Barack Obama remains an icon to many on what passes for the left in America despite incontrovertible evidence that he does not represent their interests. There are many contributing factors, including his considerable skills as a speaker and his programmatic effort to neuter liberal critics by getting their funding cut.
A central component of the seemingly impenetrable Obama mythology is his personal history: a black man, son of a broken home, who nevertheless got on the fast track to financial success by becoming editor of the Harvard Law Review, but turned instead to working with and later representing a particularly disadvantaged community, the South Side of Chicago.
Even so, this story does not quite add up. Why did Obama not follow the usual, well greased path of becoming a Supreme Court clerk, and seeking to exert influence through the Washington doors that would have opened up to him after that stint?
A remarkable speech by Robert Fitch puts Obama’s early career in a new perspective that explains the man we see now in the Oval Office: one who pretends to befriend ordinary people but sells them out again and again to wealthy, powerful interests – the banks, big Pharma and health insurers, and lately, the fracking-industrial complex.
Fitch, who died last year, was an academic and journalist, well regarded for his forensic and archival work, as described by Doug Henwood in an obituary in the Nation. He is best known for his book Solidarity for Sale, which chronicled corruption in American unions, but his work that is germane to his analysis of Obama is Assassination of New York. In that, he documented the concerted efforts by powerful real estate and financial interests to drive manufacturing and low-income renters out of Manhattan so they could turn it over to office and residential space for high income professionals.
Fitch gave his eye-opening speech before an unlikely audience at an unlikely time: the Harlem Tenants Association in November 2008, hard on the heels of Obama’s electrifying presidential win. The first part contains his prescient prediction: that Obama’s Third Way stance, that we all need to put our differences aside and get along, was tantamount to advocating the interests of the wealthy, since they seldom give anything to the have-nots without a fight.
That discussion alone is reason to read the piece. But the important part is his description of the role that Obama played in the redevelopment of the near South Side of Chicago, and how he and other middle class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and his wife Michelle, advanced at the expense of poor blacks by aligning themselves with what Fitch calls “friendly FIRE”: powerful real estate players like the Pritzkers and the Crown family, major banks, the University of Chicago, as well as non-profit community developers and real estate reverends.
Don’t take my word for it. Download the speech and read it. And then circulate it widely. And thank Michael Hudson, Fitch’s friend for over 30 years, for making this document available.