Question: Describe an ethical dilemma you’ve faced.
Glen Ford: Yes. And it involves Barack Obama. It’s not a long story. In June of 2003, my team was working at BlackCommentator.com. Every week, I would study the list of the Democratic Leadership Council, that’s the right wing corporate mechanism of the Democratic Party. I’d go to their membership list to see what black politician they had recruited that week.
In the first week of June of 2003, I went through my usual routine, and discovered that Barack Obama was listed as a member of the DLC, the right wing of the Democratic Party. I was very excited and I called my managing editor in Atlanta, Bruce Dixon, to tell him about it, but before I could blurt out that Barack Obama was a member of the DLC, he said, “Glen, before you tell me that, let me tell you, I just went to Barack Obama’s website, and he’s taken down from his website his anti-war speech, it’s not there any more.”
So we both made a discovery the same day about Barack Obama and we decided that since Bruce [Dixon] knew Barack Obama from Chicago, and since then Obama was then ranked fourth in the Democratic senatorial primary race and wanted to talk to everybody, that we would confront him on this.
We spent a month going back and forth, it’s all on the record on the archives on the net, going back and forth with Barack Obama about his being listed as a member of the DLC, why did he take his anti-war speech off of his campaign website, what was his position now on healthcare, on NAFTA, and on withdrawal from Iraq. We put him through the ringer.
And finally in the end, we gave him what we called a “bright line test.” If he could answer these three questions on these three issue areas correctly, we would declare that whether or not he was in the DLC or not, he denied that he was, he should be or he should not be.
Those questions were: If you are elected to the senate, will you introduce legislation to withdraw from NAFTA? If you are elected to the senate, will you introduce legislation for single payer healthcare? If you are elected to the senate, will you introduce legislation to withdraw immediately from Iraq?
He then proceeded over a period of a week to fashion answers to that question. In the end, they were a fuzzy mish-mash of non-answers and Bruce Dixon and I had a decision to make—were we going to pass him or fail him? We, at that time, did not want to be seen as the proverbial crabs in a barrel, people who are anxious, when a brother’s trying to climb up, to pull him back down.
And so even though we agreed that he had flunked the bright lines test, that he was not a progressive, we declared that he had passed the test. That was a dilemma and we failed our own test. I’ve never regretted a political decision as much as having passed Barack Obama when he should have failed the test; and we never made that mistake again.
Recorded on: August 6, 2009.