It’s the US presidential election year. The media circus is in full flow and the season is a long one. It appears the aim is to keep the public’s eyes as far away from reality and the real issues as possible. There are issues that should be engaging the media circus, placing them squarely in front of the electorate and the presidential candidates. But they aren’t and they won’t be because the mass media supports the status quo.
As Barack Obama prepares for his State of the Union address it is good that so many of Obama’s followers are disillusioned. However it seems, though, that many of those who describe themselves as disillusioned are accusing Obama of breaking his promises, rather than blaming themselves for falling victim to a naïve illusion. The idea that Obama has broken his promises can only seem valid to those who – against all the evidence he himself provided – fashioned an image of him as the country’s progressive saviour.
Obama made no secret during his election campaign of his “moderate” political outlook. A central theme of his campaign, in fact, was the need for bi-partisanism to counter the trend towards politics becoming too “ideological”. Those who now criticise Obama for being yet another spineless Democrat were not paying adequate attention to the statements he made during the campaign. Obama made no secret of his deeply-held principle of never sticking to any principle. He has never claimed to be anything but a “pragmatist”, which is a nicer way of saying “opportunist”. Obama has not budged from his belief that the solutions to the problems plaguing the United States can be found lying in the middle of the political road, so to speak, just waiting to be picked up. This is the belief he wrote about back in 2006, and his policies in office have been based on it.
A mistake that voters often make, especially during election campaigns, is to compare what the Republicans say and do with what the Democrats say. The relevant comparison is with what the Democrats do. The trouble is that when the Democrats have been out of office for a few years most voters no longer remember what they do. Those familiar with Obama’s record as a congressman, might have noticed that between what the Democrats say and what they do yawns a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.
In stump speeches in the mid-West, candidate Obama thundered against regional companies such as Maytag and Exelon. And yet these same companies, justifiably confident that he would do nothing to harm their interests, made large financial contributions to his campaign. Speaking before audiences of workers, Obama would denounce Maytag’s decision in 2004 to close the refrigerator plant in Galesburg, Illinois, entailing the loss of 1,600 jobs to Mexico. But he never raised the issue with Maytag directors Henry and Lester Crown, even though he enjoyed a “special relationship” with them. How many people must have voted for Obama in horrified response to the exultant cry of John McCain and Sarah Palin: “Drill, baby, drill!” But in March 2010 Obama broke his campaign pledge and gave the go-ahead to offshore operations. The next month we had the BP Bluewater Horizen oil-rig explode in the Gulf of Mexico and spew out its oil.
Obama won trade union support by promising a new law to facilitate union organizing – the Employee Free Choice Act. He also said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to include stronger labour and environmental protections. We have heard nothing more of these things. Obama, we are told, does not want to look “pro-labour.”
Obama's drive to the Presidency, from promises so vague as to almost defy analysis, from its inception through its planning to its execution was known for its single-minded cynicism. He and his team touted for votes on the single word "Change". Things have indeed changed – just not for the better.
He left many Bush Administration policies intact; and even his healthcare reform that leaves the parasitic insurance companies in place and even presents them with opportunities for expansion. Obama conveys the impression that they are finally going to make proper healthcare available to everyone. But this turns out to mean only that everyone will have access to health insurance. You will still have to pay for it. Obama-care will make the health insurance companies introduce a wider variety of more affordable schemes. That may reduce the number of uninsured somewhat. But cheaper schemes are schemes with poorer coverage and/or higher co-pays and deductibles. (A co-pay is the part of a charge for services that is paid by the patient, not the insurance company. A deductible is the amount that the patient has to pay before the insurance company starts to make any contribution at all.) And still some people won’t be able to afford even the cheapest schemes on offer.
“I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised…I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world; I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military…"
Yet how can Obama be blamed for all those false expectations? The signs that Obama was more of a wolf in sheep’s clothing were there for all to see. Obama, for all his oozing liberal rhetoric and strong likeability factor, while an Illinois Democratic senator had always supported a free market system.
