks did so when there was much less opportunity.  But, alas, an accurate analysis of the racial situation in America is not Comrade Dix’s objective; he is, after all, trying to recruit our youths into a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the American capitalist system.

Therefore any suggestion that a young black or Hispanic person might advance in America by turning off the fucking television, reading books, studying hard, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, obeying the law and making college graduation their top priority – all the things President Obama told them – is presented as a fantasy beyond their reach.

Instead, what Dix believes is a realistic goal to which our youths should commit their lives is spelled out by his leader Bob Avakian in their document laying out a new American constitution:

““In the final analysis, as Engels once expressed it, the proletariat must win its emancipation on the battlefield…It will come to this: we will have to face him in the trenches and defeat him amidst terrible destruction but we must not in the process annihilate the fundamental difference between the enemy and ourselves. We must be able to maintain our firmness of principles but at the same time our flexibility, our materialism and our dialectics, our realism and our romanticism, our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor.”

This is pure fantasy!  Ideological fiddle faddle!  It is a reliable measure of just how removed from reality Comrade Dix and his co-conspirators really are.  As I write 66% of Americans say they are satisfied with the results of the election.  And they were most heavily represented among blue collar white workers!  They think the government is too powerful and they want Republicans to put a brake on the critical reforms President Obama is making which would improve their lives.  And these are the people the RCP are going to make a communist revolution with?

I’d bet that if the American people ever vote for the kind of super state it would require to implement the kind of radical changes Comrade Dix is advocating they are far more likely to choose some uniquely American form of fascism than communism!  Among their target audience of white workers – who comprise the majority of the industrial proletariat – racism will always trump class consciousness.

President Obama won despite these clowns.  While we know that the Republicans have no solutions to the problems that face this country, there is no telling what the response of the ignorant, racist white mob will be when they finally realize this.  These are truly dangerous times and, as the last election demonstrates, any thing can happen. That’s why the only rational strategy for progressives was to support the President and the democrats, but the combined forces of naysayers on the right and the left has defeated the Democrat’s heroic efforts to tackle the critical problems that are leading the nation to ruin.  An astute strategy for the left should have been to try and solidify these gains and press for more.

From what I see comrade Dix is leading our youths down a dead end.   He is trying his best to rob our youths of their dreams and substitute them for his dreams of Communist Revolution. Comrade Dix even has the unmitigated gall to quote Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred,” which was written at a very different time; a time when racial restrictions were so severe they are beyond the wildest imagination of today’s youths.  However I have a different message for our youths, and a different quote from Langston Hughes.  First I’d like to tell the youths: Fuck these naddering nabobs of negativism!  And “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die/ life is like a bird with broken wings /and cannot fly!”

Then I would point to President Obama, the first Lady, and Dr. Cornel West, et al as examples of what they can become.  If the stay sober, set their standards high, and work like hell to achieve their goals.  I don’t know if Comrade Dix is a fool or a hustler – or both – but based on the things he is saying I have no doubt that he is one or the other.

Hence I shall do my best to counter his narrative that cast our youths as dead end kids before they ever attempt to realize their aspirations.  I want them to know that it is far easier to become a doctor, lawyer, scientist, architect, plumber, or President of the USA, than it is to be a successful Communist Revolutionary in America. O want to convince them that hey are not destined to end up a deluded old fool pushing a passé ideology, trying to rob the youths of their dreams!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 11, 2011

On Moral Preachment Vs. Political Realities

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Black Pundits, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on August 7, 2010 by playthell

The Learned Professor West in his Element

A Response To Dr. Cornel West

Anybody who was looking for evidence that history repeats itself need only read my critiques of Dr. Cornel West since the first Bush election – when he thought it was wise to support Ralph Nader over Al Gore.  Well, we all know how that worked out. But let me declare from the outset that I consider Cornel West to be one of the most learned and humane citizens to ever call him self an American, and I agree with him 90% of the time.

