Three left views on Obama: Howard Zinn, Mike Davis, Todd Chretien

Howard Zinn: `Obama creates an opening for change but direct action needed'

October 22, 2008 -- Real News Network -- Howard Zinn says vote against McCain, vote for Obama. Even though Obama does not represent any fundamental change, he creates an opening for a possibility of change. Obama will not fulfill that potential for change, unless he is enveloped by a social movement, which is angry enough, powerful enough, insistent enough, that he fills his abstract phrases about change with some content. We need direct action, because only that kind of indignation is going to have some affect on the people in Washington.

Howard Zinn is an historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright. He is best known as author of the best-seller A People's History of the United States. Zinn has been active in the civil rights and the anti-war movements in the United States.

Paul Jay, senior editor, Real News Network: Thank you for joining us. Our interview with Howard Zinn. Thank you, Howard. So we're just a few weeks away from the election. Obama's ahead in the polls, although Obama supporters are still holding their breath and talk about October surprises and this and that. You've written about the election process as not being as democratic as it would like to call itself or people would like to call it. On the other hand, you still end up with the idea that people should participate, should vote, and I don't think you quite said "holding your nose," but with some reservation people should vote against McCain, vote for Obama. Explain what your thinking on this is.

Yeah. Well, you know, I'm very sceptical about the US political process, which only gives voters a very limited multiple choice test. You know, A or B? Or A and A-prime? The Republicans or the Democrats? And almost always the Republicans and the Democrats are so close to one another in policy, I mean, not identical, but fairly close in policy, so that the person who wants bold changes in the way our society is going is not going to find them represented by either the Democratic or Republican candidates, and that's still true with Obama and McCain.

However, there are certain moments in history when even a small difference between the candidates may be crucial, may be a matter of life and death for large numbers of people. I mean, when the French had a change of presidency in France during the Algerian War, it made a difference in their bringing the Algerian War to an end. And I think that there are such moments, and I think this may be such a moment in US history.

That is, we've gone through an insufferable eight years with the Bush administration, probably the worst administration in history, and, I mean, two wars in one presidency, and a total disregard of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and a shattering of the economy.

And in this situation, we are desperate for change. So even though Obama doesn't represent any fundamental change, he creates an opening for the possibility of change. That's why I'm voting for him; that's why I suggest to people that they vote for him. But I also suggest that Obama will not fulfill that potential for change unless he is enveloped by a social movement which is angry enough, powerful enough, insistent enough that he fill his abstract phrases about change, fill them with some real, solid content.

The Nader supporters and some of the other third-party candidates will say, "Well, there is an alternative." No. I interviewed Ralph Nader and I made the argument to him that there isn't a feasible alternative, and he says, "Well, yes there is. It's not feasible only when people keep saying it's not feasible." But what do you say to Nader and the other third-party candidates who say, well, the only way to break this paralysis of the two-party system is to start voting outside it?"

Well, you're not going to break the paralysis of the two-party system within the party system. In other words, you're not going to break it in the electoral system by putting up a third-party candidate whose showing will inevitably be pitiful and will therefore only be a demonstration of the weakness of the movement outside of the electoral arena. If you choose to go into the electoral arena, you'd better go in with strength. If you're going with weakness, you are not doing a progressive movement any good.

To me it is a waste of Ralph Nader's energy to throw himself into the electoral process, because his energy is best used by building a movement, by doing what he has done for most of his life very effectively, reaching out to millions and millions of people who will not vote for him but who really believe in his ideas, and help him to organize those people so that whoever is elected as president will then have to face a constituency, a citizenry which demands change.

Now, how does that movement develop now? I mean, let's assume that Obama is going to win this election. If the polls are right and there's no, you know, extraordinary event—which I suppose nobody can rule out—but the world as we know it today, it looks like Obama's going to win the election. And I say that with some reservation, 'cause if something big happens in four days, it's going to make this interview dated. So we'd better publish quickly. But given that, how does an independent movement develop? What are the obstacles to a national movement of the type you're talking about?

Well, the obstacles are a kind of resignation that things will go on as before. That's always the obstacle to change. The obstacle to change is not that people don't want change. People want change. But most of the time, people feel impotent. However, at certain points in history, the energy level of people, the indignation level of people rises. And at that point it becomes possible for people to organize and to agitate and to educate one another, and to create an atmosphere in which the government must do something. I'm thinking of the 1930s; I'm thinking of Franklin D. Roosevelt coming into office not really a crusader.

Roosevelt came into office, you know, with a balance-the-budgets history. It was not clear what he was going to do, and I don't think he was clear about what he was going to do, except that he was going to be different from Hoover and the Republicans. But when he came into office, he faced a country that was on strike. He faced general strikes in San Francisco in Minneapolis. He faced strikes of hundreds of thousands of textile workers in the South. He faced a tenants movement and an unemployed council movement. And he faced a country in turmoil, and he reacted to it, he was sensitive to it, he moved. That's what we will need.

We will need to see some of the scenes that we saw in the '30s.

And how do we get there?

How do we get there? Well, we get there by somebody starting it off, like the four kids in Greensboro in 1960 who started off the sit-in not knowing whether it would spread. We need somebody who is losing their home because they can't afford to pay their mortgage, we need them surrounded by their neighbors who then do not allow them to leave, do not allow their furniture to be taken away. This is what happened in the '30s. In other words, we need direct action, we need civil disobedience, we need to raise the level of tension in the country, because only that kind of indignation is going to have some effect on the people in Washington.

And in terms of building a movement that could give rise to a third party that actually had a chance—and in many countries of the world, parties do come and go—first of all, why haven't we seen some of that which one did see in the '30s? There were other parties that had some kind of weight. And are we entering with this financial crisis a period where something like that might be possible?

Well, third parties can have an effect on the existing parties. I mean, in the 1930s it wasn't a third party that won; it was the fact that there was a movement throughout the country. Part of it was socialist and communist, but a lot of it would be working people and tenants and so on, and they had an affect on the Democratic Party, which up to that point had not been a very militant or very energetic party. As a result it had lost elections in the 1930s to non-entities like Harding and Coolidge.

But I think it'll take the kind of energy that we had in the '30s to not necessarily create a third party that will win office, but that will transform the Democratic Party into what might be a third party, almost in the way that the Republican Party before the Civil War was transformed into a party that would do away with slavery or at least try to do away with slavery, even though that was not its primary objective.

If we're looking at four years, maybe eight years, of a Democratic administration, and if that Democratic administration follows the previous course we've seen from most of the people that are going to be leading it, then this movement is going to be directing a lot of its target or arrows at the Democratic administration.

Unquestionably. If we have a Democratic administration, that administration has to be the target of a new social movement. Problem with the years of the Clinton administration is that whoever in the United States really wanted to go beyond the Clinton administration in foreign policy and domestic policy became complacent, and they did not organize, and there was no real movement in the country in Clinton's time, as there had been in 1960s, to push Clinton into any good direction. That will have to be different when Obama and his administration come into office.

[A second part of this interview can be viewed HERE.]

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Can Obama see the Grand Canyon?

On presidential blindness and economic catastrophe

By Mike Davis

October 15, 2008 -- Common Dreams -- Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the US Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an "awe that was almost painful to behold." Ives's expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Accurate portrayal of the Canyon only arrived a generation later when the colourado River became the obsession of the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell and his celebrated teams of geologists and artists. They were like Victorian astronauts reconnoitering another planet. It took years of brilliant fieldwork to construct a conceptual framework for taking in the canyon. With "deep time" added as the critical dimension, it was finally possible for raw perception to be transformed into consistent vision.

