An Open Letter to President Obama: Against the Rhetoric of Hope

BY SASWAT PATTANAYAK
Originally written for publication in Radical Notes

Dear President Obama,

I hope you truly emerge as the hope you have claimed yourself to be.

A hope for the ordinary people, who have believed in your promises of change and cried tears of joy upon your election.

A hope that will let the likes of Bernard Madoffs to face trial and be sent to jail, not left to enjoy house arrest at his comfortable multi-million-dollar penthouse, while, need I mention, thousands of young people of color languish as under-trial prisoners of the industrial complex you are going to chair, a couple of days from now.

A hope that will finally help you decide whether or not you will cancel the series of billion-dollar extravaganzas that have been planned to herald your taking up a position of responsibility to serve, not rule. At a time when the world is reeling under economic depression a hope that you shall declare these scums of earth – those that are spending $50,000 a ticket to get a favoured seat at the ceremony to crown you – as your enemies, not friends.

A hope that you will finally advise your celebrity fans – the multimillionaire friends – that an election to a post is merely incidental, not phenomenal enough, to demand rhetoric like “Anything is possible in America – the greatest country on earth”. And that bunch of Hollywood celebrities may also be advised to root out the trees that hide their mansions from public purview so that people can get a view of how stinking, parasitical, gluttons the so-called commercial artists really are, living in the richest boulevards and inspiring the rest of the nation to become like them – almost in a pattern of dark humor.

A hope that you will rid yourself of the comparisons with Dr Martin Luther King, because unlike you he never would claim today that your election proves in any form, kind or shape that America has suddenly become intelligent or free, or both, in selecting its leader. He would never have accepted funds from Wall Street and Zionist lobbyists. He would never have accepted corporate media favors. He would never have remained silent at Israeli atrocities on Palestine. Unlike you, Dr King would not have claimed America has no colour lines just because two clowns in form of McCain and Palin could not inspire White America enough. Did I mention Dr King would not have voted unconditionally for the $700-billion corporate bailouts as you did – thus ensuring their media throw around bullets at a desperately sinking people’s hopeful minds?

A hope that you will be a world leader, rendering thoughtful humanitarian progressive opinions, not promising reactionary interventionist military tactics. Your urge to pursue military wars against tethering economies of Pakistan and Afghanistan is far from the hope the world looks forward to from the leader of a country that has, in the first place, created the mess those regions are.

A hope that you will truly stop addressing the AIPAC Zionist causes and rather side with the progressive Israeli and Palestinians in order to end the war on peoples in the Middle East – a war directly funded by American taxpayers money. So much so that the working class Americans are forced to pay 47% of their tax money towards fighting wars against Arab peoples. And now they hope, President Obama, that you will conduct direct negotiations with the Hamas- legitimately elected to government in Gaza – instead of funding hate against the Middle East by furthering flow of tax money to the Israeli militarist state. Certainly not to depend on the Republican Party adviser, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, to decide on your behalf – a process you have already formalized.

A hope that you will “fully withdraw” from Iraq and not “reduce” the presence of American troops there- your claim throughout that American troops are “part of the solution in Iraq” is a wisdom that is contrary to laws of international human rights as applied to sovereign nations, not to mention one that has resulted in slaughter of well over a million innocent people. Despite Abu Ghraib and despite well-documented deaths of civilians at the hands of the American military your view is abjectly hopeless: “The fact is that our US military is probably the most capable institution on the planet in terms of carrying out extraordinarily difficult assignments. And I continue to be concerned that we have set out for ourselves just an enormous task of rebuilding an extremely volatile and large country, and the military is not going to be able to do it alone so we’re going to have to have some good policies from Washington to move it forward.” Dear President Obama, the ordinary voters, deeply anguished at Republican measures and deeply brainwashed by Democratic media, have pledged their hopes on you. This is time, they hope you can move the military backward and “bring the boys back” home, not to move them forward into any more tortures in the Middle East that bring us shame as human beings, not just as divinely blessed Americans.

A hope that you do in fact refrain from the last lines in your speech in quoting the tradition: “Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.” As it turns out, there are so many of us atheists and so many of us followers of non-Christian God that it pains to notice the lack of a break in the tradition when it comes to religious diplomacy. In fact, Christian fundamentalism runs so high in the land that you had to invite the most infamous reactionary pastor to herald you as the leader – a man who most despicably declares homosexuality as a disease and opposes same-sex marriages. And oh, even while you used the media to woo the sizable section of LGBT constituency, your own opposition to gay marriage is also well pronounced. And yet, our depressed, repressed and suppressed sexual minority still hopes you will make true of your promises and get rid of seeds of intolerance such as the Godmen who preach against “God’s own”.

