BAMN

THE OBAMA ERA — RENEWAL OF KING’S DREAM OR A NEW JIM CROW?

November 2008

 

CONTENTS

 

                                                               I. The Obama Era

1. The Obama Candidacy: On the Verge of an Historic Step Forward…………………………………… 1

2. The Key Question: the Growing Political and Moral Maturity of the American People………… 3

3. The Obama Movement and the Question of Leadership……………………………………………………. 4

4. The Other Side of American History: the Role of White Racism;

the Shamefaced Racism of the New Jim Crow ……………………………………………………………….. 5

5. How American History Has Really Changed for the Better………………………………………………. 8

 

                                                           II. The New Jim Crow

6. A Balance Sheet: King’s Dream vs. a New Jim Crow……………………………………………………… 10

7. “Racism without Racists”/”Racists without Racism”……………………………………………………….. 11

8. The Emergence of the New Jim Crow…………………………………………………………………………… 12

9. Racism Today……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

 

                                                         III. The Obama Paradox

10. The Real Significance of the Obama Campaign:

Redefining What National Leadership Means……………………………………………………………… 19

11. The Meaning of an Obama Victory: The Political Maturity of the American People…………. 21

12. The Paradox of the Obama Candidacy……………………………………………………………………….. 21

13. Barack Obama and the Historic Struggle within the Democratic Party……………………………. 24

14. The Two Obamas……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 26

 

                        IV. Obama and the Struggle for the New Civil Rights Movement

15. The New Jim Crow Clinton-Style………………………………………………………………………………. 30

16. The New Jim Crow McCain-Palin-Style……………………………………………………………………… 36

17. The Importance of Defending Obama against Racism;

Fighting Racism in the Era of the New Jim Crow…………………………………………………………. 41

18. Why BAMN Cannot Endorse Barack Obama……………………………………………………………… 47

19. Obama’sPhiladelphiaSpeech: “A More PerfectUnion”—The

NewAtlantaCompromise and the New Jim Crow……………………………………………………….. 50

20. Renewing the Struggle for Equality in the Obama Era………………………………………………….. 64


 


                         I. The Obama Era

 

 

                   1. The Obama Candidacy: On the Verge of an Historic Step Forward

 

 

1. In the face of a downward-spiraling economic crisis, the American people are on the verge of electing the nation’s first black pre­si­dent. Most generally ac­cep­ted predic­tors of electoral success indicate that Se­nator Barack Obama ofIlli­nois, the presi­den­tial nominee of the De­mo­cratic Par­ty, should be elected the next Presi­dent of theUnited Stateson November 4.

 

The likelihood of this outcome grows in the wake of the fi­nan­cial crisis of fall 2008, the gargantuan government bailout, and an ove­rall American economy in decline—a situation which frightens most Americans and for which most Ame­ri­cans blame the policies and attitudes of the Republican Party and the Republican administration of George W. Bush. In the light of these conditions, most poli­ti­cal polls and most po­litical commentators agree in predicting fai­lure for the Re­pub­li­can Party and success for the De­mocrats in the November 2008 Con­gres­sional and presidential elec­tions.

 

Should these indicators hold true, the United States will be in­au­gurating Ba­rack Obama next Ja­nu­ary as the nation’s first black pre­sident, and President Obama will be working with a relatively friend­ly Con­gress dominated by his own party.

 

 

2. Almost all Americans recognize that the election of the first black president would be an event of historic impor­tance.

 

To mil­lions of black and other nonwhite Americans it would be far more than that. It would be an assertion of their long-denied right­ful place in American history, a milestone in the struggle against white racism and for equality. To mil­lions of nonwhite peo­ple around the world, the election of Barack Obama as the Ame­ri­can president would represent a vindication of their own basic dig­ni­ty and self-respect in a world still defined by racial inequality and dominated by racism.

 

Furthermore, throughout American history white racism has been a profound and pervasive force, decisively distorting American politics irrationally in a way that has undermined the ability of millions of Americans to act—indeed to think—rationally about their own economic and social interests. Ever providing the rich and powerful with a divide-and-conquer strategy to prevent united mass struggle for social progress, racism has, over and again, been the key factor in delaying the victory or securing the defeat of human progress.

 

Precisely because of the importance of the irrational factor of white racism in our history, Barack Obama’s victory in the No­vem­ber elections must be recognized as far more than a question of the victory of one very gifted, moderately progressive black American or of his moderately progressive party. It is a question of the American people, in their majority, asserting themselves on the side of what is rational in American history and against what has been most irrational and ugly. It would represent a vindica­tion by the American electorate of their own progressive and ra­tio­n­al convic­tions—of their own rational self-interest and their own most hu­mane and large-minded principles. It would represent, even taking into account all necessary qualifications, truly a victory of rea­son against unreason.

 

 

3. Nor should the fact of the economic crisis be used, as it has been by certain political commentators, to diminish the sig­ni­fi­cance of an Obama victory, as if the economic situation would gua­ran­tee victory to ANY Democrat in this election year. This attitude ignores the fact that a period of economic crisis could easily provide ideal ground, as it has in the past, for the arousal of irrational racist fears—in this case especially irrational fears of placing the presidency in black hands at such a time. Also, explaining an Obama victory as an inevitable consequence of the economic crisis, tends to belittle the factor of the con­si­der­able abilities Barack O­ba­ma must have in order to have brought him­self to this moment in his­tory.

 

Given the role of racism in American history, Barack Obama has to be an unusually gifted politician and, more than that, in a number of respects a rather remarkable person indeed to be in the position he is. He has to have had a great deal of downright courage simply to make and stick to the decision to run for President against the abun­dance of counterindications in American history and against abun­dant advice that now is not the time to change that history. Ma­ny commentators have remarked on Obama’s “coolness under pres­sure,” his extraordinary discipline, self-control, and deter­mi­na­tion. He has to have human qualities as a leader that are strong enough to force their way through the traditional American white blind spot that has blinded millions of white Americans specifical­ly to the lea­dership qualities of black people. Even a new Great Depres­sion would not be enough on its own to force light through that blind spot.

 

 

4. For, over and over again in American history, racial and re­ligious bi­go­t­ries have overridden economic self-interest and the exer­cise of reason in the political be­ha­vior of mil­lions of white Ame­ricans. On the basis of such mass ir­ra­tiona­lity, cul­tivated by de­ma­gogues, the Slave Power ruled the country until a great and bloo­dy civil war broke its hold. On the basis of this irrationali­ty, throughout our history, worker’s strikes and unions have been dragged down to defeat. On the basis of this irrationa­lity, through­out our history, poor and working-class people have suppor­ted leaders and parties whose policies have made the poor poorer, in­ten­si­fied the exploitation of labor, and in­creased inequality and in­jus­tice.

 

The challenge facing the American people this year is pre­cise­ly the question whether the electorate is ready, in its majo­ri­ty, to set aside the irrationality of white racial prejudice in favor of the rationality of their own urgent needs and interests. Until now, the answer to that question in American history has been no. For a majority to change that historic no to yes would re­pre­sent far more than a tribute to Senator Obama’s undoubted talents as a leader of his own party and national electoral politician. It would represent far more than the modest electoral shift to the left that Senator Obama and his party’s timid policies could ac­com­plish. It would represent a major breakthrough in the political con­sciousness of the American people themselves—and in particular on the part of the American workers, poor, youth, and minorities who share the great­est frustration and anger with the current eco­no­mic and poli­ti­cal situation and bring the greatest hopes and the highest expec­ta­tions to the Obama candidacy and to the prospect of an Obama victory.

 

 

                                      2. The Key Question: the Growing Political and

                                            Moral Maturity of the American People

 

 

5. It is this factor—the importance of the Obama candidacy to as­ses­sing the political character and consciousness of the American elec­to­rate, to determining the political—and, in a sense, the moral—ma­tu­rity of the American people, that is the decisive, the key, the fundamental question of this moment in American history. This means that Senator Obama’s success in securing the nomination of his party in itself represents a great step forward, for the Obama vic­tory in the presidential primary contest showed that the pro­gres­sive ranks of one of the two main parties of the American elec­to­ral system were prepared to insist that now is the time to take this step, and take this step over against the determined op­po­si­tion of a section of their party’s national leadership.

 

For an electoral majority to make a similar decision in the No­vember general election, against a considerable section of the na­tion’s political leadership and its demagogic scare tactics and over against much of the weight of the nation’s real political his­to­ry, would represent an even greater moment in the raising of the poli­ti­cal consciousness of the American people. For this prog­res­sive political majority to build the support for Obama to a suf­fi­cient­ly massive proportion to impose their decision on the nation’s undemo­cra­tic electoral system, will represent an ac­com­plishment by the pro­g­ressive sections of the American people that will tend to em­power and embolden the American people them­selves on the basis of their own most progressive conscious­ness and impulses.

 

It is this self-assertion of their own progressive character in a manner calculated to change history for the better that could make the November election an historical moment of real democracy, sure­ly incomplete and inadequate in itself, but in its potential full of hope. These mass-democratic and somewhat defiantly pro­gres­sive elements in the mass movement supporting Obama—in many respects in stark contrast to the moderately conservative and ti­mid­ly progressive character of their candidate himself—have given the Obama movement the character of an excited and inspiring strug­gle for the cause of social justice. Candidate Obama’s promises of a new birth of hope in America may remain all-too-comfortably vague and platitudinous in keeping with the long, not very honest tradi­tion of American electoral cliche-mongering. But millions of his mobilized and inspired supporters have in mind a very real agenda of hope for social justice, economic rationality, equa­lity, an end to militarism and imperialist arrogance, and the empowering of the dis­advantaged and oppressed.

                                                                             

3. The Obama Movement and the Question of Leadership

 

 

6. BAMN congratulates the American people, and especially the rank and file activists of the Obama movement, for this historic step forward and the broad hope for progressive change awakened with it.

 

The realization of this hope depends on the deve­lop­ment, in this new historical period, of new leadership, new organization, and new levels of consciousness. These new developments must start with the inspiration and raised expectations of the Obama move­ment and with the tendencies to deepen understanding of the na­ture of modern society and to reopen the question of methods of po­li­ti­cal action provoked by the global economic cri­sis and the fai­lure of American militarism abroad.

