- Michael Eric Dyson
professor of sociology at Georgetown University. He is a political analyst on MSNBC and is author of numerous books, including Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, and most recently, Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic.
- Glen Ford
a longtime journalist and executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com, a weekly journal of African-American political thought and action. His latest article is called “What Obama Has Wrought.”
As President Obama accepts the Democratic nomination to seek four more years in the White House, we host a debate on his presidency with Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report and Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University and author of numerous books. Ford calls Obama the “more effective evil” for embracing right-wing policies and neutralizing effective opposition, while Dyson argues Obama provides the best and obvious choice for progressive change within the confines of the U.S. political system. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” as we turn to our two guests for a discussion and debate about President Obama’s speech and record. We turn to Michael Eric Dyson, who’s joining us here in Charlotte, North Carolina, professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., author of many books, including Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson and Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. And in New York City, we’re joined by Glen Ford, a veteran journalist, executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! You were inside last night in the Time Warner Cable Arena.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: It was supposed to be held at the Bank of America Stadium—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: —but because of the weather, it was—that was canceled.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN:Talk about your response to his address last night, Michael Eric Dyson.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, it was—it was electrifying, in the sense that Obama had before him the task of repudiating all of the myths and the lies and the deceptions and the deliberate distortions generated just a week earlier in the Republican convention, but also to rally the base, so to speak. And various aspects of that base had been either disaffected because they felt that they were marginal or that his progressive agenda that he had initially articulated had not come to fruition, but many of them had been chastened by the intransigence of a Republican Congress that refused to acknowledge anything of word that the man could put forth. So he’s operating in a very difficult zone. So he’s got to organize his resistance to the Republicans, galvanize the base, give a speech flowing enough in poetry but rooted enough and public policy. Starting with Michelle Obama a couple nights before that and then Bill Clinton himself, in his vintage form, Obama, I think, took the baton and ran the last leg, and did so with aplomb, with verve and with oratorical flourish.
AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford, your assessment?
GLEN FORD: Well, it certainly isn’t the sports-like assessment that I just heard from the good doctor. But we at Black Agenda Report have for some time been saying that Obama is not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil. And we base that on his record and also on his rhetoric at the convention. So, we would prefer to talk about what history-making events have gone down under his presidency.
He’s, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law. And I think that possibly the biggest impact, his presidency—and I’m not talking about his—all this light and airy stuff from the convention, but actual deeds—I think probably what will go down as his biggest contribution to history is a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks, into Wall Street, under his watch, and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, what’s interesting is that, look, despite the poetry of my dear friend Glen Ford, the reality is, is that the American left will never be able to participate not simply in the pageantry of American politics and the light and airy stuff that conventions engage in. Of course, the fluff and the desiderata may be absolutely true, as Mr. Ford has indicated. But the reality is, is that Obama is as progressive a figure who has the chance of being elected in America. Friedrich Engels is not going to be the secretary of labor, and Marx will not be the secretary of treasury, bottom line.
Now, having said that, all of the stuff that Glen Ford has talked about is absolutely right in an ideal world where the politics of erosion can be stemmed by progressive forces that have an upsurgence, that have the possibility of getting elected. But if you ain’t in the game—Miami Heat is playing the—talking about sports—is playing the Oklahoma Thunder. It’s not “I’d prefer it be the Los Angeles Lakers.” This is the game we’re talking about. And if the American left can’t be involved in the actual practice of government to offer the critical and salient insights that are available—take—take 2000, when siding with Nader, then Al Gore, who should have been president, who would have prevented some of the stuff that we see now happening, didn’t occur. The left won’t take responsibility for the fact that, with the extraordinary intelligence of a Glen Ford and many other leftists notwithstanding, the reality is that he’s the most progressive president, as Gary Dorrien, an American leftist who teaches at Union Theological Seminary argues, since FDR. Those are the stakes on the ground. We’re talking about what he’s done with earned income tax credit, when we talk about bailing out the American automobile industry, when we speak about the fact that Affordable Healthcare Act is put forth, you talk about pre-existing conditions. When you speak about, across the board, what Obama has been able to do despite the intransigence of the Republican Party, then you talk about on-the-ground practices of actually achievable political goals. I think, Glen, we have to take that in consideration.
AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford?
