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Many people regard Obama’s upcoming nomination for president as a sign that change is underway and that the nightmare of Bush and Cheney will be over beginning in late January 2009. New York Times columnist Frank Rich, for example, sees Obama’s emergence as a changing of the guard. Others have cited Obama’s campaign as indicative of millennials beginning to take the political stage. Millions are pleased that finally an African-American is going to be nominated by one of the two major parties and see this as in and of itself a step forward.
For the well-meaning people who are feeling this way, I have this question: How can the same Democratic Party, and the same specific individuals, who have co-operated in, permitted and/or legalized the Bush regime’s atrocities – including torture and war crimes – now tell us that the candidate that they endorse is the solution to the horrid things that this system and these individuals have themselves facilitated and colluded in?
This is like the offspring of the Alien mother in the movie Alien coming out not hellishly grotesque looking and drenched in saliva but instead a fuzzy Beagle puppy.
This is like George W. Bush delivering a poetic and surpassingly beautiful two-hour speech extemporaneously.
This is like a worm giving birth to a full-grown whale.
* * *
If Obama really was a solution, why has a White House in open defiance of the law been allowed to go on for eight years unsupervised, unrestricted and unsanctioned?
If Obama really was a solution, then why have been told to wait while more than a million Iraqis and tens of thousands of Americans are tragically dead (thousands of Americans killed in action plus eighteen per day committing suicide) in a war based on lies, with no penalty for the perpetrators of these war crimes whatsoever?
If Obama or McCain really were a solution, then why have they personally stood by while innocent people have been tortured and habeas corpus was abrogated? Since when has morality and justice depended upon whether you have the votes to stop a horrid bill? That’s what a filibuster is for. Had either Obama or McCain done anything to stop any of the White House’s crimes for the last eight years, would there be a need for the change that Obama and McCain say we should vote for them to carry out?
If Obama really were a solution, then why should we expect him to have an awakening upon taking office if he’s been slumbering, morally and legally, all of these years?
If Obama really were a solution, and did have such an awakening in the White House, why would the same system and same individuals who cooperated all these years with the monsters running our country let Obama do an about-face in the White House?
If elections really were a solution, then why hasn’t the Democratic majority in Congress, ended the war, the torture, and the massive, warrantless surveillance over all of us and impeached the sorry excuses for human beings in the White House? Pelosi and Reid claim that they haven’t had the votes to stop the war. Nancy and Harry: that’s what your leadership posts are for. You don’t need the votes. All you have to do is block the funding bills from coming out of committee. If you don’t like the telecommunications amnesty bill or the spy-on-all-Americans bills, then all you have to do is keep the bills from coming up for a vote. You can kill these bills in the same way you’ve been killing the impeachment resolutions against Cheney and Bush. But then, Nancy and Harry already know this.
If elections really were a solution to these towering, world-historic crimes, how can it be so simple to fix these horrors as pushing a button and electing a new president and vice-president?
Why aren’t real collective efforts and civil resistance by the American people needed in a time when both major parties and the mass media have betrayed the people, when lie after lie after lie pass without comment, the liars caught red-handed are excused, when unjust wars and unspeakable practices are routine, when reason and science themselves are under attack, and when the country is in more danger than the conditions that sparked the American revolution and when the fate of the planet hangs in the balance?
* * *
Many people think that because Obama is black that his nomination by one of the two major political parties means that something extraordinary has happened.
It is extraordinary that in a country with a long history of white supremacy that finally there will be a presidential nominee who is black.
But what’s most extraordinary here isn’t his coming nomination.
What’s most extraordinary are the circumstances giving rise to his nomination.
The Bush regime has been spearheading an extraordinary rupture from the norm, de jure and de facto, much of it in the shadows, but increasingly in the open, and the majority of people of this country are deeply disturbed by it.
This is in spite of the fact that only a fraction of the people are aware of the magnitude of this rupture because the mass media and the Democratic Party have been actively minimizing and/or concealing this.
In addition, all too many Americans are “opting out” of taking responsibility for the barbaric acts being committed in our names because they themselves are anesthetized by their material comforts.
The rupture’s dimensions, nonetheless, are so far-reaching that it is impossible for this country’s leadership class to conceal entirely the jagged rips and tears going on.
The distress among the people has not been openly expressed enough – far from it – but the dismay, frustration and anger, even based on very partial and incomplete knowledge of what’s going on, are evident just beneath the surface.
