Why I’ve Focused On Obama: Seven Points


A reader recently wrote to ask me why I have spent so much energy penning Left criticisms of the pseudo-progressive Barack Obama phenomenon (1). What, the reader wanted to know, about the other leading mainstream Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards?  Don’t they deserve the same critical scrutiny and radical dissection I have given to Obama over the last year? “When,” my correspondent wanted to know, “will you put Clinton II and Edwards – both of whom voted to authorize George W. Bush’s illegal Iraq invasion – in your crosshairs too?” 


A different reader has contacted me to suggest that I “must be a racist” for daring to repeatedly criticize the potential “first black president.” He could see no other reason than racial bias for my critical reflections on The Great White Hope Barack Obama. 


Here (below) is a seven-point response and explanation. 





Anything is possible, I suppose, but it is not likely that my critical focus on Obama is about anti-black racism. I’ve published a large number of articles, numerous project studies, and two books dedicated to exposing and opposing the persistent hold of institutional racism in the United States (2). One of my repeated and central criticisms of Obama is precisely that he is too cautious about acknowledging and challenging racial oppression (3). I argue that the white-pleasing “Obama effect” builds on and expands its mass-cultural kissing cousin the “Oprah effect” in deepening the illusion of racism’s disappearance by elevating the public profile of selected bourgeois blacks who make sure not to spark white anxieties with honest discussion of the continuing powerful role of white supremacy in American life (4). 


It is a childish parody of identity politics to tell someone they are “racist” because they dare to criticize a public personality who happens to be black. Is a white author racist if she condemns Clarence Thomas or Condoleeza Rice or Oprah Winfrey or Bill Cosby for advancing or defending objectively racist policies and structures? What if that author agrees with the Left black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois’ position that black conservative Booker T. Washington was too accommodating toward the white power structure?  





I do not overlook the other big three Democratic candidates. I have written a number of pieces offering sharp Left criticisms of Hillary, Edwards, and the Democratic Party as a whole.  While I have given special attention to Obama (for reasons to be explained below), the other top Democratic presidential candidates have walked into my “crosshairs” on numerous occasions.   Here are some of the more relevant examples:


“Looking for Bill Clinton in Columbus Junction,” ZNet (December 15 2007), available online at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/16013


“Imperial Temptations: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and the Myth of Post-World War II United States Benevolence,” ZNet Magazine (May 28, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12928.


“A Very Narrow Spectrum: Even John Edwards is Too Far Left for the U.S. Plutocracy,” ZNet Sustainer Commentary (August 29, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2007-08/29street.cfm


“ ‘We’ve Done a Lot More Than Talk,’” ZNet Magazine (January 19, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11895.


 “Who Does Hillary Clinton Think She’s Kidding?” ZNet Magazine (February 14, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12120.


“Hillary’s War and the Next 9/11,” ZNet Magazine (July 5, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13215.


“Establishment Politics in ‘Rebel’s Clothing’: Corporate Power, Populist Pandering, and the Ironies of Identity in the Democratic Presidential Race,” ZNet Magazine (November 18, 2007), http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=90&ItemID=14316.


“Corporate Money on the Democrats: The Bad News,” Z Magazine (December 2007 – on newsstands right now)


For other examples, having more to do with the Democrats as a whole (not just specific presidential candidates), please see the articles listed below in this article’s fifth endnote [5]).




After having repeatedly demonstrated Obama’s mendacious war-mongering, I hereby order Obamanist “progressives” to repeat after me: “Obama is NOT an anti-war candidate…Obama is NOT an antiwar candidate…Obama is NOT…(continue until re-programmed). Again, I’m not going to replicates here arguments I’ve made many times by now (not that rational debate has the slightest influence on the countless privileged white Obama cultists I’ve talked to in recent weeks). For overwhelming evidence in support of the elementary observation that Obama is an imperial war Democrat, see one of the articles listed above (Street, “Establishment Politics in ‘Rebel’s Clothing’”) or either of the following:


“What Would Obama Have Done? Voted for the War and Lied About It – Just Like Hillary,” Black Agenda Report (November 1, 2007), read online at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0711/S00036.htm


 “Running Dog Obama,” ZNet (July 29, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13396


It’s all there.




 Running to the Right of Hillary


The main reason I haven’t criticized Hillary as much as Obama is simple. My audience at Z-Net and other outlets (Z Magazine, Black Agenda Report, Dissident Voice among other outlets) is disproportionately Left and left-liberal (more left than liberal in my case) and that readership is not particularly beholden to progressive illusions about Mrs. Clinton.  My basic perspective on Hillary – that she represents the corporate and imperial wing of the Democratic Party (so does Obama) – is already widely shared by the people who read the outlets in which my work appears. I don’t have a lot of “anti-Hillary” work to do in the circles my essays tend to inhabit. And I don’t run into a lot of liberal-lefties who think (absurdly) that Hillary Clinton is one of them. For what it’s worth, Hillary signs are relatively sparse in my particularly “progressive” Iowa City precinct.