GLEN FORD: Well, what Obama has done is actually move the entire debate to the right. He claims that he’s the one standing between the Republicans and Social Security and Medicare and the entitlements, but it was Obama, two weeks before he even took the oath of office, who said that entitlements would all be on the table. This was at a period in which the Republicans were in disarray, couldn’t mount a challenge to anything. Obama followed through and created this model for austerity with his deficit reduction commission, which came up with the figure of $4 trillion in cuts, which he now includes among his solemn promises to the American people. Those cuts would savage, in fact, Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.
We say that he is the more effective evil because he is able, being a Democrat, to accomplish more of that right-wing agenda than the Republicans ever could. Remember, George Bush tried to privatize Social Security. He got his worst domestic defeat of his term in so doing, and the Republicans were reeling from that even in 2009. It took Barack Obama to introduce the model for austerity. And it is a—and it certainly is a twist on history—I think it’s a lie—to claim that he is the bulwark of defense. Now, we need to tell the truth. That is our first obligation, not just get in the game as the rules of the game have been laid down by one—by either of those corporate political parties.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this debate. Glen Ford is the editor of BlackAgendaReport.com, and Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention.” We’ll also play more clips from President Obama’s address and hear from some others who have been taking the microphone this week here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” Democracy Now!’s special two hours of daily live coverage from the Democratic National Convention, inside and out, as we turn to more of what President Obama said last night in his acceptance address last night here in Charlotte.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right. They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they had to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.
Now, I’ve cut taxes for those who need it—middle-class families, small businesses—but I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires will bring good jobs to our shores or pay down our deficit. I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China. After all we’ve been through, I don’t believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We have been there, we’ve tried that, and we’re not going back. We are moving forward, America.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama, in his acceptance address last night here in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Democratic National Convention. Glen Ford is our guest in New York, executive editor of the BlackAgendaReport.com, his latest piece, “What Obama Has Wrought.” And Michael Eric Dyson is with us here in Charlotte, professor of sociology at Georgetown University. Your response to that, Michael Eric Dyson?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, first of all, Glen Ford always is insightful and intelligent, but when you say, look, let’s—our first obligation is to tell the truth, let’s tell the truth on both sides. Let’s talk about the fact that the—you talk about an effective evil, what about the effective political practice of the left that is not always talking about ideals as opposed to the realities? When you said to me that, look, our job is to tell the truth, not talk about getting in the game—but I’m saying if we’re not going to be involved in the political process either to reform it, to restructure it, to revolutionarily intervene on it, or to anarchically destroy it, then the option is that we’re on the sidelines. We have highfalutin discourse and revolutionary rhetoric, but we don’t have the possibility of making a difference in people’s lives.
But, number two, acting as if Obama is the worst thing since Hitler begins to converge with right-wing rhetoric that has already demonized the man, attacked his persona, assaulted his person, and refused to acknowledge the nuanced perspective that might be disappointed, or outright disagreeing with Obama, but acknowledges the hand he was dealt and the conditions under which he serves. When I look at the—when you talk about entitlement reform, Obama is reacting to a hostile Congress that holds the cards. This notion that, before then, that he had outright consideration or at least influence and purview misses the fact that Blue Dog Democrats, Democrats within his own party, were refusing to so-called play ball with Obama. So he had resistance from within, intransigence from without.
Thirdly, when we talk about healthcare, are you not, Glen, going to address the fact that 40-some-odd million people now have the possibility of having their conditions dealt with? Most poor people had to use the emergency ward as a form of health prevention. Now at least they have the condition—pre-existing condition removed. Women have a pre-existing condition removed. Planned Parenthood is there. The predatory lending that was going on with consumer practices have been addressed. The way in which the liberal international policy—yes, liberal, not progressive, not radical, but liberal internationalism—has reintroduced an openness to a Muslim world, despite the complicated and contradictory practices that exist there.
So, I’m saying, in the real world of actually existing political practices in which the left has any hope of participating, you can’t just stand on the sideline throwing mud. If a Glen Ford was down here in Charlotte, North Carolina, engaging in talking to people, engaging in the brilliant analysis he does, maybe the nuances of existential angst of people who are tired of idealism on either side, but engage in the actual politics that we can engage in, that might make a difference in your own analysis.
AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report?
