Sunday, January 27, 2013

Guest Blog | An Analysis of Obama’s Second Inaugural Address by Lawrence Brown, PhD

We are pleased to have a good friend join the WhatUpWally? crew. Lawrence and I played basketball together at Clear Creek High School and he has been a valuable discourse partner over the years. Lawrence received his Ph.D from the University of Tennessee where he studied health disparities and is currently a Kellog Post Doctoral Fellow at Morgan State University. Lawrence is active in the Baltimore community and writes with power and passion. 

We are thankful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Lawrence and excited for y'all to learn from his critical analysis of President Obama's Second Inaugural Address.

An Analysis of Obama’s Second Inaugural Addressby Lawrence Brown, PhD (aka Professor B-3000)

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address deftly manages to incorporate the traditions of hallowed ancestors (i.e. Lincoln and King) while simultaneously lifting up several of the challenges of our time (i.e. income inequality, the social safety net, the Global War on Terror, and gay rights).

He referenced Lincoln’s second inaugural address when he intoned: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.”

He alluded to the demands of Occupy Wall Street when he stated: “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”

He called for full equality for women and gays when he remarked: “For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law…”

Clearly, President Obama second inaugural address weaves the myriad voices of social justice advocates in American history into a rhetorical tapestry of a vision of America. He is at his best when he proclaimed: “The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

It is one of the few lines where he acknowledges indirectly that there is an obstinate opposition party that has characterized 47% of American as takers and therefore undeserving of the benefits of the social compact. The Republican Party not only seeks to disenfranchise millions of Americans who depend on social programs, but also has challenged the legitimacy of the president’s birthplace and even the extent that he is a “real American.”

In spite of the lofty rhetoric employed by the president, his speech does not rise to the level of truth telling of two persons most referenced in the speech: Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The inability to speak truth more directly leaves the president impotent in the face of hostile attacks and hinders America from realizing its potential.

You see, in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he boldly suggested that the Civil War might be divine punishment for both the Union and the Confederacy because of the bloodstained actions of enslavement and racial terrorism inflicted on the country’s people of African descent by its people of European descent. Lincoln correctly surmised that the violence of his day being exacted brother against brother is connected and rooted in the violence exacted against the “other.”

Dr. King, in his boldest speech “Beyond Vietnam,” decried what he called the triple evils of American society: racism, materialism (economic exploitation), and militarism (warmongering). King called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King links the civil rights struggle with the struggle for human rights and peace.

In comparison with Lincoln and King, Obama falls short. While Obama addresses inequalities that they did not (women’s equality and gay rights), Obama comes up woefully short in his ability to engage in critical self-examination of the growing cancer that sickens America. Urban homicides, suburban mass shootings, and the ever-astounding acts of rape, murder, and mayhem are all rooted in America’s history and culture of violence domestically and abroad. By sanctioning the devaluation and demonization one group of humans based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion—often in the name of power and empire—America has always been prey to its citizens sliding down the slippery slope of dehumanization of both the brother and the “other.”

And that is the current American predicament that Obama leaves unnamed and thereby leaves many Americans unable to understand. America is drunk with the wine of power and empire, with a lethal military industrial complex abroad and a devastating racial apartheid complex at home. It is not that war is not an issue. It is. But the deeper sickness is that America anoints itself the world’s police, engages in military intervention to capture and control vital resources (e.g. oil), and allocates more money to killing (Global War on Terror—$3 trillion and rising) than healing (health care reform—nearly $1 trillion).

Nor is it that income inequality and the attack on the welfare state or safety net are not a problem. They are. But the deeper sickness is wealth inequality and the economic system that sanctions and sanctifies multiple poverties and pathologies. Now that the predominantly aging white population has crossed the drawbridge to the safety of the ark of Medicare and Social Security, many wish to pull up the drawbridge on the predominantly brown and black youth who wish to cross on that same bridge to dignity and security in the sunset of life. Given the disparity of wealth by race/ethnicity and the disproportionate burden of unemployment and poverty borne by black and brown people, the problem of income inequality is the problem of racial inequality. Income inequality is simultaneously the problem of what Dr. Cornel West calls “Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats,” whose reckless behavior undermines the financial stability of every American.

Thus, President Obama’s speech begs for national self-reflection and critical examination. The cancer that threatens to subsume America is its preoccupation with power at the expense of the vulnerable “other”, empire in the face of exploding deficits and crumbling domestic infrastructure, and the fallacy that we have overcome American apartheid. By continuing to exact overt and covert violence against black and brown people at home and abroad, the sustainability of the American project is at stake; not because of a foreign Chinese boogeyman or a far-off Korean tyrant, but due to an aging white population that wants “their” country back and empire without end. Sadly, too many black and brown people are chasing that same narcissistic and imperial American Dream, unwittingly putting a black face on white supremacy, leaving nearly all Americans unable and unwilling to confront the cancer that threatens to subsume all: The Fear of a Black (Brown, Woman-Run, Gay, and "Third World") Planet!

The Second Inaugural Blog,
Lawrence Brown for WhatUpWally?

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