An interview with Paul Jay, The Real News Network (TRNN)
PRECIS ON THE PARTICIPANTS
Glen Ford is executive editor of Black Agenda Report and one of America’s leading political analysts and progressive intellectuals. Paul Jay is founding editor and chief correspondent of The Real News Network (TRNN), a viewer supported, anti-corporate webborne television resource.
TRANSCRIPT & OFFICIAL BIOS
Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America’s Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Now joining us to talk about the Democratic Party Convention and the American presidential race is Glen Ford. He’s the cofounder and current executive editor of Black Agenda Report. Thanks very much for joining us.
GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACKAGENDAREPORT.COM : Thanks for the invitation, Paul.
JAY: So there’s two ways to assess the Democratic Party and President Obama. One is in relationship to the Republican Party, and the other is in relationship to the actual problems facing people and who—in the discussion or analysis of who President Obama represents. So let’s start with one. People do have a choice to make here—if they choose to vote, at any rate. And, you know, whatever other candidates are running, there’s no doubt it’s going to be either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. So in relationship to the Republican Party, how do you assess the Democrats? And then we’ll get into part two of assessing them sort of on their own merits.
FORD: Well, we’re not talking about just the Democrats; we’re talking about the particular wing of the party that is headed by President Obama. Let’s say straight up, right up front, that Black Agenda Report considers Barack Obama not to be the lesser of the evils, but to be the more effective evil. And that means that he facilitates the evil that is incarnate in the Republican Party. So to see them separately I don’t think really takes into account the actual dynamics of these two corporate parties and how they push and pull on each other on the road to corporate rule.
JAY: Well, let me give you an argument the other way. The Democratic Party, even if at the corporate Democrat level, which controls the party apparatus and that section of Wall Street that funds them and such, first of all, of course, they have their own interests, that section of the elite, and it’s not very different than the section of the elite that supports the Republicans. And, of course, we know lots of the Wall Street firms and other big companies support both parties and get what they can out of whichever party comes to power. But the constituency that elects the Democrats includes trade union leaders. It includes urban workers. It includes urban intelligentsia. It includes poor people. It includes immigrants. And there’s some pressure, at least, for the Democrats to get elected that they have to do something for those constituencies, even if it’s not something substantive, whereas the Republican alliance of forces is the right wing of the working class, rural people, the right wing, far right of the elite, who are for, you could say, unmitigated exploitation of ordinary Americans, and they don’t need to do much of anything other than, you know, commit to these kind of hard-right policies to get elected, assuming they win. But it’s fairly close. So it’s not a kind of moral question that one section of the elite’s better than the other, but out of their own interests there’s some advantage to ordinary people to having Democrats versus straightforward austerity-programmed Republicans. So what do you make of that argument?
FORD: Well, but first of all, the Republican party, although the most closely identified with the bourgeoisie, as we used to say, certainly certain sectors of the bourgeoisie like big energy, also has an institutional life of its own, and so it should not be mistaken for those rich folks that it tries to represent. And because the Democrats under Obama—and really we’re talking about Obama—have taken so much of the right-wing ground from the Republicans—they have an institutional will to survive. They have moved so far to the right that we like to call them Wile E. Coyote: they’ve actually been driven off the cliff by President Obama’s constant moving just a little bit to the left of them, so that their policies now are ridiculous, crazy, almost incoherent.
But that doesn’t mean that those segments of the ruling class that support them are as crazy and incoherent and ridiculous as the Republican representatives, who are just trying to find some kind of space as it gets encroached upon by the Democrats. Now, certainly—and especially with the residue of the New Deal and the war on poverty and such and the actual existence of lots of programs, we’re going to see Democrats protecting some aspects of those programs, and essentially they won’t make a frontal assault on them.
But when it really comes down to that struggle, that push and pull between the two, well, what do we see? We see President Obama using his vehicle of the deficit-reduction commission, which he appointed, which he appointed before the Republicans took over the House of Representatives. We see him using the recommendation of the two right-wingers that he put in charge of that commission for $4 trillion in cuts. And we see that the Republicans also last year came up with roughly the same amount of cuts.
The difference between those two, where they both wound up, was essentially that Obama’s $4 trillion in cuts was accompanied by a request for modest increases in taxes of people who have money, and the Republicans said that they would have no part of tax increases. That really made no damn bit of difference to the people who are willing to suffer those $4 trillion worth of cuts. It doesn’t do me any good, if you gut my survival program, just to know that rich people are going to pay a little bit more taxes. So in a real practical sense, that right-wing camp of Democrats represented by Obama and the Republicans, certainly in 2011—and we see them kind of actually frozen, despite the rhetoric of Romney and Ryan—came together pretty much in a tight fit.
JAY: So do you not think that if there was a Romney government, that this government would not attack those programs more vigorously, that they wouldn’t—do you not think they would do what Ryan’s budget calls for?
FORD: I believe that, first of all, they can’t enact legislation without the Democrats blocking it. And this is where Obama comes in. You know, we acceded all this power to Republican minorities, that is, in both houses, prior to 2010 election, because they could block things. Well, Democrats can block things as well. It is difficult to pass legislation, especially in the Senate with their 60 percent rule, so it’s difficult to overcome a determined minority. And so whether Romney would try to make the kind of all-out assault that he rhetorically seems to be entertaining, I’m with you: I don’t think he would be nearly as ferocious in the real world as he is in the campaign world. I don’t think that the big business supporters of the Republican Party want to do that kind of slaughter, or at least they’re not united on that. But the fact is that if we didn’t have this rightest—this center-right president who’s constantly trying to hug the left limits of Republicanism, then Democrats, not just what we usually call the progressive wing, but just mainstream Democrats could stop the Republicans in their tracks in terms of their most draconian threats.