 

For BAMN, an organization dedicated to rebuilding the struggle for equality, it is crucial to appreciate the full meaning of this mo­ment in American history. We must understand the depth of the im­por­tance of the likely election of Barack Obama as president, but we must also understand the limitations of the im­portance of this elec­tion and the dangers of overestimating what this election alone can ac­tu­al­ly accomplish.

 

 

7. Moreover, the ways in which Barack Obama has conducted his cam­paign bring out sharply the differences between the methods of mo­dern American electoralism and the methods necessary to rebuild a mass movement for equality and social justice. At key moments it has seemed as if a central premise of Senator Obama’s electoral stra­tegy has been the conviction that a black American could only be elected presi­dent by taking care to give the impression that the strug­gle for ra­cial equality is no longer an urgent matter, no long­er the on­go­ing national crisis that it actually is. In Ameri­can political history the failure of leadership to recognize the prac­tical urgency of the question of racial equality has always meant a failure in theory and practice to address the overall ques­tion of social and economic inequality. Yet the growing economic in­e­quality in theUnited Statesand in the world is the most urgent ques­tion of our time. In true terms, no leadership can succeed which fails to place this question at the center of its con­scious­ness and action.

 

Yet the electoral campaign of Senator Obama has been all too like the campaign of his conservative rival Senator McCain in its failure to address this fundamental question of growing inequality and grinding poverty. It is hard to imagine what Senator Obama’s slogans about “new hope” and “fundamental change” mean in a nation and a world in which the poor get poorer.

 

 

8. The election of Barack Obama as America’s first black presi­dent could represent an important development which could favor the ac­complishment of BAMN’s difficult historical task of building a new independent civil rights movement. Or, ironically, the nega­tive features of his campaign’s attitude toward the strug­gle for equa­lity could mean that the victory of Senator Obama and his party could actually make it much more dif­fi­cult for that ne­ces­sary move­ment to be built.

Whether this development makes our job easier or more dif­fi­cult, BAMN’s supporters must have as deep an understanding as pos­si­ble of this im­portant moment in American and world history. The fu­ture of the strug­gle for full immigrant rights and the struggle for affirmative ac­tion and integration—and therefore the struggle for equality in A­me­rica—will depend on our ability to orient BAMN’s work correctly in the face of this new turn in Ame­ri­can his­to­ry.

 

While BAMN shares the sense of millions of Americans that a victory for Barack Obama would represent an important step forward in American his­tory, the man­ner in which this victory is being achieved, in particular with regard to the struggle for equality, makes it, however ironically, impossible for BAMN to endorse Se­nator Obama’s candidacy. The truth is that the Obama campaign’s ambi­guities, vacillations, and plainly wrong positions on the strug­gle for equality raise grave con­cerns, which BAMN has an obligation to address the­ore­ti­cal­ly and in the most practical terms possible. The progres­sive fight­ers for the new hope of the Obama move­ment deserve nothing less of us.

 

 

                      4. The Other Side of American History: the Role of White Racism;

                                       the Shamefaced Racism of the New Jim Crow

 

 

9. To begin with, it is necessary to confront the other side of the political polarization that we are witnessing in the face of the imminent election of the nation’s first black president and the e­vo­lution of the economic crisis: a re­sur­gence of racist irrationa­li­ty.

 

BAMN must pay extremely close at­ten­tion to the ways in which the Obama candidacy has become a tar­get for the mobilization by demagogues of the racist forces in Ame­rican society. This racist mobilization is especially dangerous because it has been driven, not by some right-wing paranoid fringe, but by national leaders of the two main parties in the course of the mainstream national pre­si­dential electoral process itself.

 

First the presidential primary campaign of Senator Hillary Clin­ton, at a certain point despairing of defeating Senator Obama by any rational and legitimate strategy, cultivated a set of coded ap­peals to the racist fears of white voters in the Democratic pri­ma­ries. This did not produce electoral success for Senator Clin­ton, but it did sanction the irrational racist fears and hatred of mil­lions of Democratic primary voters, whom Senator Clinton and her sur­rogates provided with a supposedly respectable vocabulary in which to couch their racial prejudices.

 

Then, as the fall presidential campaign of Republican Senator John McCain similarly despaired of the success of any rational stra­tegy for winning the election, the McCain campaign predictably built on the ugly precedents established by Senator Clinton.

 

Re­pub­lican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was de­le­ga­t­ed the role of demagogic attack dog. At large campaign rallies at which Palin absurdly accused Senator Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” elements in the Republican crowds shouted back “Terro­rist!,” “Traitor!,” “Nobama! Nobama!,” and “Kill him! Kill him!”

 

Meanwhile at his own campaign rallies, McCain was firing up his crowds with a litany of attacks on Obama punctu­a­ted with “Who is the real Obama?” The crowd shouted back the expected “Terror­ist!,” “Traitor!,” and the rest. Racist epithets abound in the Mc­Cain-Pa­lin crowds, and the sale of racist memorabilia at Republican and conservative events this year has been reported in the news me­di­a.

 

The McCain-Palin policy has so emboldened the paranoid and ra­cist elements in the Republican Party that Mc­Cain himself has been forced into a series of public state­ments tak­ing a sort of polite, minimal exception to some of the more extreme paranoias (obsessed repetitions of the In­ter­net slan­ders crazily claiming that Senator Obama is actually a Muslim [= “extremist”] or an Arab [= “terro­rist”], because his middle name is Hussein). Yet Mc­Cain’s own pub­lic behavior (“that one” in the se­cond presidential debate), the overly polite and feeble character of his “dissociations” from the Muslim-bait­ing, his pretending there is some question who Obama real­ly is, and his running-mate Palin’s reck­less rhetoric about “palling around with terrorists” have at least exploited, certainly encouraged, and to some extent spawned the irrational ugliness.

 

With understandable concern, on 15 October, during an exchange in the third presidential de­bate on “negative cam­paigning,” Obama himself quoted the cries of “Ter­rorist!” and “Kill him!” at Palin rallies and poin­ted out that Palin had not offered so much as a word of objection to this sort of behavior among her crowds. In reply, not only did Mc­Cain not condemn the murderous language or declare that in the fu­ture his running mate would object to cries of “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” from her crowds. On the contrary, he ignored these death threats against Obama, seemed to treat the people making them at his and Palin’s rallies as an ir­re­levant, harmless “fringe”—for which he took no responsibility—and gushed defen­sive­ly, rather pathetical­ly, and unconvincingly about how “the people that come to our rallies” are “the most dedi­ca­ted, patriotic men and women that are in this nation, and they’re great citizens,” as if the issue was excessive criticism of dema­go­gy, racism, and death threats. McCain then defended his dema­gogic me­thods by wrapping himself in Hillary Clin­ton’s use of the same de­magogic me­thods in her Democratic Party pri­mary contest against Senator Obama.

 

Both Clinton and McCain have had to present their racist ap­peals in coded terms that most white mainstream journalists and a­ca­demics have dutifully accepted as nonracist. This is a situation ty­pi­cal of the period that BAMN has characterized as the New Jim Crow, one of the features of which is a public, official stance of em­bar­rass­ment over and opposition to open expressions of racism, while the coded and disguised racism that is actually on the rise is not only not confronted and opposed but in fact increasingly sanc­tioned and promoted.

 

History has shown that the toleration of coded, “respectable” ap­peals to racism from the mainstream has the most terrible of con­se­quen­ces. Once antisemitism was treated as a certain fashionable excess of na­tio­nalist zeal on the part of the German political and in­tel­lec­tual elite—an unpleasantness, perhaps, but hardly a seri­ous problem ex­cept among a few crazed, irrelevant fringe fanatics. Then the fringe was the Nazi government. Then Auschwitz andBu­chen­wald. Both Senators Clinton and McCain have stood before the tra­gic memo­ri­als and muttered, piously, “Never again.” But their be­ha­vior in 2008 has declared, for all with ears to hear, the ter­ri­ble message, “Again! Again!”

 

 

10. Even though most polls and most commentators agree in pre­dicting the success of Obama and his Democratic Party in 2008, the role of race and racism in American history makes clear that it would be a mistake to take Obama’s victory for granted.

 

Simply the fact that Senator Obama is a black American means that the usual predictors are more likely to be wrong than would be the case were he a white candidate. For millions of white Ameri­cans, it has always been difficult at historical moments such as this to set aside knee‑jerk prejudices and paranoias, fearing steps in the direction of equality. Over and over again, many white Ame­ri­cans have allowed the exercise of their right to vote to be dis­tor­ted by the racist appeals of demagogues urging them to defend what are actually unfair, irrational, and even imaginary elements of white privilege.

 

For this reason alone—the irrational factor of white racial pre­ju­dice—the usual political indicators are not as reliable as usual. Polls and surveys often fail to register this factor of white rac­ism adequately, and journalists regularly avoid dealing with racism. Part of the reason for this failure to take account of racism is that pollsters do an inadequate job of looking for it and journalists are content to remain ignorant of it. Part of the reason for this failure is that those occasional efforts to get at the specific role of racism rest on a fallacious method of at­temp­ting to ab­stract racism from the overall reactionary and irratio­na­list prejudices with which racism has been inextricably bound up through­out American history. And in part racism is difficult for pollsters and journalists to take account of because many preju­diced white vo­ters mis­re­present their actual views to pollsters, be­cause of em­bar­rass­ment about the open expression of their racism.

 

 

11. This embarrassment is a revealing expression of the status today of one of the fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tions of American history.

 

In theory, our nation was founded on the principle of equality (Jef­ferson’s “all men are created equal,”Lincoln’s “conceived inLiberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”). Americans are taught that their history has centered on an inexorable process through which that prin­ciple has been increa­sing­ly made real. Yet, in rea­li­ty,Americahas always been a pro­found­ly unequal society—and un­e­qual in a di­ver­si­ty of ways. Dif­fe­ring in different periods in de­g­ree, with some groups gaining and new groups assuming the role of primary targets of discrimination and scapegoating, the reality is that all of American history has been characterized by eco­no­mic, ra­cial, eth­nic, religious, gender, and other social ine­qua­li­ties.

 

And, in reality, the significant progress in the struggle for e­quality in theUShas not occurred as a result of any automatic his­torical process. On the contrary. The great gains in equality have resulted from the struggles of great mass movements, vast so­cial upheavals—struggles ordinarily opposed by the economic and po­li­tical establishments of the time, elites that have opposed the move­ments for social equality in the very name of an elitist inter­pre­ta­tion of the “founding principles” of the nation. It is the re­la­tive success of these mass up­heavals in overcoming the op­po­si­tion of the elite establishments of their time that has made the United States a more democratic and more egalitarian society—not any au­to­matic realization of Jeffersonian or Constitutional principles and not any benign intentions on the part of the economic and poli­ti­cal powers that be.