His views on foreign policy, for example, an area where the views of the “anti-war” candidate Obama were thought to differ sharply from the hawkish approach of Hillary Clinton (now his Secretary of State!), not to mention the belligerent policies of Bush and McCain. Obama made it perfectly clear in The Audacity of Hope that he would deploy US troops when necessary, because “like it or not, if we want to make American more secure, we are going to have to help make the world more secure”. Rather than rejecting Bush’s absurd and counter-productive “war on terrorism”, Obama wrote that “the challenge will involve putting boots on the ground in ungoverned hostile regions where terrorists thrive”. And lest the reader imagine that such military force would only be used in retaliation, Obama claims that “we have the right to take unilateral military action to eliminate an imminent threat to our security”. It is something of a mystery how Obama managed to convince so many that he was a foreign policy “dove” while at the same time publishing such views. It did not take long for the true Obama style of government, behind the media drivel, to assert itself. Only days after he had taken office, two American drone craft killed 22 people in Pakistan and it was announced that Obama had approved the transfer of 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan – later raised to 60,000. Tied down in the unpopular Afghan war, with his domestic woes rising and his political standing falling, Obama was desperate for a military success story, and hey presto, the killing of Osama Bin Laden served as a much needed propaganda tool to enhance the standing of the US military and, of course, himself in the eyes of the public. It and the continued use of drone attacks flies in the face of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him for ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’. Obama has delivered speeches around the world extolling the virtues of his policy of respect and tolerance for others. The contrast between words and deeds is plain to see for those who will take the trouble to look beyond the rhetoric. “Fine words butter no parsnips!” as they say.
As the front-man of Corporate America, and in recognition of how thinly stretched its forces are, Obama is presently speaking of friendship, trust, respect, tolerance and cooperation whilst at the same time clearly wielding the big stick of consequences should anyone fail to recognise or respect the US's manifest Divine Destiny. US foreign policy is not about furthering US interests to benefit its citizens it is about furthering US corporate interests to benefit its elite – very different from its publicly stated objective. To say that Obama came to “power” in the US is a misnomer, power is bedded within the “Corporate State” yet his electoral propaganda of “Change we can believe in”, his apparent charm and chalk and cheese difference from Bush has millions around the world believing that the universe is a better place for his being elected – it is no different. Despite the world economic crisis capitalism is not weakened, it can still fund its institutions and fulfil the fantasies of the elite, it can still fund its imperialist wars and it can still fund its formidable forces.
Obama called his book Audacity of Hope. We also dare to hope but our hope lies not in some charismatic, middle-of-the-road corporate state politician. Our hope lies in the set of principles that defines socialism and guides our vision of a future world. Our hope lies in our belief in basic human decency and our shared humanity. Change will come when enough people decide that enough is enough and when enough people have done enough of the right things. To bring real and lasting change for the benefit of all, the world needs socialism. Is that too audacious to hope for?
In regards to climate change and American policy, nothing there changed with Obama. He still bats for US capitalist industry, arguing for the continued use of coal and oil. US State envoy Todd Stern said that Obama had no plans to sign up to Kyoto, except possibly for offsets and a market-based trading system, ‘We're not going to do Kyoto, and we're not going to do something that's Kyoto with another name.’ The US gives no assurances but a bill Obama has said he supports (the Waxman-Markey bill) would give less than 5 percent CO2 reductions by 2020.
“The true engine of job creation will always be America’s businesses”, declared President Obama in last year's State of the Union message. But the aim of businesses is NOT to create jobs. That Is only incidental to their aim of making profits. Since profits arise out of the unpaid labour of those who actually provide wealth, making profits involves employing workers. In short, job creation is a by-product of profit-creation. When business is booming, i.e. when good profits are being made, more jobs are created. But it works both ways. When business is not booming then jobs are destroyed and unemployment grows, as has been happening. Obama went on “but government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.” This in fact is the economic role of governments under modern capitalism: to try to create and maintain conditions for businesses to expand, i.e. to make more profits from which to accumulate more capital. But can’t governments also “create jobs”? Yes. They can either directly by themselves taking on more workers or indirectly by increasing their spending on goods produced by businesses. This has eventually to be financed out of the wealth created in the business sector and so has its limits (if carried too far it reduces profit creation and so job creation too). In this sense government jobs are ultimately dependent on business activity. In the present crisis the US government has borrowed extensively to bail out the bankers. Sooner or later this borrowed money will have to be repaid. Given the limits as to how far taxes can be raised, this means the government cutting back on its spending. The current crisis has tarnished the image of capitalism but its defenders may help it live on by pinning all of the blame on financiers. Even Obama – whose presidential campaign had been generously funded by Wall Street – have had to make half-hearted statements about how “CEO greed is, umm, bad.”