It has not only been apparent in the polls that show this presidency to be the most unpopular since polling began; it is also evident around the water cooler, on the neighborhood stoop, at the coffee shop, in the classroom and baseball park, everywhere you go, in people expressing worry, concern, desperation, grief, and among tens of millions, fury.
You especially hear it if you say something – or display something – that opens up the conversation to them and that shows people that you feel strongly about it.
Then it comes pouring out from folks.
They say: I feel the same way! I can’t believe they’re still in office. I can’t believe they’ve been getting away with it all! What’s wrong with America? What’s wrong with all of us? What can I do?
Some say: I wish I could do something that would really matter.
Some say: I did something. I marched. I wrote letters. I voted. But it’s still all going on.
Others, and sometimes the same people that said the preceding, also say: I can’t do anything. It’s too big. Why aren’t other people doing something?
And some say, indeed, millions say: Maybe a new president will change things. Bush and Cheney will be gone soon. Hopefully, things will change.
* * *
We don’t need hope based on wishful thinking.
We need hope based on cold, hard facts and cold, clear-eyed realism.
We need hope based on an understanding of how this system actually works and how political power is actually exercised.
People have to get over naïve ways of seeing the world.
Just because he’s black, he’s going to change things?
Just because he’s smart and Bush is stupid? Just because he’s hipper than Dick Cheney and flatfooted George Bush? Just because he can write books and Bush needs a coloring book entitled The Presidency for Dummies?
Is this – true though these things are – what ultimately, decisively, matters?
If you think so, think again, because so much is at stake.
The whole world is at stake.
It’s at stake now and over the next several months, before the November 2008 election.
* * *
We’re talking here about who’s going to lead the sole remaining imperialist superpower. We’re talking about the head of state of the most powerful country in a world in which the richest 451 individuals have more wealth than the bottom half – more than 3 billion people – of the world’s population combined. We’re talking about the president of an empire that spans the globe and that has over 700 military bases abroad. We’re talking about the commander and chief of a country that spends more on its military than all of the other countries in the world combined. We’re talking about an immense bureaucracy that rests upon and exists to protect and expand that empire. We’re talking about a campaign for president that has lasted over fifteen months to date and that has required a quarter million dollars per day per candidate to be sustained.
Thinking Outside the Ballot Box
Some people will allow what I have said in the preceding but then say: so you’re saying we should elect McCain?
People have to get outside the suffocating confines of electoral politics and see that real political power isn’t exercised based on it and public policy isn’t made by their votes.
In 1964 the Democratic candidate, Lyndon Johnson, ran against the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater. Johnson defeated Goldwater in a landslide, propelled in particular by the widespread belief that the GOP candidate was a warmonger and that the Democratic candidate would keep us out of war. That time, a mushroom cloud threat was also invoked, against the GOP candidate.
What did LBJ, the peace candidate, then proceed to do? Escalate inexorably the war in Vietnam, leading to the deaths of some 2,000,000 Indochinese and over 50,000 Americans. He did this even though, according to historians, he didn’t even like the idea or believe that it would ultimately work. But he was hemmed in by the institutional forces around him and by what the military told him.
Why would today’s “peace candidate” Obama be any different? Because he’s black? Because he’s smart?
Many people want to believe Obama when he says that he’s against the Iraq war. They want to believe that voting for him will restore sanity in Washington. But people need to pay closer attention to what Obama is actually saying and to what he has done as a Senator.
Some people hope that in spite of words of Obama’s that worry them, he’s really a stealth candidate.
Obama’s a stealth candidate all right, except that he’s a stealth candidate for a wing of this country’s leadership class. His political views are carefully crafted, canny, and consistent. Like John Kerry, Obama’s differences with Bush and Cheney are over execution, not goals.
Obama claims, as did Kerry, that he can do a better job than the current White House of accomplishing the same ends and that what is wrong with Bush and Cheney isn’t that they have been waging wars (of conquest and domination) but that they’ve been carrying them out poorly. “I’m not opposed to all wars,” Obama said in October 2002 about the Iraq war, “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.”
Obama took the same line on the Military Commissions Act. He should have characterized the very idea of legalizing torture as monstrous and the elimination of habeas corpus – a right that dates from the Magna Carta, almost 900 hundred years ago – as unthinkable and he should have blocked its passage by filibuster, a step that the New York Times called for: “If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.” Instead, Obama merely voted against it, allowing it to pass, and objected to the MCA in his remarks as “sloppy.”
On July 27, 2004, while running for the Senate, Obama said about Iraq: "There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute." The Chicago Tribune went on to say that Obama, "now believes US forces must remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation, a policy not dissimilar to the current approach of the Bush administration."