As a fellow Democratic Socialist we share the same basic vision and hopes for America.  But from time to time I am forced to part company and criticize his views on a particular question.  In the past we disagreed on his assessment of the character of Dr. WEB Dubois, and the viability of Ralph Nader’s bid for theu presidency and its implications for African American political strategy.  And now I passionately disagree with his assessment of President Obama’s political strategy and policies.  It is this question that I wish to address in the present commentary.

The differences between me and the learned Dr. West derives from our ways of looking at socio/political reality.  Dr. West is a philosopher and theologian, which means he is given to grand mystical musings and philosophical speculations; whereas I rely on the evidentiary rules of the sober historian dispassionately assessing provable facts, and my strategy is determined by the cold realities of the political arena – a heartless place red of tooth and claw where grand speculators, dreamers, preachers and wishful thinkers are devoured like Christians facing the lions in the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome.  In other words Dr. West is a moral scold whose actions are motivated by what he believes is right, no matter what, and I am a political animal who is looking for the best deal I can get because politics is the art of the possible!

It’s all well and good to speak in utopian language about everybody loving each other if your work is in the church, temple. Mosque or synagogue.  There it is sufficient to speak in vague moral platitudes.  Don’t misunderstand me; I too am interested in brotherely love and Christian charity.  But in politics you have to have clearly defined earthly goals and a means of achieving your ends.

Alas in America today prayer and high minded ideals won’t deliver the bacon, this means one must  find a way to successfully put together coalitions in Congress to get the votes you need for your agenda enacted into law. This is about hard nosed bargaining i.e. horse trading….And compromise!  Such is the reality of politics in a participatory democracy.  In our system of government we debate the issues, each side takes their case to the voters, and whoever convinces the majority of the electorate carries the day.  That’s how it’s done.

In view of this reality, Professor West’s observation in the following passage from his recent NPR interview with I Cox makes no sense.

I know my dear brother, President Obama, has a bust of Martin King right there in the Oval Office, but the question is are is he going to be true to who that Martin Luther King, Jr., actually is?  King was concerned about what?  The poor. He was concerned about working people. He was concerned about quality jobs. He was concerned about quality housing. He was concerned about precious babies in Vietnam, the way we ought to be concerned about precious babies in Afghanistan and precious babies in Tel Aviv and precious babies in Gaza. 

“Martin King was fundamentally committed to the least of these. Of course, he was a Christian soldier for justice from the 25th chapter of Matthew. And so more and more black folk tend to be well-adjusted to Obama’s presidency, but does that mean they’re well-adjusted to injustice?  Because we don’t hear our president talking about the new Jim Crow, the prison-industrial complex.”

I am, to say the least, disappointed at this niggling level of analysis from one of our leading critical thinkers and activist public intellectuals.  In whose intrests was the President laboring when he expended loads of political capitol to push a national health care plan through Congress?  Something popular Presidents of both parties have attempted to do and failed since Teddy Roosevelt proposed it over a century ago!  And in whose interests was he laboring when he rammed equal pay for women into law?

Professor West, Pray tell us whose interest he served when he forced BP to establish an open ended fund to clean up the Gulf of Mexico and compesate the victims of the rig blowout, which began with a mandatory deposit of twenty billion dollars?  And this at a time when Republicans were apologizing to the oil execs and criticisizing President Obama’s magnificent deal!

It is the clear task of the intellectual left to educate the public as to the real difference between what President Obama is doing and what the Republicans advocate.  And for African American intellectuals it is an ancestral imperative!Instead we see leading intelectuals on the left, Professor West chief among them, whining about the fact that he cannot instantly address their favorite complaints, no matter that he is dealing with matters that are more important to stability and home and abroad.

Do we really want our President to be bogged down in discussions about “the prison industrial complex?” Just what country does Professor West think he’s in? The last thing on most of the electorate’s mind – black, white or Hispanic – is the plight of convicts. With black and Hispanic communities plagued by murderous criminals and dope fiends, many people believe there should be more prisons!  This writer included!!!