 

In the most recent of these periods of mass upheaval, the civil rights struggles of the 1960s created a sort of balance of power in American society that made open and explicit expressions of racism and the continued retailing of racist stereo­types a thing of the past, along with the de jure segregation and legally sanc­tioned discrimination of the Jim Crow era. But the forces of rac­ism and reaction regrouped in the late 1960s and 1970s, fostering a New Jim Crow whose aim has been to halt and, to the extent pos­si­ble, reverse the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

It is the balance of power between the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of the New Jim Crow that accounts for the strange, embarrassed character of the coded and camouflaged rac­ism of the presidential election of 2008. To understand this strange, shamefaced racism and learn how to fight it, it is ne­ces­sary to leave behind the myths and mysticism that surround and ob­scure the history of the struggle for equality in theUnited States.

 

 

                           5. How American History Has Really Changed for the Better

 

 

12. After the first Revolution created the nation as an inde­pen­dent republic, three great mass social movements have altered Ame­rican history fundamentally for the better.

 

From the 1830s through the 1870s, the mass radical aboli­tion­ist movement waged an intransigent struggle that culminated in the end of slavery through the Union victory in the Civil War and the stri­v­ings for racial equality expressed in Radical Reconstruction. Bold, courageous, and independent abolitionist leaders like Fre­de­rick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and John Brown confronted the nation with new models of political action and new definitions of liberty, equality, and citizenship itself.

 

The great class struggle of the American labor movement that came to assume mighty proportions in the decades following the Ci­vil War culminated in the collective victory of the CIO and the prin­ciple of industrial unionism during the Great Depression of the 1930s. With these victories of organized labor’s collective strug­gle, new economic rights and expectations became de facto prin­ci­ples of the nation’s historic social contract.

 

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s resumed Fre­de­rick Douglass’s fight against Jim Crow and the defense of the prin­ci­ples of Radical Reconstruction, forced the implementation of Brown v. Board, broke down the citadels of de jure racial segre­ga­tion in the South, launched the assault on de facto segregation throu­gh­out the country, and forced the nation to adopt a policy of af­fir­mative action to make real the promise of equality for its non­white citizens.

 

 

13. The most important question of American history today is whe­ther there are leaders ready and able to build a fourth great so­cial movement which can build on the great struggles of the past and renew the fight for equality in a way that can win. There are two important factors that favor the building of that leadership: the great Movement of 2006 for Immigrant Rights and the existence of BAMN.

 

There is also one rather complicated set of factors that, ta­ken as a whole, sum up today’s greatest obstacle to building a new, vic­torious struggle for equality. These factors can appropriately be referred to as the New Jim Crow.

 

Understanding the importance of the Obama campaign requires, more than anything else, assessing the Obama candidacy, the pros­pect of an Obama presidency, and, most important of all, the Obama movement, in relation­ship to those po­sitive and negative factors facing the new struggle for equality.


II. The New Jim Crow

 

 

                                6. A Balance Sheet: King’s Dream vs. a New Jim Crow

 

 

14. The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement survives today in the conviction of most Americans that racism is one of the profound e­vils of American history. Because of the struggles initiated by the movement led by Martin Luther King, most Americans today be­lieve racial discrimination, inequality, and bigotry should be eli­mi­nated from American political, economic, and social life.

 

Yet the reality is that today, in anAmericain which economic inequality is increasing, our society remains very racist and, in the current period, is becoming more so. This period of increasing racism is characterized by two tendencies.

 

First, certain key relations between racial and ethnic groups are becoming more unequal, more divided, and more strained.

 

Second, while the problems of racial inequality have been intensi­fy­ing, the willingness of the established leaderships to address these problems has been diminishing dramatically.

 

On the political right, there is an increasingly consistent and frenzied op­po­sition to any new positive measures and an increa­sing­ly deter­mined attack on the gains of the past. Meanwhile, on the part of liberal leaders, there is a growing reluctance to ad­vance new positive measures or even to defend the measures won by the civil rights struggles of the past. Liberal leaders endlessly bob and weave ra­ther than defend past gains for racial equality (Brown v. Board and the entire perspective of integration and affirmative action) and tremble im­po­tently before the prospect of advancing the necessary new pro­gres­sive initiatives (that is, BAMN’s program of integration, affirmative action, and immigrant rights). The right wing, on the other hand, has mounted a full-scale attack whose aim is to render Brown v. Board and its vision ofAmerica a dead letter and to stigmatize into silence any honest dis­cussion of the issues of race and racism in American public life.

 

Examples of the myriad indications of these gains for rac­ism and segregation include: the string of court decisions whose prac­ti­cal effect is the outlawing of desegregation and affirmative ac­tion, the success with a majority of white voters of ballot pro­po­si­tions aimed at banning affirmative action, the success of lo­cal and state ballot initiatives banning bilingual education and adopt­ing “English‑only” policies, the increasing difficulty of speaking the plain truth about racism throughout our society, the increas­ing­ly hostile climate for minority students on many of our nation’s cam­puses, and, most recently, in the character of the primary cam­paign of Senator Clinton and the presidential campaign of Senator Mc­Cain and his running mate against Barack Obama.

 

                                7. “Racism without Racists”/”Racists without Racism”

 

 

15. The great majority of Americans condemn most explicit ex­pressions of racism. It is true that, in the era of the New Jim Crow, even some open, explicit, and highly public ex­pres­sions of ra­cist bigotry are regaining a measure of toleration. In parti­cu­lar, both immigrant-bashing and anti-Muslim bigotry have become the stuff of mainstream political rallies and popular entertainment. However, by and large, explicit racism is regarded as uncivil and un­ac­cep­t­able behavior, at any rate in public. Except for a right-wing fringe, people in the public eye, from public officials to po­pu­lar entertainers and other celebrities, treat explicit, public ex­pres­sions of racism as wrong or at least as too likely to be the sub­ject of con­tro­versy to be worth the risk.

 

Under these contradictory conditions, racist inequality and bi­gotry have been forced to assume new modes of operation and new forms of expression. This New Jim Crow (ironically termed “racism wi­thout racists” by some students of the phenomenon) is merely the lat­est example of what historian John Hope Franklin has called the ex­traordinarily “improvisatory” character of racism throughout Ame­ri­can history.

 

 

16. So it has become well established that, in the pe­riod since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, many white voters have misrepresented their positions on ra­cial issues and nonwhite candidates in opinion polls to avoid ap­pea­ring “insensitive” on racial issues, while casting their votes to defend white privilege in the secrecy of the voting booth—ra­cist votes without any nasty evidence of actual racism: “racism wi­th­out racists.”

 

More than that. In the period of the New Jim Crow, political figures who head up racist campaigns like Ward Connerly’s attack on affirmative action are obliged to improvise rhetoric and images which advance the cause of racism without being explicitly racist. Connerly’s organizations call themselves “civil rights initia­tives,” claim to be opposing “racial preferences,” and wrap them­selves with shameless hypocrisy in the slogan of “equality.”

 

In the era of the New Jim Crow, to appeal to and mobilize the “racism without racists” in American society, racist leaders must pre­sent themselves as “racists without racism,” even using tra­di­tion­al slogans of the historical struggle against racism to advance the racist cause. Today’s New Jim Crow‑style racists even engage in the misleading quotation of Martin Luther King, giving new meaning to the old adage about the devil quoting scripture for his own evil pur­poses.

 

 

                                            8. The Emergence of the New Jim Crow

 

 

17. The old Jim Crow developed in the period following the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. It was the response of the white-supremacist leadership of the Old South to the abolition of slavery and the defeat of the secession of the Confederate states that had aimed at preserving and extending the Southern slave system. The purpose of the old Jim Crow was to prevent a new, more democratic society developing in the South, in which an alliance of the former black slaves with poor white people threa­tened to overturn the tra­di­tion­al relations of political and econo­mic power and pri­vi­lege.

 

In the face of the historic defeat of the slave system, the former white slavo­cracy and its successors developed the policies that came to be known as Jim Crow in an attempt to drive the black population of the South into a condition as close as possible to the stigmatized con­ditions of a race of slaves. The aim of the old Jim Crow was to reverse as many of the Civil War and Reconstruction gains of black people as possible, to severely delimit the exercise of those rights that could not be reversed, and to create new forms of de­gra­dation to replace the antebellum forms that had perished with slavery. Unable to return the black population of the South to slavery, the Jim Crow leadership would turn the freedpeople into a caste of aliens in their own land, cut off from rights and oppor­tuni­ties, segregated into a world of disadvantage, poverty, and of­fi­cial inferiority.

 

Jim Crow segregation divided black people from rights and op­por­tunities and divided the white workers and poor from the black-white alliances that had fueled mass strug­gles for democratic and so­cial progress after the Civil War. The victory of Jim Crow seg­re­gation meant equally the defeat of the black struggle for racial e­qua­lity and the Southern labor and populist struggles for economic justice. Dr. King once remarked that, in exchange for their po­ver­ty and hunger, the segregationist leaders gave the Southern white poor Jim Crow to eat—an imaginary sense of racial su­pe­riority to fill the reality of empty stomachs.

 

 

18. The New Jim Crow has developed in the period following the vic­tories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Like its pre­deces­sor, it is essentially a countermovement of retrenchment and re­ac­tion launched against the successes of a great movement of hu­man progress. Just as slavery was dead (“dead as their dead grand­fa­thers” Sherman called it) after the Civil War, so the old Jim Crow was dead after the stunning victories of Dr. King’s move­ment in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. Congress and the Pre­si­dent ra­ti­fied those victories won on the streets of struggle with the pas­sage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 

But, as we move into the new century, the New Jim Crow is in­crea­singly, also like its predecessor, as much a countermovement directed against the possibility of a more just and democratic future as it is an attempt to reverse or delimit progressive gains of the past. For, in its deepest and most farseeing impulses, the New Jim Crow is a rearguard reaction counterposed to the demo­graphic changes which, over the next few decades, will make the United States a truly diverse and multinational “minority-majo­ri­ty”—and therefore white-minority—society. The New Jim Crow is an at­tempt to foster a mass national politics based on some white peo­ple’s fears of that inevitable demographic development and its range of implications for the nature of American society.