While Obama has since this promised to draw down troops from Iraq, as one of Obama’s former policy advisers, Samantha Power, said in April 2008, “Obama would weigh security conditions in Iraq in implementing a withdrawal. She told a BBC interviewer Obama ‘will of course not rely upon some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or U.S. senator,’ and he would take into account the advice of generals on the ground.’”
Not “rely on some plan he’s crafted as a presidential candidate.”
As the New York Times reported on May 16, 2008: “Mr. Obama has likened his foreign policy approach to that of the so-called pragmatists in the administration of the first President George Bush… ‘I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush,’ he said. ‘I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm.’”
Obama openly admires Ronald Reagan for bringing us together:
“Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path … I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating…. Ronald Reagan was a very successful president, even though I did not agree with him on many issues, partly because at the end of his presidency, people, I think, said, ‘You know what? We can regain our greatness. Individual responsibility and personal responsibility are important.’ And they transformed the culture and not simply promoted one or two particular issues.”
The “excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” included the civil rights movement, without which a black man, such as Barack Obama, wouldn’t have had a chance to run for the US Senate and now have a chance to become the President. It included the women’s movement, without which Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have had a chance at the presidency. It included the anti-war movement, without which – and the other “excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” – this author would likely not have been able to imagine the idea that there is an alternative to this hellish nightmare and type these words.
Obama wants to restore “American power and influence” by which he means pursuing the Empire’s interests, including waging unjust and illegal wars on other countries. As a very sharp and recent indication of this, right after securing the nomination he spoke to AIPAC and dramatically adopted the entirety of the fraudulent rationale being offered by the Bush gang for a war on Iran, telling them, in off-the-text remarks: "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything."
Obama opposes impeachment. On June 28, 2007 he said: “I think you reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches of the President’s authority.”
When Obama was asked about holding the Bush gang responsible for torture – certainly a “grave, grave breach” if there ever was one – on the very day that Bush finally admitted that he had approved waterboarding – i.e., torture – of a detainee, Obama said this:
“[O]ne of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances.”
Thus, according to Obama, what’s wrong with torture isn’t that it’s barbaric and against the law, and on top of which, as any intelligence officer and anyone who has survived torture will tell you, it doesn’t work in getting you good information. What’s wrong with torture, according to the man who wants to be our president, is that it’s “dumb.”
As I wrote in my blog: “What country has Obama been living in? What presidential actions has he been following? What is more grave a breach of authority than torturing people and making this policy? Launching an immoral, illegal, unjust war based on lies? Refusing Congressional subpoenas, issuing hundreds of signing statements that negate Congressional acts, spying on hundreds of millions of Americans without warrant and without cause? Savaging FEMA, undermining New Orleans’ levee system by slashing funds for repairs, allowing private interests to destroy necessary marshlands that are natural protectors against storms, allowing a fabled and storied city to be ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and not coming to people’s aid in a timely fashion, then lying about what you did and knew? Military threats based on lies against Iran? Censoring science, breaching the Church/State divide? What more do you need?”
Yesterday’s GOP vs. Today’s GOP
The choice the two major parties are offering us is between the proto-fascist GOP candidate or the GOP-lite, late 1980s, early 1990s, GOP president. The choice on the ballot says “Democrat” v. “Republican.” But the choice is between present-day GOP v. latter-day GOP. This is what this system, left to itself, is giving us.
That’s all this system, left to itself, is capable of giving us.
You can either go back to the old, old model – McCain, who is old in more than one way – or you can have the slightly less old model, in brand new packaging.
The whole question of Obama or McCain, Ron Paul or Obama/McCain or even Nader or Obama, misses the main point.
All too many people are wrapped up debating whether there are enough lifeboats on the Titanic while the Titanic hurtles towards an immense iceberg visible to the naked eye. One candidate/captain is offering us a few more lifeboats. That’s the difference. Both candidates are, moreover, telling us that that iceberg is Iran and the ship is strong enough to slice into that iceberg, so we’re headed straight for it.
The point isn’t who gets elected. What happens in the next four to eight years isn’t going to be principally determined by who is in the White House.
If there is anything else to come from the horrors that have come to characterize Washington, a mass movement among the people that is independent of the plans of both major parties and that drastically alters the overall political atmosphere must arise.