But then, I live in Harlem, while Professor West resides in the pristine lilly white well protected precints of Princetown.  And most white Americans certainly don’t want to hear about how hard convicts are having it when they are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and personally know good law abiding people – friends and family – who have lost the ability to do both.

I voted for Barack Obama, and campaigned for him with my voice, pen and personal efforts.  And he’s doing just what I want him to do.  But then, I voted for a President, not a preacher or protest leader.  The difference between what I expect and what Dr. West longs for is clear from his comment in the Playboy interview, where he wished the President was “more Martin Luther King like.”  This statement, like most of his critiques of the President, reveals that the good Professor is clueless in regard to the type of leadership the present moment requires form the Chief Executive of these United States.

This is not about rethorical moralizing; it’s about the exercise and retention of power  – which is the ability to do what you want when you want to doit, to get others to do what you want when you want to do it, and to get the most, and the best, of what ever there is to get!  Hence we need sober pragmatist who know how to keep their eyes on the prize; who see the world as it is and not how we wish it to be.  Cornel West’s evocation of Dr. King demonstrates that in spite of his prodigious learning he does not understand this fundamental point.

Dr. King was a charismatic revivalist in a mass transformative movement whose objective was to change the moral tenor of American civilization – to persuade racist whites to recognize the error of their ways in race relations and repent.  Hence his training as a theologian and philosopher was, when coupled with his verbal virtuosity as an Afro-American preacher, ideal tools for his task.  But Barack Obama is the President of the USA, a demanding job unlike any other on earth,  for which a different skills set is required.

To begin with, Dr. king did not have to seek the votes of a diverse constituency who are largely non-black in order to keep his position as head of SCLC and “leader” of the Civil Rights Movement.  But Barack Obama does.  Dr. Kings’ objective was to engage in “creative” disruptions of society in order to dramatize his point.  Which is the proper role of outside agitators, but as President Barack is the ultimate insider. So his interest is in maintaining the orderly working of society with as few disruptions as possible.

This explains why revolutionaries so often became staunch law and order advocates once they seize power.  It is in the nature of things.  One’s perspective changes with one’s position in society.  Revolutionaries are totally concerned with disrupting the existing order and seizing power; therefore the tactics they choose are suited to achieving that goal.  But once they succeed in taking power then they have the problem of governing, creating a society more fulfilling to its citizen’s aspirations that the government they overthrew. And that requires a radically different program; in their new role the old tactics are no longer useful.

Barack Obama is tasked with rebuilding the nation from the rubble of eight years of disastrous Republican mismanagement of the nation’s affairs.  It is, to say the least, a Herculean task even if all things remained equal and he received no opposition from the Grand Obstructionist Party. But our President has not been so lucky.  His task is more difficult than that of the Hebrew slaves who were ordered to build bricks with no straw, or that of Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee Alabama a mere generation after slavery  who was tasked with “building buildings in America with no money.”

Since, as Harold Cruse correctly argued, “Americans are anti-historical,’ let me remind the good Professor that when Barack Obama took office the nation’s economy was virtually crumbling around him, and he was presented with two foreign wars both bogged down in a quagmire.  And he has been burdened by a do-nothing obstructionist Republican minority, and a right-wing mass media apparatus dedicated to scandalizing his name, casting doubt on the legitimacy of his Presidency, and apparently trying to get him assassinated.

If I believed all the vicious lies they tell about him 24/7 on WABC AM and Fox television, I’d want to knock him off myself.  Then the critics on the left have been only marginally better.  Both extremes exhibit what the distinguished American historian Richard J. Hofatader calls “the paranoid style in American politics.”  After reading Dr. West’s comments the great novelist and peerless essayist Ishmael Reed has concluded in his ever insightful and candid fashion: “progressives” and their front men are out to destroy Obama just as they did Humphrey, Carter, etc. they’re staying home and pouting will lead to Republican victory and a corporate plant plain victory in 2012. Then you can forget about Social Security, Medicaid, welfare, etc.” because of progressives’ ego.”