 

Hidden, camouflaged, coded though it may be in public, the real slogan of the New Jim Crow is the same as the central prin­ci­ple of the old Jim Crow: Defense of White Privilege. To the white working people of the nation who are suffering from the in­crea­sing gap between the rich and everybody else, to the industrial wor­kers whose jobs have been sacrificed on the altars of capitalist free trade, to the millions without private health insurance who can­not afford access to medical care, to the youth who cannot ima­gine how to pay for college, the powers that be have, in reality, lit­tle to offer. So, as Dr. King understood so well of the old racism, hav­ing nothing else to offer, the leaders promoting the new politics of racial scapegoating and discrimi­nation offer an in­crea­singly dis­affected white population Jim Crow to eat.

 

 

19. The old Jim Crow centered on a divide-and-rule strategy of legal segregation. The body of segregationist legislation was supported by the falsehoods of the legal and social doctrine of “separate but equal.” The old Jim Crow required, in fact, a whole intellectual arsenal of falsehoods: the revisionist Big Lie of the “Lost Cause Theory” of the Civil War; the spread of racist myths and ste­reo­types by the postwar white intelligentsia and academia, white news­papers, the white pulpit, and popular forms of entertain­ment; the myth of the idyllic antebellum plantation, with happy and pious black slaves rendering adoring service to their gentle white masters; a vicious parade of white-supremacy and black-inferiority theories, images, notions, superstitions. And, in the end, sustai­n­ing it all was the extralegal regime of lynchings, the real “legal system” of the Jim Crow South from the end of Reconstruction to the murder of Emmett Till; the bombing that killed the Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Ala­ba­ma; and the martyrdom of James Chaney, An­drew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in the deadly heat of a rac­ist Mississippi Summer.

 

 

20. The New Jim Crow starts by trying to draw a line around the end­ing of de jure (legal) segregation much as the old Jim Crow sought to draw a line around the ending of slavery. The New Jim Crow accepts the impossibility of returning to the days of legis­la­ted black-vs.-white segregation. But it wants to prohibit all ef­forts at ending discrimination that go beyond the elimination on paper of de jure segregation. Under the dogmas of the New Jim Crow, nothing must be done about the much vaster problems of the de facto segre­ga­tion that irrationally divides Americans from each other and cuts off millions of still-ghettoized nonwhite peo­ple from the exercise of supposedly guaranteed rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties. The New Jim Crow seeks to do nothing less than des­troy the en­tire body of laws and other policies developed in the 1960s and 1970s to address the ma­lignant evils of de facto seg­re­gation (mea­sures which came to be known as affirmative action).

 

Yet Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Move­ment of the 1960s recognized that little would be gained and much lost for millions of black people if the end of segregation meant nothing other than the formal prohibition of legal discri­mi­na­tion. Such a limitation, the movement’s leaders understood, would tend to degrade Brown v. Board and the civil rights laws from state­ments of living principle to dead letters on mere pieces of pa­per, historical artifacts with no relevance to the ongoing future of American society. In the South, the possibilities of uniting the white and black populations on the basis of fully equal rights and opportunities—the possibilities, that is, of the real in­te­gration that was the heart of Dr. King’s vision for the redemption of the region—would be undermined. In the North, where the system of racial discrimination was overwhelmingly “de facto,” the oppression of urban ghettoes and barrios could never be ad­dressed at all.

 

When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphisin 1968, he was still wrestling with the question of how to spread the civil rights strug­gles whose victories in Birmingham and Selma overthrew de jure se­g­re­gation in the South, to the terrain of the northern-style ra­cism of de facto discrimination. The essential correctness of his as­sess­ment of the dangers of a limitation of desegregation to the le­gal discrimination of the old Jim Crow is tragically confirmed to­day in the persistence of extraordinary extremes of racial po­la­ri­zation in the South and the failure to lift the suffocating op­pres­sion of life in the nation’s impoverished urban minority com­mu­ni­ties.

 

 

                                                                9. Racism Today

 

 

21. Whereas the old Jim Crow was based on the legal (de jure) segregation of the former slave states of the South, the New Jim Crow is a national phenomenon based on countless forms of legally sanctioned and protected forms of segregation and discrimination. This de facto discrimination produces the same effects as de jure segregation but presents itself as something else.

 

That “something else” can be the false claim of standardized tests like the SAT to measure human intelligence or the aptitude to be­ne­fit from an education. It can be the supposedly sacrosanct cha­racter of the boundaries of school districts in one case, in another case the irrelevance of such boundaries in the face of a fictitious principle of parental “freedom of choice.” It can be the as­ser­tion of state’s rights in one case, of Federal authority in ano­ther. It can consist in an argument for the “strict construc­tion” of the Constitution at one moment and a moment later require the whole­sale rewriting of the plain words of the Constitution. In one case it is supposedly a question of the sacredness of voters’ de­ci­sions at the ballot box. But when the voters have voted for dese­gre­gation plans, voters’ decisions don’t matter any more.

 

 

22. The old Jim Crow was openly defended with white‑supremacist and segregationist theories, the openly racist demagogy of white po­liticians, the pseudoscience and falsification of history of rac­ist intellectuals, the racist populism of movies like The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. The New Jim Crow is wrapped in a pret­ty lan­guage of abstract equality and phony democratism. The a­po­logists for the New Jim Crow retail a host of disingenuous ra­cist code phrases—”concern for academic standards,” “law and order,” “ra­c­ial preferences,” the presumed evils of “political correct­ness,” “tough love” for racial minorities, “the problem isn’t race, it’s class,” “I’m not racist, but…,” “preserving American [mean­ing white and Eng­lish‑only] culture and values,” “protecting our bor­ders.”

 

Both the Clinton and the McCain-Palin campaigns against Barack Obama have provided perfect examples of the methods and the vo­ca­bu­la­ry of the New Jim Crow. The candidates or their sur­ro­gates in both campaigns have, over and over, repeated insinuations that a man with an African father and a non-European name couldn’t pos­si­bly be “as American” as his lily-white electoral rivals. This man named Obama, Americans were told by both cam­paigns, didn’t share “American values,” couldn’t understand the experience of “real Americans like you.” In the course of these campaigns, it has been shocking and depressing to witness, at the beginning of the 21st century, the number of times the word “American” has been used as if it meant “white.” (It is arguable in this regard that theClin­tonprimary campaign was even worse than the fall campaign of Mc­Cain and Palin.)

 

Such coded vocabulary all has the value to the project of promo­t­ing acquiescence to racism of being transparent enough to convey their real racist meaning to the racist consciousness they are aimed at, but still passing muster with the news media and aca­de­mia as legitimate and respectable expressions of “mainstream views.”

 

The New Jim Crow presents itself as the hypocrisy of “rac­ism wi­th­out racists” and “racists without racism.” At its most loath­some­ly hypocritical, the New Jim Crow uses a language of false so­li­citude for the members of the nation’s minority groups whose long de­nied and fought-for rights it is seeking to take away and whose hard‑won opportunities it is determined to eliminate. Here the New Jim Crow’s language is entirely reminiscent of the false solicitude of certain white slaveowners over the dangers supposedly presented by freedom to their slaves.

 

 

23. The old Jim Crow victimized all racial minorities but focused its horrors with especial hatred on the nation’s black communities. The New Jim Crow focuses its bigotry with equal bitterness and hatred on the black and rapidly growing Latina/o communities and promotes attacks onLatinaand Latino immigrants with a special fury.

 

Over the first decades of the 20th century, the old Jim Crow branched out from its focus on attacks on black Americans to chau­vi­nist attacks on the millions of immigrants to the US fleeing poverty and persecution in Southern and Eastern Europe. Racist currents, including the KKK, launched waves of both verbal and physical terror directed against the largely Catholic immigrants, along with anti-Semitic demagogy and threats addressed to the grow­ing communities of Jewish laborers and intellectuals in the na­tion’s urban centers.

 

As the new century wears on, the New Jim Crow is increasingly about immigrant-bashing, its attacks focused on Mexican and other La­tin American immigrants and the vital communities they have cre­a­t­ed throughout the US.

 

24. Both the old Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow must be under­stood as both national and interna­tio­nal phenomena.

 

The white-supremacist practices of the old Jim Crow South re­quired acceptance in the North, an acceptance gained through the spread throughout the country of a white-racist fear of the place the former black slaves would assume in American society after E­man­cipation. The determination to put a brake on progress for black people with the end of Reconstruction came to unite the white po­pulation of the nation on the basis of this racism. Belief in white supe­ri­ority became a defining element of national conscious­ness, North and South.

 

For the generations after the great progressive act of the Ci­vil War, these racist patterns would delimit or vi­ti­ate the gains of the war and undermine the struggles of the labor move­ment that grew explosively after the war. This white racism would also be turned against the Chinese, the Japanese, and other immigrants whose contributions were es­sential to the creation of the postwar so­ciety, denying Asian and other immigrants basic citizenship rights for genera­tions. And it would shape the American republic’s un­der­standing of its re­la­tion­ship to the world, creating an Ame­ri­can version of the ide­ology of the white man’s burden, and help lay the basis for the acceptance of impe­ri­a­list and militarist policies that emerged at the turn of the cen­tury. A­me­rican white supremacy at home be­came a premise for Ame­ri­can white supremacy around the world. It was this sort of lin­kage between white racism and impe­ria­lism that moved W.E.B. DuBois to declare that “the problem of the Twentieth Cen­tu­ry is the prob­lem of the color line.”

 

The New Jim Crow also has its international aspects. The an­ti-Mus­lim paranoia of American foreign policy is echoed in the anti-Muslim racism in the 2008 presidential campaign. Domestic im­mi­grant-bashing is not merely a domestic question, for immig­ration is today one of the most important, fundamental, and vast features of the global economy, global politics, and global cul­ture. Chau­vi­nist militarism abroad requires racism at home. Im­mi­grant-bash­ing at home feeds national-chauvinist arrogance abroad. Im­pe­ria­list policies abroad always have their roots in the con­di­tions of in­equality at home.

 

The New Jim Crow has already created the conditions in which the problem of the Twenty-first Century must also be the problem of an imperialist color line.

 

 

25. It is worth emphasizing the importance of one political cha­racteristic that the New Jim Crow shares with the old Jim Crow. Like the old Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow has not only its right‑wing but also its left‑wing face.

