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Blacks for Ron Paul…?

January 18, 2012

Brandon Harris, a young African-American film director and screenwriter, authored a powerful article in the Daily Beast about his disillusionment with Barack Obama and his support of Ron Paul. It’s a fantastic piece. Harris writes,

Many people in the imperiled working-class African-American communities continue to be drawn to President Obama, despite his lack of interest in helping struggling black homeowners plagued by predatory lending or those unfairly criminalized by the war on drugs. Given all the obfuscation and disrespect paid to him by the increasingly abrasive and indignant Republican majority in the House and the utterly obstructionist minority in the Senate, our community’s loyalty is perhaps justified.

Harris continues to posit that identify politics have failed African-Americans. Instead, he suggests that we support,

[P]oliticians, regardless of their party affiliations or the color of their skin, who uphold policies that will see an end to the disproportionate jailing of our young, our most impressionable, our most vulnerable members; who will not continue to send us to die on foreign soils in numbers that are much greater than our share; who will respect the dignity and sovereignty of our homes and property, regardless of what they claimed to believe about our communities 20-plus years ago.

There’s an argument to be made that identity politics has been lousy for black America, so I won’t quibble with that criticism. Harris qualifies that Paul has abhorrent views on a variety issues, including a woman’s right to choose, the welfare state, the Civil Rights Act, etc., but notes that Paul is a “moral bulwark against the continued infringement upon our civil liberties” and that he exhibits “startlingly empathetic moral imagination when it comes to non-Americans.” Fantastic points.

This is where I continue to diverge when it comes to criticisms of Barack Obama and Ron Paul: (1) Too much criticism and plaudits of individual political actors and so little critique of political ideology, in my mind, is problematic and (2) Continued overemphasis of politicians as change agents.

I’m not sure what people expected out of Obama; he’s progressive within the context of a highly conservative political culture and there has been little critique of his specific brand of liberalism. He certainly hasn’t fulfilled many of his campaign promises, but what politician ever has? Tim Wise, the brilliantly blunt anti-racism activist said it perfectly,

Meanwhile, at what point do you stop being so concerned about whether a presidential candidate is pushing the issues Paul raises (so many of which do need raising and attention), and realize what every actual leftist in history has realized, but which apparently some liberals and progressives don’t: namely, that the real battles are in the streets, and in the neighborhoods, and in movement activism… in short, if you’re still disappointed in Barack Obama, it’s only because you never understood whose job it was to produce change in the first place.

Ergo, it’s simply not enough that we support politicians who uphold policies we favor… there needs to be movement activism. This acknowledgement hasn’t been lost on the right; perhaps we on the left will soon be reminded.

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