If the social and political atmosphere is changed, then who is in the White House actually doesn’t matter very much. It would, in fact, be better to have a mass movement in the society and in the streets and a Republican in the White House than a Democrat in the White House and no mass movement. I’m not advocating that McCain be elected. I’m pointing out that what really matters here is whether or not there’s a mass movement of the people, independent of electoral campaigns and electoral politics.
Some people say, well, then, the situation’s hopeless because there aren’t going to be millions doing that.
Well, why not?
IF a black man can get the Democratic Party nomination for president because he’s skillful at parlaying the thirst of tens of millions for a “change” from that brought to us by the government,
IF there is enough of a groundswell of desire for something so different that the powers-that-be had to put forward and actively and intensively promote a black man this time for the first time in history in order to divert people’s attention from the fact that Bush and Cheney are still in office and their policies are still being carried out and getting more extreme by the day,
IF they had to start the presidential race much earlier than ever in order to distract people from that fact,
IF there is that much dissatisfaction that even in the Party of the Plutocrats that the “maverick” GOP candidate got the nomination,
IF, for the first time in history, not only a black man but a woman stood a chance of becoming a major party presidential candidate because “change” is so much the desire for a majority of Americans,
IF this government is on the verge of yet another invasion of another country – Iran – and the possibility of a convulsive, possibly apocalyptic, storm that rebounds from the Middle East to the U.S. to Pakistan and beyond is staring us pointblank in the face,
THEN why can’t something else emerge from this than a recycling of the same old monstrousness?
If tens upon tens of millions of people are going to vote and millions are contributing money and time and energy to back their favored candidate, in other words, crossing their fingers, hoping that this will make a difference, that their votes will be counted this time and not be stolen like the last two presidential elections, then why can’t three or four million do something that will make a difference?
In the 1960s, as Henry Kissinger, who served under Nixon, said in his memoirs, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) exercised influence far exceeding its actual (and relatively small) numbers because there was a credibility gap: most of America didn’t believe what the government was saying. LBJ would say something in a national address and most people would say: he’s lying. Nixon would say something in a national address and most people would say: he’s lying.
It’s deeply immoral for the Democratic Party and the mass media to countenance torture and “pre-emptive” wars based on fraudulent premises. Obama and Pelosi and McCain are fully aware of this. They want us to follow their lead and get us to act as if this isn’t the present reality – that we should ignore their collusion in crimes against humanity and support them as fellow colluders.
That is what these elections are really about: herding people into supporting crimes against humanity and declaring that it’s the people’s will.
Is that what you want? Is that the kind of person you are? Is this the legacy we want for our children and future generations – that we stood by and let tyrants and monsters ravage the planet?
Even if you now think that Obama should be “given some slack” for what he’s saying, do you think it is proper to put your faith in one person and faith in the same party that has betrayed us all? Even if you plan to vote for him, do you think that simply voting discharges your responsibility to protest, everyday from now until it is no longer necessary, the moral outrages being committed by our government?
The Moral High Ground
Why can’t a relatively small group of people take the moral high ground and by so doing, spark the actions of much larger numbers of people, beginning at this point, in relatively small numbers and then growing on the basis of their stand, determination, the facts and the truth – so outstandingly lacking from the other side – into eventually much larger numbers, thereby creating a similar situation to that which was so distressing and worrisome to Kissinger?
Why can’t 1% of the people, beginning from a much smaller number now, but spreading, wear or display orange daily to show their solidarity with those being tortured in our names, and as a public statement of their repudiation of our government’s policies? Why can’t and why shouldn’t people be giving their money and/or their time to groups such as World Can’t Wait that seek to hold torturers such as John Yoo and the Bush gang accountable, to expose military recruiters for their lies to young people, and to build mass mobilization against both the war on Iraq and the pending war on Iran?
If this happens, if a movement of a few million, representing the desires of the majority, comes into being, then anything and everything is possible.
If such a movement does not materialize, then nothing but terrors await.
Ask yourself: what is the moral – and realistic – choice to be made here? Has closing one’s eyes to truths too terrible to tolerate ever led to a good outcome? Hasn’t such a strategy always resulted in people being engulfed in horrors beyond their imagination?
Every single person who reads this and who steps forward does so in the name of millions of others and creates the conditions for many, many others to step forward.
Don’t we as individuals have a personal responsibility to take a stand against grave injustice and not pass that responsibility on to others to take care of it for us? The people who many people think are supposed to take care of things are obviously not doing it.
So what are you waiting for? Yes, you.
DENNIS LOO is an associate professor of Sociology at Cal-Poly Pomona. He is the co-author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney. He can be reached at http://dennisloo.blogspot.com.