The result of their work, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, published in 1882, is illustrated by masterpieces of draftsmanship that, as Powell's biographer Wallace Stegner once pointed out, "are more accurate than any photograph." That is because they reproduce details of stratigraphy usually obscured in camera images. When we visit one of the famous viewpoints today, most of us are oblivious to how profoundly our eyes have been trained by these iconic images or how much we have been influenced by the idea, popularized by Powell, of the Canyon as a museum of geological time.

But why am I talking about geology? Because, like the Grand Canyon's first explorers, we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.

Weimar returns in Limbaughland

Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah's Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I've been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I'd actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent "systemic meltdown."

Thus, my initial reaction to Wall Street's infamous 777.7 point plunge a few weeks ago was a very sixties retro elation. "Right on, Karl!" I shouted. "Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!" Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.

But the real culprits, of course, are not being trundled off to the guillotine; they're gently floating to earth in golden parachutes. The rest of us may be trapped on the burning plane without a pilot, but the despicable Richard Fuld, who used Lehman Brothers to loot pension funds and retirement accounts, merely sulks on his yacht.

Out in the stucco deserts of Limbaughland, moreover, fear is already being distilled into a good ol' boy version of the "stab in the back" myth that rallied the ruined German petite bourgeoisie to the swastika. If you listen to the rage on commute AM, you'll know that ‘socialism' has already taken a lien on America, Barack Hussein Obama is terrorism's Manchurian candidate, the collapse of Wall Street was caused by elderly black people with Fannie Mae loans, and ACORN in its voter registration drives has long been padding the voting rolls with illegal brown hordes.

In other times, Sarah Palin's imitation of Father Charles Coughlin -- the priest who preached an American Reich in the 1930s -- in drag might be hilarious camp, but with the American way of life in sudden freefall, the specter of star-spangled fascism doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. The Right may lose the election, but it already possesses a sinister, historically proven blueprint for rapid recovery.

Progressives have no time to waste. In the face of a new depression that promises folks from Wasilla to Timbuktu an unknown world of pain, how do we reconstruct our understanding of the globalized economy? To what extent can we look to either Obama or any of the Democrats to help us analyse the crisis and then act effectively to resolve it?

Is Obama FDR?

If the Nashville "town hall" debate is any guide, we will soon have another blind president. Neither candidate had the guts or information to answer the simple questions posed by the anxious audience: What will happen to our jobs? How bad will it get? What urgent steps should be taken?

Instead, the candidates stuck like flypaper to their obsolete talking points. McCain's only surprise was yet another innovation in deceit: a mortgage relief plan that would reward banks and investors without necessarily saving homeowners.

Obama recited his four-point program, infinitely better in principle than his opponent's preferential option for the rich, but abstract and lacking in detail. It remains more a rhetorical promise than the blueprint for the actual machinery of reform. He made only passing reference to the next phase of the crisis: the slump of the real economy and likely mass unemployment on a scale not seen for 70 years.

With baffling courtesy to the Bush administration, he failed to highlight any of the other weak links in the economic system: the dangerous overhang of credit-default swap obligations left over from the fall of Lehman Brothers; the trillion-dollar black hole of consumer credit-card debt that may threaten the solvency of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America; the implacable decline of General Motors and the American auto industry; the crumbling foundations of municipal and state finance; the massacre of tech equity and venture capital in Silicon Valley; and, most unexpectedly, sudden fissures in the financial solidity of even General Electric.

In addition, both Obama and his vice presidential partner Joe Biden, in their support for Secretary of the Treasury Paulson's plan, avoid any discussion of the inevitable result of cataclysmic restructuring and government bailouts: not "socialism," but ultra-capitalism -- one that is likely to concentrate control of credit in a few leviathan banks, controlled in large part by sovereign wealth funds but subsidized by generations of public debt and domestic austerity.

Never have so many ordinary Americans been nailed to a cross of gold (or derivatives), yet Obama is the most mild-mannered William Jennings Bryan imaginable. Unlike Sarah Palin who masticates the phrase "the working class" with defiant glee, he hews to a party line that acknowledges only the needs of an amorphous "middle class" living on a largely mythical "Main Street."

If we are especially concerned about the fate of the poor or unemployed, we are left to read between the lines, with no help from his talking points that espouse clean coal technology, nuclear power, and a bigger military, but elide the urgency of a renewed war on poverty as championed by John Edwards in his tragically self-destructed primary campaign. But perhaps inside the cautious candidate is a man whose humane passions transcend his own nearsighted centrist campaign. As a close friend, exasperated by my chronic pessimism, chided me the other day, "don't be so unfair. FDR didn't have a nuts and bolts program either in 1933. Nobody did."

What Franklin D. Roosevelt did possess in that year of breadlines and bank failures, according to my friend, was enormous empathy for the common people and a willingness to experiment with government intervention, even in the face of the monolithic hostility of the wealthy classes. In this view, Obama is's re-imagining of our 32nd president: calm, strong, deeply in touch with ordinary needs, and willing to accept the advice of the country's best and brightest.

The seath of Keynesianism

But even if we concede to the Illinois senator a truly Rooseveltian or, even better, Lincolnian strength of character, this hopeful analogy is flawed in at least three principal ways:

First, we can't rely on the Great Depression as analog to the current crisis, nor upon the New Deal as the template for its solution. Certainly, there is a great deal of déjà vu in the frantic attempts to quiet panic and reassure the public that the worst has passed. Many of Paulson's statements, indeed, could have been directly plagiarised from Herbert Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and both presidential campaigns are frantically cribbing heroic rhetoric from the early New Deal. But just as the business press has been insisting for years, this is not the Old American Economy, but an entirely new-fangled contraption built from outsourced parts and supercharged by instantaneous world markets in everything from dollars and defaults to hog bellies and disaster futures.

We are seeing the consequences of a perverse restructuring that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and which has inverted the national income shares of manufacturing (21% in 1980; 12% in 2005) and those of financial services (15% in 1980; 21% in 2005). In 1930, the factories may have been shuttered but the machinery was still intact; it hadn't been auctioned off at five cents on the dollar to China.

On the other hand, we shouldn't disparage the miracles of contemporary market technology. Casino capitalism has proven its mettle by transmitting the deadly virus of Wall Street at unprecedented velocity to every financial center on the planet. What took three years at the beginning of the 1930s -- that is, the full globalisation of the crisis -- has taken only three weeks this time around. God help us, if, as seems to be happening, unemployment tops the levees at anything like the same speed.

Second, Obama won't inherit Roosevelt's ultimate situational advantage -- having emergent tools of state intervention and demand management (later to be called "Keynesianism") empowered by an epochal uprising of industrial workers in the world's most productive factories.

If you've been watching the sad parade of economic gurus on McNeil-Lehrer, you know that the intellectual shelves in Washington are now almost bare. Neither major party retains more than a few enigmatic shards of policy traditions different from the neo-liberal consensus on trade and privatisation. Indeed, posturing pseudo-populists aside, it is unclear whether anyone inside the Beltway, including Obama's economic advisors, can think clearly beyond the indoctrinated mindset of Goldman Sachs, the source of the two most prominent secretaries of the treasury over the last decade.

Keynes, now suddenly mourned, is actually quite dead. More importantly, the New Deal did not arise spontaneously from the goodwill or imagination of the White House. On the contrary, the social contract for the post-1935 Second New Deal was a complex, adaptive response to the greatest working-class movement in our history, in a period when powerful third parties still roamed the political landscape and Marxism exercised extraordinary influence on American intellectual life.