And from where I sit this prescient brother has got a point.  Everything that President Obama has done since he took office has been to try and fulfill the promises he made to bring about substantive change that we can believe in.  And this has sparked a vilification campaign like none that I have witnessed in my lifetime.  The Republican opposition has made no bones about the fact that they have one objective: To bring Obama down.  I believe, as the courageous comic Wanda Sykes said at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last year, what some of these crackers are doing verges on treason!

And now we hear Professor West, a moral clarion of the democratic socialist left, railing about the President being more concerned about saving Wall Street than unemployed workers.  Since I have written a piece on the subject I won’t belabor it here– for an intelligent discussion of this question see:  ‘Can President Obama solve the Unemployment Crisis?” at  The plain fact is that the only way a President can directly influence the unemployment situation is to make the federal government the employer of last resort.

Yet in the present political climate that’s impossible because there are not enough votes in Congress to pass another economic stimulus bill – despite the fact that the country clearly needs one.  In fact, the Republicans are running against the last stimulus package, although it prevented an imminent castastrophe that would have resulted in the firing of thousands of critical public sector workers all across the country and deepened the recession.  Hence to blame President Obama for high unemployment is ridiculous, and to criticize him for bailing out the banks at the same time, when failure to do so would have brought on a world wide economic collapse, is well….just plain silly!

But what is even more disturbing in Professor West’s case, his criticism seems to be sparked by the fact that he feels ignored, or snubbed, by President Obama.  Recalling an incident where he was in attendance when the President spoke, Dr. West tells Tony Cox:

“He made a beeline to me, though, brother, and he was deeply upset. He talked to me like I was a Cub Scout, and he was a pack master, you know what I mean? I said, well, my mother and father raised me right. I respect my dear brother, but I don’t like to be demeaned and humiliated in that way, and I didn’t get a chance to respond to him. And I hope maybe at some time we can. But it was very, it was a very ugly kind of moment, it seems to me, and that disturbs me because then it raises the question for me: Does he have a double standard for black critics as opposed to white critics?  Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, a whole host of brilliant, courageous critics say all kinds of things, and he treats them with respect. They get invited to the White House. I say the same thing, he talks to me like I’m a Cub Scout.” 

That Dr. West felt the need to tell this tale is bad enough, but that he did so without irony or shame on public radio is shocking!  It seems to never have occured to the self-important Professor that the three pundits he mentioned are among the best and the brighest of the punditocricy, and since they all appear on the editorial page of the New York Times, all the most powerful people in the world reads them!

On the other hand, despite his brillance – or perhaps because of it – his audience is far more limited.  And besides, precisely because he is a brilliant and broadly learned African American intellectual Barack had every right to expect him to understand what the real deal is.  And to be pissed off that he didn’t!  I know I feel like pulling a Stanley Crouch and bitch slapping him myself when I read what he says sometimes.

Yet when all’s said and done, the most disturbing development is that  on some critical questions the left’s position is becoming indistinguishable from the reactionary right. The anti-bailout hokum is a graphic case in point.  Instead of closing ranks behind our visionary and courageous President and defending him from the Tea Party Brown Shirts, employing their formidable intellectual skills to counter the relentless ideological war being waged against him on the right, the left, who appear to be content in the role of a permanent national debating society with no chance of taking power, is finding common cause with the enemy!

Yet in the face of all these seemingly insurmountable obstacles Barack Obama’s performance has been nothing short of outstanding!  I’d give him an A+ faster than the Lone Ranger could draw his gun.  While Professor West may seek salvation in some heavenly realm, I shall abide by Kwame Nkrumah’s axiom: “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all else will be added there unto.”


