Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama: Change We Can Almost Believe In

Every newspaper, every TV station, every blogger, hell almost every person on the planet, was eyeballing the inaugural proceedings in "Rome" today. Obama is in and Bush is out. To have replaced that reactionary, cretinous hypocritical bastard Bush with a black man who grew up without the privileges of wealth that Dubya enjoyed - well, that was a pretty sweet sight.
And, as a black man in a nation built upon black slavery and vicious racism, Obama has an unassailable authority (at present) to be the bearer of his slogan calling for "Change we can believe in". He is intelligent and articulate and has an uncanny ability to engage with the concerns that Americans face.
Okay, all that said: let's face it, he's not that radical. In fact, he's a centre right Democrat. He wants to increase troops to Afghanistan by tens of thousands, an act that would surely destabilize Pakistan further, possibly facilitating its collapse.
Obama wants to bail out the rapidly sinking economy - but let's be clear: he's talking about throwing cash at the market in order to refloat it. Sure, there'll be some new regulations to try and keep it on the rails - but for all the tax dollars that have already been thrown at the banks and the corporations and the hundreds of billions more to come, don't expect to see the government taking any serious control in order to ensure any kind of democratic accountability. 
The state intervention that Obama is supporting - that almost all of the economic elites are supporting, many much more radically so than Obama's team - is still really just neo-liberalism by another name. Look for bailouts to include significant wage concessions from important groups of workers, like those in the auto industry. For the heads of the banks, there will be reduced bonuses this year - for auto workers, there will be cuts to health benefits, pensions, working conditions and living expenses.
And back to foreign policy, no one should forget his silence as Israel pounded the hell out of Gaza. It may be a step up from the usual "go get 'em, Israel" chorus but not by much. And his ultra-zionist chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, (whose father was a terrorist with the far right Irgun) will, I'm sure, make certain that silence will be as good as it gets in this department.
Obama has stacked his cabinet with dinosaurs and right wingers, including Republicans. He even chose a kooky, powerful, homophobic evangelist, Rick Warren, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
There is no doubt that Obama rode to the White House on a wave of unbridled enthusiasm and hope. You could see it in the eyes of some of the million plus that turned out for his inauguration today in Washington. People literally wept with joy, unable to believe that a black man was in the White House,  just over 45 years after the Voting Rights Act. That excitement, newfound confidence and enthusiasm could be the basis for a mighty social movement that pushes Obama beyond where his ossified cabinet would have him go. It could translate into local victories for union, anti-racist, gay rights and pro-choice struggles. It could turn the tide against the Right, who have been ascendent for too long. But to do so, that energy must not be tied to the agenda of Obama's White House. 
It wasn't Obama who created the mood in America against the war in Iraq - he responded to it. It wasn't Obama who was behind the growing sentiment that corporations and banks were screwing ordinary people. He spoke to a feeling that already existed. Obama has taken those sentiments up an incredible step to the highest post in the land. The movement that put him there must seize the opportunity that he has created to push for even more, to demand that the whole dream be fulfilled.

3 comments :

Beijing York said...

Excellent commentary. I don't want to take away from the general joy felt by the symbolic moment of seeing "a black man who grew up without the privileges of wealth" being crowned President of the USA. Those among the millions in attendance who wept really felt that Obama's inauguration was a long time coming and healed many wounds.

But then there is his actual implied policy (that he managed to deflect during his campaign) that is becoming more explicit with the appointment of his entourage. Very worrisome. The questions I ask myself: Can he be worse than Bill Clinton? Can he reverse the damage done by Bush? Can he rise above slogans and provide some substance?

DJN said...

Great post.

I missed his address on TV but read the transcript later. Maybe watching it on TV was so incredible that a different mood translated, but after reading the transcript, I saw a lot of the same old - and considering the size and mood of the audience, it's worth knowing what he actually said:

"Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." - thanks for that line, Dubya!

"Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age." - OUR COLLECTIVE FAILURE TO MAKE HARD CHOICES? What the fuck? Hard choices like whether you should feed your kids or get gas in the car to go to work?

"...and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries..." - Damn Ay-rabs.

"Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less." - like when we abolished slavery in 1776. Or when we finally abolished slavery in 1865 and solved institutionalized racism.

"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh." - Khe Sanh? Really? At least the first two wars were revolutionary wars of liberation. The third at least defeated the Nazis.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." - But not Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, hmmm who else?.

"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy." - And that's why I, Barack Obama, am now calling for the revolutionary democratic overthrow of the Middle Eastern dictatorships that the US government has funded and supported until now.

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." - Hey Karzai, I'm talking to you. We can still work things out, right?

But still quite good by bourgeois standards.

redbedhead said...

Yeah, it is going to be a real battle for the meaning of the Obama victory. For the Obama entourage and the New York Times liberals, like Thomas Friedman, it will mean a rejuvenated American empire, the credibility of its supposed meritocracy restored by the ascension of the descendants of slaves (well, not really, his father was an African by birth but you get what I mean).
On the other side, there will be those at the base and in the movements who have interpreted his win to mean "another world is possible".
The fight for interpretation will determine the results of all sorts of other struggles. That's why Counterpunch's Alexander Cockburn is one-sided to just view it from the negative, as has been typical of a certain segment of the left. Though, it does make pleasurable reading and there is truth when he says:
"It was always odd to listen to liberals and leftists howling about Bush’s poor showing, how he’d reduced America’s standing in the family of nations. Did the Goths fret at the manifest weakness of the Emperor Honorius and lament the lack of a robust or intelligent Roman commander?"

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