Barack Obama’s dual mandate

By Solidarity (US)

November 10, 2008 -- Millions of Americans see the election of Barack Obama as a referendum on white supremacy and today we join in their celebration. The racist campaigns launched against Obama, conducted sometimes in coded language and other times in inflammatory accusations, turned out to be amazingly unsuccessful. Yet the 2008 election also represents a dual reality that is important for socialists and activists for peace and social justice to grasp.

For tens of millions of Black Americans, seeing a United States president-elect who’s Black – and even more important, for their children to see a Black president – is a huge symbolic stride towards full citizenship and liberation. Perhaps no event since that legendary night in 1938, when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling, has there been such a magic moment of celebration for the Black community; only in this case they weren’t simply spectators but participants in the victory.

It’s not only Black Americans who feel like “our long national nightmare is over”. Young people and working-class Americans, including tens of millions of white people, Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians and people of Middle Eastern origin feel the same way. You need only know that Barack Obama carried suburban Macomb County, Michigan – the archetype homeland of “the Reagan Democrats” – to understand how much the political tide has turned. After the decade of Republican domination, a huge majority of Americans are disillusioned with the country’s political direction and its visible economic decay.

George W. Bush goes down (in more ways than one) in history. He’s the first president to serve two full terms without being legitimately elected even once. He’s not the first president to launch a war on the basis of a lie, but he is the first one to cut taxes in wartime, pretending it didn’t have to be paid for. His administration was an eight-year continuing criminal enterprise, breaking all of Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s records for abuse of power. Ultimately, his economic policies broke the bank – literally – helping to drag down the US and world economy, along with his own political party.

But all that is precisely why Barack Obama’s election and mandate didn’t come only “from below”, from Black and Latino and working-class and young Americans. It also came “from above”, from the elites of corporate USA. As much as they enjoy the benefits of two major capitalist parties scrambling for power while they carry on the business-as-usual of globalisation, lean production and squeezing maximum profits from our labour, they know that the Republican administration has become a disaster for their system and for US imperial power.

Under Bush, US prestige in the world has collapsed. Iraq has been a catastrophe. Afghanistan and Pakistan are becoming a debacle. Latin America is in revolt against neoliberalism and US domination. Barack Obama’s election is bringing enormous international enthusiasm and instant credibility, whereas the election of John McCain and Sarah Palin would have been greeted with “they’ve got to be kidding”. And a third consecutive election stolen by Republican vote-suppression tactics and electronic vote-switching fraud could have created a massive “legitimacy crisis”.

Whose mandate will direct Obama’s course? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue; an Obama administration promises to expand the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the mainstream media may celebrate “the end of racism”, 1 million Black men remain locked in prison, wealth disparities grow, and the crisis of foreclosures and factory shutdowns hits communities of colour the hardest. In a time of great crisis Obama’s intention of “reaching across the aisle” suggests the most cosmetic of reforms.

Never has race and racism been as openly discussed in mainstream political conversations. Nonetheless Obama’s Philadelphia speech about racism repeated the mandatory “commonsense” distortion of the country’s history: the USA is a land of opportunity, perhaps sometimes marred by a failure to live up to its great ideals. The history begins with the genocide of native peoples, the slavery of African Americans and the theft of land and attempted destruction of Mexican and Indian culture. The violent suppression of communities of colour and imperial expansion reveal a nation in which institutional racism is deeply embedded. Jim Crow may be gone, but the forces that perpetuate discrimination exist is housing, education and jobs. The subprime crisis represents the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern US history. A Black family in the White House, built by slaves, can impact the negative stereotypes deeply rooted in US culture – but ending discrimination requires far more.

The undemocratic two-party monopoly mainly allows voters an opportunity to “throw the bums out” – and throw them out they did. That’s a long way, however, from forcing through a “rescue package” for people rather than Wall Street institutions – a ban on foreclosures, a rewriting of mortgages to reflect their real rather than fictitious value, instituting universal single-payer health insurance system we desperately need, a massive jobs program to build an environmentally sustainable economy, an end to the wars, occupations and secret torture prisons, and a drastic downsizing of the imperial military budget.

The Democratic Party, which will fully control Congress and the White House, has the power to set the legislative agenda. Those who expect this party to respond to the desire for change so vividly shown in the November 2008 election will soon begin to be disappointed – more and more so as the new administration shows its loyalty to corporate interests.

Highlighting the “reality gap” between the hopes for peace and justice and the reality of the Democratic Party agenda is an urgent, immediate task. Millions of people responded to calls for “change”; hundreds of thousands gained organising skills in working for Obama. In the months and years ahead, the responsibility of the left is working to re-ignite social movements independent of the Democratic Party’s dictates.

[Solidarity is an independent socialist organisation dedicated to forming a broad regrouping of the US left.]

Obama's victory and the inevitable struggle ahead
A revolutionary, working-class perspective

A Statement from the Party for Socialism and Liberation

The election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States is an occasion of historic significance. Over four centuries, African Americans have suffered enslavement, Jim Crow segregation, lynch mob terror and racist discrimination manifested in countless ways. Racism against African Americans and other oppressed nationalities has in reality been far more integral to "the American way" than has anything truly resembling democracy.

While millions of people are yearning for real change, for an end to war, unemployment, foreclosures, and more, the Democratic Party is as much a party of the bankers and bosses as is the Republican Party. McCain and Obama shared a common list of corporate and banking sponsors. The only difference is that, in the 2008 election, the Democratic candidate received more of the big money donations than the Republican did.

The fact that an African American has at long last been elected to the highest office in the United States is being greeted with euphoric celebrations in communities across the country. Obama’s election has broken the 220-year streak of white male presidents, spanning 43 administrations. Even "white male" does not adequately define how narrowly restricted access to the office has been. With one exception—John F. Kennedy, a Catholic—every U.S. president has been a Protestant. No eastern or southern European has ever been elected to the office.

Adding to the jubilation is the fact that Obama’s assumption of the presidency on Jan. 20, 2009, will terminate one of the most despised and reviled administrations in U.S. history. The vast majority of humankind worldwide is also celebrating the departure of the hated Bush regime.

Obama’s victory, on the one hand, shows how much progress the Black Liberation struggle and its legacy has made in eroding white supremacy. That so many backward white people overcame their own racism to vote for Obama is a sign that the economic crisis is providing the material basis for multinational unity. Class unity, based on mutual interests and opposition to racism, can be achieved in the struggles that are sure to come.

Obama and the Democratic Party ran his campaign, however, by distancing himself from affirmative action, the struggle against police brutality, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other issues and images historically associated with the struggle of the Black community. This was a requirement of support for Obama by the racist ruling class and its media. The struggle against racism will continue as a primary task for the progressive workers’ movement.

The euphoria and high expectations surrounding Obama’s victory will likely last through his inauguration and beyond. There will be a honeymoon phase between the progressive sectors of society and the new capitalist administration.

There are widespread hopes that the Obama presidency will reverse the generally reactionary direction of the past three decades; that the war in Iraq will end, and that there will be a shift in the direction of greater economic and social justice.

The president’s role

It’s safe to say that a majority of people view the presidential election as selecting the next leader of the country, and "the country" includes all of us. But the president is not the leader of the country. The president, regardless of which party or individual holds the office, is the Chief Executive Office of the capitalist state machine. This machine enforces a system of extreme and growing poverty among the working class, and extreme wealth for the capitalists, who accumulate their fortunes from the labor of working people. The capitalist state perpetuates racism, police repression, mass incarceration and endless war.

The function of that state is to protect the common interests, not of "the people," but of the imperialist ruling class. The army, police, courts, and prisons are the pillars of the state and the capitalist social order, as are the Federal Reserve System, Treasury and other federal government departments.