Even with the greatest optimism of the will, it is difficult to imagine the American labour movement recovering from defeat as dramatically as it did in 1934-1937. The decisive difference is structural rather than ideological. (Indeed, today's union movement is much more progressive than the decrepit, nativist American Federation of labour in 1930.) The power of labour within a Walmart-ized service economy is simply more dispersed and difficult to mobilize than in the era of giant urban-industrial concentrations and ubiquitous factory neighborhoods.

Is war the answer?

The third problem with the New Deal analogy is perhaps the most important. Military Keynesianism is no longer an available deus ex machina. Let me explain.

In 1933, when FDR was inaugurated, the United States was in full retreat from foreign entanglements, and there was little controversy about bringing a few hundred Marines home from the occupations of Haiti and Nicaragua. It took two years of world war, the defeat of France, and the near collapse of England to finally win a majority in Congress for rearmament, but when war production finally started up in late 1940 it became a huge engine for the reemployment of the American work force, the real cure for the depressed job markets of the 1930s. Subsequently, American world power and full employment would align in a way that won the loyalty of several generations of working-class voters.

Today, of course, the situation is radically different. A bigger Pentagon budget no longer creates hundreds of thousands of stable factory jobs, since significant parts of its weapons production is now actually outsourced, and the ideological link between high-wage employment and intervention -- good jobs and Old Glory on a foreign shore -- while hardly extinct is structurally weaker than at any time since the early 1940s. Even in the new military (largely a hereditary caste of poor whites, blacks, and Latinos) demoralisation is reaching the stage of active discontent and opening up new spaces for alternative ideas.

Although both candidates have endorsed programs, including expansion of Army and Marine combat strength, missile defense (aka "Star Wars"), and an intensified war in Afghanistan, that will enlarge the military-industrial complex, none of this will replenish the supply of decent jobs nor prime a broken national pump. However, in the midst of a deep slump, what a huge military budget can do is obliterate the modest but essential reforms that make up Obama's plans for healthcare, alternative energy, and education.

In other words, Rooseveltian guns and butter have become a contradiction in terms, which means that the Obama campaign is engineering a catastrophic collision between its national security priorities and its domestic policy goals.

The fate of Obama-ism

Why don't such smart people see the Grand Canyon?

Maybe they do, in which case deception is truly the mother's milk of American politics; or perhaps Obama has become the reluctant prisoner, intellectually as well as politically, of Clintonism: that is say, of a culturally permissive neo-liberalism whose New Deal rhetoric masks the policy spirit of Richard Nixon.

It's worth asking, for instance, what in the actual substance of his foreign policy agenda differentiates the Democratic candidate from the radioactive legacy of the Bush Doctrine? Yes, he would close Guantanamo, talk to the Iranians, and thrill hearts in Europe. He also promises to renew the Global War on Terror (in much the same way that Bush senior and Clinton sustained the core policies of Reaganism, albeit with a "more human face").

In case anyone has missed the debates, let me remind you that the Democratic candidate has chained himself, come hell or high water, to a global strategy in which "victory" in the Middle East (and Central Asia) remains the chief premise of foreign policy, with the Iraqi-style nation-building hubris of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz repackaged as a "realist" faith in global "stabilisation."

True, the enormity of the economic crisis may compel President Obama to renege on some of candidate Obama's ringing promises to support an idiotic missile defense system or provocative NATO memberships for Georgia and Ukraine. Nonetheless, as he emphasizes in almost every speech and in each debate, defeating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, together with a robust defense of Israel, constitute the keystone of his national security agenda.

Under huge pressure from Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats alike to cut the budget and reduce the exponential increase in the national debt, what choices would President Obama be forced to make early in his administration? More than likely comprehensive health-care will be whittled down to a barebones plan, "alternative energy" will simply mean the fraud of "clean coal," and anything that remains in the Treasury, after Wall Street's finished its looting spree, will buy bombs to pulverize more Pashtun villages, ensuring yet more generations of embittered mujahideen and jihadis.

Am I unduly cynical? Perhaps, but I lived through the Lyndon Johnson years and watched the War on Poverty, the last true New Deal program, destroyed to pay for slaughter in Vietnam.

It is bitterly ironic, but, I suppose, historically predictable that a presidential campaign millions of voters have supported for its promise to end the war in Iraq has now mortgaged itself to a "tougher than McCain" escalation of a hopeless conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal frontier. In the best of outcomes, the Democrats will merely trade one brutal, losing war for another. In the worst case, their failed policies may set the stage for the return of Cheney and Rove, or their even more sinister avatars.

Copyright 2008 Mike Davis

[Mike Davis is the author of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire (Haymarket Books, 2008) and Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (Verso, 2007). He is currently working on a book about cities, poverty, and global change. You can listen to a podcast of Davis discussing why the New Deal isn't relevant as a solution today by clicking here.]

Why I'm not voting for Barack Obama

Todd Chretien makes the case that remaining independent of the two mainstream parties is necessary for building an effective struggle.

October 22, 2008 -- Socialist Worker (USA) --"TERRORIST!" "KILL him!" "He's an Arab." "Obama Bucks." John McCain has let the dogs loose. Apparently, he's decided that if winning the White House means whipping the right wing into a racist frenzy, he'll lead the charge.

The good news is that a majority of American voters are walking away from the John McCain-Sarah Palin freak show. Even David Letterman is grilling McCain.

In recent days, McCain even added the word "socialist" to Barack Obama's supposed list of sins. "You see, [Obama] believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it," said McCain. "At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Senator Obama."

Just this once, I find myself wishing that something McCain says were true. Yet any serious look at Obama's record and platform signal that he intends to govern well within the mainstream of American politics.

To begin with, there are his stated policies. He wants to keep at least 50,000 troops in Iraq to "fight terrorism" indefinitely, and he wants to send those who are withdrawn from Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. He agrees with John McCain that the size and budget of the American military must be increased, he stridently supports Israel's suppression of the Palestinian people, and he has said "me too" to reasserting American military might in Latin America, being especially hostile to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

Obama would be the first to repudiate the idea that he is any sort of anti-militarist or anti-imperialist--and we should take him at his word.

Domestically, Obama recognizes, unlike McCain, that the era of reckless deregulation and neoliberal supremacy has run its course. His policies will aim to re-establish order between the "hostile band of brothers," as Marx called competing capitalists.

Yet no serious look at Obama's policies indicates a plan to fundamentally reshape the American class system. As Malcolm X once said, "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches, and say you're making progress."

Obama may support some modest economic band-aids--extending unemployment benefits, for example. He'll most likely make some reasonable policy shifts, undoing the craziest of the Republican excesses--especially those that don't cost much. For instance, he'll appoint centrists to the Supreme Court if he gets the chance (although the justices most likely to retire are liberals or centrists anyway).

Obama will also end George Bush's ban on stem cell research, and he'll take modest steps to deal with global warming. He might even reduce the number of anti-immigrant raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

But even if Obama has his way at every point, by the end of his first term in 2012, the schools will remain underfunded, the prisons overcrowded, and the gap between the rich and the working class more or less unchanged.

Compared to the last eight years of Bush, any change will be seen as a good thing. Obama's modest reforms will most likely earn him a honeymoon for a longer or shorter period of time. He also has the advantage that the Republican Party finds itself deeply divided, and those divisions will only increase if McCain loses badly.