 

In reality, the right‑wing ad­vocates of the New Jim Crow would stand no chance of success wi­thout the de facto cooperation of these left‑wing pretend op­po­nents but real allies.

 

Today, as in the days of the old Jim Crow, the left face of rac­ism assumes two main forms. Both rest on the “left-wing” fal­la­cy that progressive causes can advance if only the “distraction” of issues of race and racism can be set aside. This perspective of a “white people’s populism” has been a fundamental negative trend in American politics throughout our history.

 

In one aspect it is the attempt to build progressive struggle on the basis of abstracting from issues of race and racism. In its other aspect it is the claim of supposedly progressive forces to op­pose racism, but never forcefully and never now.

 

The New Jim Crow has already produced its own 21st-century versions of the populist and Progressive currents of a century ago, who could take up any progressive banner except the banner of opposition to the regime of racism sustained by lynching in the South. The liberal and “radical” left of today has also already displayed a panoply of its own versions of the Southern white moderates and liberals of the 1960s whose timidity and hypocrisy Martin Lu­ther King decried. On the electoral front, those who tried to portray Hillary Clinton as some sort of “populist” alternative to an “elitist” Obama have now taken their place in that long, disgraceful tradition of “left-wing” racism.

 

BAMN has always stood against this “white-populist” fallacy and its long consistent history of misleadership, cynicism, and de­feat.

 

 

26. The old Jim Crow rested, in the end, on the reign of terror of the regime of lynchings throughout the South and the unwilling­ness of Northern white people to do anything about it. It took the struggle and suffering of the civil rights convulsions of the 1960s to bring an end to the regime of lynchings, including a heroic army of civil rights martyrs.

 

So far, at first glance, it may seem that the bullies of the New Jim Crow are violent mainly in occasional excesses of rhetoric, full-scale cowards in any real question of action. But a closer look should find real dangers in the right-wing militias that threa­ten to take immigrant-bashing into their own extralegal hands, in the images of lynching inJena,Louisiana, and in the com­pla­cency with which the nation’s leaders contemplated the hundreds of black bodies floating in Katrina’s floodwaters over the streets ofNew Orleans. As civil-rights-veteran Congressman John Lewis’s pained response to the character of the McCain-Palin rallies should have reminded his nation, in American history, racist politics have never been a nonviolent affair for very long.

 

 

27. The old Jim Crow sought to preserve a system of white pri­vi­lege by reducing the black freed people to a condition that ap­pro­xi­mated as closely as possible the abolished status of sla­very. The New Jim Crow seeks to preserve white privilege by keeping the dis­advantaged nonwhite populations of the nation in con­ditions that ap­proximate as closely as possible the supposedly eliminated con­di­tions of the old Jim Crow.

 

The New Jim Crow, then, can be summed up as:

 

1. rendering Brown v. Board a dead letter: rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s

(those political and legal policies whose aim is to block the measures neces­sary to rid Ame­rican society of the discri­mi­na­to­ry con­se­quen­c­es of slavery and legal dis­cri­mina­tion and to prevent the steps ne­ces­sa­ry to end the de facto discrimination that re­mains per­va­sive and is in cer­tain re­s­pects in­creasing in our time)

2. immigrant-bashing: stigmatizing immigration and immi­grants, opposing rational immigration po­licies and im­mi­grant rights, making the lives of immi­grants as dif­fi­cult as possible, es­pecially Mexican and other La­tin Ame­rican im­migrants

(those political and legal poli­cies aimed at protecting white privilege and pre­ser­ving the norms of a “white man’s repub­lic” by block­ing, delaying, and deli­mi­ting im­mi­gration and the demographic evolution of the United States into a more diverse so­cie­ty and, even­tu­ally, a “minority-majority” na­tion; im­pli­cit­ly defining citizenship itself as a ques­tion of preserving white privilege).

The New Jim Crow is characterized by a general acquie­scence to the forms of racist discrimination and oppression that have sur­vived and flourished in the wake of the closing down of the great ci­vil rights struggles of the last Civil Rights Movement. The New Jim Crow’s ostensible argument is that NOTHING ACCEPTABLE CAN BE DONE about today’s pervasive forms of discrimination. Its real ar­gu­ment is that NOTHING SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT RACISM. This is joined with the argument that EVERYTHING POSSIBLE SHOULD BE DONE TO MINI­MIZE LATINA/O IMMIGRATION AND TO BLOCK THE NORMALIZATION OF THE PLACE OF LATINA/O IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICAN LIFE. Undergirding the the­ory and practice of the New Jim Crow is a pessimistic mystical con­viction that racism and national chauvinism will always be with us, along with their accompanying inequalities and paranoias, and the only question is which side of the inevitable mystical divide be­tween advantage and disad­van­tage one happens to have been born on.

 

 

28. Like Dr. King before us, BAMN rejects both the divide-and-rule po­licies and the underlying pessimism of all racist and national-chau­vinist theories and all acquiescence to racism. The New Jim Crow merely represents the latest form of these policies and these at­ti­tudes in American his­to­ry.


III. The Obama Paradox

 

 

                                   10. The Real Significance of the Obama Campaign:

                                        Redefining What National Leadership Means

 

 

29. Inevitably the Obama presidential campaign presents unusu­al challenges to theUnited Statesin a period in which the in­spir­ing power of the Civil Rights Movement is still alive but weakened and reeling in the face of the recent advances of the New Jim Crow.

 

In the first place, the Obama campaign itself is strong evi­dence that, de­spite many particular tactical gains against the cause of human progress, the strategy of the New Jim Crow is far from victorious. For the Obama campaign has made clear that most Americans, includ­ing millions of white Americans, just don’t accept the logic (defense of white privilege) or share the base instincts (fear and hatred of nonwhite people and immigrants) of the purve­yors of the New Jim Crow.

 

Even more than that, the actual election as president of a re­la­tively pro­gressive black politician would challenge, simply as an his­to­ri­cal fact, the fundamental premises of white racism through­out Ame­ri­can history. From the days when the first black slaves were set to labor for white masters in colonial Virginia to today’s dema­go­gic claims that Obama has “nothing to offer” other than his race, it has been an essential premise of white supremacy that black Ame­ri­cans were well suited to be white people’s servants, but not to be leaders, and certainly not to be leaders of white people or of the nation as a whole.

 

 

30. Despite the widespread belief over the course of American his­tory among certain white people in the inferiority of black and o­ther nonwhite people, in actual American history there have been many ex­tra­ordinary leaders who were not white. Above all, two black lea­d­ers have stood out in American history as leaders of national move­ments and of both black and white Americans.

 

Frederick Douglass was the greatest leader of the abolitionist and antiracist struggles of the nineteenth century. Douglass ad­dressed himself to both white and black Americans and was, during the 20 years before the Civil War and during the War itself, both the effective spokesperson for black Americans, slave and free, and the most important leader of the national abolitionist movement, gui­d­ing and inspiring both the black and white masses in the strug­gle against slavery. Further, while leading what was in reality an in­te­grated mass movement against slavery, Douglass always recog­nized and frequently spoke out against the racial prejudices to be found among white antislavery people.

 

To millions of people around the world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest American political leader of the 20th cen­tury. Like Frederick Douglass, Dr. King was the central spoke­s­per­son for black Americans in his lifetime. And, also like Fre­de­rick Douglass, Dr. King presented himself to his fellow citizens of all races as inspirer and leader in the common national struggle for equality and justice. Also like Frederick Douglass, Dr. King saw it as one of his duties to speak out and fight against the prejudices and the discrimination practiced by even the white people—the white liberals—who declared themselves to be his al­lies.

 

The greatness in their own times of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King is indisputable. But, simply because they were great black leaders of the past, it has been too easy for histo­ri­cal treatments to turn them into figures of pious and boring ir­re­le­vance, not the powerful mass political leaders they actually were, leaders with practical lessons to teach us on the necessity of struggle and on the methods that can enable struggles to win. In our time, the truth of the lessons and life of Martin Luther King has been travestied, turning this courageous and unyielding fighter into a feeble and harmless stained‑glass‑window saint, who sup­po­sed­ly spoke and stood for nothing other than sanctimonious and pa­tri­otic platitudes.

 

 

31. Despite the subsequent historical falsification and belittling of the roles of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, in their lifetimes they redefined what it means to be a national leader inAmerica. They were black leaders of interracial movements that transformed American history. In both cases, that they were black Americans was essential to the decisive role they played in making the nation a more democratic and just society for all. Their relationship to the black population of the country gave them their deep insight into what was most fundamental to the character of the nation as a whole and made them capable of being the decisive national leaders of the movements that steered the nation through successful radical change.

 

Because Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King redefined the meaning of national leadership in their lifetimes as the heads of powerful national mass movements, the nation itself was changed in ways that have made it possible for Barack Obama’s presidential cam­paign to acquire the significance it has. The struggles of these great movements, led and educated by these great leaders, cre­ated the conditions in which the American people can say today, in their progressive majority, “national leadership” does not just mean “white leadership,” and “black leadership can mean national lea­dership.” Such a declaration on the question of national Ame­ri­can leadership inevitably redefines as well what it means to be an American in the direction of inclusiveness, internationalism, and rationality. Therefore, even taking into account the severely li­mited character of the candidate’s own progressive positions, the suc­cesses of the Obama campaign so far represent an historic set­back for the forces of racism, national particularism and ar­ro­gance, and unreason.

 

 

11. The Meaning of an Obama Victory:

                                       The Political Maturity of the American People

 

 

32. The election of Barack Obama as US president would send out a clear message against racism in ways that even the great strug­gles of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King have not.

 

In the first place, the election of Obama as president can on­ly take place if millions of American voters, including white vo­ters, repudiate some of the most important elements of the nation’s his­tory of white racism in order to elect him.

 

Were Obama a black conservative, white voters could elect him as a hypocritical means of defending white privilege, much as white racist politicians supported the elevation of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court or pour adulation on Ward Connerly for leading the attack on affirmative action. But Obama supports his party’s long­standing relatively progressive positions on issues of race and ra­c­ism, including defense of certain affirmative action and inte­gra­tion policies and opposition to the most draconian attacks on im­migrants. Support for Obama is not, then, a plausible ploy for New Jim Crow‑era racists as a “nonracist” front for advancing the roll­back of civil rights.

