A New York City mayoral candidate famously labeled supporters of Mayor John Lindsey as “limousine liberals,” individuals whose progressive rhetoric was a façade. In effect, they were hypocrites. They talked the talk but did not walk the walk. We are witnessing some of the same today among liberal critics who are bashing President Obama for cutting a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
Mind you, many of these critics did not support Mr. Obama’s candidacy in 2008. They came to their senses once it became apparent that he was en route to the Democratic nomination. Barack Obama had to navigate a racial minefield over the path to the presidency and Democrats set many of the traps to try to derail his candidacy. Since his election, President Obama has been walking a tightrope. Having to confront the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Mr. Obama had few options in setting an agenda during his first term. His priority has to be finding a path to economic recovery. To the dismay of many Blacks, including me, but to the comfort of many white liberals, President Obama has downplayed the role that race plays in driving economic disparities. Despite our disappointment, we do understand the tremendous burden that this President carries because of the mess he inherited and the weight of being the nation’s first Black President.
It is not the perspective of many white liberals who are now crying foul over Mr. Obama’s tax-cut deal with the Republicans. There seems to be no pleasing them. They were upset with the President over health-care reform despite the fact that he was the one receiving death threats and making appearances at events where gun-toting protesters were showing up. Now, we are hearing that there is a move afoot to challenge the President in the 2012 Democratic primary. The current brouhaha is not about a tax-cut, it is about control and setting the party’s agenda and its priorities going forward. The embrace of a “post-racial” narrative following the 2008 election gave many liberals an excuse to focus on boutique concerns and evade the more important issues that undermine Black progress. So while extending a tax cut for millionaires might be distasteful, it pales in comparison to the plethora of life and death issues affecting Blacks, Latinos and the poor that are not being addressed by our so-called friends.
The dirty little secret of Democratic Party politics is the stench of the paternalism of white, liberal advocates who publicly lean left but risk little to alter systemic patterns of racism and economic inequality. While the rhetoric of opposing an extension of tax cuts benefiting millionaires is powerful, Blacks should not ignore the silence of these so-called progressives on issues such as chronic Black unemployment, the plight of Black males, mass incarceration and the disproportionate impact of the economic crisis. Liberals can point the finger all day at this President but at some point need to look in the mirror. Where was the push beyond the Beltway for a truly progressive agenda to force the hand of the administration? Too many liberals were preoccupied with their own self-righteousness after the 2008 election and missed the point that the community organizer-in-chief needs an organized community to be effective.
The anger we are seeing among liberals today is all the more distasteful when reflecting back on the pass many of them gave the Bush administration. They laid down on the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq and Guantanamo Bay but now are emboldened to critique a President they claimed has betrayed them. How about Katrina? Huh? How about a little balance and perspective, and for that matter, truth? Am I to believe that there is more outrage over the extension of a tax cut than over skyrocketing Black unemployment, failing public schools, gun violence, workplace discrimination, hunger and homelessness? Give me a break. The truth is that the current outrage makes for a great fundraising strategy for some groups, and emboldens some of Mr. Obama’s enemies within his own party, but does little to change the desperate living conditions of millions of Americans.
There is another truth at hand here too. Many of the President’s liberal critics within his own party are not true progressives in the sense of the term “progressive” as we know it. They slide to the left when it is politically convenient but more often park in the center and flirt with the right when it serves their purposes. For there to be real change in this nation, these liberals have to get out of the back of their limousines and the comfort of their secure offices, and admit that their worldview blinds them to real human suffering in our nation.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.