CPI (ML) Liberation on `Obamania'

By CPI (ML) Liberation

November 11, 2008 --The emphatic victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential election has generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, a veritable ``Obamania'', across the world. There are indeed several special aspects to this remarkable victory. That he is the first black person to be elected to the highest political office in the US; that his campaign emphasised ``hope'' and ``change'' at a time when the US is passing through an extremely gloomy period in its history, and, above all, that his arrival marks the much-awaited end of the hated Bush presidency, and a decisive popular rejection of its hallmarks, have all added up to make this probably the most memorable election in recent US history. For political observers watching this election from afar, the most encouraging aspect perhaps has been the passionate popular participation that made this election an energised extension of not only the fight against racism but also the wider anti-globalisation, anti-war campaign.

Liberal sociologists in India have already begun reducing Obama’s victory to a sanitised sign of the ``greatness'' of US democracy and the ``maturity'' of the African-American community. But, racism in the US is not just a shocking memory of a cruel past; it is still very much a continuing social reality. For large sections of the American working class and the poor, race and class combine, reproducing conditions of systematic discrimination and deprivation. And the African-American community’s sustained struggles against racism have shaped the polarisations of US politics over decades and centuries, from the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the radical Black Power movement in the 1970s and up until the present. If Obama’s eloquent oratory tapped into the depth of an entire community’s yearning for justice, the silent tears of Jesse Jackson, noted US civil rights campaigner and himself a presidential hopeful of yesteryears, beamed live into television sets across the world, reflected the sense of vindication that Obama’s victory has generated in millions of American hearts.

But what kind of change will Obama’s presidency bring to the US and its policies? The US ruling elite sees Obama as a political bailout package for the crisis-ridden establishment. Parallels are being drawn between Obama’s promised platform of change and Roosevelt’s New Deal that had rescued the US economy from the ravages of the Great Depression. Through his famous New Deal Roosevelt had translated the Keynesian doctrine of large-scale state intervention (socialisation of investment) into a policy paradigm and the whole thing got a boost from World War II and its outcome that favoured the US and its allies. However desperately the US may need another Rooseveltian rescue act, it is not easy for Obama to replicate that experience in the present juncture in which the US is faced with not only an unprecedented financial crisis but acute political and military challenges.

The early transitional signs emanating from Team Obama indicate more continuity than change in matters of both economic and foreign policies. The political team is dominated heavily by recycled Clinton-era strategists, while the 17 members of his Transitional Economic Advisory Board are drawn mostly from among top corporate bosses and financial barons. The choice of someone like Rahm Emanuel – a leading member of the rightwing Democratic Leadership Council and a known neoliberal fundamentalist and pro-Israeli hawk – as the chief of staff can hardly be interpreted as a sign of any salutary change.

Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements have been replete with warnings against Iran and Pakistan and his occasional suggestions of withdrawal of US troops from Iraq have been tempered by his emphases on sending fresh military reinforcements to Afghanistan. In the domestic domain, Obama and his managers have already begun to emphasise the need to lower expectations and temper hopes of bringing about the change promised all through his election campaign, notably signalling a slower pace for the reform of the healthcare system, which had been emblematic of the campaign’s rejection of the callousness of neoliberalism.

While in no way dismissing or underestimating the great importance of Obama’s victory and the possibility contained in the present juncture, progressive forces in the US must keep up the popular momentum that has led to such an emphatic victory for Barack Obama with his promised platform of change. Obama must now be held accountable and the people must find ways to prevail over the well-entrenched forces and designs of corporate and imperialist betrayal.

The same also holds for anti-imperialist forces in other parts of the world. Instead of losing our way in the spectacle of Obamania, we must all doggedly pursue our anti-imperialist and socialist agenda, grabbing with both hands the opportunities opened up by the present crisis and the end of the Bush era.

[From ML Update, , Volume 11, No. 46, November 11-17, 2008.]