Things are different with Obama, whose signs (“HOPE – Obama ’08”) are highly visible in my supposedly left-leaning neighborhood. For whatever reasons – and race is part of the equation (6) – the corporate “player” Barack Obama (7) has been able to convince a large number of leftish sorts that he’s on their side. 


This is sadly ironic since Obama is now running closer to the G.O.P. than Hillary. You don’t see Hillary inveighing against the supposed menace of “partisanship” or taking up right-wing talking points on Social Security by joining Barack in claiming that the system is in “crisis” and therefore in need of drastic reform (8). You don’t see her reaching out to the evangelical right and making fundraising appearances with gay-bashing fundamentalist preachers like Obama’s good campaign friend Donnie McClurkin (9).


Recently we have witnessed the sorry spectacle of “progressive” Obama sounding like Rudy Guliani in denouncing Hillary and Edwards’ health care plans for imposing the terrible “government mandate” of actually universal coverage. Obama’s plan would let young adults who feel strong and healthy stay outside the risk pool until they require significant medical attention (10). 


He Who Pays the Player


And now Obama has sharpened the starboard tack of his campaign by criticizing Edwards for getting support from independent labor groups.  According to Barack, (whose message of non-partisan harmony and getting things done with Republicans and corporations does not sit very well with union workers), this support shows that Edwards is beholden to the kind of “special interests” that “have too much influence in Washington” (11). Never mind that unions’ fading power rests upon the small contributions of working-class individuals with relatively little wealth and influence compared to that of the truly rich and powerful investor class that exercises the lion’s share of “special interest” control over U.S. government and politics.  According to liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Obama has moved to Clinton’s right on domestic policy (something hard to do and still call oneself a “Democrat”)at least (12).


Krugman has done his readers and the progressive community a great service by documenting and critically analyzing Obama’s rightward drift but I think he is too kind to Obama when he chalks the BaRockstar’s reactionary tilt up to the senator’s “naïve” desire to seem nonpartisan. There’s nothing naïve about Obama: he’s a cold-blooded, Chicago-based and Daley-schooled corporate opportunist who does not believe much of his own campaign drivel and imagery. He is receiving many millions of election dollars from the real “special interests” that most significantly control U.S. society, culture, politics, and policy: leading global investment firms and other powerful corporate interests like Exelon (the secret to his pro-nuclear stance). Those who pay the piper call the tune (13).   



“The Last Time Anybody Got a Build-Up Like This…”


Dominant U.S. media has enabled Obama’s core project of wrapping establishment corporate politics in progressive rebel’s clothing. Reflecting dominant media’s “distaste for populism” and its deep approval of Obama’s “message of reconciliation,” Krugman notes, “Mr. Obama’s [news] coverage has been far more favorable than that of any other candidate”(14). Krugman could have added that Obama has been piling up the lion’s share of newspaper endorsements so far.  


Obama’s media advantage goes deeper. As the Chicago political wit Paul Green noted last year, “the last time anybody got a build up like this he had 12 apostles” (15).  The truly remarkable corporate media love that the Obama phenomenon – itself largely a media creation (and itself a mass cultural spectacle in its own right) – has received has made it all too easy for the BaRockstar to recurrently pose as something he is not: a peace and justice candidate


Dominant media refuses to subject his ridiculously false claims of progressive commitment to remotely serious critical scrutiny outside unusual “mainstream” places like Krugman’s carefully phrased columns. 


To get the real and full story on Obama, you have to go to samizdat Internet outlets like Black Agenda Report, ZNet, and Dissident Voice, places that would be key public reference points if we had a more democratic and participatory political culture.




I’m left of Kucinich.  You may be too, dear reader, if you support and/or regularly consult ZNet.  Good for us.  But here’s my two cents from the candidate-saturated campaign ground in Iowa (I’m in a heavily over-educated the thus highly indoctrinated and relatively Obamanized precinct in Iowa City): the highly imperfect (from a Left perspective) John Edwards (16) is better than Obama in ways that matter (and yes, dear fellow Chomsky reader, the differences are mainly about domestic and not foreign policy).   The unabashedly partisan, pro-labor, anti-poverty, and “populist” Edwards is running to the centrist Obama’s “populist” and democratic left.


Two Different Concepts of How America is Divided and What to Do About It


It’s a bigger contrast than many progressives know or let on (17). Obama intones endlessly about “hope” and finding “common ground” and “consensus” with Republicans, evangelicals, and big business.  He decries the nation’s supposedly horrid legacy of factional and ideological conflict – an allegedly frightening heritage he pins on the purportedly scary (late) 1960s – and claims to represent a new generational politics seeking to “get things done” above nasty old divisions. He claims to represent the glories of an America where hard work is rewarded and anyone can rise from the

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