After 16 years of someone named either Bush or Clinton occupying the White House, the timing was right for Barack Obama’s presumptive victory as the Democratic Party presidential nominee. It was a victory the party establishment did not see coming.
A relative newcomer to national politics, Obama’s campaign tapped into a reservoir of deep public discontent with the old faces and the old politics of both major
Indeed, Obama’s message of change is like the perfect storm to the drought of hope of the last eight years. A May CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation survey shows 71% of Americans now disapprove of President Bush, making him the most unpopular president in modern American history. Nearly two-thirds of Americans also oppose the Iraq War. With soaring gas/petrol prices and millions facing home foreclosures, the Obama candidacy has become for many Americans the right candidate at the right time.
Back to the future?
But what exactly is this message of change? What can Americans and the world expect from an Obama presidency? On foreign policy, Obama promises a return to the more conventional foreign policy of earlier Clinton and Bush administrations. After eight years of a White House responsible for a genocidal occupiers’ war in
But less reckless than the Bush Administration does not necessarily mean less war-like or imperial. Referring to President George H.W. Bush, father of the current president, Obama told New York Times columnist David Brooks (16 May 2008), ‘I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H.W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm.’
What is Obama really telling us here? In 1991, Bush the elder’s response to
As many as 250 000 men, women, and children would eventually die as a result of the
In fact, Obama has long indicated his withdrawal plans are contingent on the Iraqi government’s success in shoring up its military capabilities. An assessment of the latter will be under the expert advisement of American military generals. One of Obama’s key advisors, Colin Kahl of the Center for a New American Security, envisions leaving tens of thousands of US troops in
As Naomi Klein and others have noted, Obama’s plan for staying in
Nor does he plan to dismantle the large American Green Zone with its grotesquely imperial
It’s apparently a rule of American presidential elections that any progressive Democratic candidate can be expected to move rightward once they clinch the party nomination or the election. Bill Clinton did it in 1992 when he abandoned the progressive rhetoric of the campaign trail for a conservative pro-NAFTA, anti-welfare economic agenda. Obama is doing it now with new rhetoric about support for exclusive Israeli control of
This left-to-right shuffle occurs because in the early stages of campaigning liberal candidates such as Obama (or Bill Clinton) must focus on building popular grassroots support. Later, the demands they face as the party’s official candidate shift more toward assuring established power and media of their reliability to serve and protect the corporate status quo.
On other issues, Obama’s long-stated positions are hardly better than the Republicans. He wants to expand the
Will we really be closer to peace and justice under Obama?
Many left-progressives argue now that a better climate will exist for progressive social movements to flourish with a Democrat in office. Accordingly, otherwise trenchant critics of the war in
If anything, the opposite is true. The energy and hopes of many peace activists are now being channeled into electing a candidate whose ‘new course’ in foreign policy amounts to mostly tactical differences with the Bush Administration.
But should we really expect something more from a candidate whose Senate record includes voting for every single war appropriations bill? Should we expect more from a candidate who wants more money for a defence budget that already equals half of the entire world’s military expenditures?
Such liberal hopes reflect a misunderstanding of how power works and social change occurs. The core power of the 1960s civil rights movement grew from sit-ins, marches, unrelenting popular dissent, and from the movement’s subsequent moral authority, not from the fact that John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson were in office. Women’s suffrage, the
Contrary to progressive folk wisdom, a Republican President is not intrinsically impervious to the pressures of mass dissent. If the American antiwar movement has failed over the last five years to force Bush out of Iraq, this is more a testament to the limits of the existing movement (and the demobilising effects of the Democratic Party on the movement) than the strengths of Bush. Ironically, it was under Republican President Richard Nixon that the life-saving Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created, the military draft ended, and abortion rights mandated. Such social change happened not because Nixon or the Supreme Court were even remotely progressive, but because of a changed political climate that was the result of years of protest and grassroots activism.
Isn’t this the story generally of all movements for democracy? Apartheid collapsed under De Klerk’s government in
Unfortunately, the long-established lack of any major labour-based party in the
Different, yes. But for life to get better will take independent mass political action, not just illusions in Obama’s good intentions. What will certainly not change with Obama’s election is who holds the power. In fact, a more authoritative leadership in
In any case, it would be naïve to expect the imperial mind-set that has led the
Carl Finamore is former local president (ret.) of a
Mark T. Harris is a freelance writer living in
Amandla! is a progressive left monthly published in