Few of his thoughts are in harmony with the views of his left-wing supporters, who worked so hard to get him elected. People went from the naïve view that Bush is the root of all evil to the equally simplistic idea that Obama could uproot that evil. And now we have a sense of disillusionment due to the persistence of deep-rooted problems despite the election of Obama. Yet the idea that Obama has betrayed us is based on the initial illusion that he could rescue us from problems that are deeply rooted in capitalism itself. This notion, in turn, is no different from the superficial idea that those problems arose from Bush’s stupidity or mendacity.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the Democrats are a significantly lesser evil. In that case, helping them into office does ward off a greater evil. But only in the short term. For once in office, Democrats come under irresistible pressure from their capitalist masters to break their “populist” promises, to disappoint, disillusion and betray the working people who placed their trust and hope in them. Some sink back into apathy and despair, while others fall prey to a racist or fascist backlash. These reactions give the Republicans their chance to return. This is a recognizable political cycle. We have been through it before. Over and over again. Those who support the lesser evil play an essential role in constantly reproducing the cycle. They share the responsibility for its persistence. Support for the lesser evil entails support – indirect and delayed, but support nonetheless – for the greater evil. From this perspective, the differences between “greater” and “lesser” evils do not matter. Some capitalist politicians are totally subservient to the oil, gas, and coal corporations and recklessly oblivious to the looming danger. In their hands we are doomed. Other capitalist politicians are a little less subservient, show a limited awareness of the situation, and try to do something to mitigate it. Something, but much less than is absolutely essential. In their hands we are still doomed.
The Socialist Standard wrote at the time of Obama's election:
"If Obama apologists think President Obama will put a halt to the blood letting they are going to be sorely disappointed. Make no mistake; whilst the left are fond of castigating Republicans as the masters of war, the truth is that historically the Democrats have started far more wars than the GOP. More recently, under the last Democrat to hold office, President Clinton, one million Iraqis are said to have died under US enforced sanctions, 500, 000 of them children. Sorties over Iraq were flown every single day Clinton was in power. Yugoslavia was mercilessly bombed and a much needed pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was bombed on the pretext that it was manufacturing Chemical weapons, and villages in Afghanistan were flattened because Bin-Laden was presumed to be living there. And who could forget the US invasion of Somalia, with troops storming the beaches live on prime time TV!...Not only is Obama incapable of ushering in significant change, bar a few miserly reforms, but neither is there anyone he can bring to his administration capable of bringing the change that was so promised in his election campaign for no other reason that changers do not get confirmed by the Senate. There exist quite influential interest groups – the AIPAC, the military security complex, Wall Street etc to hinder the advancement of such undesirables The hope many have in Obama to implement policies that will benefit the class that matters is misplaced. His political rawness means he will be manipulated by more experienced advisers, little different from the neo-cons, maybe even key figures from the Bush administration, and pressured by a corporate elite who funded his victory to execute policies that fit in with their own agenda.
The outcome of US elections carries one truth: namely that whichever candidate becomes president, he has but one remit once in office – to further the interests of the US corporate elite.It’s just not a feasible option for any newly elected president to entertain any idea other than guaranteeing a safe playing field for the domestic profit machine and doing what’s needed to try to ensure the US maintains its global hegemonic status "
Despite evident disillusionment with Obama by the likes of Michael Moore, he and other urges people to work for change through the Democratic Party – a recipe for endless failure and frustration. While protesting that we are not being rewarded sufficiently in forging our chains, we then cooperate in putting the shackles to our own ankles by voting for latest slick marketing ploy coming from the mouth of the newest political product of Corporate State Inc. There has been no change!