The real role of the capitalist state as protector of the interests of the capitalist class has been dramatically highlighted in recent weeks by the $2.25 trillion bailout of the biggest banks and investors. While those responsible for the financial and economic crisis are receiving trillions of dollars, the millions who are losing their homes and jobs have so far gotten nothing.

Obama and McCain, along with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, have backed and defended the bailout plans in the face of widespread popular anger. Obama, along with McCain, opposed inclusion of a provision in the bailout bill that could have made it possible for millions of people facing foreclosure to remain in their homes. Why? Because the big banks were against it.

The rejected provision would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce the inflated price of mortgages, high interest rates and monthly mortgage payments. At least 600,000 families could have avoided foreclosure. The bankers opposed it because it would lower their profits. Obama sided with the bankers.

The new contradiction and overcoming it

The bailout illustrates the new contradiction that has come into being with the Obama election. The capitalist class is intensifying their war against the working class to force the workers to bear the burden of the economic crisis that the capitalists created. This, in turn, will inevitably require the workers to intensify their struggle against the capitalists. Yet, the progressive sectors of the working class will be supportive—at least in the first period—of the very president whose job is to help the class that is attacking workers.

The new situation presents great challenges and opportunities for a revolutionary party and the progressive movement as a whole. As the crisis deepens, more and more workers, students, and others will be open to a socialist critique, not only of policies, but of the system itself. The crisis creates the possibility for the emergence of a truly mass, working-class movement. To take full advantage of these opportunities requires tactics and slogans that address the unfolding crisis of capitalism at a time when many progressive sectors will be generally supportive of the incoming president.

What is needed is a clear program focused on what the new administration should do to meet the needs of the working people; to fulfill the expectations its campaign has created. The PSL’s La Riva/Puryear Presidential Campaign put forward such demands, not just as words on paper, but as a fighting program, starting with the following:

* Declare a State of Housing Emergency and an immediate moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and rent hikes. There are more than 19 million empty housing units in the U.S. today. No one should be homeless.
* No layoffs--jobs for all. Create and fund a public works jobs program to provide employment for millions.
* Extend unemployment benefits at full pay for everyone without a job.
* Provide health care to all, regardless of ability to pay.
* Pass the Employee Free Choice Act so that every worker can have union representation.
* Open the books of the banks for public inspection.
* A sales tax on stock market transactions (there is none now).
* Criminal prosecution of banking, finance, insurance and all other executives whose companies have benefited from the foreclosure crisis.
* An end to racist police brutality and mass imprisonment.
* Hurricane, flood and other victims of natural disasters must have a government guarantee that they will receive all necessary assistance.
* End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close down the 800+ U.S. military bases around the world and use the billions spent everyday on the Pentagon to fund people's need.

The people will engage in struggle to demand the new administration carry through this program that addresses their needs. To the extent that an Obama White House resists these demands, it will be exposed as another agent of the capitalist bankers and corporate bosses.

A revolutionary party can not skip over this stage of the political process. It cannot function as a "radical substitute" for the masses.

Real changes in consciousness on a mass scale can only come about by large numbers of people going through their own experiences in the struggle. The tactics of the coming period must be created with that essential fact in mind.

November 06, 2008…

President-Elect Obama and the Future of US Foreign Policy: A Roundtable Discussion

Congratulations pour in from around the world for President-elect Barack Obama after his historic victory Tuesday night. But what are Obama’s foreign policy positions, and what are the concerns for those living in countries at the target end of US foreign policy? We host a roundtable discussion with filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger in Britain, Columbia University professor and Africa scholar Mahmood Mamdani, Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, Iraqi analyst Raed Jarrar, Pakistani author Tariq Ali, and Palestinian American Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. [includes rush transcript]

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John Pilger, Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, and documentary filmmaker. His latest book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire, and his most recent film is called The War on Democracy.

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor of Government and Anthropology at Columbia University. He has written extensively on post-colonial African politics, and his most recent book is Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. His latest article for The Nation magazine focuses on recent events in Darfur and is called “The New Humanitarian Order.”

Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada

Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy. She has written extensively on US relations with Latin America.

Tariq Ali, veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan and lives in London. He has written over a dozen books and is on the editorial board of the New Left Review. His latest book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.

Raed Jarrar, Iraqi blogger and political analyst. He is the Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee.
Rush Transcript
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JUAN GONZALEZ: Congratulations are pouring in from around the world for President-elect Barack Obama after his historic victory Tuesday night. His diverse background is truly unique for a US president. With a mother from Kansas, a father from Kenya, a stepfather from Indonesia, and a middle name—Hussein—from the Middle East, Obama has sparked the imagination of people on every continent. In cities across Africa, people hailed the United States for electing Obama.

JOHNNY BENT, Johannesburg Resident: I think Obama is a good guy. And I just hope Obama will have influence in Africa, especially to develop us, to help us with the sickness and the AIDS and so on. So, especially it’s—at least he’s from Kenya. So I just hope there’s going to be a lot of influence in Africa to help us and support us and to come out as a new, new, new nation. Thank you.

BOLAJI ILORI, Nigerian Politician: For us, this is a threshold of history. It is a resurgence of hope for black man, and not just for black man, a triumph of democracy. For us, it’s a lesson in this country. We are trying now—we are struggling for open and democratic governance, for us to have flawless elections. We are happy we saw the loser congratulating the winner. For us, it’s good. But for us, Obama represents a new generation of ideas, of peace in the world.

FEMI OSHI, Johannesburg Resident: It’s not only the president of the United States of America; this is a black man in a black skin, ruling the world. And take it or leave it, he’s going to be the best thing in the history of the Americans.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the Middle East, reactions to Obama’s victory were more cautious. From Iraq to Iran to the Occupied Territories, people called on Obama to change US foreign policy toward the region.

ALAA AL-ZERJAWI, Sadr City Resident: [translated] My message to the US president, Barack Obama, is to withdraw troops from our country. This is the first thing. We want him to be honest with us, because Bush has given many promises, but he did not fulfill any of them. We have suffered a lot from the occupation. Because of the occupation, there were divisions, sectarian conflicts, and now we want them to leave our country.

MOHAMMED ABU AWDA, Gaza Resident: [translated] We hope that he will help find a solution for the Palestinian cause and to end the siege, because we are really suffering. I hope we find a solution for the Palestinian cause, and everybody will live in peace.

HOSSEIN NAZARI, Iranian Student: My message to Obama, to Barack Obama, is that if you want your country—actually, if you want to have a good relationship with our country, with our politicians and with our government, you have to radically change your former policies towards Iran.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in South Asia, in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was concern over the future of US foreign policy under a President Obama. In Afghanistan, where Obama has pledged to escalate the war, President Hamid Karzai called for an end to US air strikes in the country.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: [translated] Our demand is a change in strategy fighting terrorism. It means fighting against terrorism should not be in Afghanistan rural areas. Fighting against terrorism is not in our country. Our country is a victim of terrorism. And I wish that civilian casualties would be eliminated here. By bombing Afghanistan, the war against terrorism cannot be won. These are the important demands of Afghans. This is our first demand and our basic demand.

ARSHAD HUSSAIN, Pakistani Journalist: [translated] Pakistan should not expect much, because every US president has his own interest. The example is President Bush and many others who give aid to Pakistan but did not get much work done in return.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we host a discussion on Obama’s foreign policy, particularly with respect to hotspots in the Middle East, in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. We’ll talk about the concerns and hopes of those who live in countries at the receiving end of American foreign policy.

We’re joined on the phone and through video stream in studios by a number of people. First, Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, documentary filmmaker, John Pilger, joins us on the telephone from Britain, just back from the United States. His latest book is called Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire; his most recent film, The War on Democracy.

And we’re joined in our firehouse studio by Mahmood Mamdani. He is professor of government and anthropology at Columbia University and has written extensively on post-colonial African politics. His most recent book is Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. His latest article for The Nation magazine focuses on recent events in Darfur and is called “The New Humanitarian Order.”