On Choosing The Lesser Evil

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics on October 15, 2009 by playthell

Ralph Nader

Some Reflections On The Coming Election

*A Reprint from 2000

Let me make this clear from the outset: I agree with Ralph Nader on just about everything.  Everything but his decision to stay in the presidential race in states where his presence on the ballot could result in a victory for George Bush!  I disagree with Nader’s strategy because I believe that the central task for progressives in the 2000 election is to defeat the Republicans.

For whoever wins the Oval Office will probably appoint as many as three justices to the Supreme Court of the United States, and these judges will surely tip the balance to the right or left on issues that are critical to black Americans, other non-whites, women of all colors, labor, environmentalist, criminal suspects, et al.

At present it looks like the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, and thus will rubber stamp any nomination offered up by a Bush/Cheney White House.  And George “Dubya” has clearly stated that his ideal of a Supreme Court justice is Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas!

Hence it should be obvious that African Americans and others seeking legal redress for past and present injustices face eminent disaster if George W. Bush wins the presidency.  All we need consider is the fact that affirmative action – battered and tattered as it is – will be a dead issue.  It does not require great imagination or exceptional intelligence to understand the devastating effect that the repudiation of affirmative action as a public policy goal would have on the economic advancement of black America.

Especially since the persistent exclusion of African Americans from a broad range of economic opportunity is becoming harder and harder to establish as racial discrimination under the law. The nearly twenty years of Republican control of the Oval Office from Nixon to George Bush senior–interrupted by the four years of the Carter administration– has resulted in a federal judiciary stacked with right-wing judges whose decisions have set a standard for proving job discrimination which is virtually impossible to meet.

Prior to the infestation of the federal bench by these Republican zealots there were many successful class action suits, because the burden of proof the plaintiffs had to meet only required them to prove that a pattern of discrimination existed against a particular group. But rulings from the federal courts in a series of landmark job discrimination cases have changed all that; now the plaintiff must prove intent!

One need only examine the experience of the black professional employees who brought a discrimination suit against Texaco in order to appreciate the obstacles confronting anyone who decides to bring a racial discrimination case against an employer. Although the injured parties eventually won a $357 million settlement, no one associated with the case believes the plaintiffs would have won if a disgruntled white male executive had not come forth with a tape recording of a meeting where top management was heard discussing their plans to discriminate against black employees in blatantly racist language.

The worst thing about the burden of proving intent in racial discrimination cases is that because of the difficulty involved lawyers are increasingly reluctant to take them on unless the plaintiff has cash in hand to pay their fees up front.  And most victims of job discrimination cases are financially strapped; especially if they have lost their jobs–as is often the case.  I discovered this fact when I approached attorneys about filing a suit against a major media corporation.

Recourse to the EEOC –Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–is no panacea either.  Successive Republican Presidents and Republican control of Congress has resulted in the gutting of the EEOC.  For instance, while conducting an investigation into the rampant racial discrimination in the construction industry in New York City, I discovered that the regional EEOC office was responsible for processing discrimination claims in the entire state, the five New England states and Puerto Rico.

Furthermore, they were charged with enforcing compliance with four other statutes besides title VII, and they had only thirteen attorneys to handle all these cases!  That’s why final adjudication of discrimination cases often takes years; in the meantime a plaintiff can starve to death or expire from old age.  Employers are increasingly aware of this and are emboldened by the belief that they can discriminate with impunity. That’s why we desperately need a Supreme Court who will reverse this situation, and we won’t get it from a Bush administration.

I have dwelled on the question of employment discrimination because–as Dr. Dubois noted in the first scientific social studies of African Americans done at the end of the 19th century–so many of the problems that plague the African American community stems from the denial of economic opportunity.  For instance, most of the black prison population is incarcerated for economic crimes i.e. robbery, burglary, drug dealing, and so on, crimes directly related to enforced poverty.

Hence questions of prisoners rights, racial profiling, and other police related matters also arise.  And high crime rates lead many Americans, black and white, to tolerate police practices that have no place in a modern democratic society.  The Republicans are especially dangerous in this regard because they refuse to recognize any connection between poverty, economic discrimination and crime.