 

A vote for Barack Obama requires the recognition that a black citizen, committed to at least a minimal defense of the gains of the past Civil Rights Movement, is at least as qualified as any available white candidate to be the elected and legally constituted leader of the nation and the person treated internationally as the most powerful single individual in the world. To vote for Barack Obama, millions of white Americans will have to repudiate 400 years of racist mythology and demagogy, even if only for the moment they are in the voting booth.

 

In that moment, they will have changed American history in a small but still important way for the better, because of the way in which they will have declared that the character of the American peo­ple has changed for the better.

 

It is in this sense, as an indication of the maturing anti­ra­cist consciousness of a mass electorate of millions of American ci­ti­zens, that the Obama candidacy and the prospect of Obama’s elec­tion as president matter profoundly to BAMN.

 

 

                                          12. The Paradox of the Obama Candidacy

 

 

33. While recognizing the progressive historical significance of the possibility of an Obama victory in 2008, BAMN must also recognize the contradictory significance of certain features of the way in which this situation has been achieved. For there has been a paradox in the Obama candidacy that is especial­ly important to BAMN’s project of building a new civil rights move­ment. That para­dox is the difference between what the Obama candi­da­cy means to his wealthiest financial backers and what the Obama can­dida­cy means to the progressive base of the Democratic Party whose candidate he became in the course of the presidential pri­mary contests. This pa­ra­dox became clear only in the course of the surprising de­ve­lop­ment of the electoral struggle among the can­didates for the De­mo­cratic Party nomination for president.

 

As of the first Democratic Party caucuses and primary elec­tions of 2008, there was, hypothetically, a significant field of can­di­dates, but only three of these candidates seemed to have any real chance of securing the presidential nomination: Hillary Clin­ton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Of these three “serious” can­di­dates, Edwards, running as a “populist”—that is, as a candidate ap­pealing to the party’s left‑wing base on issues of economic and so­cial inequality—was regarded as a long shot in comparison with the two better funded frontrunners, Clinton and Obama.

 

All three leading candidates entered the primary contest as in­dependently wealthy people with sufficient backing from other weal­thy people to sustain their campaigns through the first weeks of 2008. Clinton and Obama, however, had substantially more finan­cial resources and, specifically, the backing of both more very weal­thy individuals and a substantially larger number of those weal­thy individuals who could pull together (“bundle”) contri­bu­tions from groups of individuals to overcome the legal limitations on the amount of individual contributions.

 

This financial advantage convinced most political pundits that only Clinton and Obama were likely to survive the early primaries, and events proved the pundits’ predictions correct.

 

But the pundits assumed something else that turned out very dif­ferently. Between Clinton and Obama, they assumed there was lit­tle reason to expect anything other than aClintonvictory. Senator Clin­ton appeared to be the clear favorite of the national party ap­pa­ratus and a large number of state and local officeholders who, by ear­ly in 2008, seemed to be rushing to endorse her as the presumed pre­sidential nominee. By the time the primary votes were well under way, Senator Clinton had gathered substantial numbers of pledges of sup­port from the unelected convention delegates known as super­de­le­gates, chosen by appointment by party leaders because of present or past positions as governmental officeholders or party officials.

 

As the wife of Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to be presi­dent, Hillary Clinton was viewed by many of her supporters—inclu­ding her husband—and by many journalists, as the almost inevitable no­mi­nee of her party for president. Many seemed to view the primary pro­cess more as a sort of extended coronation ceremony, with pre­sump­tive Queen Hillary graciously going through the pretense of an e­lec­toral exercise.

 

Two early developments clouded but did not seem to disturb this essential complacency about the inevitability of a victory by Queen Hillary. First, Senator Obama seemed to be outstripping Se­na­tor Clinton in the early reports of donations from wealthy backers. Se­cond, the launching of Senator Obama’s campaign on the basis of vague promises of a “New Hope” forAmericasomehow different from the established leaderships of both parties produced a surprisingly pas­sionate response among the Democratic Party electorate as well as many people who call themselves “independents.”

34. While these two sides of the Obama campaign had certain things in common—in particular, the view that it is time for theUnited Statesto elect a black president—they represented, over­all, quite different aspects of the mass agglomeration that is the Democratic Party. Their support of Barack Obama represented quite different political trends and impulses in the Democratic Party.

 

To Obama’s wealthy backers—liberal capitalists, profes­sio­n­als, intellectuals, and artists—Senator Obama has seemed to re­pre­sent the safest option for using the Democratic Party to achieve their ends. These wealthy liberals want a break with the right‑wing fa­na­ti­cism, overreaching arrogance, and extreme divisiveness of Pre­sident Bush’s Republicans. But they want an extremely mild sort of break.

 

 

35. In foreign policy, for example, these wealthy liberals want an end to the overreaching neoconservative fanaticism that led to the invasion and endless occupation ofIraq. But they see no al­ter­native to an essentially militarist policy in dealing with theMid­dle Eastor, for that matter, the world. Their criticisms of the Bush policy are largely technical and tactical, not fundamental. In their view, Bush has been arrogant and incompetent, not essentially wrong. They want not an end to American militarism abroad but a mi­li­ta­rist policy conducted more pragmatically, with greater compe­tence and more diplomatic finesse.

 

Endangering these wealthy liberals’ aims is not only the con­ti­nuing commitment of McCain’s Republicans to Bush‑type fanatical militarism but, even more, the very different opposition to the Bush policy coming from the progressive mass base of the De­mo­cra­tic Par­ty.

 

The attitudes of the Democratic Party’s progressive base—es­pe­cially those elements of the party base most passionate about the Obama candidacy—are very different from those of most of the party’s wealthy elite. The progressive base wants a real break with the Bush foreign policy, an end to the militarism and extreme, go‑it‑alone chauvi­n­ism of the Bush presidency. Though the left‑wing mass base of the Democrats lacks an agreed‑upon, clearly worked‑out al­ternative to the Bush policy, they want a policy that is fun­da­men­tally dif­fe­rent, a foreign policy in theMiddle Eastand around the world that ac­tu­ally expresses the most progressive, democratic, and inter­na­tio­nalist elements in American history, not the most au­tho­ritarian, bigoted, and chauvinist elements. They want a policy based on mutu­al respect and cooperation among peoples, not on end­less slaugh­ter and bullying by the American military—a policy ac­tu­al­ly based on de­mo­cratic and humane values, not military terror.

 

 

36. With regard to domestic policies, the gap between the Demo­cra­tic Party’s progressive mass electoral base and its wealthy li­be­ral funders is much the same. The actual, active, progressive vo­ters of the party base want real reform, the defense of fundamental pro­gressive principles, and the clear rejection of conservative Re­pu­blican policies. In education, the Democratic Party’s progressive base wants a clear defense of the principles of universal public edu­cation, not privatization and charter schools. In health care they want universal quality health care affordable for all, not the la­test insurance companies’ scheme to protect and maximize their profits.

 

 

37. The Democrats’ electorally crucial black and growing pro­gressive Lati­na/o base support the party as the only realistic electoral alter­na­tive to the avalanche of racist attacks under the Republican ae­gis. Black Democratic voters want a real defense of affirmative ac­tion and a renewal of a meaningful effort to realize the demo­cratic and egalitarian vision for Americaof Brown v. Board and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King.

 

Most progressive Latina/o Democrats share this vision but also yearn for an end to immigrant‑bashing and the cruel raids of the ICE marau­ders. Across the country, Latina/o communities want the establish­ment of a humane and realistic immigration policy that gives legal re­cognition to the de facto citizenship of millions of people with­out whose labor and talent entire American communities and economic sec­tors would collapse.

 

 

38. Certain important trade unions have been especially im­por­tant in providing large sums of money and organizational resources to the Obama campaign. These unions have as their own aims legisla­tion to clear certain roadblocks to organizing new unions and, more ge­nerally, reviving cer­tain progressive aims from the period of the migh­ty class strug­gles of the American labor movement. These u­nions also have, in general, weighed in on the side of the overall agenda of the pro­gres­sive mass base of the Democrats.

 

 

39. On most of these domestic policy issues, the actual poli­cies of most of the Democrats’ wealthy financial backers have a si­mi­lar character to their attitudes on foreign policy: they want mil­der and more pragmatic versions of the conservative Republican po­li­cies, not a sharp, qua­li­tative break with them and not authen­ti­cally progressive policies of meaningful change.

 

 

                13. Barack Obama and the Historic Struggle within the Democratic Party

 

 

40. This gap between party base and wealthy funders is hardly new. For going on forty years, there have been few people inAme­ri­camore deserving of sympathy than the progressive base of the De­mo­cratic Party, because of the contempt with which they have been trea­ted by their party’s funders and the party tops tied to them.

 

To the economic and political czars of the Democratic Party, the party rank and file’s vision of the party as an engine for rea­li­zing progressive ideals is not the life’s blood of the party that gives it its only real reason for existing. To these be­hind-closed-door leaders, these backroom “insiders,” the idealism of the par­ty’s base is its main problem, the primary obstacle that keeps the party from becoming the party of moderate conservatism the wealthy funders want and believe they have paid for, as opposed to the par­ty of progressive reform the rank and file yearn for.

 

For many years, the Clintons have been among the most impor­tant party leaders who have been trying to drag the party to the right, away from the ideals of the progressive party base, to con­vert the Democratic Party from a party of moderate reform into a party of moderate conservatism. It is therefore understandable if many left‑wing Democrats have sought to find a way to derail Queen Hil­lary’s presumed progress toward coronation as their party’s pre­si­dential candidate. But this tendency does not even begin to ex­plain the remarkable character of the Obama phenomenon.

 

For the paradox of the Obama candidacy is that Senator Obama emerged through the primary process as the preferred candidate of most of the activists on both sides of the historic division within the Democratic Party.

 

 

41. For the members of the party’s progressive base who have pas­sionately embraced Barack Obama as THEIR candidate, the irony is that Senator Obama, by and large, agrees with the party’s wealthy fun­d­ers and party tops, not with the progressive base who support him so ardently.

 

In fact, on most of the essential issues, Senator Obama and Se­nator Clinton agree. Among the original larger field of Demo­cra­tic presidential primary candidates, Senator Obama and Senator Clin­ton were, in reality, closer to each other than they were to the other candidates. It was only after the February Super-Tuesday re­sults left only Obama and Clinton standing, that the false po­la­ri­zation of a two‑person contest created the illusion of se­ri­ous policy differences between these two candidates.