We’ll start with John Pilger in Britain. You were just in the United States in Houston. You’re back in London right now. Your response to the election of Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States?

JOHN PILGER: Well, my response, Amy, is that really anyone was better than Bush and the Bush administration. Having experienced election night in the United States and then seeing the response here, I feel that it’s time that analysis and critical thinking took over and that those of us who wish to think that way, who wish to think critically, really should start addressing the—this rather manipulated emotional response. I don’t, in any way, cast doubt on the sincerity of the way people are speaking about the election of Obama around the world, although I think the reaction that you just played from the Middle East is rather more near the realism that is close to truth. But I do think we have to consider President-elect Obama as a man of the system.

Michael Moore had it right when he said the other day, let’s hope that Obama breaks all his election promises, as politicians generally do, because all his election promises, in terms of foreign policy, are a continuation of business as usual. And even if there is a return to what used to be called a multilateral world, I think there has to be critical analysis of the return to the pretensions of America as a peacemaker around the world. We had to endure this, and I mean endure it during the Clinton years, and I don’t think that we, in the rest of the world, ought to have to endure it now through the Obama years, so that we have a continuation, if you like, of liberalism as a divisive, almost war-making ideology, being used to destroy liberalism as a reality, because that has gone on under so-called liberal presidents, from Kennedy to Clinton, Democratic presidents. And President-elect Obama suggests to us, in his promises, that he is going to continue that, bombing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Someone said to me—in fact, I was talking to my daughter when I got off the plane from Houston this morning, and she was—said, “What was it like over there?” And we were discussing it, and I said, “Well, it comes down to, I suppose, asking an Afghan child how they feel when their family has been destroyed by a 500-pound bunker-busting bomb dropped by the United States and dropped by President Obama, as he continues that war. I think that’s the reality that we really have to begin to discuss now, having celebrated, and rightly celebrated, the ascent of the first African American president of the United States.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, John Pilger, what sign would you look for in these early days now, as Obama begins to move to a—in a transition period, that would indicate to you that he may be—he would be trying to break, in one way or other, from this neoliberalism of the Clinton years?

JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s difficult to know. Breaking from the Bush years is going to be the first, and I suppose breaking from the Bush years means actually talking to people and negotiating. I think breaking from, let’s say, the Democratic years—the Bush, yes—the Clinton years will mean giving us a sign that the ideological, rapacious, war-making machine that has been built over many years and reinforced, as perhaps never before during the eight years of Bush, that that ideological machine does not transcend a loss of electoral power. You see, that’s really the central issue here, that a kind of ideological consensus has been built under Bush. Now, yes, Obama has been voted in, but will that vote, will that—will a new president transcend the—this ideological machine?

Between—you know, during the campaign, there was almost nothing between McCain and Obama in foreign policy. Indeed, Obama went further. I mean, he even declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He threatened Latin America. He, at times, seemed to be going further than Bush. And, of course, people, realists, the so-called realists, would shake their heads and say, “Well, yes, he has to do that.”

Look, in answer to your question, I think he has to—in order to show that he is in any way different, he has to start dismantling this machine, for example, going against his promise to continue the embargo on Cuba, to drop that; to reach out to the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and Ecuador, each of which is under attack, subversive attack by the United States; to face the reality that Afghanistan is a colonial war; and to not let the so-called withdrawal from Iraq be a sham, that it leaves these so-called enduring bases. That, any one of those, any change in one of those, would indicate that Obama is truly different.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Pilger. His latest book, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire; his latest film, The War on Democracy. When we come back, we’ll continue on our journey around the world, getting reaction to the new president of the United States, the President-elect, Barack Obama. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We are traveling the globe today, getting response to the election of Barack Obama. His father from Kenya, his mother from Kansas, he was born in Hawaii, grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii.

We’re turning now to Mahmood Mamdani, professor of government and anthropology at Columbia University. His most recent book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. The latest piece in The Nation, “The New Humanitarian Order.” Your response to the election of Barack Obama?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I think John Pilger has given a good account of the limits within which Obama will operate. And perhaps I should talk about the possibilities within those limits.

When the Cold War ended, the losing power in the Cold War, the Soviet Union, began a process of reform. The US never did begin a process of reform. Instead, it embarked on a war on terror after 9/11, in order to build on the military machine inherited from the Cold War. And the war on terror, we know, has been mainly an advertising campaign, a lethal advertising campaign. So I agree with Pilger that Obama’s first task is going to be to cut through this ideological sham and to bring the American people to face realities.

The most that Obama can contribute, within the context of being the president of an imperial power, is to recognize the changing world situation, to recognize that this is the end of the era of a single superpower, that the US will operate amongst several powers, that the US has to learn to live in the world rather than simply to occupy it.

And I think there are several indications from the campaign—I mean, the campaign was full of extreme and contradictory promises and provocations. But if you look on the side of the promises, there are indications that this is within the realm of the possible. There is the discussion of the need to speak to the president of Iran without any preconditions. There is that remarkable primary debate with Hillary and Edwards, where a reporter asked the three of them who would Martin Luther King support on this day, and Hillary and Edwards responded by convincing the audience why King would have supported them. And Obama responded by saying King would not have supported anybody, that King would have organized his movement to push the winning candidate to pursue the objectives. Well, that’s the real question now in the US today.

There was a movement, a youth movement, to elect Obama. Will that movement dissolve itself? Will that movement build itself now around the objectives for which it organized? Will America recognize, as I believe South Africa has after the election of Mandela, that the election of Mandela was not change, but an opportunity to change? And whether that opportunity is realized and transformed into a program of social justice within the country and peace abroad will depend on the movement that pushes Obama and gives him the opportunity to respond to it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the big changes that surprised many people when Bush came into office was that he had opposed this whole idea of the United States getting involved in interventions for nation-building, and then he actually became a prime component—proponent of regime change around the world, basically following a lot of what the Clinton administration had tried to do, this humanitarian intervention, spreading democracy. Do you fear that there might be some directions of Obama in this direction? You’ve written about Darfur, this whole pressure for, quote, “humanitarian” intervention that actually becomes a new form of imperialism.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, look, the lesson of Bush is that when a candidate steps from the arena of electoral politics to the presidency of the US, the kinds of interests and pressures that now come to bear on the candidate are different, larger. And the context within which the president now operates is different. There are anxieties about the particular kinds of people who gathered around Obama, especially as regards foreign policy and particularly as regards Africa. Some of the liberal humanitarian interventionists, the most vocal of them, what I call Democratic neocons, like Pendergast, for example, are huge Obama fans and are there around him.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you a quote of the person closest to him, and that’s Joe Biden, right, his vice president. Last month, in the presidential debate, Gwen Ifill asked Joe Biden about his reputation as an interventionist and his support for sending US troops to Darfur.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I don’t have a stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur. We can now impose a no-fly zone; it’s within our capacity. We can lead NATO if we’re willing to take a hard stand. We can. I’ve been in those camps in Chad. I’ve seen the suffering. Thousands and tens of thousands of people have died and are dying. We should rally the world to act, and we should demonstrate it by our own movement to provide the helicopters to get those 21,000 forces of the African Union in there now to stop this genocide.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Professor Mahmood Mamdani?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I read the verbatim account of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on which Joe Biden sits, grilling Andrew Natsios, Bush’s representative to Sudan. And Andrew Natsios was basically saying there is no genocide in Darfur. And they forced him, literally, compelled him, to simply use that word, “genocide.”

