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In Service to Power: A First Read of Michelle Obama’s Speech
As the U.S. sinks further and further into economic decline, with 23 million people unemployed or underemployed and one report after another detailing the everyday sense of dread the average working class family faces with a declining standard of living, cuts to education and vital services for those most in need, the tightly controlled spectacle called the Democratic National Convention featured First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday, September 4th.
The convention appeared little different than parties built on the personality cult of the Great Leader upon whom all aspirations are placed. There was little to distinguish the Democratic National Convention from the gross rubber stamp party congresses of the old Stalinist parties, with functionaries clapping in approval, on cue, for popular consumption.
Michelle Obama proved equal to the role. An attorney having graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, she played the role of the political wife with few thoughts of her own, betraying the happy talk follies of women’s empowerment with an entire female Democratic congressional entourage on stage as props. Such is the logic of the Democratic Party, the graveyard of social change. These former feminists angled to demonstrate their devotion to the party of war abroad and at home with its program of social regression, racism, the widening income gap between working people and the rich, of women’s increased burdens within the family, often while clinging to the worst jobs that prove incapable of providing an adequate income for their families, let alone social advancement.
Michele Obama is considered by most media observers of the PBS Newshour, for example, along with former President Bill Clinton, to be one of the most admired national figures from the Democratic Party. Her public image has been carefully styled and maintained to avoid any parallel to Hillary Clinton. No where to be seen was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom the right wing has sought to skewer for decades.
Her normally apolitical role as First Lady, often advocating against childhood obesity, was set aside to thump and stump for her husband’s second term as CEO of corporate America. Tuesday was a night for soft sell and mobilizing the Democratic base for the arduous task of the last stretch of the electoral contest.
While commentators from the mainstream media are dedicated to celebrating the status quo and papering over the enormous social contradictions that rustle just below the surface, we take exception to the First Lady’s offering of pablum for the masses. At a time when millions of people have used up their employment insurance while food stamp assistance is at a historic high, Michelle Obama’s motherhood speech to the nation stands as a testament of how deeply out of touch the Democratic Party is with the actual economically depressed social reality, and how profoundly shallow the message of the Democratic Party is as it seeks to steel itself in the face of the Republican challenge. The Republicans, of course, are no less cynical than the Democrats, offering nothing but the crass politics of resentment turned against the Democrats. They correctly point out the miserable job record of President Obama and ask the public, “Are you better off now?”
Most workers in the U.S. can correctly identify the Republicans as their deadly enemies. However, it is more difficult for them to accurately perceive the Democrats, who have a well-honed machine for scaring the populace about how much worse they will be under a Republican watch.
Here are a few of the selections from Mrs. Obama’s speech, acclaimed by those who only look at style and avoid the actual substance, which is grotesque.
“They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.”
We wonder in what country Michelle Obama was actually raised. The country in which Michelle Obama grew up discriminated against Black people, and the “American Promise” of hard work achieving success is an insult to the one hundred years of civil rights struggles that led to the Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, the struggle against Jim Crow.
“And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
Here she failed to clarify that the only people President Obama reached back to were bankers, whom he showered with financial help. As for reaching back to working people, he offered almost nothing, whereas Roosevelt at least offered the National Recovery Act and the Conservation Corps, after working people mounted huge demonstrations demanding relief. Obama offered no Centers for Employment Training Administration that Carter initiated. Obama provided no War on Poverty, as LBJ did. When the country wakes up from the reality of the elections, people will find their wallets empty and prospects few to none.
“If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.”
Michelle Obama now spits on the historical memory of the American people in general and of the African American people in particular. As a former student of African American studies, she is well aware that the farmers and blacksmiths where not alone in their war of independence from the British empire. They were joined by slaveholders and merchant capitalists and Indian killers, all together in a bid to build their own empire on top of the slavery of Black Africans and stolen Native American land. The omission speaks volumes as progressives wonder aloud to themselves why Obama seems so unconcerned with civil rights, which also makes one wonder why the nation’s first Black president does not address issues of racism in America.
If Michelle Obama is to be a role model, is it at the expense of the historical memory of Black people? Is it to mouth the historical mythology of the foundations of the United States, a narrative that is expressly meant to deny the humanity of the African Americans forced to build the wealth of this nation? Is that what Martin Luther King, Jr. and the millions of Black seekers of justice in the United States fought for?
This, unfortunately, is the best thinking of the Democratic Party. And this is evidence of why this party, and the wealthy class it serves, the capitalist class, must be uprooted, cast out and replaced, by a revolutionary democracy of working people, who won’t be fooled again.