 

On most of the most significant policy issues, Obama and Clin­ton were not to the right or left of each other, but merely twee­dle­dum and twee­dle­dee to each other. Only a few of their most over­wrought sup­porters even suggested otherwise.

 

 

42. Between the February Super‑Tuesday vote and the final spring primaries, Ba­rack Obama’s over­all showing had reduced the pos­sibility of Senator Clinton’s over­tak­ing him to negligible pro­portions. Traditional conventional wisdom at such a point usually dictates that the candidate who is plainly losing withdraw gra­cious­ly in the name of party unity and the best interests of the nation. Many important figures in the party made clear they thought Senator Clinton should bow out. But most party leaders remained silent on the question. And Senator Clinton herself remained stub­bornly in the race, apparently never doubting that she would find some­where the millions of dollars necessary to do so.

 

To many Obama supporters, their candidate seemed to have won heroic victories against staggering odds and over against the pre­con­ceived notions of theClintonsand the elite party apparatus tied to them. If anyone had ever earned a presidential nomination, surely Barack Obama had done so. To them, the mere idea of depriv­ing him of the pre­si­dential nomination after such an achievement began to look like some indefensible behind‑closed‑door conspiracy against any black candidate, with no rational basis what­soever.

 

If there was no significant policy difference between Obama and Clinton, if both historical factions of the party in actuality found Obama an easy candidate to embrace, then why did the contest con­tinue? Why didn’tClinton’s wealthy backers put her under more pres­sure to withdraw from the contest, in the name of the party u­ni­ty all agreed was essential to defeating John McCain’s Re­pub­li­cans in November?

 

And if Obama was in reality always in essential agreement with his party’s moderate‑conservative establishment, why did the par­ty’s left‑wing base embrace him so passionately?

 

These are questions which seem to cry out for answers. Some obser­vers have assumed that the apparent mystery here can be ba­nished and the two questions be brushed aside by the mere as­sump­tion of a stance of cynicism. These cynics assume that the two ap­parent mysteries can be explained by Senator Clinton’s insane am­bi­tion, on the one hand, and by the naive and desperate illusions of Senator Obama’s rank‑and‑file supporters, on the other hand.

 

To BAMN it seems clear that here, as usual, cynics can offer facile answers but rarely true and useful ones. We are convinced that answering these two questions posed by the specific character of the Obama phenomenon requires recognizing that there are actu­al­ly larger issues at stake than Senator Clinton’s personal ambition or condescending allegations that Senator Obama’s devo­t­ed and idea­lis­tic rank-and-file admirers are naive.

 

 

                                                            14. The Two Obamas

 

 

43. The Democrats’ wealthy liberal funders who have supported Obama in preference to the other Democratic candidates, including Hil­lary Clinton, support Obama from a somewhat complicated stand­point.

 

In the first place, they feel confident that Obama is on the Democrats’ moderate‑conservative wing, not the party’s progressive left wing.

 

Eager as these rich liberals are to get the Republicans out of power, they are fearful of the fact that in order to do this they must risk emboldening and empowering the Democrats’ left‑wing mass base, which wants to travel much further down the road of progres­sive policies than the wealthy liberals and the party apparatus and which tends to oppose certain conservative policies favored by the liberal elite. The wealthy elitists therefore want to do whatever they can to ensure that the Democrats’ presidential nominee will stand with them on certain key issues against the party’s left wing.

In Barack Obama the moderate‑conservative elite have been con­vinced they have such a candidate.

 

 

44. However, Hillary Clinton is also such a candidate. And in fact many leading figures of the Democratic moderate‑conservative wing made clear their essential satisfaction with either Obama or Clinton. Why were so many of these wealthy liberals and par­ty‑ap­pa­ra­tus people so deeply convinced of the superiority of Oba­ma as to raise vast sums of money for him to defeat Clinton and risk the future wrath of the former First Lady, her former‑pre­si­dent hus­band, and their many powerful backers?

 

Over the course of the campaign, it became evident that there were two main reasons for this somewhat surprising phenomenon.

 

The first reason is relatively straightforward and, at first glance, apparently admirable. These moderate‑conservative members of the Democrats’ financial and organizational elite believe that it is time for theUnited Statesto elect a black president, as long as that black president shares their moderate‑conservative views.

 

The second reason is more complicated and casts the first rea­son in a less‑than‑admirable light.

 

These members of their party’s elite must look ahead to the na­ture of the situation once the Democrats have taken the pre­si­den­cy from the Republicans, presumably while retaining control of both houses of Congress, perhaps with increased majorities. Once this has hap­pened, this elite knows that they will be less frightened of the return to power of the de­s­pised Republicans and more frightened of the raised expectations of the Democrats’ left‑wing base. They cannot get rid of Re­pub­lican arrogance, dogmatism, and incompetence wi­thout the as­sis­tance of their party’s rank-and-file left‑wing base. But they must have a way to keep that base from realizing the ma­jor elements of its own prog­res­sive aspirations.

 

This is especially true in foreign policy, where the party base views the Bush policy in Iraq as simply wrong. Rank‑and‑file De­mocrats are overwhelmingly committed to ending theUSmilitary oc­cu­pa­tion ofIraqand the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq as soon as possible. The party elite employs the rhetoric of reversing the Bush policy in Iraq, which it regards as badly motivated and badly executed, but is in reality committed to maintaining the es­sence of the Bush policy: altering the balance of power in the Mid­dle East in favor of the US by maintaining as large as possible a US military presence there on a long‑term basis.

 

For most Democratic voters the problem is how to get out of Iraq and end the policy of relying solely on military intimidation to influence developments in the Middle East. For the party elite the problem is how to make a show of withdrawing US troops fromIraqto appease popular opposition to the Bush policy, while ac­tu­al­ly maintaining or enlarging US military presence in the Middle East. This is no easy shell game. Yet the Democrats’ party esta­blish­ment is convinced that a real withdrawal of US military forces, a genuine reduction of the US military presence in the Middle East, and an actual shift from the Bush emphasis on milita­rism, would place the US in the position of having to support or con­ciliate the genuine forces for progressive change, for democracy and egalitarianism, in the Middle East, forces the US government re­gards as too radical and far more dangerous over the long run than Islamic fundamentalism.

 

This party elite sees in Barack Obama a president with a much grea­t­er ability to play this shell game with the party’s prog­res­sive base, to maintain a militarist policy while keeping the party base from rebelling. They think he can play this role qualitatively bet­ter than Hillary Clinton because he is not tied to the party leadership’s failure to mount meaningful opposition to Bush’s in­va­sion of Iraq in the way Clinton is, because, more generally, he is not seen as a party‑establishment insider in the way Clinton is, and because, as the nation’s first black president, he would be much more likely than Clinton to receive the benefit of the doubt, at least for a time, of a party rank and file exhilarated by this his­torical achievement. In many ways Obama has presented himself in this light to the party elite in the course of winning their poli­ti­cal support and financial backing.

 

On domestic issues, this party establishment views Obama as hav­ing the same qualitative advantages over Clinton as they do on fo­reign policy. They see him as a president far more able to co‑opt the party’s rank and file into swallowing policies they oppose and not taking advantage of their opportunities to advance the policies they believe in.

 

But this is not the end of the matter.

 

 

45. If the economic and political elite of the Democratic Party have their vision of Obama and their understanding of the signi­fi­cance of his campaign for president, the progressive rank and file of the Democrats have their rather different vision of Obama and a quite different set of aims for his campaign.

 

To the Democratic Party’s rank and file who have taken up the O­ba­ma candidacy as their own cause, the somewhat surprising support of a section of the Party elite for Obama means that the pro­gres­sive base of the party has a realistic opportunity to do things they very much want to do:

 

1. Elect the United States’ first black presi­dent.

2. Take advantage of the increased hope and raised expecta­tions of such a moment in Ame­ri­can history to strengthen the forces committed to the progressive positions they be­lieve in.

These progressive Democrats hope that Obama’s election will re­sult in a sufficient shakeup in the party establish­ment to weaken the hold the moderate‑conservative elite have had on the party lea­der­ship for a generation.

 

46. In a very real sense, then, the support the two wings of the Democratic Party are giving to Obama stem from opposed aims and motives—from counterposed visions of the future of their party and the future of this nation.

 

For the moderate‑conservatives, Obama represents the best means possible to co‑opt the party base into accepting the con­ver­sion of a party of moderate reform into a party of moderate con­ser­va­tism. To the party base, Obama represents the best available pos­si­bility for accomplishing the great progressive act of electing a re­la­tively progressive black American as president and, in so do­ing, strengthening, overall, the progressive forces in the country to achieve a new period of meaningful progressive reforms.

 

To the Democratic Party’s progressive base, electing Barack Obama President of theUnited Stateshas become, essentially, a means of EMPOWERING THEMSELVES AND THE FORCES OF PROGRESSIVE CHANGE IN AMERICA.

 

To the moderate‑conservative wealthy elite of the Democratic Par­ty, electing Barack Obama has precisely the opposite purpose. The moderate‑conservatives see an Obama presidency as their best bet for preventing the empowerment of the Democratic Party’s prog­res­sive base.

 

 

47. In the course of the primary campaign, it became clear to both of these counterposed tendencies in the party that, given the actual na­ture of the American electoral system, for the time be­ing, each needed the other in order to succeed. In effect, in 2008, the right and left wings of the Democratic Party emerged from the pri­ma­ry contests committed to parallel attemp­ts to ma­neu­ver with and manipulate each other in order to achieve their coun­ter­posed aims. The Obama candidacy is itself the key policy for both these wings, the decisive tactic in their counterposed, mutual maneuvers and ma­ni­pu­lation.

 

Obama himself was obliged to appeal to both wings of his par­ty in order to achieve his victory in the primaries. His cam­paign had the character of an endless succession of vaguely wor­d­ed compro­mi­ses between the two tendencies, framed by abstract rhe­toric about hope and change. Vagueness of this kind is typical of Ame­rican politics in general and presidential politics in par­ticular, but the Obama campaign has represented an unusually extreme and im­por­tant example of it.