But the modest changes Obama has promised fall far short of what is needed. Ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and economic crisis will form the backdrop to Obama's first term. This calls for far more radical measures than Obama has contemplated, even in the most generous reading of his intentions.

This reality requires a serious political discussion about how to build a working-class movement that can change the rules of the game--and it's in this context that the question of whether those who want to work for social change should vote for Obama must be discussed.

Historical perspective

First, some historical perspective is needed. If the opinion poll trends hold up, McCain's racist strategy will lose, and Obama will be elected the first African American president. In a nation built on slavery, this will be an historic accomplishment and a cause to celebrate for every genuine opponent of racism and bigotry of all kinds.

This point deserves emphasis. America's economic wealth was literally extracted from the backs and minds of more than 10 generations of Black slaves. This wealth wasn't incidental to the nation's fortunes. Without slavery, there would have been no riches for Northern merchants and bankers, and no boom in Northern industry. It took a ferocious Civil War to abolish slavery--a conflict that demonstrated the tenacity of the slave owner's defense of the system.

The freed slaves achieved a 10-year period of partial democracy and reform in the South during Reconstruction. Defended by heavily armed troops, they elected hundreds of African Americans to state legislatures and Congress.

This Southern revolution was drowned in blood, as the KKK lynched its way into power, leading to 80 years of apartheid-like legal segregation. The heroic and bloody struggles of the civil rights movement finally broke Jim Crow's back, paving the way to voting rights, affirmative action in education and jobs, the creation of a Black middle class, and the possibility of Barak Obama's campaign.

All this is often dismissed as ancient history. Yet it is worth remembering that when Barak Obama was born in 1961, millions of African Americans were still legally barred from voting in the South.

Even when the history is acknowledged, it is often asserted that the wrongs have been righted, and Black people should stop "complaining." As if the racist taunts shouted out at McCain rallies aren't buttressed by a powerful system of institutional racism which guarantees that African Americans disproportionately go to the poorest schools, suffer the highest unemployment rate and account for 50 percent of the nation's 2 million prisoners, although they constitute just 13 percent of the population.

Obama's election will raise the hopes of millions of Black workers across the country. Those who have suffered the brunt of American capitalism--and its most important tool, racism--will have a justifiable sense of pride at Obama's rise.

And for those who believe that the white working class can be won over to the fight against racism in the interest of class-based solidarity, Election Day will show that, even when offered the chance to vote along racial lines (first by Hillary Clinton and then by John McCain), tens of millions of white workers from all parts of the country will vote for Barack Obama instead.

None of this ends racism, but it certainly demonstrates the potential for interracial unity in the working class.

Left's dilemma

Historically, the US left has faced this dilemma: try to transform the Democratic Party or try to build an alternative to its left. During the last Great Depression, this choice was posed in particularly stark terms--and although history never repeats itself, there are some important lessons to be learned from what happened then.

The stock market crash in October 1929 led to bank failures, factory closures and skyrocketing unemployment, as well as a rising level of working-class anger--and, eventually, strikes, protests, union drives and all kinds of social protests.

The 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt has important parallels to Obama's campaign. He won in a landslide, replacing an unpopular and out-of-touch Republican administration, by promising a New Deal.

However, like Obama's call for "change," the content of that New Deal was meager when Roosevelt promised it on the campaign trail. It was mostly designed to shore up the banks and business, while offering small reforms for workers and the poor.

Yet the combination of anger and hope proved electric. Between 1934 and 1937, millions of workers went on strike and created the most powerful unions in US history. In that struggle, the American Communist Party grew from 7,000 members in 1929 to 80,000 by 1938.

At first, it seemed like the working-class movement and Roosevelt were headed in the same direction. As workers got more radical and organized, Roosevelt was forced to deliver more reforms (Social Security, the National labour Relations Act, the Works Progress Administration jobs program, unemployment insurance, etc.).

In fact, it seemed so obvious to many political radicals that Roosevelt and the working class were headed in the same direction that when the Communist Party dropped its opposition to the Democratic Party (on orders from Moscow) and became Roosevelt's biggest champion in 1935-36, very few complained.

But as the unions and Communist Party came to see defending Roosevelt from the Republicans as the central priority, they began to oppose the kinds of strikes and street actions necessary to continue the process of winning ever-more radical reforms for fear of "scaring the center."

Once this dynamic became dominant, the movement began to fall apart. The abandonment of this independence destroyed the possibilities of building an independent labour party, one that could stand for workers' rights, consistently fight racism and oppose US wars abroad.

And when Roosevelt, the Democratic Party and big funders who really ran the party felt threatened by the demands of the unions, Roosevelt pre-emptively turned against the movement. On Memorial Day 1937--just months after Roosevelt won re-election with the overwhelming support of organized labour--police shot and killed 10 striking steelworkers in Chicago. It was then that FDR issued his infamous "a plague on both your houses" remark about the strike, which gave the green light to the bosses to use violence against the union movement.

By 1938, the New Deal economic policies had utterly failed to end the Depression. Instead, there was a dramatic worsening of the economy. At this point, Roosevelt turned towards building a massive war machine to fight the Second World War. This would include developing and dropping the atomic bomb in the interest of spreading the American empire to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The Democrats, having sidetracked the possibility of breaking the two-party cycle in the 1930s, then helped launch the anticommunist McCarthyite crusade, a war in Korea, the Cold War with the USSR and, eventually, the war in Vietnam.

How to use opportunities

No one has a crystal ball, but it appears that global capitalism is entering a historic period of crisis. The question of how to use the opportunities this will open up so that we don't repeat the mistakes the left made in the 1930s will be crucial if we want a different outcome this time.

I believe that voting and giving political support to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party will weaken the fight for a fundamentally different kind of world, a socialist world.

Arguing against a vote for Obama and the Democrats is not political abstention, however. It is part of a larger strategy that argues positively to continue building a socialist movement, based on the independence of the working class from the two mainstream parties.

There are many dedicated activists who will disagree with this point of view. They look forward, above all, to seeing the Republicans defeated after eight long years of George Bush. But can they make a positive case that Obama and the Democrats will take us closer to breaking the domination of the rich over the working class in this country?

The fact that millions of American workers look set to elect the first Black president is a good barometer of what could be. But it's no substitute for systematic political debate and the patient building of social movements, socialist organisation and practical action.

For more Links articles on Obama, click HERE 

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 10/28/2008 - 11:07


How will race shape the election?

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor analyzes the Republicans' racist campaign against Barack Obama--and says the most interesting thing about it is that it's not working.

BY EVERY statistical measure, it looks clearer and clearer that Barack Obama will become the first African American president in the history of the United States--a country founded on slavery and sustained by 300 years of racial oppression.

Yet despite the favorable polling pointing to an Obama victory, many in the mainstream media and among Obama's supporters wonder if, in the end, racism will lead to the unraveling of this lead, and yet give life to John McCain and Sarah Palin's moribund campaign.

With nothing new to add to a campaign season that has been going on for almost two full years, the pundits spent the last couple of weeks before the November 4 election wondering about whether white voters will actually come out and vote for Obama, and if there will be a so-called "Bradley effect."

Beyond this, Obama's own supporters and progressives in general are concerned that the Republican Party's turn to open racism and smears against Obama will cut into his support.

While understandable, these fears ignore the palpable growth of anti-racism in U.S. society over the last 30 years--most obviously exemplified by the candidacy of Barack Obama himself, but evident in other ways as well.

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TO START with, what is the Bradley effect? In 1982, the former African American mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, looked to be in command of the race for governor of California. Most polls showed him leading beyond the margin of error, and many predicted he would become the first African American governor in the 20th century.