I think you’re right that this particular vice president is enamored with wanting to show US power in a humanitarian way. And what’s worrying about it is, of course, that we know—we know that mortalities in Darfur declined dramatically from early 2005. We know that the Save Darfur campaign and its figures on mortality—400,000—are simply not true; they do not reflect the reality at all. We know that the US, when it promised in 2006 to give $50 million for the African Union troops, did not give a single dollar. We know that there is a huge gulf between war talk and actual practice on the ground. I think this is one of the things Obama will have to confront, and one hopes that Biden, like other vice presidents, will simply be one small voice in the administration that’s coming.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk also about the first position that has been named, Rahm Emanuel. I want to also go to Ali Abunimah. He is joining us by video stream from Chicago, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you. Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that first news out of the new Obama administration. By the way, President-elect Obama, Joe Biden are getting their first intelligence—top-secret intelligence briefing today by the Director of National Intelligence. But what about yesterday’s announcement that Rahm Israel Emanuel, the Chicago Congress member, very close to Barack Obama, has been offered the Chief of Staff position? You, too, are in Chicago.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I thought it was quite ironic, since a lot of racists have tried to make an issue out of Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, that the same kind of people might be happy with Rahm Israel Emanuel’s middle name. And indeed, Emanuel is one of the most hard-line supporters of Israel in the Congress and has been for many years. He’s the son of Benjamin Emanuel, who actually was a gun runner for the Irgun, the Zionist, pre-Israel Zionist, militia that carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians, including the bombing of the King David Hotel. Of course, Rahm Emanuel himself is not responsible for any of that, but his record is sometimes far to the right of President Bush when it comes to supporting Israel.

But I think the important thing here is not just the appointment of Emanuel, but the greater context here, which is that from the days we knew Barack Obama as a small-time politician in Illinois, I won’t tell you, and I’ve never said that he was incredibly progressive on Israel-Palestine, but he was certainly more open-minded than he is now. And what he’s done systematically throughout the campaign is to distance himself or to throw under the bus, as the term goes, any adviser or friend who was suspected of having pro-Palestinian sympathies. In other words, he has succumbed to the McCarthyite and racist campaigns that says if you associate with even very moderate Columbia University professors, for example, or take their advice, that that’s the biggest crime.

So the signal he’s sending here is that that is not going to change, that people who could give him more balanced, more objective, more realistic advice that could change the course from the disastrous Palestine-Israel policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations, that that’s not going to happen. And that should be very, very worrying, because a lot of progressive people, a lot of people in the Middle East, a lot of leaders, have pinned hopes on Obama being quite different on this issue, and I just don’t see any evidence so far that that’s going to be the case. And it worries me that people will stay silent, rather than putting on the table now and loudly the demands for a more balanced, more objective, more fair policy that could bring peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you mentioned a Columbia University professor, obviously referring to Rashid Khalidi. The reaction of the Obama campaign to the attempts by some supporters of John McCain to link him to Khalidi, how Obama responded to that?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I think that I am going to be very frank. I know that—I agree with the other speakers that the euphoria and joy felt at Obama’s victory is sincere and justified, in terms of people’s hopes and desire for something different, but I think Obama’s reaction all along to the claims that he’s a secret Muslim or that he supports Palestinian rights has really been disgraceful. Rather than saying, you know, “So what if I had been a Muslim?” or “So what if I listen to different advice? Our policies have been unbalanced, and we want to take a wide range of advice”—instead of saying that, he’s really played into the McCarthyism by saying, “No, you know, I didn’t know Rashid Khalidi.” Well, the fact is, he was very happy to associate with Rashid Khalidi and with the broader Palestinian American community for many years.

What does it say that the sort of things he was prepared to do just a few years ago he is no longer prepared to do, that he didn’t visit a single Muslim community center or mosque or associate publicly with Arab Americans during the campaign? And it’s not as if, the day after the campaign, he started to send more conciliatory signals. On the contrary, there could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Last June, on his first day as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Senator Barack Obama addressed AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state—the Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper, but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barack Obama last June. Ali Abunimah, you write a moving piece about watching Barack Obama over the years, from when you first met him as a state senator and what he meant to you then, when you heard him speak at the University of Chicago.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —official, acted as Israel’s lawyers, people like Dennis Ross, people like Martin Indyk. These have been Israel’s lawyers, rather than US officials being honest brokers, and they are now being brought back in.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, Ali, Ali, I just want to say we were playing the sot of Barack Obama—I don’t know if you heard it—speaking before AIPAC, the clip of him. We might not have heard what you said, if you were speaking through that clip. But if you could talk about knowing Barack Obama for the last decade and then continue with what you were saying now.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that the clip was playing. So, well, basically, the point I want to make is that Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most hard-line pro-Israel elements in this country, by distancing himself from all advisers, even very mainstream establishment figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, who was one of Clinton’s officials who is considered by the pro-Israel lobby to be too pro-Palestinian.

And what he’s done is he’s publicly embraced people like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, two of the most pro-Israel officials from the Clinton era, who are totally distrusted by Palestinians and others across the Middle East, because they’re seen as lifelong advocates for Israeli positions.

And so, he’s made it impossible or extremely difficult for himself to say, “Look, now we’re going to talk to a wider range of views. We’re going to talk to those excluded voices that could give us advice that could actually get us out of this mess in Israel-Palestine.” And that’s very worrying.

And I think that progressive people across this country, you know, instead of basking in the euphoria, need to pick themselves up today and start demanding that the Obama administration immediately end the siege of Gaza. It’s totally indefensible. It is a crime unprecedented in modern history that 1.5 million people are confined to a ghetto, starved, cut off from the world, threatened. This is indefensible, and there’s no excuse for it to continue even for a single day under a new administration. And we should be setting the standard very high, not accepting slight hints that in a few years’ time an Obama administration might accept a Palestinian state or might talk about one. The days for that are over. The situation is urgent, and we really need to see radical change. It’s not going to come from Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk; it’s only going to come from a groundswell demanding that the promises of change be kept.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of the book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestine Impasse. We are continuing in our journey around the world in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We are traveling the world right now. We’re going to go to Mexico City to Laura Carlsen. Laura Carlsen is the director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program at the Center for International Policy. Can you talk about the response in Mexico and talk about the significance of Barack Obama for Latin America, Laura Carlsen? At the top of the show, we played a response by President Chavez of Venezuela, who was congratulating Barack Obama.

LAURA CARLSEN: Good morning, Amy. Yes, I’ve heard many US pundits say that the election of Barack Obama doesn’t change the US image in the world overnight, but actually, and certainly in the case of Latin America, it has. The first and most obvious reason is that much is being made of the fact that the nation was able to break through enormous racial barriers to elect an African American president. And that’s major in countries that are also struggling with diversity and discrimination. Of course, many are still skeptical about how much change there will actually be under Barack Obama, but the fact that the US political system showed this kind of capacity for change and this level of citizen participation, that was really not thought possible after the two Bush elections, has made a big impression on people.

One of the most important things that they see coming out of this is that Barack Obama is not George Bush or his ilk. George Bush, of course, had one of the lowest approval ratings in Latin America in history. And there’s a lot of hope, despite many of the caveats that we’ve heard from the other speakers, that there will be a change of policies from the George Bush policy of unilateralism and US hegemony in the region. These policies, if they haven’t been exactly interventionist in the Latin America region, have consisted of bullying to accept Washington’s positions, particularly on economic models and on US foreign policy, and also methods of economic and diplomatic isolation for any country that didn’t comply with Washington’s conservative social policies or its orthodox neoliberal economic policies. There’s been a tremendous inflexibility and unwillingness to enter into real dialogue with nations in Latin America, and that’s caused a lot of resentment. Now, with Obama’s statements that he will enter into dialogue with Venezuela and Cuba, some indication that there will be a modification of free trade policies, there is a lot of hope that a new era can begin in US-Latin American relationships.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the situation with the expanding drug war in Mexico and what you would expect from an Obama presidency?