Submitted by Tariq Ali (not verified) on Mon, 11/17/2008 - 20:15


Rhetoric Alone Is Not Enough
Great Expectations
Barack Obama's victory marks a decisive generational and sociological
shift in American politics. Its impact is difficult to predict at this
stage, but the expectations of the majority of young people who
propelled Obama to victory remain high. It may not have been a
landslide, but the vote was large enough with the Democrats winning over
52% of the electorate (62.4 million voters) and planting a black family
firmly in the White House.
The historic significance of this fact should not be underestimated.
It has happened in a country where the Ku Klux Klan once had millions of
members who waged a campaign of deadly terror against black citizens
with the support of a prejudiced legal system. How can one forget the
photographs of African-Americans during the first three decades of the
last century being lynched under the approving gaze of white families
enjoying their picnics as they watched ? in Billie Holliday's memorable
voice ? "Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit
hanging from the poplar trees"?
It was the mass struggles for civil rights in the 1960s that forced
desegregation and the black voter registration campaigns, but also led
to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (just as he was
beginning to insist on the unity of blacks and whites against a system
that oppressed both). It would be trite to remark that Obama is not one
of their number. He is seen as such by the 96 per cent of Afro-Americans
who spilled out of their homes to vote for him. They may yet be
disappointed but for the moment they are rejoicing, and who can blame
It was barely two decades ago that Bill Clinton was warning his Democrat
rival, the liberal governor of New York State, Mario Cuomo, that America
was not yet ready to elect a president whose name ended with 'o' or 'i'.
It was only a few months ago that the Clintons were openly pandering to
racism by repeatedly stressing that white working-class voters would
decisively reject Obama and reminding Democrats that Jesse Jackson, too,
had done well in past primaries. The new generation of voters proved
them wrong: 66% of those between the ages of 18 and 29, comprising 18%
of the electorate, voted for Obama; 52% of the 30-44 age group (37% of
the electorate) did likewise.
The crisis of deregulated, free-market capitalism led to a surge of
support for Obama in states hitherto regarded as Republican or white
Democrat territory, accelerating the process that defeated Bush/Cheney
and the neo-con gang. However the fact that McCain/Palin still obtained
55 million votes is a reminder of how strong the American right remains.
The Clintons, Jo Biden, Nancy Pelosi and numerous other Democrat
heavyweights will use this to pressure Obama to remain loyal to the
script he used to win the election. But bland, feel-good slogans will
not be enough to secure a second term. The crisis is far too advanced
and the questions agitating most American citizens (as I discovered when
I was there a few weeks ago) concern jobs, health (40 million citizens
have no health insurance) and homes.
Rhetoric alone is insufficient to deal with the slump in the real
economy: there is a trillion-dollar credit-card debt that could bring
down other banking giants; the decline of the car industry will lead to
large-scale unemployment. And there is the bail-out that has mortgaged
future generations of Americans to Wall Street. The panic measures of
the Bush administration designed and orchestrated by the banker's friend
and treasury secretary Paulson have privileged a few big banks that are
being subsidised by public money.
The Democrats and Obama agreed to the deals and will find it difficult
to draw back so that they can move forward on another front. The
expanding crisis, however, might compel them to move in a different
direction. Austerity measures always hurt the less privileged and how
the new president and his team deals with this will determine their
It is an awful time to be elected president, but it is also a challenge,
and Franklin Roosevelt accepted such a challenge in the 1930s by
imposing a social-democratic regime of regulation, public works and an
imaginative approach to popular culture. He was helped by the existence
of a strong labour movement and the American left: the
Reagan-Clinton-Bush years helped to destroy the legacy of the New Deal.
It is a new economy, heavily dependent on global finance and a
deindustrialised America.
Does Obama have the vision or the strength to turn this clock back and
forward at the same time? In the realm of foreign policy, the
Obama/Biden approach has not been too different from that of Bush or
McCain. A New Deal for the rest of the world would require a rapid exit
from Iraq and Afghanistan and no further adventures in these regions or
elsewhere. Biden has virtually committed himself to a Balkanisation of
Iraq, which now appears less likely since the rest of the country as
well as Iran and Turkey are opposed, for different reasons, to the
creation of an Israeli-American protectorate in Northern Iraq with
permanent US bases. Obama would be best advised to announce a rapid and
complete withdrawal. Apart from all else, the costs are now prohibitive.
And sending troops based in Iraq to Afghanistan would only recreate the
mess elsewhere. As numerous British diplomatic, military and
intelligence experts have warned, the war in South Asia is lost.
Washington is certainly aware of this fact. Hence the panic-induced
negotiations with the neo-Taliban. One can only hope that Obama's
foreign policy advisers will force a retreat on this front as well.
What of South America? Surely Obama should mimic Nixon's trip to Beijing
and fly to Havana, ending the economic and diplomatic embargo of Cuba.
Even Colin Powell acknowledged that the regime had done a great deal for
its people. It will be difficult for Obama to preach the virtues of the
free-market, but the Cubans could certainly help him in establishing a
proper healthcare system in the United States. This would be change that
most Americans would be happy to believe in. Other lessons are also on
offer from other South American countries that foresaw the crisis of
neoliberal capitalism and began to restructure their economies over a
decade ago.
If change means that nothing changes and all we have is imperialism with
a human face, then those who have put Obama in the White House might
decide after a few years have passed that a progressive party in the
United States has become a necessity.
PS: Fate and history: The same day that Spain denied the son of Osama
Bin Laden political asylum, Obama appointed the son of an Irgun
terrorist as his Chief of Staff. Osama's son declared that he did not
agree with his father's actions or opinions. Rahm Israel Emmanuel is an
Israel-firster, a pro-war DLC hack and a bully. Not an auspicious start.
Tariq Ali’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of
American Power’ is published by Scribner.