But when the votes were counted, Bradley lost. The media were quick to conclude that some group of whites, fearing they would be considered racist, told pollsters they would vote for Bradley, but when alone in the voting booth, they supported Bradley's Republican opponent.

It's not unfathomable that, only 17 years after Blacks were formally guaranteed the unobstructed right to vote with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there would be white voters who told pollsters one thing and did something else in the polling booth. But there may be other explanations for the difference between the polling and the actual results in that 1982 contest--like poor polling in the first place.

According to V. Lance Tarrance, who conducted opinion surveys for Bradley's Republican challenger, the polls for the governor's race were defective for two reasons: one, they didn't take into account large number of absentee voters who were mailing in ballots, and two, those interpreting the polls--the media--didn't accurately gauge how Republican George Deukmejian was quickly closing the gap on Bradley.

Lastly, the polls that predicted a Bradley victory weren't completely off. Bradley won on Election Day, in that among those who cast a ballot that day, Bradley won a majority of votes. He lost because of the absentee votes.

Nevertheless, the "Bradley effect" has been observed in other close elections with high-profile Black candidates--such as former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, both of whom won elections by a narrower margin than the polls indicated.

But a recent Harvard study of elections involving Black and non-Black candidates gave another explanation for the gap. Looking at gubernatorial and senatorial races from 1989 and 2006, it concluded: "As racialized rhetoric about welfare and crime receded from national prominence in the mid-1990s, so did the gap between polling and performance."

In other words, as explicit (though coded) appeals to racism became less popular, racism generally became less viable in electoral politics.

This certainly reflects the trend in electoral contests of the growing number of Black candidates supported by white voters. According to a New York Times analysis, approximately 200 Black politicians have won positions once held by whites in both Northern and Southern states, including New Hampshire, Minnesota, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. By 2007, about 30 percent of the 622 Black legislators at the state level represented predominately white districts, up from 16 percent in 2001.

None of this is to say that the U.S. is no longer a racist country or that African Americans have achieved some level of full equality--or even that the election of Barack Obama as president will, somehow, close the book on racism in this country.

But the picture is more complicated than the media and political parties acknowledge. They focus on the actions of white voters--in particular, the actions of working-class whites, who are condescendingly referred to as the "Joe Six-Pack" (or, now, "Joe the Plumber") voters--with the expectation that these voters will be more racist and reactionary, and generally ignorant of issues that go beyond what immediately affects them.

The media invoke the legacy of the so-called Reagan Democrats--blue-collar workers with a history of voting Democrat who "defected" to the Republicans during the 1980s. The Republicans whipped up racism with a "war on drugs" and attacks on Black women as "welfare queens" to win the votes of white workers.

Yet even in the face of such brazen efforts to race-bait and scapegoat, Rev. Jesse Jackson won more than 2 million white votes in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, and forced the mainstream media and the Democratic Party to take his "fringe" campaign seriously.

By avoiding the issue of race like the plague, Obama's campaign has contributed to the distorted picture of ordinary white workers' consciousness. Under no circumstances will anyone formally associated with the campaign mention race or racism--because of the deeply cynical belief that the so-called Joe Six Packs simply won't support anyone who is viewed as pro-Black. In other words, Obama has to transcend race in order to win votes.

There may be aspects of this picture that are true in a limited way that accepts the status quo as unchanging and unchangeable. But on the whole, the strategy that drives Obama's reaction to issues of race is based on anti-working class stereotypes that view white workers as intrinsically and intractably racist, and unable to summon the slightest sense of solidarity with African Americans.

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MOST OF this caricature of white workers was born in the late 1960s when Richard Nixon inexplicably ascended to the presidency on the votes of what he termed the "silent majority."

The so-called "silent majority" was never as much a majority as the punditry and academics liked to claim. Moreover, then as now, it was never really Joe Six Pack who was the reactionary--it was the suburban, middle-class "swing voters" who were always more attracted to the conservative politics and promises of the Republicans.

Blue-collar workers--including Blacks, Latinos and other non-whites--have always been concerned about jobs, the economy, their wages and benefits, government programs that could help them make ends meet, and the wars the U.S. starts which their children must go to fight.

This is why workers have always been the core constituency of the Democratic Party--because Democrats, in spite of their record, profess to care about their interests on these issues.

The point is that while the media and the strategists of both parties like to blame ordinary whites for tipping elections one way or the other because of bigotry, they're the ones who bear the greatest responsibility for stoking racism, while simultaneously pretending that it doesn't exist.

Both Hillary Clinton and the McCain-Palin ticket had no qualms reaching for the race card when they were behind in the polls.

Clinton claimed that only she could win the votes of "hard-working Americans, white Americans" for the Democratic Party--meaning, of course, that white workers would never vote for a Black man.

McCain and Palin went straight to questioning whether "small-town America" can really trust someone who was a community organizer "on the South Side of Chicago." More recently, Palin declared, "We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation...This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans."

Palin and McCain see "the real America" in small white towns, outside of the gritty urban centers where people named Barack engage in community organizing. Such comments aren't accidents--they are part of a well-crafted strategy aimed at pushing ordinary whites to pause before voting for Obama.

Functionaries within the Republican Party have been caught pandering to the worst kind of racism--whether calling Obama "Barack Hussein Obama" at McCain-Palin rallies, or using racist caricatures in campaign materials, or running bigoted ads on television or the radio.

But what's more interesting than the predictable behavior of Republicans is that, despite their hardest efforts, it isn't working.

In fact, the most recent polls have shown a decided backlash against the McCain-Palin ticket for being "negative." In fact, it was after the Republicans really climbed in the gutter and accused Obama of, in Palin's words, "palling around with terrorists"--one GOP functionary even demanded that Obama come clean about his "cocaine habit and that he's from the street"--that McCain and Palin experienced their biggest drop in the polls.

This isn't to say that racism isn't a factor in the election--far from it. Despite Obama's victory in the Democratic primaries--a feat in and of itself, considering that the roots of the party are deeply embedded in America's racist foundation--the fact that he hasn't left McCain in the dust is evidence of the effect of bigotry.

If Obama were white and still had the attributes most people associate with him: young, handsome, intelligent, thoughtful and symbolizing a new political direction after eight disastrous years of George Bush, the race would have been over a long time ago.

While Obama has been the victim of a racist smear campaign, he made it worse by refusing on principle to condemn the racism of the Republicans. That gave the GOP the opening to escalate their rhetoric--to the extent that McCain-Palin rallies attract racists who denounce Obama as a "terrorist."

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THE MAINSTREAM media have finally started to expose the McCain campaign for stoking anti-Obama hatred and racism. But there is another angle to this question that is completely ignored.

The almost exclusive focus on what whites will and won't do in the election has obscured the historic impact that African American voters hope to have. Black communities across the country are barely able to contain their pride, hope and exhilaration in an Obama presidency.

Typically, the most apolitical four hours of any day can be found on Black radio during comedic morning shows. But for months, these shows have been imploring people to register to vote--and they've now shifted to get-out-the-vote campaigns. There are daily reports on the state of the campaign and constant mocking of the McCain-Palin ticket.

There are other signs of a massive Black turnout on November 4. In Georgia, of the 150,000 people who have already cast ballots early, almost 40 percent were African American. The long primary season resulted in millions more voters being registered, and many of them are Black. Moreover, African Americans feel as if they have a stake in the election, which in turn will create even more community pressure to get everyone out to vote.