JAY: And what do you make on the issue of foreign policy? We’ve heard recently reported—Gareth Porter’s reported on The Real News Network—and we’ve seen other places—that the Obama administration seems to have sent signals to Israel that they would not go along with supporting unilateral attack on Iran. And there has been some pushback on this question right from the very beginning. Even when Obama campaigned, he made it clear that Iran is a regional power. He said in the primaries that you have to accept that now, and if you want to cause—give blame for allowing that ’cause he thinks it’s not a good thing, you can blame the Bush administration for the Iraq War. I mean, there’s been a certain level of rationality on this level—when I say rationality, compared to an actual—an attack. There’s nothing rational about the sanctions, which are economic warfare against Iran. There’s nothing, you know, logical, other than the logic of power, the way the Obama administration buys into all this rhetoric that Iran has a nuclear weapons program when there’s no evidence they do.
I mean, given all of that, do you not think there’s some difference between that and what a Romney might be, you know, backed by a Sheldon Adelson, backed by, you know, close, you know, foreign policy, more or less controlled by neocons closely allied with Netanyahu?
FORD: Well, you know, we pretty much accept it as fact that the Bush regime was on a roll, had the giant U.S. ship of state pointed at an attack on Iran back in the day. We know that the intelligence agencies, all 16 of them took the wind out of the sails of that planned offensive by essentially saying that Iran was not an imminent nuclear threat. We also know that significant segments of the military are not in favor of an attack on Iran. They were not then and are not now. So there are institutional breaks in place, just as there were during the Bush government.
But the Obama administration is very keen to paint a picture of it of Obama having the hands on the leash that is holding back the snarling Israeli dog. He likes to position himself and posture that way as the voice of reason. I don’t see that necessarily as credible, ’cause I do recognize that’s the way he wants to be seen, just as he tried to position the United States as leading from behind in the assault on Libya. Well, there could have been no air assault by the Europeans on Libya without the absolutely indispensable logistical tanker refueling support provided by the United States. So, clearly the United States was at the center of that air assault, not leading from behind. But Obama wanted to make it so. And he also had his secretary of war, of defense, seeming to be very cautious about the assault on Libya, but it eventually did happen. I tend to think that this is a game they’re playing. And we read that although the Obama administration is pretending to hold Israel back, it has recently transferred that same air tanker refueling capability, without which Israel could not mount a serious assault on Iran, to the Israelis. So what’s up with that?
JAY: So what are you advising your readers to do?
FORD: To do about what?
JAY: The problems facing the country in relationship to the election. You know, if you’re—I mean, it’s not like you’re wanting people—I know you well enough to know it’s not like you want the Republicans to win. You’re trying to stake out an independent position from both those parties. So what is it you would like them to do?
FORD: Well, Paul, I think that I sense that you and I are of similar minds. I am not afraid of Romney. I am not more afraid of Romney than I am of Barack Obama.
JAY: I am.
FORD: Okay. Then you are. Then I misread you.
JAY: I am, but you go ahead.
FORD: I understand the intentions of Republicans, or at least the rhetorical corners that they back themselves into, whether they’d act like that as governing parties or not. However, I know that large segments of the Democratic base would resist these Republican foreign-policy assaults and domestic assaults. I know from our almost 4-year experience with Barack Obama that they will not resist his domestic assaults, for example, preventive detention, and they won’t resist his wars, because much of the base only disapproves of and demonstrates against Republican wars. So there are certain things that are known about the behavior of the Democratic base that makes one—makes me sometimes more afraid of Obama, simply because he’ll get away with more.
JAY: I take your point. But I don’t think an Al Gore presidency would have invaded Iraq. I don’t see any evidence of it. And there was lots of opposition in the professional foreign-policy circles, in the military. Institutionally, there was a lot of opposition to the Iraq War, but the Iraq War took place anyway. And I don’t see why that couldn’t be repeated again. Not to say that Obama might not start something too—I don’t have illusions about Obama. But it seems that that group that conducted the Iraq War is going to reassemble around Romney.
FORD: Oh. Obama has done a great many astoundingly aggressive things.
JAY: Yeah, I don’t disagree with that.
FORD: At one point he is simultaneously bomb-droning five countries—Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and of course Pakistan. He has expanded the theaters of war in ways that would make many of Bush’s neocons salivate. I don’t put anything past Obama. The invasion of Iraq—I think and I believe we may have had a previous conversation about this—I believe that the ruling circles that influenced the Bush administration, these neocons, rolled the dice on this because they felt that not too far in the future, the United States would find itself in terminal decline because of the inroads that were being made by China and Russia, and wanted to preclude these kinds of developments by seizing the oil, not just of Iraq, but of all of Central Asia. Well, that was a fiasco. And in the wake of that fiasco and the loss of face of the United States, I think the Obama presidency was born, in terms of the ruling circles saying, we need a new face, we need a new image.
JAY: Oh, yeah, I don’t disagree with any of that. But my point is I think that the kind of corporate Democrats that are around Obama are not that different than those that would have been around Gore, and I don’t see any evidence that they would have headed off into a war in Iraq. And there’s some indication even now with Syria. I mean, the story’s not over, but there’s voices within the Republican Party—Lindsey Graham and others—who have been pushing hard for American military—direct intervention into Syria. One could imagine those voices, you know, might succeed within a Romney presidency. Right—at least so far, you don’t see that in the Obama administration. I don’t discount that it might—we certainly saw him act in Libya, so I don’t take away the fact that he can do these sorts of things.
FORD: Again, let’s see how frustrated they get. If they don’t get what they want by these proxy actions, then they come to their moment of truth.
JAY: Alright. Well, we’ll continue this discussion. Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.
FORD: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
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