Why Obama Can’t Lead
President Obama’s inability to be decisive and inept
leadership stem not from his lack of executive experience, but from his
grounding in a specific political culture, the one he sought out in Chicago.
His entry and indoctrination into the political culture of black leadership
there have not prepared him for a positive role as chief executive
Since the late 1800s black churches in Chicago have
been the center of black politics [i].
Early in the 1930s the “Black Machine” of Chicago was established as a subgroup
of the white political machine [ii].
Because of the prominence of Mayor Daley I in the national political scene,
Chicago’s ability to create political leaders has meant that the Windy City
became a gateway to national politics for black leaders [iii].
This is why Jesse Jackson moved to Chicago. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii,
raised in Indonesia, educated in the Northeast, went to Chicago to begin his
For 22 years he attended the church services led by
Rev. Jeremiah Wright. African-Americans who attended his and other black
liberation theology church services in Chicago are taught that their options are
limited by the “other,” and this other is white society. Personal choice is not
the route to success; choices are limited by the overwhelmingly oppressive power
of dominant white America. America is not, for Rev. Wright’s paradigm, a land
of opportunity, but instead a land of oppression.
In this political culture, the black political leader
does not encourage his people to move forward, but rather convinces them that
they cannot move forward. Whatever choices they make, their future is
determined not by personal choice, but by the restrictive confines of white
society. This is why actor-comedian Bill Cosby is viciously attacked when he
suggests that African-Americans take responsibility for their own choices. His
comments are perceived as an existential threat to the politics of black
liberation and the entire political belief system that keeps the black political
elites in power.
President Obama is constrained by the political
paradigm of black leadership, since for him to be in control of the government
would mean to betray his people. He would become the establishment “outsider”
and he cannot do that. It would require the abandonment of his core beliefs.
This is why he constantly blames former President Bush for the constraints that
he still feels are holding him back. He is not in control; society and the
world at large are. He blames the tsunami and Arab Spring for his economic
failures. He leaves it to others (such as Senate leader Reid in the debt
negotiations) to work out the details. The black political leader’s handbook
does not have a chapter on “owning” decisions.
His strategy is to highlight and blame the political
context of his predicament, rather than make and own decisions. He cannot own
his decisions since in his view, and the view of black politicians, only white
society controls the process of decision-making. These decisions are by nature
oppressive. There is no accommodation in black liberation rhetoric for “good”
white establishment decisions. Obama then faces two constraints: he cannot
personally become part of the oppressive establishment, and secondly, cannot
engage in establishment decision-making. Whether he is consciously aware of
these constraints, and chooses to go along with them, or is unaware of these
constraints he imposes upon himself, does not matter. The effect is the
While in reality President Obama is the most powerful
man in the world, his Chicago-forged sense of identity as a black political
leader restricts him to complaining about why he can’t effect meaningful change
because of others, the excuse-du-jour now being the GOP House.
President Obama is not limited by the Republican
Congress, or the decisions of past presidents, or the state of the economy; he
is limited by his perceptions of what a black politician can and cannot do.
Because black political thinking indoctrinates even its proponents into thinking
that they are not responsible for their choices, that their futures are
determined by white society, Barack Obama is either incapable of making
decisions (because he never felt able to make them), or cannot betray the
political paradigm of black leadership. Either way, the result is a lack of
engagement in the decision making process.
An Autobiography of Black Politics. Dempsey
J. Travis, Chicago, Urban Research Press, 1987.
Negro Politics: The Search for Leadership.
James Q. Wilson. NY: The Free Press, 1960.