GLEN FORD: Well, the good doctor is certainly not going to get us to defend a lack of coverage of people for healthcare. The fact of the matter, the real history of healthcare is that Obama’s bill was actually born in the Heritage Foundation—that’s a right-wing Republican think tank—in the late '80s. Essentially the same bill was a Republican bill in 1993. Bob Dole ran on that bill in 1996. Mitt Romney picked up that bill for Massachusetts later on. And it then emerged as the Obama bill. The year 2009 was the year for single payer. What Obama actually did was to browbeat, isolate the part of the Democratic Party, which was a majority of the Democratic Party—and the Republicans took no part in this—in order to impose this regime, which in fact puts the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies in the money flow for billions and billions of dollars and does not reduce the rising costs of healthcare. It can't, because their profits are all tied to it. And as those costs of healthcare continue to increase, the pressures for austerity then increase. And they are already being used as excuses for austerity. And then Obama comes with his model for austerity and his $4 trillion cuts, introduced by his hand-picked commission for deficit reduction.
So, you’re painting—this is the attempt of people who want to defend Obama from the left—you attempt to say that he’s a victim of all these Republican forces, but in fact he is the initiator, from within the Democratic Party, of these austerity measures. He is the initiator of preventive detention. Preventive detention, which is—savages the Bill of Rights, I think it basically abolishes the rule of law in this country. It was just a theory under Bush. It was a presidential opinion that inherent in the presidency was the right to detain, to lock up, and throw away the key forever, anybody, including U.S. citizens designated by the president. But that was just the president’s opinion. It fell to President Obama to nurture and guide through Congress a bill, actual legislation, that brings for the first time to the United States a preventive detention without trial. That is making history. That’s part of the Obama legacy. And that was not a Republican concoction, you see.
And that makes him the lesser of two evils, not because he is more evil than the Republicans even, certainly not than Hitler, as you tried to put on us. It’s because he can accomplish, because people like yourself insist, even though you acknowledge most of these crimes that I’ve elucidated have been committed under his watch, even though you acknowledge this, you continue to support him, and you make him a fait accompli, and you allow him to bring in more and more of the right-wing agenda, which then passes, in ways that the Republicans could never get it passed, just as George Bush could never complete his assault on Social Security. These Republicans couldn’t do it, either. They can’t—they can’t put the ax to Medicaid and Medicare. They don’t have the power. But, if President Obama puts his muscle behind the $4 trillion of cuts, then the deed is done. That makes him the more effective evil.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, what’s interesting is that, you know, boy, the Obama you’re painting, Brother Glen Ford, is a superman. My god, you’re really making me appreciate even more his provenance, his purview, his almost providential predilection—sorry for all those Ps; I’m a Baptist preacher—for some kind of superpower. I mean, where is this guy? Who is this man that you’re portraying here? Obama exists within the political confines of a Republican right-wing assault and resurgence that has been driven, as we both, I think, can agree, by subtle and not so subtle racist intransigence, the denial of his very humanity. You’re not speaking anything about the birtherism, about the rise of the tea party, the “teavangelicals,” who have organized their political dissent under the rubric of a religiously coordinated and affirmed belief that really subverts the potential for grasping hold of the very progressive policies that we would speak on. You’re acting as if he’s existing outside of the confines of that intransigence and that resistance to him and the very denial to himself as a human being, much less the president of the United States of America, of a certain level of dignity and respect.
So, in that context, all of which—a lot of the stuff that you talk about, I absolutely agree with. And your point is that since I agree with it, then I’m really complicit in the very evil that I point to. Well, Glen, I am a Baptist preacher. I ain’t got no kind of idealistic notions that peoples who argue about justice don’t have blood on their hands, as well, including the black left, including the American left, that sits around and engages in rhetorical revolutionary analysis without getting inside the game that people actually have to play. And this is what I mean by that sports analogy. If you come to any poor spot in American culture where people are being deprived of certain resources, Obama’s practices as concilitatory to a right-wing methodology, as you have already articulated, or in acknowledging the political realpolitik that—the realpolitik that’s on the ground—that is to say, taking the heritage of a—or the Republican pedigree of a conservative ideal and then translating that into a workable solution to actually existing problems for poor people, is the best we can do right here. What is not good are ideals and rhetorics that don’t have the practice—don’t have the possibility of changing the condition that you analyze. Otherwise, you’re engaging in a form of rhetorical narcissism and idealogical self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s professor-preacher Michael Eric Dyson. Now, I want to ask Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, as you talk about Obama, President Obama, being the more effective evil, are you saying it would be better to have Romney in the White House?
