Obama: Thankfully, not at all like Dellums

29 Jan

A year ago, after the 2008 State of the City address, I wrote a post expressing my concern that Obama would turn out to be much like Dellums:

Just as Dellums campaigned on making Oakland a model city, Obama is heavy on the rhetoric of hope, change, and unity. But what does this really mean, if anything? Hope alone is not going to get us anywhere, as we’ve seen in Oakland. And unity with right wing Republicans and corporate lobbyists isn’t going to get us the change we’re looking for (at least not the change I’m looking for).

But his supporters (and the media) constantly fawn over his inspirational speeches… You know what? I’m not interested in a president who’s inspirational without being specific…

And on Monday night, I saw such a similar phenomenon. Before Dellums spoke, a young African-American man (sorry, I didn’t catch his name and he never explained his affiliation) got the crowd pumped by talking about “getting down to town business” and how he “hella loves Oakland”. Dellums followed, talking about setting the record straight, and saying that Oakland is and can be a model city.

I looked around me, and really, people were eating this up. I’m not going to lie – for a bit there, I was reminded of my pride for this city and was falling into the trap of equating this city pride with support for our mayor.

But all of this inspirational speaking is ultimately just talk. And I’m worried that an Obama administration would look all too similar to a Dellums administration.

I am very happy to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Though Dellums and Obama share similar rhetorical flourishes and both know how to captivate an audience, the similarities stop there. Even in the first days of the Obama Administration, it is starkly clear that Obama is entirely different than Dellums. Here are some of the differences that jump out at me:

  • Obama works far more than 40 hours per week. While Dellums has been said to be working from home and his hours are difficult to account for, Obama is sometimes in the Oval Office as late as 10pm.
  • Obama is decisive and not afraid to take action. Amid economic crisis and external pressure, Obama announced his Cabinet picks more quickly than any other president has. He’s also signed several executive orders in his first days in office. Compare this to Dellums, who went back and forth for weeks before finally forcing Deborah Edgerly out, and who supported Chief Tucker up through his State of the City speech this Monday, only to have Tucker resign the very next day.
  • Obama has laid out clear and specific policy proposals. Two years into his term, Dellums continues to harp on the model city idea, finally explaining on Monday night what that means but still failing to explain how we’re going to achieve it. Obama, on his first day in office, had his comprehensive and detailed agenda posted on the White House website, addressing issues that matter to Oaklanders, like urban policy, economy, civil rights, and poverty.
  • Obama is an excellent manager. It’s a bit too early to see how he’ll manage the White House, but Obama already proved himself as a great manager during his campaign. He hired people who staid with him throughout the campaign, who made strategic decisions, and who remained loyal –  which is not an easy feat in presidential campaigns. Dellums, on the other hand, can’t even hire permanent department heads. We’ve been months without a permanent City Administrator, Fire Chief, and director of CEDA; Obama would never let this happen. Oh yeah – and Dellums’ idea of management is telling city employees not to worry about making the trains run on time but to instead be creative and innovative.

So while our city countinues to crumble, at least we can take solace in the fact that Obama has turned out to be a huge success and couldn’t be much more unlike Dellums.

5 Responses to “Obama: Thankfully, not at all like Dellums”

  1. Chris Kidd January 29, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Becks,
    I just wanted to compliment you on your increased posting while V is on vacation. I’ve really enjoyed you being a more active writer.

  2. Becks January 29, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Thanks Chris – I’ve enjoyed it too. It just means waking up a bit earlier in the morning. Still, I can’t wait for V to return from her hiatus.

  3. rocksouper February 5, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    I wonder why you even compare Dellums and Obama??? Because they are the closest two Black men to you and because they are the leaders in both the city and country in which you live. I stumbled across your blog, don’t know your political slant nor religious affiliation. But, I find it appalling that you live in a city as diverse as Oakland and still make prejudicial comparisons between to unrelated men. I would not compare Reagan and Clinton just because both men were viewed as charismatic nor do I compare Hillary with Feinstein just because they are both intelligent speakers. Are Obama and Dellums the only Black men you consider articulate, so therefore they are worthy of comparison from your white, probably “so called liberal”, judgment

    Furthermore, it is to early to truly know what kind of president Obama will be, but if it’s anything like his presidential raise, in which he utilized technology and dynamic business acumen, I’m sure he will leave us better than we currently are. FYI – Not all Black people eat up what Dellums says. To your surprise, their are a number of us, with brains, who think Dellums is not doing Oakland justice. In fact my partner, an intelligent, highly educated Black man, criticized Dellums speech at the rally and said he was not seeing reality and out of grasp with Oakland citizens. Before you assume that Black people eat up everything another Black politician says, try reading an African American history book or better yet get some Black friends.

  4. Becks February 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm #

    Can you please point out where I said that African Americans eat up what Dellums says? The only place in either of these posts where I even mention race is when I say that the speaker who introduced Dellums last year was African American. You are free to infer what you will, but I was comparing Obama and Dellums because of their rhetorical styles and captivating speaking skills. And I don’t think it’s too early to say that Obama will be a better president than Dellums has been a mayor. Obama has done more in two weeks than Dellums has done in two years.

  5. Becks February 5, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

    Oh, and btw, the book I’m reading right now is American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, which is an excellent book that I highly recommend.

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