This is why the McCain-Palin campaign has turned to a focus on suppressing the vote by raising questions about the community organization ACORN and its voter registration drive.

In all likelihood, none of these desperate measures will work. In many ways, the upcoming election is a referendum on race and racism in the U.S. The likely victory of Barack Obama won't end racism in America. That will be the job of ordinary people--Black, Brown and white--organizing in struggle to press for their demands.

But an Obama victory will certainly indicate how much ideas and consciousness of regular Americans--the vast majority of working-class people--have changed in the last 40 years.

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What else to read

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes regularly for the International Socialist Review [2]. Among her recent articles are "New Orleans Since the Storm: An American Travesty" [3] and "Rediscovering Race and Class After Katrina." [4]

For an overview of race and class in U.S. history, with several chapters devoted to contemporary American politics, read Ahmed Shawki's Black Liberation and Socialism [5].

Lance Selfa's book The Democrats: A Critical History [6] is a useful resource for further reading on the Democratic Party and the U.S. political system.

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Material on this Web site is licensed by, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd 3.0) [7] license, except for articles that are republished with permission. Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and

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Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 11/01/2008 - 08:29


Over 360 Latin America Experts Call on Obama to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations

WASHINGTON - October 28 - Anticipating a democratic victory in the November 4 presidential elections, 368 academics specializing in Latin America recently sent a letter urging Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama to become a partner, rather than an adversary, concerning changes already under way in Latin America. Above all, the signers are asking Senator Obama to understand the current impetus for progressive change in many of the region's countries: the rejection of the failed "free-market" model of economic growth that has been imposed in most countries since the early 1980s - a period which has seen the worst economic growth failure in the region, in terms of per capita GDP, in over a century -- and the adoption of more socially just and environmentally sustainable development styles.

The signers expressed their hope that an Obama administration will embrace the opportunity to inaugurate a new period of hemispheric understanding and collaboration for the welfare of the entire Hemisphere.

Most of those signing are members of the Latin American Studies Association, the largest and most influential professional association of its kind in the world. Signers include Eric Hershberg, President of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and twelve LASA Past Presidents, along with over 350 other academics and Latin America experts.

The letter follows:

October 20, 2008

Dear Senator Obama:

We write to offer our congratulations on your campaign and to express our hope that as the next president of the United States you will take advantage of an historic opportunity to improve relations with Latin America. As scholars of the region, we also wish to convey our analysis regarding the process of change now underway in Latin America.

Just as the people of the United States have begun to debate basic questions regarding the sort of society they want-- thanks in part to your own candidacy but also owing to the magnitude of the current financial crisis-- so too have the people of Latin America. In fact, the debate about a just and fair society has been going on in Latin America for more than a decade, and the majority are opting, like you and so many of us in the United States, for hope and change. As academics personally and professionally committed to development and democracy in Latin America, we are hopeful that during your presidency the United States can become a partner rather than an adversary to the positive changes already under way in the hemisphere.

The current impetus for change in Latin America is a rejection of the model of economic growth that has been imposed in most countries since the early 1980s, a model that has concentrated wealth, relied unsuccessfully on unrestricted market forces to solve deep social problems and undermined human welfare. The current rejection of this model is broad-based and democratic. In fact, contemporary movements for change in Latin America reveal significantly increased participation by workers and peasants, women, Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples-- in a word, the grassroots. Such movements are coming to power in country after country. They are neither puppets, nor blinded by fanaticism and ideology, as caricatured by some mainstream pundits. To the contrary, these movements deserve our respect, friendship and support.

Latin Americans have often viewed the United States not as a friend but as an oppressor, the guarantor of an international economic system that works against them, rather than for them-- the very antithesis of hope and change. The Bush Administration has made matters much worse, and U.S. prestige in the region is now at a historic low. Washington's tendency to fight against hope and change has been especially prominent in recent U.S. responses to the democratically elected governments of Venezuela and Bolivia. While anti-American feelings run deep, history demonstrates that these feelings can change. In the 1930s, after two decades of conflict with the region, the United States swore off intervention and adopted a Good Neighbor Policy. Not coincidentally, it was the most harmonious time in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. In the 1940s, nearly every country in the region became our ally in World War Two. It can happen again.

There are many other challenges, too. Colombia, the main focus of the Bush Administration's policy, is currently the scene of the second largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with four million internally displaced people. Its government, which criminalizes even peaceful protest, seeks an extension of the free trade policies that much of the hemisphere is already reacting against. Cuba has begun a process of transition that should be supported in positive ways, such as through the dialogue you advocate. Mexicans and Central Americans migrate by the tens of thousands to seek work in the United States, where their labor power is much needed but their presence is denigrated by a public that has, since the development of opinion polling in the 1930s, always opposed immigration from anywhere. The way to manage immigration is not by building a giant wall, but rather, the United States should support more equitable economic development in Mexico and Central America and, indeed, throughout the region. In addition, the U.S. must reconsider drug control policies that have simply not worked and have been part of the problem of political violence, especially in Mexico, Colombia and Peru. And the U.S. must renew its active support for human rights throughout the region. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many Latin Americans, the United States has come to stand for the support of inequitable regimes.

Finally, we implore you to commit your administration to the firm support of constitutional rights, including academic and intellectual freedom. Most of us are members of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), the largest professional association of experts on the region, and we have experienced first-hand how the Bush administration's attempt to restrict academic exchange with Cuba is counter-productive and self-defeating. We hope for an early opportunity to discuss this and other issues regarding Latin America with your administration.

Our hope is that you will embrace the opportunity to inaugurate a new period of hemispheric understanding and collaboration for the common welfare. We ask for change and not only in the United States.



Eric Hershberg, LASA President 2007-09, Professor of Politics and Director of Latin American Studies, Simon Fraser University

Charles R. Hale, LASA Past President (2006-2007), Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin

Sonia E. Alvarez, LASA Past President (2004-2006), Leonard J. Horwitz Professor of Politics, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Marysa Navarro Aranguran, LASA Past President (2003-2004), Charles Collis Professor of History, Dartmouth College

Arturo Arias, LASA Past President, (2001-2003), Professor of Spanish and Portuguese University of Texas, Austin

Thomas Holloway, LASA Past President (2000-2001), Professor Of History, University of California, Davis

Susan Eckstein, LASA Past President (1997-98), Professor of Sociology & International Relations, Boston University

Cynthia McClintock, LASA Past President (1994-95), Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

Carmen Diana Deere, LASA Past President (1992-94), Professor of Food and Resource Economics and Director, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida

Lars Schoultz, LASA Past President (1991-92), William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of Political Science, UNC, Chapel Hill

Jean Franco, LASA Past President (1989-91), Emeritus Professor, Columbia University

Helen I. Safa, LASA Past President (1983-85), Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, University of Florida

Paul L. Doughty, LASA Past President (1974-75), Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, University of Florida

María Rosa Olivera-Williams, LASA Past Congress Chair (2001-2003), Associate Professor of Latin American Literature, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana


Thomas Abercrombie, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, NYU

Holly Ackerman, Ph.D. Librarian for Latin America and Iberia, Duke University

Judith Adler Hellman, Professor of Social and Political Science, York University, Toronto

Norma Alarcon, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Alfonso Alvarez, Social Worker, Boston College Graduate School

Wayne F. Anderson, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, NC

Robert Andolina, Assistant Professor of International Studies, Seattle University

Frances R. Aparicio, Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, University of Illinois at Chicago

