Glen Ford delivered the following remarks to a panel discussion of the Left Forum, at Pace University, New York City, on March 20. The discussion was titled, "Race and Recession: Will a Rising Tide Lift All Boats?
The old, rich man’s slogan, "A rising tide lifts all boats" Â that Obama now claims as his own Â has been discredited from any number of angles. I’d like to add another layer of contempt. The phrase takes for granted, as a truism, that you can count on the economic tides rolling in, and then rolling out again, like the ocean. The phrase takes for granted that this system, with its ups and downs, is as permanent as the tides. The implication is that we are simply in a deep downturn in the economy Â a cyclical situation Â that will inevitably, at some point, lead to an upturn, like the tide coming back in.
So, when one says that "A rising tide lifts all boats," in addition to promising the poor that something better will be coming to them with the next upturn in the cycle, you are also expressing confidence that this capitalist system is eternal Â as permanent as the push and pull of the tides.
When Barack Obama first said that a rising tide lifts all boats, his administration was only 100 days old. It had only been a little over half a year since the Great Crash of 2008. But there was Obama, saying essentially that nothing too much out of the ordinary had happened, after all. Yes, the tide was out, but it would be back in again, as always, to lift all boats. And, in the meantime, don’t rock the boat with questions about Black unemployment and other such nuisances and irritants. Just wait for the tide.
But, of course, we are not experiencing some cyclical phenomenon. We are at a benchmark in history, a Crack in Time. What we have witnessed since the Fall of 2008, is the swallowing whole of the American state, by finance capital, by Wall Street Â a process presided over by Barack Obama. In the annals of history, it is the devouring of the American State, by Wall Street, following the Crash of 2008, that will mark this era Â NOT the election of the first Black president, which will be seen as of relatively secondary importance when humanity takes the Long Look Back.
The times we are now living through will be remembered as the period when finance capital definitively captured and totally subordinated the American state, so that it could be systematically looted. By the end of July, 2009, the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve had made available to Wall Street $23.7 trillion, according to the Inspector General of the TARP program. That figure approaches the value of two years of the total economic output of the United States, whose gross domestic product is about $14.2 trillion. When the U.S. government makes available to Wall Street $23.7 trillion, it has essentially transferred the full faith and credit of the American State to the financial sector. That is the swallowing of the American state. The public treasure that actually went to Wall Street is credibly put at $14 trillion, which is approximately one year’s worth of the total economic output of the nation. And virtually all of this happened on Barack Obama’s Watch. His executive branch and the Federal Reserve are the agents of this world-shaking event Â this Crack in Time.
It is in this context that we must examine Obama’s statement that "A rising tide lifts all boats." In effect, he is saying that a rising tide Â a tsunami of tens of trillions of dollars of public money for the banks and the speculators Â will eventually Lift All Boats. It is also only in this context that we can understand why he has bet his political fortunes on a health care scheme whose main effect will be to transfer another trillion or so public dollars over the next ten years to private insurance corporations Â who are an integral element of the Wall Street Casino. The Casino virtually owns the state and is looting it, with the Obama administration as the facilitator. Wall Street is looting the country, because that is the only way it can survive. It’s not just about greed. We now live under the absolute rule of finance capital, a class that produces nothing.
Yet they must somehow create ever increasing rates of profit. In their mad search for profits, they began laying bets and making deals that were many times larger than the economy of the entire Planet Earth, beginning in the Nineties. The banksters created a kind of Monopoly Money of their own, called derivatives, that nobody could own or understand but themselves. By the summer before the Crash of 2008, these derivatives were valued at at least six hundred trillion dollars, and possibly 1000 trillion dollars. The economy of the whole world is only about $50 trillion. When Wall Street’s house of derivative cards collapsed, the entire world economy Â the real economy of work and goods and services that the world depends on Â went into a spiral. And in Black America, our little boats went straight to the bottom.