A hope that you will sincerely withdraw your inaugural speech in favour of a more pragmatic, critically progressive one. Your opening lines that “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer” just does not sound convincing enough. Are we not the same people who voted year after year based on what the media had to convince us on foreign, domestic and economic policies? A country having the largest record of anti-democratic measures, of having committed vote scams and frauds at presidential level, of having maintained an elitist tradition of two richest parties ignoring everyone else, an electoral process that decides on candidates based on how much funds they generate thereby eliminating anti-corporate candidates effectively – how could this country suddenly become the land of the dreams of its founding fathers (not to mention, that you keep forgetting some of those were slave-owning fathers) and torchbearers of democracy (or demon-cracy, dear President considering even on the day of your speech all the anti-democratic policies were still in place- from Guantanamo Bay to Iraqi oilfields? From military bases in Kuwait to assertions in NATO, from supremacism in the UN Security Council to maintenance of Cold War ties with dictatorial regimes of Saudi Arabia or installed state armies in much of Africa to slaughter people’s outfits?)

A hope that you will carefully snap your ties with the likes of Warren Buffett. Is it merely incidental that the very year you got elected was the year when Buffett was declared as the richest man in the world – the man who you claimed time and again was most qualified to be your economic adviser. The capitalist accumulator of ill-gotten wealth, the man who has become the charity celebrity – such a charitable man he is that he has promised to donate his billions to another charitable (sic!) buddy of his, Bill Gates for the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation! As though the activities of Gates Foundation in perpetuating life-threatening diseases in Africa by funding illegal factories were not enough, now your adviser and angel investor in your “middle-class” campaign, Mr Buffett, has to make the corporate houses stronger while rendering the government weaker – steps such as this which have caused the recent havoc at the first place to begin with.

A hope that you will sincerely abuse your own illusions about this country that you might have missed opportunities to critically reflect upon. Just because you were born in the land with a certificate that enabled you to contest as a Presidential candidate does not mean that you will continue the tradition of shoving to silence millions of hard-working taxpayers of the land who do not have the “legality” – a privilege that is bestowed not by some unseen supreme force, but by political leaders of the respective times. The “illegal workers” who clean the tables and the dishes before feeding millions of Americans every passing day of today are the black suffrage of yesteryear. The minority Hispanic, Asian and Black women workers – who earn way less than the minimum wage reserved for the male workers every hour, as housekeepers and nannies and bargirls in sectors that do not allow for unions and demands – are the Rosa Parks of today, whose voices have been silenced amidst glories of your victory. And you have led the rhetoric, Mr President, when you declare, “We are America. We are the nation that liberated a continent from a madman, that lifted ourselves from the depths of Depression, that won Civil Rights, and Women’s Rights, and Voting Rights for all our people.” In your elite school education they obviously rendered a myopic study of what America in the 21st Century was like. Perhaps you need to only go through your own EEOC reports to witness racial harassments, gender disparities in pay and discrimination based on sexual orientation before making sweeping statements on the nature of liberation embedded in the idea of Americanism.

A hope that you sincerely and finally acknowledge that the same Washington DC political lobby and the same Wall Street economic lobby are the ones that have lifted you to power. By default, your struggle will be against the working class people who on a daily basis wage wars against the aforesaid corridors of powers. And the poor working class whose money will continue to be spent on your imperialistic fanciful wars against Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan and other threats, as and when conveniently produced by the White House, with more than a little help from your so-called liberal press – the CNN and the New York Times that work overtime to turn the country into a land of hero-worshippers.

A hope that you, indeed, emerge as a hero worthy of the worshipping. This is no reality TV show and as brother Gil Scott Heron (hope they taught him in the Ivy Leagues) says the people’s revolution will not be televised. The streets of Gainesville, Harlem, Huntington and New Orleans will not have makeup artists and publicists to let people show their best faces forward. The masses do not possess the charm and power that the televised news anchors possess. They even do not have a right to define what constitutes poverty line in the country. They, however, will hope that you increase the official poverty line to demonstrate the reality of debt-ridden society of America. $21,000 annual income for a four-person family is worse than just poverty, Mr President, while calculating the millions of invisible in the land of billboards by Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, Nike, KraftFood, Comcast, Costco, Burlington, UnitedHealth Group – all of these corporations and more whose shares are owned by your buddy Warren Buffet and your friends on the Wall Street. After having hoodwinked the poor of the country with corporate media propaganda that you stand up for their causes, while in fact you get funded by their class enemies, the people hope your friendly media conglomerate stops celebrating your words of free American joy immediately!