They are also weak on issues of gender discrimination and hate crimes, especially George “Dubya,” the Texas hangman who has steadfastly refused to support a hate crimes bill in the state where he is the chief executive.  Can we really afford to take a chance with this man as chief executive of the nation?


As bad as Bush is on these issues, that’s not the worst of it.  His gut feelings about the environment –the guy doesn’t believe global warming is real and wants to drill oil wells in wildlife preserves–and his insane ideas about nuclear weapons, are far more dangerous because they threaten all life on this planet.  Yet this rather obvious fact seems to escape many of the third party zealots who are passionately supporting the candidacy of Ralph Nader for president.

To these feckless fanatics–who sadly include some people I admire, such as the moral philosopher Cornel West and Trans Africa’s Randall Robinson–it makes no difference if the democrats or the Republicans take the White House.  Hence as the polls continue to show Bush and Gore running neck and neck down the stretch, the Nader Campaign is becoming a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

At first I was hesitant to agree with the New York Times’ charge that Nader is a megalomaniac whose ego driven presidential campaign could result in political disaster…but no more.  The thing that won me over to the Time’s point of view is the fact that Nader now argues he never agreed not to run in states where the election is hotly contested, yet a devoted worker in his campaign showed me an e-mail from Nader’s headquarters in which Nader clearly states that he would not run in states where the outcome was in doubt.  Now what’s up with that?

The campaign worker in question, an African American entrepreneur from Brooklyn, now says that had he known Nader’s candidacy would endanger a Democratic victory over the Republicans, he would never have gotten involved in what he thought was simply an effort to garner 5% of the vote for the green Party.  He tells me he is beginning to feel betrayed by “those know-it-all white folks” who refuse to listen to the reasoned arguments of battle tested black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Major Owens.

Even more revealing in regard to Nader’s self-righteous egotism is the fact that he has failed to hear the pleas and refused to heed the warnings of the Sierra Club, America’s premier environmental watchdogs, who argue that he is in danger of causing the “greatest environmental president ever to lose the White House,” while assisting in the election of the “worst environmental president in history.” Nader’s decision to turn a deaf ear to these eminently reasonable arguments exhibits all the symptoms of a deluded egomaniac.

Nothing I have heard in the din of election chatter is more frightening than some of the statements of the sycophants who turn out in droves to cheer Nader on in his folly.  ABC’s “Nightline” broadcast on Halloween night aired some sound bites from Nader supporters at a rally where their guru was holding forth.  They said things like “He is pure,” and  “He is the Mother Teresa of politics.”  The thoughtful observer is forced to wonder if these people are looking for an effective politician or a saint.

The proper arena for moral absolutist is the church, temple, mosque, or synagogue.  Politics is first and foremost the art of the possible.  It is the process by which power relationships are created and shaped, and compromise is essential to that process in a participatory democracy.  Therefore if a project is not possible it is not politic!  Prudence dictates that we who are struggling to build a better society heed Kwame Nkrumah’s dictum “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else will be added thereunto.”

Hence I am by choice a political animal; one who understands by instinct and experience that in democratic polities political choices more often than not means choosing the lesser evil!  Thus I am not looking for a saint to lead us.  And I am very suspicious of moral absolutists who take a utopian approach to politics. History teaches us that all utopian movements committed to creating the ideal society, no matter how pious their rhetoric or noble their aims, always result in tragedy and disaster.  Especially when led by self-righteous absolutists who are too proud to beg and too rigid to bend.

Take your choice: the Crusades, Manifest Destiny, The Communist Manifesto, The White Man’s Burden, the Spanish Inquisition, The Mission of Civilization, The Thousand Year Reich, etc.  And it is abundantly clear that a blind devotion to Ralph Nader’s vision of the ideal American society threatens a disaster in the coming election.