GLEN FORD: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that with Romney in the White House, even Dr. Dyson and others, many others, would join in the resistance to austerity, the resistance to war. Apparently, they cannot muster the energy to do that under a Democratic president, under the first black president. It’s their behavior that does in fact facilitate these austerity assaults and these war—this warmongering, because they don’t resist it, and they accept it as something that is a fait accompli, that is an inevitability. But what our obligation is, is to resist austerity. I do not accept that Obama has to make these so-called compromises. I don’t think their compromises; I think they’re part of his overall plan to have a grand accord with the Republicans. But if you accept that, then you’re saying that the Democrats could not on their own stop these assaults on Social Security. And that’s just not true. But they cannot be expected to stop these assaults on entitlement programs if there is a Democrat president in office who is putting his bully pulpit and his immense prestige within the party itself towards these compromises. That’s what Obama has done. That’s how he facilitates it. And, yes, if you do not—if you do not have an effective critique, make effective demands against this president, then he will go on his right-wing-drifting merry way.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, well, well, look, look, look. I have no doubt that what Glen Ford has just articulated is necessary—that is, principled opposition to President Obama. I think that there ought to be consistent and persistent forms of critique, but forms of critique that generate political practices that have the chance of acting on the lives of poor people. For instance, look at redistricting. We’re acting as if John Conyers and Maxine Waters in the Congressional Black Caucus are not facing stiff resistance from the lines that are drawn, the geopolitics, if you will, of their particular districts, that change the demography of the people who will even vote for them. I’m saying, until the left deals with on-the-ground political realities, talking about austerity measures—when you compare the Republicans to the Democrats, or at least to Obama in the last three-and-a-half years, to what the Republicans have put forth, austerity is not what he’s talking about. He’s acting within the context of the cards that have been dealt to him, not trying to evoke a paradigm that has no material condition and no rooting in the actually existing practices that people have to confront.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dyson, let me just ask you a quick question—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —around the issue of progressives seeing President Obama doing all he can to appease Republicans—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —and we see where that has gone—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —but with the progressive uprisings of the last year, whether we’re talking about Occupy Wall Street—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —or the massive uprising in Wisconsin, the biggest in history—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: —as they tried to take on Governor Walker—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —gutting public unions, they saw President Obama missing in action.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Sure, absolutely. Well, there’s no question about that. What happened in Wisconsin, what happened with Occupy Wall Street, even though probably they were much—you know, bringing up the rear, so to speak, on Occupy Wall Street, because they finally acknowledged the legitimacy of people’s outrage and then wanted to channel that, again, for their own particular purposes. So I have no truck with that kind of exploitative practice that refuses to acknowledge the progressive agenda and says that here are moments where you can intervene. Some of that fear derives from the fact that in a Republican-controlled Congress, if you can’t even get through ideas that are—that take in part, as Glen Ford has brilliantly argued, some of its elements from the Republican ideology, ain’t no—ain’t no but sense in believing that an outright progressive resistance to certain practices within the Democratic—within the Republican Party are going to work from a Democratic president.
So, that being said, it doesn’t mean that those Occupy Wall Street or what happened with Scott Walker’s recall and the progressive resurgence in Wisconsin are not effective and should not be used to criticize President Obama. I acknowledge that full for. But I think, at the same time, that those moments of political resistance that progressives can engage in, beyond our disgruntlement with Obama—I just want to ask Glen Ford to move beyond the politics of disgruntlement and say—when you ask him the question, here’s the deal. Romney is the other guy. Romney and Ryan is the other ticket, versus Obama and Biden. As much criticism as you want to leverage against Obama and Biden, what are you doing to make certain that a Romney doesn’t engage in—doesn’t become effective? Because if your point is the more effective evil, you think they’re both evil, you’re encouraging a kind, I think, dangerous apathy among voters or the collapse between any distinctions, morally, ethically and, God knows, politically, between two competing parties that will have a significant impact upon their lives, should Romney and Ryan become the president and vice president of America. There’s a big difference.
AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford?