LAURA CARLSEN: This is the point of most concern: militarization, and particularly within the hemisphere. And here is where Obama’s policies have shown little change from the Bush administration, that launched the drug war here in—or supported it, because it was actually launched by President Calderon in Mexico, and has supported it also in Plan Colombia. Those policies in the Latin America platform plan an expansion of that.

And here in Mexico, the violence that has resulted from this model of enforcement and interdiction under Plan Mexico is appalling, and it’s growing on a daily basis, now hitting high members of government, as well as many citizens caught in the crossfire between this war model of the state versus the drug cartels. So, one of the things that people will be looking very closely at here in Mexico is if there is any change in this. We know that this is a model that doesn’t work. There’s a lot of evidence of that. And so, hopefully with—the hope is that with people in the United States pushing toward some modifications in that and a less militarized package of aid to Mexico, there could be some change there, because this is a very, very grave situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Carlsen, the latest news of the number two man for Calderon dying in the plane crash on US Election Day on Tuesday, killing Mexico’s interior minister, Juan Camilo Mourino.

LAURA CARLSEN: Yes. This, of course, is one of the most shocking pieces of news to come out in recent days. The government is calling it an accident, but as more and more investigation comes out, there were no emergency reports from his plane before it went down, apparently, according to the press. And so, of course, there’s an investigation being made, and there’s a lot of rumors going around and a lot of confusion and suspicions within the populace that this was in fact not an accident. And that would mean that the ante’s been up to an enormous level in this war between the drug cartels, if it should result that they’re involved in this, and the government, and that a complete rethinking has to be made before the country disintegrates into a level of violence that it hasn’t known since war.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to turn back to London to Tariq Ali, who is there, veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Pakistan and lives in London. Tariq, your reaction to the election of Barack Obama and to what it might mean for your native land, Pakistan?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, my reaction was not so different to that of other people you’ve already interviewed. I mean, historically, the fact that there’s going to be a black family in the White House can’t be underestimated in terms of the impact that will have on black consciousness in the United States. I think it’s important in its own right for that reason.

As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn’t promise very much, basically talked in cliches and synthetic slogans like “change we can believe in.” No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, his—what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to Afghanistan, what he said was worse than McCain, that we will actually—we should take troops out of Iraq, send them into Afghanistan and, if necessary, go in and take out people inside Pakistan without informing that government.

Now, I think once he is in power and sees the intelligence reports coming in from Afghanistan, he will realize that that’s not a serious option. I mean, the British are already saying that sending in more troops isn’t going to help, because the war is lost. The United States intelligence agencies are already involved in panic discussions with the people they are fighting, the neo-Taliban, to try and persuade them to join the coalition, which they’re refusing to do as long as there are foreign troops there. So, escalating the war I don’t think is a serious option. And if he does it, it will be a very, very serious mistake, on the same level in scale as invading Iraq. So, he would be very ill-advised to do it. And I think some of the people around him will probably tell him that that was a foolish and intemperate remark in the heat of an election battle, so not to seem too wimpish, since he was already supposedly opposed to the war on Iraq, and that he will pull back from that.

I think the key is what he’s going to do in Iraq. Is Iraq, as Joe Biden wants, going to be balkanized, with permanent US bases in northern Iraq and a Kurdish area, more or less, kept going as a US Israel protectorate? Or, are they going to do what the US traditionally does, long before the war on terror, which is find local relays? And in that case, I think they’ll have to do a deal with Iran. And I think the most critical interview with Ahmadinejad on his last visit to New York was Amy questioning him about his position on the Iraq war, etc. He got a very easy ride on CNN and other shows, which indicates that they will be asking Iran to play a role in stabilizing Iraq, and they will be asking Pakistan to do the same in Afghanistan. That is more traditional US policy. And if Obama moves in that direction, it will mean withdrawing troops and having an exit strategy in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, we’re also joined in Washington, D.C. by the Iraqi blogger and political analyst Raed Jarrar, Iraqi consultant for American Friends Service Committee. Raed, the latest news today, at least six people have been killed, more than twenty wounded, in several bombings around Baghdad. At least thirty Iraqis have died, eighty wounded, since Monday. And you might say that Barack Obama is president today, because in 2002 he made that speech against the war in Iraq. That, I think, won him the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton. I don’t think the Democratic Party emphasizes this now, but that was the main difference, as she and the other leading opponents of Barack Obama in the presidential campaign voted for the invasion, and he spoke against it. What are your hopes, Raed?

RAED JARRAR: Well, I think the Obama campaign did deliver a message to the public in the US that he will be the one to end the occupation. And wherever I travel around the US, people do have the impression that Obama will be the president who will withdraw the troops. The campaign was very vague about describing troops’ withdrawal, all the troops, within sixteen months.

Now, the fine print of the campaign suggests the opposite, actually. The fine print suggests that Obama will continue the same policy through leaving what he calls “residual force,” the thing that both Bush and McCain wanted to leave indefinitely. So I don’t have a lot of hope, based on the statements. Now, no one knows what will happen in the next few months, whether Obama will, you know, unveil this progressive face that everyone is waiting to see, or whether he will continue the same policy.

Now, on the shorter term, I think there is a major difference, that I’m happy that the Obama-Biden campaign have came out to criticize the long-term agreement. On their website, there is a very strong statement asking the Bush administration to either submit any agreement with Iraq to the Congress or postpone it until the next administration and Congress. I think this is a very important step on the short term, but I don’t have a lot of hope regarding the statements on the long term. I hope that there will be a modification of that policy to a new policy that is based on a complete withdrawal, that leaves no permanent bases, no mercenaries in Iraq, because without that policy, I think the situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to come back to Mahmood Mamdani here with us in the studio. You’ve heard now quite a bit of skepticism about the potential in the new Obama presidency. Your thoughts? I think you’re sensing a little bit more optimism?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I mean, my sensing is that we have to place the man within the context. I am equally skeptical of those who believe Obama is capable of everything as I am of those who believe he is incapable of anything. He’ll simply be muzzled by context.

I think that, you know, this campaign began as a campaign on the question of peace. He began as a peace candidate and ended up as a redistribution candidate. Foreign policy had the front seat at the beginning and had the back seat towards the end of the campaign. So we don’t really know much.

What we do know is that any president who wants to make an impact on history can only do so at a moment of crisis. And this is a moment of profound crisis, domestically and internationally. Obama’s campaign announcements, I believe, give us very little clue as to what he is going to do. His appointments, I agree, give us some clue, and there is reason for concern. But at the same time, there will be returns coming in if the appointments lead to the policies that we fear they may lead to. It’s a time of possibilities, and it’s a time to organize and put the pressure.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Last question, though: do you think the movements that elected Obama can, without the Obama machine, remarkable online and on-the-ground organizing, what, ten million email list—we were getting texts and emails every couple of hours—can reconstitute itself without that? Because now that will be the state. How do people show their—express their positions if they differ from the state?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Has the movement been absorbed into the state? Look, there’s a remarkable difference between the youth movement of the ’60s, which mainly organized outside the system, and the youth movement which has brought Obama to power, because this movement has organized within the system to reform the system. Obama keeps on saying that this movement must not go away, that change hasn’t come, that this is the beginning of change. Now, will the candidate be able to tame the movement, or will the movement be able to stamp itself to some extent in the coming days?

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave that question there. Mahmood Mamdani and all of our roundtable, thanks so much for joining us.


Socialist Worker (US) is carrying this roundtable of views of Obama's election from:

Howard Zinn
Historian and veteran activist, author of the classic book A People's History of the United States.

Mike Davis
Writer, historian and socialist activist.

Sharon Smith
author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States and Women and Socialism.

Tariq Ali
Historian and novelist, veteran activist of the social movements of the 1960s and '70s.

Ken Riley
Trade unionist

Donna Smith
Health care activist who was featured in the movie Sicko, is the national coordinator of American Patients United.