Hence all the self-righteous puffery around Nader’s purity of purpose is dangerous folly.  What we need in these perilous times is not a “Mother Teresa,” but a coldly analytical politician who can recognize the realpolitik of the moment, properly assess the relationship of forces for and against his objectives, and act accordingly.

Hence while Mr. Nader’s ideas certainly deserve a hearing, and hopefully will become conventional wisdom in America at some point in the future–sooner rather than later if I had my druthers; only a charlatan or a fool would argue that his time is now.  Hence if Ralph Nader conducts his campaign in such a reckless manner as to assist in a Bush victory, his cure will prove worse than the disease.  And should the Republicans win, no amount of smart mouth prattle, a form of self indulgent verbal exhibitionism of which brother Ralph seems especially infatuated, will adequately explain away his role in boosting a mediocre but very dangerous George Dubya to the most powerful office in the world.

Not only will the Naderites have helped to place Dubya’s grubby little hands on the levers of power, they will also share responsibility for placing his shaky fingers on the nuclear trigger, thereby endangering all life on this planet.  But after carefully listening to Nader’s rhetoric he sounds to me like a man without a clue about the effect a Bush election could have on the delicate balance of nuclear terror embodied in the MAD–Mutually Assured Destruction–doctrine.

Yet this doctrine alone has kept the world from blundering into the abyss of nuclear destruction during the tensions of the cold war.  For instance, when Nader was asked about the dangers of a George Bush presidency by a well informed member of the Nightline audience, he glibly replied, “You all talk like this guy is Genghis Kahn or something…he’s not very smart and he is afraid of confrontations.”

Unable to contain myself in the face of such supercilious sophistry, I leapt from my chair and shouted at the TV ” Yo Ralph!  This guy is fixin to build the Doom’s Day Machine!!”   True.  While the democrats have been forced by a misguided public opinion to flirt with the idea of constructing the shield, I believe that Gore, like Bill Clinton, would leave office after eight years without spending a single dollar on this suicidal project.  But George W. bush has committed himself to building the Doom’s day machine.

Not only has Bush made it clear that he will proceed immediately to construct the anti-missile shield, in clear violation of the ABM treaty, but he has sent out his big intellectual guns, the folks who we are told will instruct him about the critical realities of the contemporary world, to defend that decision.


The most frightening and nauseating example of Bush’s pro-star wars propaganda was Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s speech at the Republican Convention.  Dr. Rice is especially disappointing because like Dr. Alan Keyes, a Harvard Ph.D. in government, she is in many respects the kind of person the African American community has struggled for a century to develop.  A black woman who grew up in Birmingham Alabama,  the heart of segregationist south, and overcame all the obstacles cast in her way due to her race and sex,  Condoleezza is not only an elite academic in the foreign policy establishment and the first woman Provost at Stanford University, but also a classical pianist and figure skater to boot.

On the face of it “Condi,” as she is affectionately called by the reactionary white Republicans who fawn over her, looks like the embodiment of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois’ “Talented Tenth,” except that she has abandoned the essential role that the great scholar/activist envisioned for this class: to serve the higher interest of Afro-Americans, the Pan-African world, and humanity in general.  Instead what we have in Dr. Rice is a charming opportunist on the make, a person so desperate to bask in the aura of power that she is willing to become a nuclear snake oil salesman hyping the advantages of the Doomsday machine.

Yet if anyone in America understands that scrapping the anti-ballistic missile treaty is an invitation to other nuclear powers – especially Russia and China – to disregard all nuclear agreements now in force, it is Condoleezza Rice. No big deal though, because any reasonably intelligent junior high school student can see that this would be a giant step backwards in the fight to rid the world of the threat of nuclear holocaust.

                        The Head Bush Woman: Dr. Condoleezza Rice


                 Is this what 100 years of struggle has wrought: A Suck Up to Power?