Who came to the banksters’ rescue? Obama and the Democrats, even more loyally the Republicans. Obama gave them the full faith and credit of the United States, and $14 trillion in real money to patch things up. And what have they done with it? The value of derivatives is now back up to $600 trillion, again, because they must pump their profits up again, and to do so they must use phony money, and loot the real economy of real money through the mechanisms of the state. If they don’t continue to do that, they will die Â as they should have in October of 2008. But if we allow them to continue, then the real economy will die Â and us with it. It’s them or us Â and Obama works for them. So, what do we do about it? More specifically, what do Black people do about it, in our shaky little boat?
Our mis-leadership class cannot even begin to answer that question, because all rational roads of resistance lead to confrontation with Obama Â and this is something the Black mis-leadership class cannot and will not contemplate. And Obama knows they won’t. The key to Wall Street’s triumph in the face of a disaster of its own making, is that the first Black president has neutralized the key progressive constituency in the United States Â Black America. If WE do not confront his corporatist policies Â we, who have been most gravely damaged by his friends on Wall Street Â then there can be no effective resistance. But Obama is confident that we will go down without a fight. That’s why he so arrogantly dismisses even the most politely phrased questions, like, "What about Black unemployment, Mr. President?" with Rich Man’s flatulence: "A rising tide lifts all boats." He talks to us like Reagan, and we accept it like he’s a "brother" who has our interests at heart. His friends on Wall Street committed mass, deliberate destruction of Black society, yet Obama demands that we shut our mouths about race.
But Obama goes further. On the one hand, he refuses to acknowledge the racist elephant defecating in the middle of the living room. Through the other side of his mouth, he sets up a racial straw man. Obama has, from the very start of his national campaign, packaged himself as an aggressively race-neutral politician Â the Black man who will not tolerate any assertion that racism is endemic to life in the United States. It’s bad enough that he rules out remedies for the particular problems that plague Black America. But Obama twists the knife even deeper, charging that every Black complaint is a demand for unwarranted, unnecessary and damn-near un-American special treatment. This can only be for white consumption, since "mainstream" Black leadership has never made any demands on Obama, whatsoever. This past election was the first since I have been politically conscious that organized Black America has made not even the mildest of demands on a Democratic presidential candidate.
In the past election, Black leadership advocated nothing, except that Black folks turn out for Obama. Even the old standby Black demand for a "Marshall Plan for the Cities" was not heard for the first time in two generations. Black mis-leadership was determined that not a mumbling word be spoken that might embarrass or stress the "Black" candidate. That passivity continued deep into Obama’s presidency. But that didn’t prevent Obama from setting up the straw man of "race politics" Â so that he could knock the straw man down, as he did at his first opportunity. When a BET reporter had the temerity to ask about Black unemployment, Obama used the occasion to talk about tides lifting boats.
The Congressional Black Caucus, after suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of this administration, finally staged a symbolic boycott of a vote on finance sector regulation, late last year. It was clearly symbolic, since the ten Caucus members knew the bill was going to pass in committee without their votes. The Caucus later held a press conference, where some members admitted they had collectively "ignored" the interests of their own constituents in deference to the Obama administration. But most of the press conference was taken up with denials that the Caucus was asking for race-specific legislation. What they were doing, was responding to Obama’s straw man tactic. The fact is, no one has ever seriously proposed jobs or housing or other such legislation specifically targeted to Black people.
All of this energy was expended to disavow a Black congressional behavior that never was. And the Black Caucus still has not asked for a "Marshall Plan for the Cities." So, here we are, living through a Crack in Time, when finance capital has swallowed the American state whole, and is looting the real economy in order to keep itself afloat, and Black "leadership" can do nothing but defend itself against charges that it pays too much attention to race. The historical moment passes, because we have no movement. Everyone here at the Left Forum agrees that what is desperately needed is a vigorous, grass roots movement. But such a movement can only be worthy of the name, if it directly confronts Obama, who is the front man for Wall Street.