A hope that you will also remember what Dr King had said in the context of televised glorification of racial harmony as “cruel manipulation of the poor” and American War Presidents’ presence in foreign land as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”. Neither media propaganda about social normalcy in blatant disregard of the poor class, nor White House prerogatives to perpetuate wars in foreign lands have lessened, let alone, ceased. How can you continue to parrot that that no one should “question the power of our democracy”, and herald the biggest destructive force in recent world history – the US military – as the “most capable institution on the planet”?

Perhaps so, you have a need to showcase hope. But you know, acute realities continue to bite.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. RADICAL NOTES, 2009

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to President Obama: Against the Rhetoric of Hope

  1. Liked what you had to say and think it was timely. However, some of your comments about Dr. King lack clear historical reality.

    It is forgotten (conveniently) that Dr. King and others were paid by some very wealthy folks to help them gain control of the march on Washington (Correctly called the farce on Washington by Malcolm X). If you will check the “Eyes on the Prize Series,” there is a section where some of the speakers, including Congressman John Lewis, informed us that they were not allowed to give the speeches they had prepared but were given speeches to read instead. The “March” became a paid for and controlled event that eliminated the grassroots elements that had initially conceived the idea. Something for you to consider…

  2. Thank you for the apt observation. However I have not spoken about the march on Washington anywhere in this letter, so I am not sure how to respond to your attempt at clarifying history. I have merely said that were MLK alive today he would not have done a few things which Obama has done. Again, this is what I am just imagining. It has nothing to do with historical reality.

    I am not even sure what Malcolm X would have done or said today. You are quoting John Lewis from Eyes on the Prize series. I am listening to how John Lewis was saying to CNN today that he was crying tears of joy throughout the weekends and how he thinks Dr King’s dream is coming true with Obama’s election.

    Of course Congressman John Lewis is more accepting of Obama today than either you (hopefully) or I. That still will not lead me to ascribe intentions to him or Dr King. I am never going to fall into the trap of comparing Dr King and Malcolm X and debate about who was more radical. In my view, both of them – especially during their later years of lives – were truly committed to causes of social justice. And in my view, Mr Obama – at this stage, and I am not talking about what will happen in future – certainly is hands in gloves with the military industrial complex that is silencing the complexities around racial issues in this country, which is very much alive despite being rendered invisible by the media.

    Thank you for visiting and airing your valuable opinion. I just went through your blog. I humbly disagree on your claim that today marks the beginning of a new era. I think, with the rejection of Cynthia McKinney by the system as a presidential candidate, we have only walked few steps backwards.

  3. Dear Saswat Pattanayak & President Obama,

    Unity is the key to understanding what makes us innately singular in a world of differences. -Fahim Nassar & Monica Young

    What separates people of African Ancestry the most is religion and sexuality. People are failing to see the President Obama does not stand for “Black” people. The government has redefine black, negro, colored, people of color, afro-american and african american several times over but the largest change in the definition came with the election of Obama. What does it means to be black/african american? Why did we have to insert Obama’s possible race into the situation in the first place. Let me move on more pressing subjects.

    Obama, there are still black children being sexually abused, black men still being imprisoned more years for drug conviction than white men for murder, racial profiling, police brutuality, and unwarranted killing of brothers for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Where is our hope when you are addressing the human race but neglecting your wive’s and children’s history and the situation facing african american people of the 21st century.

    I just want to find solutions to some of these problem facing people of african ancestry. Where do I being? I am poor with a good heart and a sound mind but limited resources. It not about me but the next generation etc etc…

    Ywndricka
    ywndricka@yahoo.com

  4. Have you heard about the Maafa 21 documentary that has just been released? It goes into great detail
    about the who, what and how racist attitudes are being perpetuated today and what the ultimate goal of it
    is. the shocking thing is that it has been going on for years under the guise of “helping” the black
    community. You can see a preview at maafa21.com

    The full length documentary was shown twice in DC at the Capitol Visitor Center’s new theater. The second showing included a large contingent from the Black
    Congressional Caucus, as well as, other offices. They were shocked by it.

    I saw it at Pastor Broden’s church last week and there were tears, and gasps. The information just gets more disturbing as it goes on like when Elaine gave her story about how she was sterlized by the
    state against her will when she was 14, or Nixon’s “black bastards” comments.

    If you are interested give one of them a call and they can give you more details.

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