Kirsten Appendini, El Colegio de México, Mexico

Juan Manuel Arbona, Associate Professor, Growth and Structure of Cities Program, Bryn Mawr College

Benjamin Arditi, Professor, Centro de Estudios Politicos, UNAM, Mexico, DF

Mauricio Arenas - CUPW Local 626

Andres Avellaneda, Emeritus Professor, Spanish and Latin American Studies, U. of Florida

William Avilés, Asociate Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska, Kearney

Dra. Emperatriz Arreaza-Camero, Investigadora adscrita al Cine Club Universitario de Maracaibo, Universidad de Zulia

Florence E. Babb, Vada Allan Yeomans Professor of Women's Studies, University of Florida

Xóchitl Bada, Assistant Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies Program. University of Illinois at Chicago

Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Director of Development Studies, Associate Professor of Sociology and International Studies, Brown University

Sharada Balachandran-Orihuela. Doctoral Student. English department, University of California, Davis

Deborah Barndt, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies and Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, York University, Toronto, Canada

Magdalena Barros Nock, Professor/Researcher, CIESAS México

Leslie Bary, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Emilio Bejel, Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies, University of California at Davis

Lourdes Benería, Professor of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University

Carollee Bengelsdorf, Professor of Politics, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

Rina Benmayor, Professor, Humanities and Communication, California State University Monterey Bay

Vivienne Bennett, Professor, Liberal Studies Department, California State University, San Marcos

Charles Bergquist, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Washington

Michelle Bigenho, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Hampshire College

O'Neill Blacker-Hanson, Assistant Professor of Latin American History, Valparaiso University, Indiana

Mario Blaser, Assistant Professor of International Development, York University, Toronto

David Block, Curator of Latin American Collections, Cornell University

Laura Bonilla-Merchav, Department of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Stephen R. Boucher, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Resocurce Economics, UC Davis

Kirk Bowman, Associate Professor, Sam Nunn School International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kalina Brabeck, Psychologist, Assistant Professor of Counseling, Rhode Island College

Rosalind Bresnahan, Ph.D., Collective of Coordinating Editors, Latin American Perspectives

M. Brinton Lykes, Ph.D., Associate Director, Center for Human Rights & International Justice, Professor, Community-Cultural Psychology, Boston College

Janet Brody Esser, Emeritus Professor and Past Associate Director, Center for Latin American Studies, San Diego State University

Alejandra Bronfman, Associate Professor, Department of History University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Dr. Ronda Brulotte, Lecturer III, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico

Monica Bucio, PhD Candidate, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Stephanie Buechler, Research Associate, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Amy J. Buono, Assistant Professor of Art History, Southern Methodist University

María Cristina Burgueño, Associate Professor of Spanish, Marshall University

Kathryn Burns, Associate Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill

Marisol de la Cadena, Associate Professor of Anthropology, UC Davis

Kia Lilly Caldwell, Assistant Professor, Department of African and Afro-American Studies University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Maxwell A. Cameron, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Ginetta E.B. Candelario, Director Latin American & Latina/o Studies and Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Smith College, Northampton, MA

Gloria Cañez, Investigadora del Departamento de Estudios Sociales del Sistema Alimentario CIAD AC, Sonora, México

M. Carmen Carrero de Salazar, Course Director, Faculty of Education, York University

Jennifer J. Casolo, PhD Candidate in Geography, University of California at Berkeley

J. Celso Castro Alves, Assistant Professor of Black Studies and History, Amherst College

Emma Cervone, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

John C. Chasteen, Distinguished Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill

Ronald H. Chilcote, Professor of Economics and Political Science, University of California, Riverside

Donna Chollett, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota-Morris

Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State College, Massachusetts

Clemency Coggins, Professor of Archaeology and of Art History, Boston University

Jorge Coronado, Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese, Northwestern University

Fernando Coronil, Presidential Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Dominic Corva, Ph. C., University of Washington Department of Geography

Jennifer N. Costanza, PhD student, Sociology, Brown University

Liliana Cotto-Morales, Professor, University of Puerto Rico

Raymond Craib, Department of History, Cornell University

Altha Cravey, Associate Professor of Geography, UNC Chapel Hill

Marta G. Cruz-Concepción, Teaching Fellow, 2008-10 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Marco Cupolo, Assistant Professor of Spanish, University of Hartford

Edward D'Angelo, Professor of Philosophy, Quinnipiac University

Juanita Darling, Department of International Relations, San Francisco State University

Karen Davis, Faculty Lecturer, California State University Monterey Bay

Don Deere, PhD Student, Philosophy, DePaul University

William D. DeGrush, St. Michael's College, Colchester, VT

Guillermo Delgado, Lecturer in Latin American Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

Jonathan Dettman, M.A.T. Associate Instructor, Department of Spanish, University of California, Davis

Dr. Rosalina Diaz, Associate Professor, Education Department, Medgar Evers College, City University of New York

Ariel Dorfman, Walter Hines Page Professor of Literature and Latin American Studies, Duke University

Lindsay DuBois, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada

Christopher Dunn, Associate Professor and Chair Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Tulane University

Luis Duno-Gottberg, Associate Prof. Rice University

Christine E. Eber, Associate Professor of Anthropology, New Mexico State University

Marc Edelman, Professor of Anthropology, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

David Egilman MD MPH, Clinical Associate Professor, Dept of Community Health, Brown University

Lynn England, Lecturer, Utah Valley University

Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Romance Languages, University of Oregon

Edward Epstein, Professor of Political Science, University of Utah

Arturo Escobar, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, UNC, Chapel Hill

Francisco Escobedo, Assistant Professor, School of Forest Resources & Conservation, University of Florida

Diego Escolar, Profesor Adjunto de Antropología, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo

Mónica Espinosa-Arango, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota

Alicia Ivonne Estrada, Assistant Professor, Central American Studies Program, California State University, Northridge

Judith Ewell, Newton Professor of History Emerita, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Reverend Marc Fallon, csc, Catholic Social Services, New Bedford, MA

Claire Farago, Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Colorado at Boulder

Linda Farthing, independent scholar and author

Paja Faudree, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brown University

Karen Ann Faulk, PhD, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan

Sandra Fernández Castillo, Associate professor of Philosophy, University of Chile

Sujatha Fernandes, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY

Virginia M. Fields, Ph.D., Senior Curator, Art of the Ancient Americas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Luis Figueroa, Associate Professor of History, Latin American, Caribbean, Latina\o Studies Coordinator, Trinity College, Hartford, CT

Eileen J. Findlay, Department of History, American University

Liz Fitting, Assistant Professor Sociology & Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Sara María Lara Flores, Investigador, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México DF

Yvette G. Flores, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology Chicana/o Studies Faculty Director Quarter Abroad Program Education Abroad Center U.C. Davis

Alcira Forero-Pena, Assistant Visiting Professor of Anthropology, UCD, Denver

Jonathan Fox, Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz

Erich Fox Tree, Visiting Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Wellesley College

Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Associate Professor of Politics and Chair of Latin American Studies, University of San Francisco

Max Paul Friedman, Associate Professor of History, American University

Monica Frölander-Ulf, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown

Carmenza Gallo, Associate Professor of Sociology, Queens College, New York

Alyshia Gálvez, Assistant Professor, Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies, Lehman College/City University of New York

Forrest Gander, Writer, Professor of English & Comparative Literature, Brown University

Angela Garcia, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Irvine

Spike Gildea, Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Oregon

Andrea Giunta, Professor of Latin American Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Helen Sabrina Gledhill, Scholar at the Centro de Memória da Bahia, Fundação Pedro Calmon, Brazil