GLEN FORD: Yeah, we on the black left have absolutely no impact on what the tea party and right-wing Republicans and racists do or say. We should have some effect on what our own communities, especially the African-American community, which has historically been the most progressive constituency in the United States, and so we direct our comments there. The African-American community is involved deeply in the Democratic Party, and that’s where our critique should be, and that’s where it would have the most effect. I have to remind everyone, including—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: So, are you voting for Obama?
GLEN FORD: —including Dr. Dyson, that Obama introduced his model for austerity in 2010. That’s when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. That’s when the Republicans could pass nothing. And I think they can pass nothing like the draconian measures that they propose today, unless they get help from the Democratic president. The deficit reduction commission, which he commissioned to make that model for austerity, its findings were not accepted even by most of—by enough of the commission to make it the verdict of the commission itself. So, when Obama quotes the commission, he’s talking about the two right-wingers that he appointed to head it—a right-wing Democrat and a Republican. He adopted the $4 trillion figure that they came up with. It’s the figure that he offered the Republicans last summer, if you’ll remember. And the Republican figure, in terms of spending cuts, was essentially the same as Obama’s figure. The difference between the two was that—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah.
GLEN FORD: —Obama included some modest tax hikes, and the Republicans would have no more of it. But the people on the receiving end of those cuts, it really didn’t matter to them whether there was a modest tax increase or not. They absorbed the pain. And that is the same $4 trillion that he solemnly promises to carry forward in his second term. So, Obama is president. He is an agent of his own will. He is not a superhuman being. He is the president who can make lots of Democrats in Congress bend to his will and accept austerity as the law of the land and the future.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. I do want to say, though, the labor figures are in. The economy added 96,000 jobs in August. Unemployment fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3, according to the Labor Department. Analysts predicted the August jobs number would come in at around 125,000. We are speaking with Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, BlackAgendaReport.com, and with Professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown, author of many books, including Can You Hear Me Now?, as well as Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X and more. We’ll be back with this discussion in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” We’re broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Yep, it’s the last day. It’s the morning after. I’m Amy Goodman. And we’re going to go to foreign policy right now. In his speech, President Obama touted his foreign policy experience, also saying his opponent wants to, quote, “take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For all the progress that we’ve made, challenges remain. Terrorist plots must be disrupted. Europe’s crisis must be contained. Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace. The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions. The historic change sweeping across the Arab world must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or the hate of extremists, but by the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people who are reaching for the same rights that we celebrate here today.
So, now we have a choice. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy. But from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy—not al-Qaeda, Russia—unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.
My opponent—my opponent said that it was tragic to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. Well, I have, and I will. And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our joint chiefs don’t even want, I will use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work, rebuilding roads and bridges and schools and runways, because after two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation building right here at home.
AMY GOODMAN: President Barack Obama last night giving his acceptance address, talking about foreign policy. This is Democracy Now! Our guests are Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, author of many books, and Glen Ford, executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Glen, your response?
GLEN FORD: He’s not the peace president; he is the war president and recognized as such. That’s why his war-making prowess has such a high profile in his re-election campaign. At one point, President Obama was simultaneously drone-bombing five countries. Those were Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he has succeeded in redefining war. These are historical accomplishments of the worst kind. He’s redefined war, and he did this with Libya, after bombing this country for seven months, certainly inflicting tens of thousands of deaths, although the United States doesn’t acknowledge how many people were killed. After seven months of bombing Libya, President Obama tells the U.S. Congress that this doesn’t come under the War Powers Act, because it wasn’t a war at all. And it wasn’t a war at all because, as far as we know, no Americans were killed. And this is a redefinition of war. This is truly historic, a redefinition of war. It is not a war, as far as Obama’s doctrine is concerned, unless Americans are killed. So you can slaughter as many people in the world as you want to, as long as Americans’ casualties are kept at low or no. Then it’s not a war, and it’s not even the Congress’s business what you do. So, this is definitely a war president.
And I do not understand why people who are peace-minded, like the good doctor, are not up in arms, why folk who oppose Republican wars cannot seem to bring themselves to oppose Democratic wars. But as a result of their failure to oppose these wars and the expansion of the definition or the alteration of the definition of wars, these will continue. And that lies on people like Dr. Dyson’s head.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, let me—
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dyson.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: —speak of that crown that you’ve laid on my head, or wreath or a crown of thorns. The reality is, is that U.S.A.'s use of torture has been rejected under Obama. Secret prisons from the CIA have been rejected. There's no question that Glen Ford’s stinging indictment of American foreign policy has to be taken into consideration, and, absolutely right, some of the contradictions of those of us on the left who have not spoken against the drones or not spoken out against the practice of redefining what war is or what casualties are. I have no interest in defending that.
