By Alexander Reed Kelly
The old trope that truth telling requires a great deal of courage is not always right. Those who tell the truth often enjoy a rare freedom from the social pressures that compel others to distort what they know to make room for a belief in the world as they would like it to be.
We’ve all heard the justifications. People who are preparing to speak in defense of thieves, con artists and trouncers of civil liberties often begin by saying something to the effect that we live in a “real” world with real limitations on what is possible in the realm of human activity. There is no doubt that this is true, but the disagreement between those people and their opponents pertains to the notions about where those limitations lie. Are Barack Obama’s failures in his first term fully explained by Republican opposition to his presidency and left-wing values regarding health care, home foreclosures and the environment? Or could he have fought harder or more cleverly, a possibility that would make those failures his own?
“Obama exists within the political confines of a Republican right-wing assault and resurgence that has been driven, as we both, I think, can agree, by subtle and not so subtle racist intransigence, the denial of his very humanity,” Georgetown professor and preacher Dr. Michael Eric Dyson said in a segment Friday on “Democracy Now!” about Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. “You’re acting as if he’s existing outside of the confines of that intransigence and that resistance to him and the very denial to himself as a human being, much less the president of the United States of America, of a certain level of dignity and respect,” he said to his challenger, Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford.
The failure to acknowledge these so-called limitations—which Dyson treats as facts—is an act of bad faith, a refusal to engage in the methods of realpolitik that supposedly stand as the only possible chance at salvation for dispossessed and disempowered Americans. That is “the best we can do right here,” Dyson insists, and people like Ford work against those Americans by clinging to “ideals ... in a form of rhetorical narcissism and ideological self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people.”
That’s a hefty charge to level against Ford, a pioneering journalist who has spent his life trying to understand social reality and communicate what he learns to others. Before age 20, Ford created a half-hour, weekly syndicated news program for radio, worked as a bureau chief in Washington, D.C., and launched, produced and hosted the first nationally syndicated interview program for commercial television aimed at black Americans. “America’s Black Forum” commanded the attention of major news services and broadcast networks and generated national and international headlines almost every week. He went on to found publications that drove discussions in black politics on the Web and in print, as well as the Washington chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, and served as a guiding member in a number of other media organizations that informed black and white Americans in crucial civil matters.
“Truth telling is not something that’s just engaged in in highfalutin principle; we make our decisions based upon the truth,” Ford said in response to Dyson’s criticisms. It is the failure to tell the whole truth, and the decision to paper over it with hope-fueled cheer instead, that has empowered the people and policies that have driven America into its current diminished state of economic austerity—not the efforts of those who insist on telling the truth no matter how unpleasant it is.
“Now, we need to tell the truth. That is our first obligation, not just get in the game as the rules of the game have been laid down by one—by either of those corporate political parties,” Ford told viewers of “Democracy Now!”
“What Obama has done is actually move the entire debate to the right,” said Ford. “He claims that he’s the one standing between the Republicans and Social Security and Medicare and the entitlements, but it was Obama, two weeks before he even took the oath of office, who said that entitlements would all be on the table.
“I’m saying that with Romney in the White House, even Dr. Dyson and others, many others, would join in the resistance to austerity, the resistance to war. Apparently, they cannot muster the energy to do that under a Democratic president, under the first black president. It’s their behavior that does in fact facilitate these austerity assaults and these war, this warmongering because they don’t resist it, and they accept it as something that is a fait accompli, that is an inevitability,” Ford continued.
With those words, spoken in a season when the prospects for the American future are grim and neither candidate up for office seems suited to improve them, we honor Glen Ford as our Truthdigger of the Week.