John Gledhill, Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology & Co-Director, Centre for Latin American Cultural Studies, The University of Manchester, UK

Tanya Golash-Boza, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, University of Kansas

W. L. Goldfrank, Prof of Sociololgy and Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

Roberta E. Goldman, Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Brown University

William W. Goldsmith, Professor and Director, International Studies in Planning, Cornell University

Judith Goode, Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Gail Gonzalez, Associate Professor and Chair Modern Languages Department, University of Wisconsin

Miguel Gonzalez, Sessional Assistant Professor, International Development, York University, Toronto

Soledad González Montes, Profesora-investigadora, El Colegio de México
Paul Gootenberg, Professor of History, Stony Brook

Hubert C. de Grammont, Investigador, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México DF

Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University

Karen B. Graubart, Associate Professor of History and Director, Program in Latin American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Terence Grieder, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin

Anna Gruben, Acting Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Oregon

Kevin Guerrieri, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of San Diego

Matthew Gutmann, Professor of Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, and Latin American Studies, Department of Anthropology, Brown University

Liza Guzmán, Ecology Graduate Student, UNC-Chapel Hill

LaDawn Haglund, Assistant Professor, School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University

Richard L. Harris, Professor Emeritus of Global Studies, California State University

Faye V. Harrison, Professor of Anthropology and Director, African American Studies, University of Florida

Daniel Hellinger, Professor of Political Science, Webster University, St. Louis

Elizabeth A Hennessy, PhD Student, Geography Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Kimberly Hernández, Spanish Language Instructor, North Carolina Central University

Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas, Associate Professor of Spanish, North Carolina Central University

Doug Hertzler, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Eastern Mennonite University

Peter E. Hildebrand, Professor Emeritus Food and Resource Economics, and Director Emeritus, International Programs, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences University of Florida

Derrick Hindery, Assistant Professor, International Studies Program and Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Donald Hindley, Professor of Politics and Latin American and Latino Studies, Brandeis University

Mary Holper, Boston College Immigration & Asylum Project, Boston College Law School

Lori Hopkins, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of New Hampshire
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René Harder Horst, Associate Professor of History Appalachian State University

Sallie Hughes, Associate Professor, School of Communication, University of Miami

Janise Hurtig, Senior Researcher, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago

Forrest Hylton, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, New York University

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Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian, Vice Provost for Library Affairs, Adjunct Associate Professor of History, Duke University

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Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 11/01/2008 - 08:34


Is Obama really a radical at heart?

If Obama is acting like a centrist now, it's most likely because he is a centrist--rather than a radical posing as one to get elected.

WITH LITTLE else to offer on its own behalf, the McCain-Palin ticket has built an entire campaign on ridiculing and demonizing Barack Obama. First, Obama was a neophyte. Then, he was a celebrity. Now, he's a dangerous radical, even a friend to terrorists.

This caricature of Obama reached its lowest point October 27, when a local Florida television anchor, Barbara West, interviewing Obama's running mate Joe Biden, quoted The Communist Manifesto and asked Biden to comment.

Biden responded, "Are you joking? Is this a joke?" Of course, Biden went on to explain that Obama isn't a socialist, but that his plans aimed to provide the "middle class" with a tax cut.

In the fevered imaginations of the right wing, Obama is a dangerous radical who is hiding behind a mask of cool "centrism." Once in office--and with a Democratic majority at his back--Obama will pull off the mask to reveal his true, radical agenda.

But in the camp of Obama supporters, a similar--if less crazed--analysis holds.

It goes this way: Obama is a genuine progressive who is dedicated to affecting major political and social changes. But because he's running in a generally conservative country, with the Republicans ready to pounce on his every misstep, he can't really lay out his full aspirations. So he has to reassure people, using the language of market-friendly "centrism." Once Obama is in office, goes the reasoning, progressives will have an ally who will work with them to produce the social change that they all want.

Given the crises facing the country, the widespread discredit that the Bush administration has brought on Republicans, and the poll-affirmed desire of the electorate for a clean break with policies of the past generation, an incoming Obama administration could be planning huge changes to the political economy of the U.S., akin to those of the 1930s New Deal.

Indeed, many liberal and left commentators have urged precisely this, with some calling for a "new New Deal" and others advocating measures to take advantage of a "social democratic moment."

Yet despite Obama's soaring rhetoric, he has actually advocated few policies that break with any of the accepted orthodoxy in Washington today.

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DURING THE primary campaign against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Obama often took stands on economic issues that placed him to right of Clinton's fake populism. As the scale of the housing crisis began to force its way into the primary campaign, Obama held back from support for a moratorium on foreclosures and government aid to strapped homeowners, when Edwards and Clinton advocated both.

By the summer of 2008, after clinching the nomination, Obama had recognized that it was untenable to maintain this "above the fray" attitude to the housing crisis. He (and free-market champion John McCain, for that matter) voted for the multibillion-dollar housing bill that passed the Congress. But it was telling that his first inclination on addressing the crisis was to take the position least offensive to financial interests and neoliberal dogma.

However the political season influences the emphasis or spin that Obama puts on different economic issues, we shouldn't forget that he's the one who hired "centrist," pro-free market economists like the University of Chicago's Austan Goolsbee and Wal-Mart defender Jason Furman as his top economic advisers.

While serving as Obama's chief economic adviser, Goolsbee was (and still is) the senior economist of the right-wing, pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council. Other informal Obama advisers include such mainstream figures as billionaire investor Warren Buffett, former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker and former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

At a July summit involving those figures and other corporate and Republican leaders, Obama highlighted a "bipartisan" approach to the economy that, although deliberately vague, seemed to countenance limited government intervention, but put emphasis on reduction of the federal deficit and aid to the private sector--in essence, a rehash of 1990s Clintonomics.

Similarly, Obama's record on foreign policy--for example, pledging to increase the size of the military and step up the war in Afghanistan--place him inside a growing consensus among "serious" Washington foreign policy experts. In fact, Obama is so conventional and "bipartisan" on foreign policy matters that his team has openly talked about asking Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in his position under an Obama administration.

In reviewing this record, we should take the approach that the simplest explanation is the best one. If Obama acts like a "centrist," it's most likely because he is a centrist--rather than a radical posing as one.

However, the real world has a way of imposing itself on politicians, no matter their intentions. In the face of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the free-market ideologues of the Bush administration have embarked on the largest government intervention in the economy in three-quarters of a century.

Ironically, on the same night that Obama used his 30-minute national infomercial to showcase his concern for ordinary people--including reaffirming his call for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures--the Bush administration announced a multibillion-dollar plan to rewrite and subsidize more than 3 million mortgages facing foreclosure.

In other words, the right-wingers in the Bush administration were proposing a more far-reaching plan than the supposed "radical" Obama.

In office, the Obama administration will face many challenges like this that will force it to confront--and possibly, abandon--its moderate centrism. If it does--and if it moves toward a more populist stance--it won't be due to Obama's hidden radicalism. It will be due to his assessment of what the system needs to right itself.

In that sense, an Obama administration would be reminiscent of the Depression-era presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

Despite some capitalists' complaints that the New Deal represented a step toward "socialism," Roosevelt and the New Dealers had no such intention. The New Deal helped to save capitalism from itself. And Roosevelt argued to his business critics, "I am the best friend the profit system ever had."

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Columnist: Lance Selfa

Image removed. Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History [2], a socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle for Palestine [3], a collection of essays by leading solidarity activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review [4].

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