Obama is wiping up the map with Hilary. In the last week the Democrat presidential hopeful swept 8 primaries and passed her with the largest number of committed delegates. The excitement around his campaign is astounding in a country that has made electoral abstention a national pastime. His figures for fundraising are out of this world, with well over 400,000 people contributing to his campaign since January 1.
“If the Obama campaign can maintain this fundraising pace -- online donations poured in at the rate of more than $500,000 an hour after his overwhelming victory in South Carolina -- it's likely that Obama will raise upwards of $30 million online this month.”
And people are coming out to see him speak in droves. At the University of Maryland on the weekend, some 17,000 people – heavily youth – came out to a boisterous rally.
Why’s everybody going crazy for Barack Obama?
Well, for one thing he voted against the war in Iraq. And for another, he still opposes the war on Iraq. He also manages to mention the 4 million Iraqi refugees displaced by the US war on that country.
He talks about universal healthcare in a country where 47 million people, including 9 million children have no insurance coverage. It’s true his solution leaves untouched the insurance corporations. But it’s something, and people are desperate.
On the economy he’s talking about tax cuts for middle and low-income earners while reversing tax cuts for the rich. And he’s moderately pro-union, wanting to make it easier for workers to organize into unions and illegal for employers to hire permanent scabs.
Better than a kick in the head, for sure, but it’s hardly radical stuff and he’s hardly a radical guy. In fact, he’s not very good on any number of issues, including Iran, against which he has refused to rule out a military strike though to be fair he has since backed off on that and talked up diplomacy. And he’s a whole-hog supporter of Israel in its war against the Palestinians (and Lebanon and…). But after eight years of Bush, it's like mana from heaven.
And there’s another element – he’s black. This is a nation built on the backs of African slaves. This is the nation of the KKK, segregation and the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is the nation of Rodney King and the post-Katrina ethnic cleansing of New Orleans.
Does it matter to us up here in Canada?
If there’s an increase in anti-war rhetoric and a momentum behind Obama as the “anti-war candidate”, there is no way that this won’t hurt the Tories who are the Canadian branch of the Neo-Conservative Loony Society.
Harper has toed the Bush line more than Bush himself. He is a unilateralist war monger. He's done everything he could to scuttle Kyoto - and any meaningful climate action. The Tories have tried to undermine abortion rights and roll back gay marriage.
A wave of support for someone who's reputation is for progressive change - even if it outstrips his actual politics - will be a powerful counter-example of a continental shift and that will hurt Harper. It will also give confidence to the ever-opportunist Liberals that the way to victory is by campaigning on a progressive platform.
In any case, I think it may be too late for the Tories – because of the economy, because of the war, because of Obama. But I’m a notorious optimist.
In the here and now, if I were in the USA would I vote for Obama? Would I work on his campaign?
Wow, that’s tough. Here’s what I know: the Democrats are the second-wing of America’s two party capitalist dictatorship – not to put too fine a point on it. They are owned lock, stock and barrel by the corporations who contribute most of the party’s cash. They are the party of slavery, segregation, Vietnam, war in the Balkans, the bombing of Iraq and Sudan, the doubling of the prison population, etc etc. They are a vile corrupt machine.
But if they are drawing in masses upon masses of anti-war youth on the campuses and politicizing them, it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity and stand on the sidelines. Just telling people – “the Democrats won’t change anything” – isn’t sufficient. The only serious question that I can see in this is: is it possible to use the Obama campaign to deepen anti-war and anti-corporate organizing on the campuses and in the communities? Because regardless of Obama’s sincerity, there will be no change, including no phased withdrawal of troops, unless there’s mobilizing on the streets, campuses and communities. That’s a question that activists in the USA will have to ask and answer themselves.
What I do know is that if the Republicans are defeated by a young, black man known as an opponent of the war in Iraq, it will be electric. And I want to see it happen.