Breaking Brown

July 24, 2011

why chess and checkers are not metaphors for debt and deficit


Obama, Geithner, Summers

Does anyone in this picture have your back?

Forget about raising the debt ceiling, one trillion here, two trillion there; it’s all small change right? At least that’s the impression I get when I overhear such ruminations from people within the black community.

In the span of two plus years, run of the mill African-Americans have declared themselves members of the political pundit class, even going so far as to coin their own inside the Beltwayisms. Among my favorite black beltwayism is the condescendingly snarky “Obama is playing chess not checkers” quip, which would prompt a modicum of consideration were it not for the fact that the majority of blacks making this assertion were playing neither chess nor checkers prior to the 2008 election.

People who weren’t thoroughly engaged in the political process prior to 2008, whose introduction to politics came with an Obama bumper sticker, don’t have much to teach me about chess, checkers, monopoly, or even Uno for that matter. Please excuse me for pointing out that most of you couldn’t have told me (and probably still can’t) how many members of Congress there are prior to President Obama’s election, and thus, certainly aren’t in any position to school me on the ins and outs of Washington D.C.

In a matter of  nano-seconds, black political thought went from being apathetic (“my vote don’t count”) to engaged (“what say you? a Negro is running for President?”) to sage (“Obama plays chess. You play spades”).

What we’re overlooking in this high stakes game of chess is the number of real – not pawn – African Americans who are now being disposed of by the political establishment as part of the current wave of cuts. Prime example: For people born after 1959, the full retirement age is 67. As part of the plan to cut the deficit, some are  proposing that the retirement age be raised to 70. Pro-Obama sixth dimensional chess players support the idea because they believe it disarms Republicans and takes the deficit off the table. The working assumption is that if Obama substantially cuts the deficit, it takes the Republican’s number one talking point off the table in the run up to the 2012 election. Checkmate right? Wrong.

Because the chess board looks a bit screwy when you consider the fact that the average life expectancy of a black man is 70. So if the retirement age is raised to 70, many black men will contribute to a system that they’ll never benefit from. If you consider your brothers, fathers, husbands and sons as pawns on a chess board, as do the power-brokers in Washington D.C., then no worries because that’s the way the game is played.

But if you’re not a real power broker and just play one at the barber shop, beauty salon, or water cooler, then any such delusion which places you in a position of strategic victory is dangerous.   It means you’ve misunderstood your role in this tragic drama and are identifying with a small group of elites, of which you are not a part, instead of the majority group of commoners, of which you are a part. It also means that you don’t consider important the one in five blacks who work in the public sector and will be hurt by the Obama initiated federal pay freeze or cuts in federal jobs.

Diminishing the current political establishment’s assault on ordinary Americans by viewing those hurt as just the inconsequential byproducts of getting a black man re-elected demonstrates that African Americans are still in a stage of infancy where political maturity is concerned. We were growing and building our political muscle under previous Presidents. We are shrinking and thwarting our own growth under Obama’s administration.  We can’t see beyond Obama and his success. And if we can’t see beyond it, then we certainly can’t fight to expand it to include us.

This is not a game. And you don’t win just because Obama wins. Don’t pretend that you and the President are standing shoulder to shoulder and doing battle with the same foes when, truth be told, Obama isn’t doing battle with anyone.  He’s colluding with your enemies while you cheer him on. If this were a game, I wouldn’t know whether it most resembled chess, checkers, or dungeons and dragons, but I would recognize that you’re not a player in it. You’re getting played, and loving every minute of it. It looks a hell of a lot more like an abusive relationship than a game.


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