Camilo Mejía
the first active-duty soldier to go public with his decision to refuse redeployment to Iraq and is the chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Anthony Arnove
author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal and is also on the board of Haymarket Books.
KT and Billy are coeditors of, an independent, online journal established to promote awareness and facilitate discussion and organization by providing commentary on politics, entertainment and culture.

Rosi Carrasco
immigrant rights activist in Chicago and organizer with the Latino Organization of the Southwest.

The link is:

Below is the text.

In solidarity
Ian Jordan


What next for struggle in the Obama era?

November 5, 2008

Millions of people have been waiting for Election Day 2008, when the Bush regime would finally fall. The book is about to shut--or slam, more like it--on eight terrible years of Republican rule in the White House.

As people on the left celebrate the end of a rotten regime, it’s also time to ask: What kind of change will an Obama administration bring? brings together a roundtable of activists and writers on the left to discuss what new openings they see with an Obama administration in power--and what challenges still lie ahead for social justice movements.

Howard Zinn

Historian and veteran activist Howard Zinn is the author of the classic book A People's History of the United States.

I CONFESS I am excited by the thought of Obama becoming president, even though I am painfully aware of his limitations--his smooth, articulate intelligence covering up a quite traditional approach to domestic and foreign policy, aided and abetted by a group of advisers recycled from the Clinton administration and other parts of the Establishment.

Does he really think Robert Rubin will come up with a bold approach to the economy? Or that Madeleine Albright will carve a new path in foreign policy? (It was she who ran around the country in 1998 to defend Clinton's bombing of Iraq, warning of "weapons of mass destruction.")

If Richard Hofstadter were adding to his book The American Political Tradition, in which he found both "conservative" and "liberal" presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, maintaining for dear life the two critical characteristics of the American system, nationalism and capitalism, Obama would fit the pattern.

His obsequious joining with McCain in approving the $700 billion "bailout" for the financial giants is a sad sign. See my article (I say arrogantly) in a recent issue of the Nation about the bailout, as a futile "trickle-down" act, instead of using the money directly for the people Obama claims to represent.

So it will take a revivified social movement to do for Obama what the strikers and tenant organizers and unemployed councils and agitators of the early 1930s did for FDR, pushing him into new paths, so angering the superrich that FDR, in one of his best moments, said, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred!"

Obama needs such fire. It is up to us, the citizenry--and non-citizens too!--to ignite it.

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Mike Davis

Writer, historian and socialist activist Mike Davis is the author of several books, including Planet of Slums, In Praise of Barbarians and City of Quartz.

FORTY YEARS ago this week, the Democratic Party (the party of Jim Crow and the Cold War, as well as the New Deal) shipwrecked itself on the shoals of an unpopular war in Vietnam and a white backlash against racial equality.

The "emerging Republican majority," as Nixon's Machiavelli, Kevin Phillips, famously branded it, was always episodic and often paper-thin in national elections, but it was galvanized by impressive ideological and religious fervor, as well as lavishly subsidized by an employer class everywhere on the offensive against New Deal unions and social programs.

Republicans, although more often than not the minority party in Congress, dominated agendas (the New Cold War, the tax revolt, war on drugs and so on) and led the restructuring of government functions (abolition of direct federal aid to cities, deliberate use of debt to forestall social spending and so).

The Democratic response to the Reagan revolution from 1981 was not principled resistance but craven adaptation. The "New Democrats" under Bill Clinton (whose personal model was Richard Nixon) not only institutionalized Nixon-Reagan economic policies, but sometimes surpassed Republicans in their zeal to enforce neoliberal doctrine, as with Clinton's crusades to "reform" welfare (in fact to create more poverty), reduce the deficit and implement NAFTA without labor rights.

Although the New Deal working-class core continued to supply 60 percent of the Democratic vote, party policy was largely driven by the Clintons' infatuation with "new economy" elites, entertainment industry moguls, affluent suburbanites, yuppie gentrifiers and, of course, the world according to Goldman Sachs.

Crucial defections by Democratic voters to Bush in 2000 and 2004 had less to due with Republican manipulation of "family values" than with Gore's and Kerry's embrace of a globalization that had devastated mill towns and industrial valleys.

This week's election paradoxically augurs both fundamental realignment and fundamental continuity.

The Republicans now know what 1968 was like for the Democrats. Blue victories in formerly bedrock Red suburbs are stunning invasions of the enemy's electoral heartland, comparable to George Wallace's and Richard Nixon's victories more than a generation ago in Northern ethnic-white, CIO neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the desperate marriage-in-hell of Palin and McCain warns of the imminent divorce of mega-church faithful and the country-club sinners. The Bush coalition built by Karl Rove's thuggish genius is breaking up.

More importantly, tens of millions of voters have reversed the verdict of 1968: this time choosing economic solidarity over racial division. Indeed, this election has been a virtual plebiscite on the future of class-consciousness in the United States, and the vote--thanks especially to working women--is an extraordinary vindication of progressive hopes.

But not the Democratic candidate, about whom we should not harbor any illusions. Although the economic crisis as well as the particular dynamics of campaigning in industrial swing states finally drove Obama to emphasize jobs, his "socialism" has been far too polite to acknowledge vast public anger about the criminal bailout or even to criticize big oil (as has off-and-on populist McCain).

In policy terms, what would have been the difference if Hillary Clinton had won instead? Perhaps a marginally better health care plan, but otherwise the result is virtually the same. Indeed it might be argued that Obama is more a prisoner of the Clinton legacy than the Clintons themselves.

Waiting in the wings to define his first 100 days is a team of Wall Street statesmen, "humanitarian" imperialists, ice-blooded political operatives and recycled Republican "realists," which will thrill hearts from the Council on Foreign Relations to the International Monetary Fund. Despite the fantasies of "hope" and "change" projected onto the handsome mask of the new president, his administration will be dominated by well-known, pre-programmed zombies of the center-right. Clinton 2.0.

Confronted with the Great Depression of globalization, of course, the American ship of state, whatever the crew, would probably sail off the edge of the known world.

Only three things, in my opinion, are highly likely:

First, there is no hope whatsoever of the spontaneous generation of a new New Deal (or for that matter, of Rooseveltian liberals) without the combustion of massive social struggles.

Second, after the brief Woodstock of an Obama inauguration, millions of hearts will be broken by the administration's inability to manage mass bankruptcy and unemployment, as well as end the wars in the Middle East.

Third, the Bushites may be dead, but the hate-spewing nativist Right (particularly the Lou Dobbs wing) is well-positioned for a dramatic revival as neoliberal solutions fail.

The great challenge to small bands of the left is to anticipate this mass disillusionment, understanding that our task is not "how to move Obama leftward," but to salvage and reorganize shattered hopes. The transitional program must be socialism itself.

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Sharon Smith

Sharon Smith is the author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States and Women and Socialism.

IT IS worth remembering that only 50 years ago, African Americans were denied the right to even cast a vote in presidential elections, much less run for office. These rights were won only after the massive struggles of the civil rights movement finally broke the Democratic Party from its segregationist legacy.

Obama's victory marks a blow against racism of similarly historic proportion. Despite McCain's and Palin's best efforts to whip up racial animosity toward Obama, they failed to garner a majority of voters for their hate-filled campaign. To be sure, the changing demographics of the U.S. voting population has reduced the relative importance of the white vote, while boosting that of Blacks, Latinos and other immigrants.

But contrary to pundits' claims, many white workers enthusiastically voted for the Black candidate in the 2008 election. Obama's victory would have been impossible without them.

Racism--stoked and enforced from above--has held a chokehold over the U.S. labor movement since its inception, as evidenced by the failure of unions to gain a foothold in the South. As long as white workers mistakenly believe that they share more in common with their white exploiters than with their Black or immigrant fellow workers, labor loses. At long last, the working-class movement is poised to begin moving forward after decades of decline.

