Obama and the clash of hopes

By Peter Boyle

November 12, 2008 -- There can be no doubt that the great majority of the 55 million US citizens whose votes made Barack Obama president want change.

They want a change from the system in which trillions of dollars are spent to bail out Wall Street while ordinary people on “Main Street” lose their homes, their jobs and can’t even get basic health care.

They want an end to the endless wars abroad that George W. Bush launched in the wake of 9/11 — wars that are returning thousands of young Americans home in body bags and many times more seriously wounded. They want the US to be welcomed by the rest of the world as a peacemaker rather than hated as the biggest war-maker.

So around the world, everyone with a shred humanity cheered on that wave of hope for change that gave the US its first black president on November 4.

But while there’s this mass desire for change, the giant corporate empires that have thrived on a regime of corporate welfare are still wielding massive power. For them, the trillion dollars spent by the US government on the military (money spent just this year and even amidst the worst capitalist economic crisis since the Great Depression) is simply “good for business” and they want it to carry on, thankyou very much!

The CEOs of USA Inc have their own hopes for the Obama presidency. They hope that Obama’s victory might be used to pacify the population and allow them to carry on business as usual.

They hope that the euphoria at Obama’s win will quickly turn to reckless shopping, that it will unleash animal spirits that can somehow pull the capitalist system out of a mega-recession of its own making. And, twistedly, they hope that US imperialism can now continue to deploy its killing machines while flying the flag of peacemaker.

Ordinary people made the Obama victory possible by volunteering to campaign in their own neighbourhoods, donating record amounts of money and then turning out to vote in record numbers.

In his victory speech, Obama urged those who want to remake the US to join in the process “block by block, brick by brick, callused hand by callused hand”. That’s a fact. If their hopes for change are to be met, those millions will have to stay in political action.

Those on the left who have focused on lecturing to the millions who have invested their hopes for change in Obama have missed the point. The real challenge is to keep alive those popular hopes and turn it into an ongoing movement that can deliver real change.

In this challenge, those who persevere with speaking up and organising for change after the election parties are over are critical to the outcome of the clash of hopes embodied in the Obama victory.

Green Left Weekly is produced on the other side of the world to the US but thousands in that country are regular readers, thanks to the internet. So we are part of the ongoing movement for change in the US.

We want to make a special appeal this week to our US readers to help us in our own “block by block” campaign to keep GLW a part of the worldwide struggle for change. Last week, our supporters in Australia raised $9188.

Special thanks to our supporters in Sydney and Canberra and to the Sydney supporter who donated $2000. (US readers note: if that was in US dollars it would be twice as much for us today, thanks to the global financial crisis made in Wall St.)

So far this year, GLW supporters have raised a total of $182,985, but we have to raise another $67,015 by the end of this year to make our target. Can you help?

Send your donation to Green Left Weekly, PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007, phone it through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia). You can also make direct deposits into to the fighting fund at: Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 901992 or donate online at .

[Peter Boyle is national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia, a Marxist organisation affilitated to the Socialist Alliance. This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #774, November 12, 2008.]


How to Spend the Honeymoon

By Walden Bello

From Foreign Policy in Focus, Nov. 8, 2008

It came together spontaneously, the rally at Lafayette Park across from the White House, even before the concession speech by John McCain. The crowd was multiracial, but the vast majority was white. And young. Lustily cheering “O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA,” they were from a generation aching for a reason to hope. These young Americans were responding to Barack Obama’s clarion call to abandon cynicism and the politics of division that Karl Rove and the Republicans had perfected as an art form over the last two decades.

The joy of victory – and a decisive one at that – caught up people throughout this vast country in a collective outpouring that for a few hours and probably a few more days will dispel the fears of joblessness and economic collapse that is literally around the corner. Many overcame the residual racial fears, in the past successfully stoked by the right, to throw in their lot with a 47-year-old African American who offered not so much a detailed program as an earnest promise to toss into the ash-heap of history eight years of doctrinaire free-market policies that had led to the evaporation of their jobs and communities.

Obama had asked people to vote their hopes, while John McCain sought to mobilize their fears. But fear and hope came together in a way that squeezed out the Republicans: people inspired by Obama to enter a new post-partisan era came together with those who feared being driven to economic destitution by four more years of the Republican ideology of greed. Perhaps the most effective slogan, which Obama repeated tirelessly everyday throughout the last three months, was that a McCain victory would mean four more years of George Bush.

For this columnist, that one hour of being part of a communal outpouring at Lafayette Park was a personal catharsis. It was the fusing of several feelings: exhilaration that Americans had elected a Black man president, happiness that the bums that had brought so much misery to the world were finally being tossed out like the garbage they are, a strange but nice feeling of celebrating at a site where so often in the past I had stood in angry protest against U.S. policies, and, yes, a subversive hope that real change might after all be possible in a country steeped in imperialism.

True, by the end of the campaign, the economy had outstripped the immensely unpopular Iraq War as the key electoral issue. But opposition to the war, more than anything else, was responsible for Obama’s decisive victory in Iowa , the primary that gave him a momentum he never lost. At that magical moment at Lafayette Park, this old anti-imperialist dog was infected by the audacity of hope, to use Obama’s campaign refrain, that, maybe, just maybe, this was one of those times that, to borrow Marx’s phrase, all that is solid could melt into thin air.