IV. Obama and the Struggle for the New Civil Rights Movement

 

 

                                               15. The New Jim Crow Clinton-Style

 

 

48. As the primary electoral contest proceeded, the campaign of Hil­lary Clinton had no legitimate basis on which to defeat Obama’s ef­forts. Senator Clin­ton had no honest way of appealing effectively ei­ther to the more conservative or more progressive wings of her par­ty. She was her­self in many ways the leading figure of the con­ser­vative wing. But, as of the begin­ning of the primary contest, much of that conservative elite was already convinced, for its own rea­sons, of the superior advantages of an Obama presidency. It was not possible for Se­na­tor Clinton to win on the basis of their sup­port. Nor, pre­cisely be­cause of her and her husband’s actual po­li­ti­cal record, did Senator Clin­ton have any plau­si­ble chance of grab­bing the banner of the pro­g­res­sive forces in the party from Se­na­tor Obama.

 

Senator Clinton did, however, have one strategy in which she and her advi­sors seemed to believe for a period of time, which in fact did show some early signs of success. To the historic achieve­ment of electing the na­tion’s first black president she could coun­ter­pose the historic achievement of electing the nation’s first wo­man pre­sident. She and her campaign organization accordingly craft­ed a stra­tegy largely on this ba­sis.

 

The election of Hillary Clinton as the nation’s first woman pre­si­dent, taking into account her and her party’s moderately pro­gres­sive positions, would in­deed represent an important historical gain for much the same rea­son as the election of Obama as the first black president. It would ex­press the ability of the American peo­ple to overcome past pre­ju­di­ces against the leadership of women and to take a stand against the oppression and inequality of women.

 

Just as Senator Obama has faced inevitable right‑wing racist at­tacks for seeking to be the nation’s first black president, Se­na­tor Clinton has faced sexist attacks for seeking to be the nation’s first woman president.

 

BAMN has unequivocally condemned and opposed and will un­e­qui­vo­cally condemn and oppose both these racist and sexist attacks, start­ing from BAMN’s fundamental principle that the different sec­tions of the oppressed must unite in order to win.

 

 

49. This Clinton strategy, however, did not on its own show the a­bi­lity to prevail over Obama’s overwhelming advantages as a can­di­date.

 

By the aftermath of the February Super‑Tuesday vote, it began to seem unlikely that Senator Clinton had a meaningful chance of over­taking Obama in the nominating process. A troubling shift seems to have taken place then in the Clinton approach to the primary con­test.

Instead of focusing her appeal to primary election voters main­ly on her political positions and record and her experience and on the importance of electing a woman president, Senator Clinton be­gan using “surrogates”—prominent supporters who could say things on her behalf that were too controversial for her to say herself—to appeal to white racist voters, especially white racist women. These “surrogates” declared, in a series of public statements, in ef­fect that Senator Obama had nothing to offer as a candidate other than his race.

 

These racist appeals seem to have had the desired effect: they drew many white women into voting in the Democratic primaries in or­der to vote for Senator Clinton, in part as an expression of sup­port for electing a woman president and in part as an expression of op­po­sition to the election of a black president—that is, in part on an arguably feminist basis, but definitely in part on a racist ba­sis.

 

 

50. This policy has not been the subject of anything like the wide­spread public outrage it has deserved. On the contrary. Demo­cra­tic Party leaders have publicly and privately rejoiced in Se­na­tor Clinton’s success in drawing into the Democratic Party ranks mil­lions of white racist (the code word is “conservative”) voters, es­pecially white racist women voters.

 

The danger of this policy is great. It tends to treat an ap­peal to racism as the key to rebuilding the Democratic Party—of the two major parties the relatively progressive party on issues of race. This would represent an important enlargement of the evils of the period of the New Jim Crow.

 

Under the old Jim Crow, the Democrats were, in the north, the par­ty most black people came to vote for after the New Deal po­li­cies of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the South, the De­mo­crats were the very party of Jim Crow, the “Dixiecrats,” who stood for “segregation forever” and maintained the policies of white su­pre­macy. During the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Demo­cra­tic Party felt compelled to take up the legis­la­tive banner of ci­vil rights, and many of the hardcore Dixiecrats de­ser­t­ed the par­ty for the Republicans.

 

The Clinton project for her party has the danger of becoming a New Jim Crow version of the pre‑Civil Rights situation. The idea is not to drive black, Latina/o, and other nonwhite voters out of the party. The assumption is that the Republicans will remain so much worse that these voters will have nowhere else to go. But the suc­cess of the Clinton project and the racist basis on which it was carried out during the primaries could marginalize black and Lati­na/o vo­ters within the party that many see as their only possible po­li­ti­cal home.

 

 

51. This is not only a partisan question. The two‑party system has been, through most of American history, an extra‑Constitutio­n­al institution at least as fundamental to how the nation is run and how it is—or is not—united as anything in the Constitution. The two‑party system tends to define and delimit the fundamental ter­rain of the terms of all political discussion and debate.

The Clinton project for the Democratic Party creates the real dan­ger that in the next generation doing anything about the real is­sues of race and racism will be off the agenda of both parties and therefore off the agenda of American politics. Under these con­di­tions, in reality, it would no longer be possible even to SPEAK THE PLAIN TRUTH about racism in a way that could influence American po­litical life, because BOTH parties would be constituted on a rac­ist basis, much as they were during the original Jim Crow era.

 

After Super-Tuesday, as the weeks of primary season went by, the Clinton campaign seemed to be less and less about the futile at­tempt to secure the presidential nomination for herself and more and more about presenting herself to white racist voters as a can­di­date who can “feel their [racist] pain”—that is, these white voters’ irrational fears of black Americans’ struggle for equa­li­ty. Senator Clinton’s strange decision to remain in the primary contest to the end seemed less about conducting a campaign to get herself elec­ted and more about a project to re­structure her party on an in­crea­singly racist basis, New Jim Crow-style.

 

 

52. In order to conduct this dangerous campaign, Senator Clin­ton and her advisers were obliged to develop a very “New Jim Crow”‑style rhetoric of racist innuendoes that aren’t quite expli­cit­ly racist—of code words and phrases such as those we have list­ed above. By and large, both the news media and other politicians let her get away with the act. Overwhelmingly, however, black vo­ters were not fooled.

 

It is worth reflecting somewhat further on the “racism without ra­cists” in Senator Clinton’s primary campaign in order to bring out its real meaning and so also be in a better position to under­stand the inevitable use of simi­lar New Jim Crow devices by the Re­pub­licans in the fall presidential cam­paign.

 

Efforts to use Senator Clinton’s longer tenure in Washington,D.C., as an argument for preferring her over Senator Obama were heard frequently in the course of the campaign. But, since the elec­tion of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Americans have tended to have little difficulty valuing other qualities more highly than expe­ri­ence alone. And the question of the actual quality of a given can­didate’s experience can actually be a liability. In its own terms, the “experience” argument counted for little and seemed often an easy cover for some other concern—what a white voter would talk about in public rather than the voter’s actual anxiety about elec­t­ing a black president.

 

From the beginning the Clinton campaign argued that she would be more electable than Obama in the November election. This “I’m more electable than you” argument is standard fare among candidates in primary elections. The problem with this argument in this case is that polls taken during the primaries repeatedly showed Senator Obama doing better than Senator Clinton in besting the Republicans in the fall election. Further,Clintonwas hard-pressed to present ANY PARTICULAR CREDIBLE REASON WHY Clinton was supposedly more e­lec­t­able than Obama—other than race.

 

As the primary contest wore on, the real meaning of the elec­ta­bility argument seemed to many of Senator Obama’s supporters to be merely the assertion than NO BLACK CANDIDATE could be electedUSPre­sident in 2008. This was, in fact, the explicit view stated in­side the Clinton campaign by “chief strategist” Mark Penn in a cy­ni­cal internal memo written in March 2007:

 

The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun, and a third party would come in then anyway.

 

Whatever Senator Clinton may have thought of her “chief strate­gist’s” sentiment herself, it was an unacceptable argument for Sena­tor Clin­ton or her surrogates to offer publicly. However, on the ground, be­low most news-media radar, and on the endless unac­coun­t­able grape­vine of the Internet, this was the message loud and clear. This mes­sage joined with a crazed avalanche of inane and scur­rilous slan­ders of Senator Obama that flooded Internet users’ email ac­counts, nou­rishing paranoia with fat servings of racist spam. The or­gy of an­ti-Obama spam was typically trivial, often patently stu­pid and false. What it revealed was not the cleverness or even the de­ter­mi­nation of the Obama-bashers—and certainly not any real po­li­tical vul­nerability on the part of Senator Obama—but the un­sur­pri­sing fact that there was a certain segment of the white American pub­lic who were prepared to accept even the most ludicrous and ir­re­levant ru­mors as the pretext for prejudice against any pro­mi­nent black po­li­tical figure.

 

As Senator Obama racked up broad-based victories in the pri­ma­ries and outshone his Democratic rivals in opinion polls on the fall elections, the “unelectability” argument lost any rational force it may seem to have had. But the temptation to appeal to that seg­ment of the white American public that could be swayed by ir­ra­tio­nal appeals to racism seemed to have gained force.

 

In the end, Senator Clinton’s surrogates suggested, in care­ful­ly coded phrases, that, in comparison with Senator Clinton’s long list of official credentials, Sena­tor Obama’s relative youth as a na­tional figure meant that he had “nothing to offer” other than his race. This distasteful sort of innuendo seemed to resonate with suf­ficient numbers of white voters to put some wind into the sails of Senator Clinton’s lagging campaign. In other words, it was when rac­ist innuendo was combined with the ineffective “expe­ri­ence” ar­gu­ment that the Clinton campaign seemed to gather strength. It was the tactical decision by theClintoncampaign to offer this in­nu­en­do to the primary electorate that ended up defining the poli­ti­cal cha­racter and the historical significance of her campaign.

 

Along with this racist innuendo of the “nothing to offer [except his race]” argument against Barack Obama, the Clintoncampaign increasingly questioned the “Americanness” of Senator Obama. This line of attack had been urged in March 2007 by Clin­ton’s “chief strategist” Mark Penn in the “Attila the Hun” memo later leaked and published in the September 2008 Atlantic Monthly. Dripping with cynicism, the memo deals with the growing diversity ofAmerica as if it were merely a question of one candidate’s elec­to­ral tactics:

 

All of these articles about his [Barack Oba­ma’s] boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Ha­waii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

Save it for 2050.

Penn argues for treating these patently positive qualities in Obama’s life as negatives.

 

It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president in time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values….

 

Penn urges Senator Clinton to center her campaign on the supposed contrast of her “American” qualities to Barack Obama’s supposed lack of such