But what’s interesting is that, again, a left foreign policy looks like what? The death of Osama bin Laden and the murderous—the end of a murderous regime of Muammar Gaddafi? I mean, the reality is, is that what do—what can we expect from the left in terms of dealing with the geopolitical realities of an international foreign policy that has to not only take into consideration indigenous forms of democracy that are being facilitated by people who ask for American intervention and who want the protection and the safeguard of a certain American presence, on the one hand, and then opening up avenues and borders of resistance through social media, where the Arab Spring obviously was not inviting American empire to rest squarely upon its neck, but asking for American energy to hoist its own democratic energies? Again, a left foreign policy has to take that into consideration.
And so, I would ask the good brother for the question, what does the American, the black American left do? Do you encourage people to vote? And do you encourage them to vote for Obama versus Romney? Or do you encourage a kind of apathy that throws your hand up and says, “We can’t do anything about American foreign policy. The liberal internationalism that Obama is practicing is hardly distinguishable from what preceded him with the interventionist politics, the pre—the prevention, if you will, of—the pre-intervention of a George W. Bush”? Is there no difference? I don’t hear Glen Ford articulating for actual voters on the ground, what will you do November 6? What do you encourage them to do?
AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford?
GLEN FORD: Well, we are certainly not encouraging people to vote for the more effective evil. But, however, members of my family and friends and people that we at Black Agenda Report deal with closely, politically, are going to vote for President Obama. All we ask of them is that they not tell any lies about his record in the process, to tell the truth. And truth telling is not something that’s just engaged in in highfalutin principle; we make our decisions based upon the truth. Dr. Dyson just alluded to President Obama’s new doctrine of foreign policy, which is that any time some group of people—and you can always find some group—asks that the United States intervene in the internal affairs of their country, then the United States should. He never mentioned the term “international law.” And this is one of the great historical legacies of the Obama administration. He has ignored international law, laws that have evolved over hundreds of years, ignored the sovereignty of nations and decided that, well, wherever the United States deems evil to occur, it will and should intervene militarily. That is anarchy. That is chaos. But actually it’s called imperialism.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, look—OK.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, just one quick thing. I should point out that we’re here in Charlotte, North Carolina. And Charlotte is where Samir Khan lived. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike last October—his family filed suit in July against Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus and two senior commanders of the special forces—in a drone attack that was authorized by President Obama—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Look, there’s blood—
AMY GOODMAN: —in Yemen.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, right. There’s blood on the hands of America in regard to foreign policy—no question about that. Always has been, always will be. It should be resisted. It should be strategically—our resistance to it, as a matter of conscience and conviction, should be made explicit. And just because I didn’t mention international law doesn’t mean I don’t think that we should abide by it. Of course that’s the case. My argument here is that when we begin to speak about the function and the effect of American foreign policy, we can’t just focus on one side while discounting the legitimacy of indigenous forces for insurrection within those countries that you want to cede sovereignty to. And sovereignty exists within the context of political efficacy and hierarchy and legitimacy. If you have at the very heart of a society a question about the legitimate effect of power being exercised within their confines, then we do have to make a moral judgment about intervention at that point. It’s muddy. It’s—it’s muddy. It’s bloody. It’s very nuanced, which means it ain’t perfect. But I think it does beg the question as to how we will intervene when people ask us to intervene. I’m not suggesting that it’s arbitrary and willy-nilly, just whenever somebody shows up and our interests converge with theirs, then we get involved. I’m saying that there is a much more strategic form of liberal internationalism.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. And if you want to weigh in, go to our website at democracynow.org. You can also get a copy of today’s show. Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and thank you so much to Glen Ford of BlackAgendaReport.com.
That does it for our broadcast. We continue our 100-city Silenced Majority tour tonight in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ll be giving a speech at Ferguson Auditorium at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community [College]. It’s 340 Victoria Road. Saturday 9:00 a.m. at Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville. And then tomorrow night in Durham, North Carolina, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.