The space for substantial change is perhaps greatest when it comes to the economy, where the Bush people have put into place some measures of government intervention they hate with a passion but which they had no choice but to impose. The election has given Obama a massive mandate to turn from policies meant to stabilize capitalism to policies to promote people’s welfare. The question is not whether there is space for innovation but whether Obama will go farther and make transformative moves in the ownership and control of the economy. Will we simply have a return to old-fashioned Keynesianism or will we finally move decisively toward a social democratic regime that truly subordinates the market to society? That he is said to have surrounded himself with Democratic neoliberals like Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, and Paul Volcker is cause for concern but hardly alarm at this point. Obama knows that the vote was a referendum against neoliberalism, whether of the doctrinal Reagan variety or the more pragmatic Clinton kind.

Foreign policy is another matter. One of the key themes Obama hammered home during the campaign was that Iraq was the wrong war and Afghanistan was the place to draw the line in the sand against al-Qaeda and their allies, the Taliban. To outmaneuver McCain and the right during the campaign, he probably assessed this as tactically unavoidable, just like his awful pro-Zionist statements. But to translate this electoral rhetoric into policy would be to invite a disaster. Pouring more troops into Afghanistan , a land that is one of the most ideal terrains for guerrilla war, won’t work. And buying off some commanders of the Taliban, like the way Gen. David Petraeus bought off some of the Sunni tribes in Iraq , won’t work either, since the Taliban are a very cohesive force ideologically, with Islamic fundamentalism and Afghan nationalism serving the function that communism and nationalism played in Vietnam . Afghanistan , in short, can no longer be stabilized with either hard power or soft power, or both together. The fate of both the British and the Soviets, who had to hightail it out of the country in defeat and shame, stares America in the face. The only alternative is to cut and cut cleanly right now, and withdraw with a modicum of honor and order.

During the campaign, Obama showed himself to be a pragmatist who was willing to court unpopularity by going back on his word in order to reach his strategic goal. This was the case when he reversed himself on public financing for his campaign. The negative fallout was slight since progressives understood the aim was to win the elections, and the huge outpouring of financial support via the Internet was the key to overcoming the financial advantage traditionally enjoyed by the Republicans. Following through with his promise to withdraw from Iraq with a firm timetable and reversing himself on Afghanistan will elicit thunder on the right. But at a time when most of the population cares little about “American credibility,” the consequences will be manageable. With the costs of the Iraq War alone now hitting one trillion dollars, the economic rationale for extrication from the Middle East at a time of domestic distress is quite powerful.

The first 100 days of Obama’s presidency will be, in the usual fashion, a honeymoon with the American people. This would be the time to decisively get rid of two millstones – Iraq and Afghanistan – that the Bush administration would like nothing more than to foist on him to break up the coalition that carried him to the White House. This will clear the way for a focus on the truly gigantic task ahead, which is to transform the American economy and the global economy. But he has to act fast, taking advantage of the heady days of his romance with American people and the disarray of the right.

Will he do it? Probably not. But then again one of the man’s greatest assets has been his ability to reverse course, to surprise.

*FPIF columnist Walden Bello is professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines and the State University of New York at Binghamton .


Don't believe the hype
John Pilger
Published 13 November 2008

Barack Obama is being lauded by liberals but the truth about him is that he
represents the worst of American power. John Pilger reports from Texas
My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the
assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south,
following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where
I met Penn Jones Jr, editor of theMidlothian Mirror. Save for his drawl and
fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas
stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his
printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he
painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official
version of Kennedy's murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented,
before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of
liberal neutrality was spun around those whose "professionalism" and
"objectivity" carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion
were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth.
Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable
and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom
conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides
of the Atlantic.

Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died
on 31 October, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened
views to a majority who believe that "government should care for those who
cannot care for themselves" and are prepared to pay higher taxes for
universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops
out of other people's countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck
stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most
Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the
world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood,
in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama's "oratory". He says he wants to build
up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan,
killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike
those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and
London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to
Obama's election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed
for news reporting since 4 November (eg, "liberal Americans smiled and the
world smiled with them"), but for the same reasons that millions of angry
emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the "bailout" of Wall
Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in
Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush
to continue his blood-fest. For his part, the "anti-war" Obama voted to give
Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama's election is historic, a symbol of great
change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite has grown
adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin
Luther King recognised this when he linked the human rights of black
Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by
a "liberal" Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking
contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to
"investigate" and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush's
secretary of state, Powell was often described as a "liberal" and was
considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq's non-existent
weapons of mass destruction. Condaleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black
woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama's first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of
his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The
vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist. Rahm
Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a
fervent "neoliberal" devoted to the doctrine that led to the present
economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an
"Israel-first" Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful
justice for the Palestinians - an injustice that is at the root of Muslim
people's loathing of the US and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obama
mania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black
South Africans was permitted within the "Mandela moment". This is especially
marked in Britain, where America's divine right to "lead" is important to
elite British interests. The Observer, which supported Bush's war in Iraq,
echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that
"America has restored the world's faith in its ideals". These "ideals",
which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction
of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation
movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had that been
allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow,
supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a
reality. Prior to Blair's criminal warmaking, ideology was denied by him and
his media mystics. "Blair can be a beacon to the world," declared the
Guardian in 1997. "[He is] turning leadership into an art form."

Today, merely insert "Obama". As for historic moments, there is another that
has gone unreported but is well under way - liberal democracy's shift
towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity,
with the media as its clichéd façade. "True democracy," wrote Penn Jones Jr,
the Texas truth-teller, "is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you're
meant to think, and keeping your eyes wide open at all times."