Obama's election does not mean that racism has disappeared overnight. On the contrary, McCain/Palin rallies have drawn racists by the thousands, who were then emboldened by the vitriol emanating from the stage. Police brutality, racial disparities in jobs and education, and housing segregation will all continue as before, no matter who is in the White House, until there is a renewed struggle explicitly against racism.

But Obama's victory also represents a surge in class consciousness and a decisive rejection of neoliberal policies that have lowered working-class living standards around the world for more than three decades. Opinion polls have shown popular sentiment shifting leftward on nearly every social issue, from the Iraq war to same-sex marriage in recent years.

If there is a historic parallel for the class dynamics at work in the 2008 election, it would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt's victory in 1932. Roosevelt's win, like Obama's, was the product of mass class anger in an era of unfettered corporate greed that discredited the free market.

Although Roosevelt vaguely promised voters a "New Deal," it took pressure from below to determine the content of presidential policy during the Depression era. The scale of the class struggle was such that workers not only won the legal right to unionize and other working-class reforms, but also tipped the balance of class forces in favor of workers for decades to come.

We have not seen a rise in class struggle for more than three decades in the U.S. But the class anger on display in this election could well be a prelude to such a rise in coming years. Obama has promised "change," but the scale of change that is needed requires mass struggle from below.

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Tariq Ali

Historian and novelist Tariq Ali is a veteran activist of the social movements of the 1960s and '70s. His books include The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power and Pirates of the Caribbean.

THE FORMER head of British intelligence recently stated that in her view, the whole concept of a "war on terror" was misguided from the beginning--that it is an overreaction to a terrorist attack.

If this view is shared by her colleagues in the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, then we could begin to see some changes in U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration--in particular, a reversion to the tried-and-tested way of defending U.S. interests by relying on local relays.

This would entail using the Pakistani government to look after Afghanistan, and a post-Ahmadinejad Iran to do the same for Iraq. The reason for this is that both the wars have been a disaster.

Obama's views about Afghanistan/Pakistan are seriously misguided, to put it mildly. The fact that the U.S. is engaged (and has been for some time) in direct talks with the neo-Taliban resistance is a serious indication that they regard the war as lost.

The neo-Taliban have told Washington's emissaries that they will not enter any coalition as long as there are foreign troops on Afghan soil. Afterward, they are open to offers. Surely Obama knew this was going on. Expanding the war to Pakistan would destabilize that country even further. How does that help anyone?

In Latin America, U.S. foreign policy is characterized by a great deal of confusion. Under discussion are plans to repeat Nixon's trip to Beijing with an Obama flight to Havana. The problem here would be that preaching the virtues of neoliberal capitalism will sound a bit hollow after the capitalist debacle in the West.

To continue the Cheney line on Venezuela and Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, would be totally counterproductive, since what has failed already will not succeed even with a more human face at the helm. Even the pro-U.S. states like Chile and Brazil are opposed to any new U.S. adventures.

> From day one of the Obama victory, which will unleash a wave of high
expectations on the domestic and global fronts, activist pressure is crucial to achieve anything. I think antiwar activists should turn up in large numbers to the inauguration with banners reading, "Congrats Barack, now out of Kabul and Iraq!"

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Ken Riley

Ken Riley is president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 in Charleston, S.C.

ELECTION DAY has been phenomenal in South Carolina. Among young African Americans, the idea of not voting is unpopular and uncool.

I was in line to vote early on Election Day and saw a lot of young people I knew--I couldn't believe they were 18 already. I gave one young man who just turned 18 a ride to vote, and he couldn't have been more proud. That's the kind of energy and excitement we have in the African American community in Charleston. We expect 2,000 people at the union hall tonight.

These are very difficult times, and a complicated economy. Some of the factors affecting our economy we have never faced before. For us in organized labor in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, one of the most important things about an Obama administration is whether we get the Employee Free Choice Act [proposed legislation that would make it easier to join unions]. We hope that it would also have an impact on the anti-union laws in the public sector here.

The election shows that trickle-down economics just doesn't cut it. I think the Obama victory is going to help people become organized in general and more involved. You do not get this excited and optimistic about the future just because the first African American is elected president--you want to see this administration succeed.

Therefore, you won't see people cast a vote and back off. There will be significant organizing. If there is such a thing as trickle-down, that is what's going to trickle down.

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Donna Smith

Health care activist Donna Smith, who was featured in the movie Sicko, is the national coordinator of American Patients United.

I THINK most of us are walking around with a little bit of knot in our stomachs, almost afraid to really hope that this will come out a win. It's a scary time, but at the same time, assuming Obama wins this election, and they get a few more progressive members in the House, I think our work is just only begun.

I think there is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the way we've been running our government for the last several years. And I'm not talking about just the last eight years. We had some years running up to those eight years that were not necessarily the most hopeful for people who were working, and middle class and lower class. It's been a difficult 30 years.

There's a lot of tough work ahead of us, and all of us are going to be required to work together in ways we maybe have not in the past.

So I think the gift that has been given to us by the Obama campaign beyond ending the reign of Bush and Cheney is that we know that if we organize together, we can change things.

It's going to be tough. I think the fight is going to be as tough, if not tougher, going into the next few months for single-payer. We are going to be clearer than we've been in the past about single-payer being the right way to go.

I think we're going to see lots of moves by lots of people to quickly do some reform that isn't necessarily going to fix the system. It may expand coverage options for some Americans, but may not fix what is broken in the system, which is the middleman in health care, the for-profit health care industry and what they're doing to our ability to access health care.

So I think in the effort to do something quickly, we might not do what's smart. I think those of us who support single-payer are going to have to be very directed and very clear, and are going to make ourselves very organized to accomplish our goal.

What we have to bear in mind always is that electing one individual cannot possibly fix all the systems that we need fixed. It's only a step toward perhaps a more open government. I think this is the hope we all have. But to think the election of Obama or a more progressive Congress is going to immediately launch us into a new dawn is just not realistic.

It's going to take continued, hard and focused work to clean up the mess that's been in place since the Reagan revolution. The full impact on working people of the Reagan revolution has taken a while to play out in its full flavor, as far as I'm concerned. And I feel like it will take us a little time to clean it up.

And in the process, people are going to suffer while we try to clean it up. My hope and concern is that we find ways to help one another move things along, and help a new president and Congress make this a better country.

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Camilo Mejía

Camilo Mejía was the first active-duty soldier to go public with his decision to refuse redeployment to Iraq and is the chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

During the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) requested that moderator Bob Schieffer allow them to ask each candidate a question.

The question for Sen. McCain was about veterans' benefits since, being a war veteran and former POW himself, he should have a better voting record when it comes to veterans' well-being. The question for Sen. Obama, who voted against the invasion of Iraq and called the invasion illegal at one point, focused on whether he would be willing to support soldiers who wanted to become conscientious objectors.

Not only was IVAW not able to ask the questions, but we were attacked by the Hempstead mounted police. Ten of our members, along with some civilian activists, were arrested, and two of our members were injured, one suffering a broken cheekbone. Neither candidate mentioned either Iraq or Afghanistan during the entire 90-minute debate.

The promise of a better nation, one whose resources are dedicated to improving social conditions and where wealth is distributed to lift up the working ranks of society, rings hollow when military veterans can't ask a question without being violently repressed. All this is to say that regardless of who gets elected, the work of building a better world remains in the hands of the people and rests on our ability to assert ourselves as the true architects of our future.

Obama is regarded as the antiwar candidate for having voted against the invasion of Iraq and for promising a progressive withdrawal of troops from that country, and both he and McCain have spoken about the success of the troop "surge" in Iraq.

