Former President Obama Has a New Job: Control the Official Narrative of American Exceptionalism
By Glen Ford / Black Agenda Report
The ruling class is seriously rattled over its loss of control over the national political narrative — a consequence of capitalism’s terminal decay and U.S. imperialism’s slipping grip on global hegemony. When the Lords of Capital get rattled, their servants in the political class are tasked with rearranging the picture and reframing the national conversation. In other words, Papa Imperialism needs a new set of lies, or renewed respect for the old ones. Former president Barack Obama, the cool operator who put the U.S. back on the multiple wars track after a forced lull in the wake of George Bush’s defeat in Iraq, has eagerly accepted his new assignment as Esteemed Guardian of Official Lies.
At this stage of his career, Obama must dedicate much of his time to the maintenance of Official Lies, since they are central to his own “legacy.” With the frenzied assistance of his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Obama launched a massive military offensive — a rush job to put the New American Century back on schedule. Pivoting to all corners of the planet, and with the general aim of isolating and intimidating Russia and China, the salient feature of Obama’s offensive was the naked deployment of Islamic jihadists as foot soldiers of U.S. imperialism in Libya and Syria. It is a strategy that is morally and politically indefensible — unspeakable! — the truth of which would shatter the prevailing order in the imperial heartland, itself.
Thus, from 2011 to when he left the White House for a Tahiti yachting vacation with music mogul David Geffen and assorted movie and media celebrities, Obama orchestrated what the late Saddam Hussein would have called “The Mother of All Lies”: that the U.S. was not locked in an alliance with al-Qaida and its terrorist offshoots in Syria, a relationship begun almost 40 years earlier in Afghanistan.
He had all the help he needed from a compliant corporate media, whose loyalty to U.S. foreign policy can always be counted on in times of war. Since the U.S. is constantly in a (self-proclaimed) state of war, corporate media collaboration is guaranteed. Outside the U.S. and European corporate media bubble, the whole world was aware that al-Qaida and the U.S. were comrades in arms. (According to a 2015 poll, 82 percent of Syrians and 85 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. created ISIS.) When Vladimir Putin told a session of the United Nations General Assembly that satellites showed lines of ISIS tankers stretching from captured Syrian oil fields “to the horizon,” bound for U.S.-allied Turkey, yet untouched by American bombers, the Obama administration had no retort. Russian jets destroyed 1,000 of the tankers, forcing the Americans to mount their own, smaller raids. But, the moment soon passed into the corporate media’s amnesia hole — another fact that must be shed in order to avoid unspeakable conclusions.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s flirtation with the idea of ending U.S. “regime change” policy in Syria — and, thereby, scuttling the alliance with Islamic jihadists — struck panic in the ruling class and in the imperial political structures that are called the Deep State, which includes the corporate media. When Trump won the general election, the imperial political class went into meltdown, blaming “The Russians” — first, for warlord Hillary Clinton’s loss, and soon later for everything under the sun. The latest lie is that Moscow is sending weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan spent billions of dollars to create the international jihadist network. Which shows that imperialists have no sense of irony, or shame. (See BAR: “The U.S., Not Russia, Arms Jihadists Worldwide.”)
After the election, lame duck President Obama was so consumed by the need to expunge all narratives that ran counter to “The Russians Did It,” he twice yammered about “fake news” at a press conference in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama was upset, he said, “Because in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and its packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television. If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”
Although now an ex-president, it is still Obama’s job to protect the ruling class, and the Empire, and his role in maintaining the Empire: his legacy. To do that, one must control the narrative — the subject uppermost in his mind when he used Chicago area students as props, this week, for his first public speech since leaving the White House.
“It used to be that everybody kind of had the same information,” said Obama, at the University of Chicago affair. “We had different opinions about it, but there was a common base line of facts. The internet has in some ways accelerated this sense of people having entirely separate conversations, and this generation is getting its information through its phones. That you really don’t have to confront people who have different opinions or have a different experience or a different outlook.”
“If you’re liberal, you’re on MSNBC, or conservative, you’re on Fox News. You’re reading The Wall Street Journal or you’re reading The New York Times, or whatever your choices are. Or, maybe you’re just looking at cat videos [laughter].
“So, one question I have for all of you is, How do you guys get your information about the news and what’s happening out there, and are there ways in which you think we could do a better job of creating a common conversation now that you’ve got 600 cable stations and you’ve got all these different news opinions — and, if there are two sets of opinions, then they’re just yelling at each other, so you don’t get a sense that there’s an actual conversation going on. And the internet is worse. It’s become more polarized.”
Obama’s core concern is that there should be a “common base line of facts,” which he claims used to exist “20 or 30 years ago.” The internet, unregulated and cheaply accessed, is the villain, and the main source of “fake news” (from publications like BAR and the 12 other leftwing sites smeared by the Washington Post, back in November, not long after Obama complained to Merkel about “fake news”).
However, Obama tries to dress up his anti-internet “fake news” whine with a phony pitch for diversity of opinions. Is he suggesting that MSNBC viewers also watch Fox News, and that New York Times readers also peruse the Wall Street Journal? Is he saying that most people read a variety of daily newspapers “back in the day”? It is true that, generations ago, there were far more newspapers available to read, reflecting a somewhat wider ideological range of views. But most people read the ones that were closest to their own politics, just as now. Obama is playing his usual game of diversion. Non-corporate news is his target: “…the internet is worse. It’s become more and more polarized.”
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and Fox News all share the “common base line of facts” that Obama cherishes. By this, he means a common narrative, with American “exceptionalism” and intrinsic goodness at the center, capitalism and democracy as synonymous, and unity in opposition to the “common” enemy: Soviet Russians; then terrorists; now non-Soviet Russians, again.
Ayanna Watkins, a senior at Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School, clearly understood Obama’s emphasis, and eagerly agreed with his thrust. “When it comes to getting information about what’s going on in the world, it’s way faster on social media than it is on newscasts,” she said.
“But, on the other hand, it can be a downfall because, what if you’re passing the wrong information, or the information isn’t presented the way it should be? So, that causes a clash in our generation, and I think it should go back to the old school. I mean, phones, social media should be eliminated,” Ms. Watkins blurted out, provoking laughter from the audience and causing the 18-year-old to “rephrase myself.”
What she really meant, she said, was that politicians should “go out to the community” so that “the community will feel more welcome.”
If she was trying to agree with Obama, Ms. Watkins had it right the first time: political counter-narratives on the internet have to go, so that Americans can share a “common base line” of information. All of it lies.
Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]