Recently some reporters caught up with Dr. Rice at an airport, and one of them confronted her with the fact that fifty Nobel Prize winning physicists have gone on record arguing that the anti-missile shield cannot work.  She dismissed them with the comment that they were “liberal scientists.” When asked if she could name any conservative scientists of equal stature who support her position that the shield should be built, she fled, claiming that she was late for her flight.

Aside from the fact that “Condi” is prepared to defend a policy that she knows could set the world aflame, she is also quite willing to serve as the colored poster girl for the Republican party in their attempt to recruit African Americans to their standard. Party strategists are certain that if they can win a substantial number of black voters they can become the majority party in the US.

This explains her prominence, along with retired general Colin Powell, former All-American football player and Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, and some obscure Republican elected officials, at the Republican convention.  These black Republican apparatchiks headlined a modern minstrel show featuring a contingent of highly visible “minority” participants that Jesse Jackson properly called  “The inclusion illusion.”

I had assumed that the transparent duplicity of the Republican Party’s attempt to feign an interest in the black community would be obvious.  But to my surprise I’ve seen black folks tell TV reporters that they were leaning towards Bush because there were so many non-white minorities featured at the Republican convention.  That ranks right up there along with the working class white folks who say they will vote for Bush because he seems like a regular guy that they could spend the evening having a beer with!

What is all too clear in all this is that the early twentieth century Editor of “The Smart Set,” H.L. Mencken, was right when he dubbed the American public “Boobus Americanus, his name for the untutored mob that still comprise far too much of the US electorate.  It is enough to note the voluminous commentary on how a majority of those who watched the Presidential debates preferred George Bush because Al Gore came off as “too smart.”

All this makes me want to institute a standardized civics test for anyone seeking to exercise the ballot.   The fact is that American society has grown so complex it is impossible to make sense of events if one does not make a serious effort to become informed on the issues.  Thomas Jefferson understood this and even warned that an ignorant electorate stood the risk of electing incompetents or scoundrels to public office.  The rise of lightweight buffoons and oily charlatans like Ronald Reagan and the Bushes demonstrates that Jefferson’s fears were justified.


 Unfortunately, working class Americans, white or black, will gain no clarity on how they should respond to the serious questions that face them from many of our leading intellectuals. Those on the right have sold out, and too many on the left are hopelessly confused. It is a good thing to engage in serious intellectual critiques but now the people need practical advice.  After all, we are about the business of deciding who will be President for the next four years and who will control congress.

This means that their life chances and those of their children are at stake. Yet when the ubiquitous Cornel West was asked by a working class black woman from Brooklyn if he believed poor black folks could afford to follow the example of middle class whites and cut off their nose to spite their face by voting for Ralph Nader and risking a Republican victory, West played past her concerns and pompously lectured her on the failings of the Democratic party.

But the question remains: Do Cornel West, Columbia University’s Manning Marable, Randall Robinson, and other black Naderite intellectuals really believe it is in the best interest of the black community to engage in a protest vote at the expense of a Republican victory?  They sure talk like it.

Instead of telling black voters that while the Democrats are far from perfect the Republicans will murder their dreams, they have gone on a fool’s errand and are counseling the black community to cast their votes on a pipe dream. I have no doubt that these pampered privileged intellectuals will do just fine under four or eight years of Republican mis-rule, just like their white upper middle class counterparts.  But it’s gonna be a hot time in the old town for the folks farthest down.

If these guys can’t see that working people in general, and African Americans in particular, will be better off with Al Gore in the white house and Charlie Rangel in control of the Ways And Means Committee, then the black community, those who are aware that these guys exist, should dismiss them as ivory tower egg heads who are hopelessly out of touch with the nitty gritty realities of working class black folks.

That’s what I’ve done. While I certainly don’t believe the Democrats offer the best possible vision for contemporary American society, I have no doubt that a Republican victory will arrest the progress of African Americans for most of this new century.  Hence I am prepared to accept the lesser evil.




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

*Originally published in The Black World Today

And read over WBAI Radio on Election Day in 2000.



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