But to seriously address the situation in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal from it would require Obama to address the 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, the permanent military bases, and the diplomatic and corporate complex from which the U.S. government intends to run the country. And of course, the "success" of the surge fails to recognize that more than half of the population of Iraq is either displaced, in need of emergency aid or dead.

The "global war on terror," the name given by the past and now present administrations to justify profit-driven invasions and occupations, needs a new centerpiece. The Iraq war has become too unpopular to continue justifying the U.S. imperial agenda.

We cannot allow any president to shift focus to Afghanistan in order to continue American warmongering. President Obama has promised to continue pouring troops into that country and to see the war spill into Pakistan if he deems it necessary.

The antiwar movement has to realize the need to continue the struggle for peace and justice, a struggle that starts at home where, in opposing costly and illegal wars of aggression, we wage battles against poverty, racism and exploitation of the working class by the ruling elite.

Only by building a true grassroots movement to combat a corporate-controlled government will we be able to create a world where peace, justice and social equality can prevail. This is the work of the people, not of the politicians, regardless of who is president. It has been going on, it continues, it can never stop, not for one minute.

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Anthony Arnove

Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal and is also on the board of Haymarket Books.

THE FIRST thing to say is that there should be no honeymoon. The Democrats have held a majority in the House and Senate for two years, yet have continued to fund the occupation of Iraq, to allow warrantless wiretaps, to expand the military budget.

But the Democrats can no longer use the excuse of Bush and the need to win the White House to continue to defy the widespread desire for change. That means we need to challenge Obama from the first day he takes office, with public protest and mobilization.

Second, we have to insist that Obama's "let's not and say we did" position on withdrawal from Iraq is unacceptable. Withdrawal means withdrawal, not redeployment of some troops to Afghanistan while leaving tens of thousands of troops for "counter-insurgency," maintaining long-term bases, establishing the largest foreign Central Intelligence Agency station and U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and allowing mercenaries to remain.

We can't let Iraq slip into the background, out of the headlines, and accept a repacking of the occupation as a solution.

Third, we need to be clear that the problem with the so-called Bush Doctrine of preventive war is not that it was misapplied, but that it is wrong on principle. We must pressure Obama to renounce--which so far he has shown no signs of doing--regime change in Iran and the right to strike countries like Syria and Somalia at will.

That applies to U.S. allies such as Israel as well, to which this obscene power has long been extended (along with the right to maintain an arsenal of nuclear weapons, like other U.S. allies that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India and Pakistan, in contrast to Iran).

Last, we need to say to Obama that we want an end to the ideological war on Arabs and Muslims, on immigrants, and the outrageous powers according to the executive to detain and torture, to use secret evidence, to hold people in Guantánamo Bay or prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Guantánamo should be closed immediately and the territory completely returned to Cuba.

Renditions and torture should be renounced without qualification. The United States should end its defiance of the international convention on violence against children (protecting the right to execute minors) and on the use of land mines and cluster munitions, as well as nuclear weapons (the new generation of so-called mini-nukes).

Now is not a time for "bipartisanship." We have seen all too much of that. Bipartisanship has led to all the problems we presently confront, with the complicity and, in many cases, full-throated support of the Democrats. Now is time for a radical break.

But we should not for a moment hold our breath or expect Obama to deliver this of his own initiative. Nothing in his career or policy statements--or in the lessons of our history--should lead us to expect that.

If anything, we should anticipate Obama will govern to the right of his campaign promises, not the left. Last century, we saw two presidents legislate to the left of the policies they advocated as candidates: Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. The reason was not to be explained by their personal characteristics, but the fact that both were confronted by massive social movements that disrupted business as usual and forced unexpected democratic changes from below.

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KT and Billy are coeditors of, an independent, online journal established to promote awareness and facilitate discussion and organization by providing commentary on politics, entertainment and culture.

IN AN Obama administration, the American political left will have to readjust to the political reality. An honest assessment of our situation will uncover much work to be done in terms of political education, organizing, activism and outreach to those newly engaged by Obama's candidacy--which may be extremely difficult given the degree of stargazing that abounds.

Obama's ascendance to the highest office in the land will prove to be primarily symbolic, as most lefties should know when they're honest about it, thus requiring direct challenge and confrontation over those things that we value--justice, peace, solidarity and equality--taken broadly.

Lefties will have to fight for renewed political relevance--largely absent in the current state--in the form of such things as livable wages, the right to organize, form unions and bargain collectively, abolishing the death penalty, ending the murderous and brutal war and occupation, releasing political prisoners, acquiring single-payer universal health care coverage--among too many others to mention at this time.

These are the kinds of reforms needed in the near term as we work for more fundamental structural changes, so that people will one day own and control the institutions that govern their lives in terms of their workplaces and governing bodies.

With the advent of an Obama administration, lefties should recognize that we will be organizing and pushing for these initiatives among many optimists satisfied with seeing the end of the terrible Bush era.

Lefties must raise the expectations of those engaged--indeed, even their own. Our role is to empower people with the information and organization for support and work so that the country is unmoved--in fact indignant--about corporate-owned politicians and their vague promises for "change" on their behalf.

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Rosi Carrasco

Rosi Carrasco is an immigrant rights activist in Chicago and organizer with the Latino Organization of the Southwest.

I THINK that the election is historic, and it is great moment to be here in Chicago, because for the first time, we have a president who is against all the politics the Bush administration has been practicing over the last eight years. I think there is hope not only for the immigrant rights movement, but for the people against the war, and all of the progressive movements.

There will be an open space for continuing the fight for immigrants, against the war and for many issues affecting our communities. It's not that with the election, everything is going to change magically, but that we have the opportunity to change things in America.

Immigration legislation was defeated last year because of racism. The main targets of the racists were immigrants without documents. Having an African American president is historic. It is going to make racism harder. That is what I think we should celebrate.

We need to continue organizing our communities, because this is the only way we can change anything here--without fighting, there won't be change.

It also means the politics of Bush are being rejected by a lot of people in this country, but also around the world--the war in Iraq, invading other countries, against the rights of immigrants. The policies of this government have been terrible for people in Latin America. The government has been focused on helping only the richest people.

I am very surprised to see how active the youth are and the hope they have for change. I think this is going to be a new moment in which we have the opportunity to open new spaces for our issues. The immigrant rights movement became demoralized last year, but now, we are getting ready to start to fighting again. We'll have a new government and a new direction in this country.

The new government needs to assure us that they will stop raids and deportations. This is a demand everyone supports. We need to demand immigration reform. It's not clear what sort of reform the government will be willing to offer, because up until now, the Democrats have not had very clear policies in favor of immigration.

We need to keep very clear that our fight is for civil and human rights. We have to be mature enough to understand that we need to work together with many different people, with different points of view.

I think we need a very open and wide movement that includes every single person that believes in human and civil rights.

Workers are being fired because of no-match letters, they are not receiving good salaries because they are undocumented, their rights are not being respected because of their situation. So we have to keep organizing people in their workplaces and their communities. If we forget that part, we will not have the kind of movement that can put forward a strong proposal and defend people. Everyone agrees we need to march.

On May 1, we need to take to the streets again, but we also need to organize people in their workplaces and communities so they know their rights and can defend themselves.

The election is a historical moment and a great opportunity to challenge and change politics in this country. It's a great opportunity for us to organize ourselves, but it is just an opportunity. We have to work very hard to organize our communities. Otherwise, we will miss this opportunity.

I think people are ready to fight--look at how many people are involved in the antiwar movement, the immigrant rights movement, for housing, for health care insurance, for good salaries, for workers' rights, for many things. Now, I hope we can these change things.

I'm really excited about this election. I'm really excited about having Obama as president. I hope we can celebrate this historical moment. This will change politics fundamentally, but it won't happen by itself. We have to have people organizing and ready to take advantage of this new opening.