FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama Veers Right

by ALAN MAASS

Back in January, at one of the Democratic presidential candidates’ debates, Barack Obama took one of his few open shots at Hillary Clinton’s past as a shill for shady corporations. “While I was working [as a community organizer in Chicago]…watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas,” Obama said, “you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.”

It was a point that deserved to be made more often. Clinton’s remade campaign image as a populist fighting for the “little guy” was in stark contrast to her long history as a fixture of the Democratic Party establishment and defender of corporations like Wal-Mart.

But maybe Obama had his reasons for keeping quiet about the Beast of Bentonville.

With the nomination finally in hand, Obama announced he was adding a team of political advisers straight out of the pro-corporate, pro-military mainstream of Clintonism.

And to head his economic team, he chose Jason Furman–best known to labor activists for writing a 2005 article defending Wal-Mart as a “progressive success story” and denouncing the efforts of union-backed groups like Wal-Mart Watch to expose the retail giant.

Furman’s appointment was consistent with a series of right turns by Obama. The day after he claimed victory following the last Democratic primaries on June 3, Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he committed himself to an undivided Jerusalem, which isn’t even the position of the Bush administration. At a Father’s Day speech, he renewed his blame-the-victim criticisms of Black men as being responsible for the problems of the Black community.

Of course, it’s the common wisdom of Democratic Party leaders that their presidential candidate needs to move toward the “center” as a general election gets underway. But Obama–who did say, once upon a time, that he would be a different kind of Democrat–is seeming more and more like a car whose steering wheel is stuck in one direction: turning right.

Obama’s latest lurch came after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its 5-4 decision barring executions of those convicted of child rape. Obama criticized the ruling–which meant lining up with the right-wing extremist wing of the court: John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

On the issue of the death penalty, Obama likes to associate himself with the Illinois moratorium on executions declared by former Gov. George Ryan while Obama was still a state senator. At one Democratic debate, for instance, he talked about the “broken system” that “had sent 13 innocent men to death row.”

There is no reason to believe that the justice system is any less broken when it comes to crimes other than murder–and Obama knows it. But he and his advisers apparently thought it was more strategic to sign up with the absurd attack on the Supreme Court for committing “abuse of judicial authority,” in the words of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

* * *

THE CHOICE of Furman to lead his economic team underlines just how far Obama is from the progressive icon his supporters believe him to be.

Furman is a protégé of Robert Rubin, the Wall Street banker who shaped Clintonomics in the 1990s to serve the pro-business, neoliberal agenda.

In 2006, Furman was selected to head the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, a think tank founded by Rubin to press for free trade and balanced budget policies. On the advisory council of the Hamilton Project are Rubin and fellow Citigroup executives, as well as prominent hedge fund bosses like Eric Mindich of Eton Park Capital Management and Thomas Steyer of Farallon Capital.

Obama was the keynote speaker at the ceremony launching the Hamilton Project. He praised its leaders for their willingness to “experiment with policies that weren’t necessarily partisan or ideological.”

No one would confuse Furman with a radical. In a Washington Post op-ed last year, he argued for a decrease in the tax rate on corporations, provided loopholes in the tax code are closed. “We should consider,” he wrote, “tax reform in the classic 1986 mode”–that is, tax policy as defined under Ronald Reagan.

But Furman went above and beyond the call in a 2005 paper, titled “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story,” where he argued that the low-wage, no-benefit jobs created by the aggressively anti-union Wal-Mart were the price to pay so low-income Americans could have a place to buy goods at low prices.

As if the example set by Wal-Mart and emulated by other corporations wasn’t one of the main reasons why U.S. workers have to scramble to find bargain-basement prices. By Furman’s logic, every strike for better wages is a blow to the interests of the working class as a whole–and an injury to one must be a victory for all.

In a Slate.com debate about the tactics of groups organizing against Wal-Mart’s abuses of workers and customers alike, Furman clearly delighted in using the same smears against liberals employed by the likes of Karl Rove.

“The collateral damage from these efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits is way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing ‘Kum-Ba-Ya’ in the interests of progressive harmony,” Furman wrote.

* * *

FURMAN ISN’T the exception, but the rule on a team of economic advisers to Obama that comes from, as author Naomi Klein puts it, “the left side of a spectrum that stops at the center-right.”

For example, there’s Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago economics department–though he’s better known these days for having met with Canadian government officials to assure them that the Obama campaign’s previous anti-NAFTA rhetoric “should be viewed as more political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”

The UC economics department, of course, is notorious as the home of Milton Friedman and the high priests of neoliberalism and corporate globalization. Goolsbee comes from the Democratic wing of the department, but he still worships the free market, and expects the same of the presidential candidate he supports. “If you look at his platform, at his advisers, at his temperament,” Goolsbe said of Obama to one reporter, “the guy’s got a healthy respect for markets.”

As Klein pointed out in the Nation, the neoliberal dogmas of the “Chicago school” are increasingly discredited because of the damage they have caused–to the extent that “Friedman’s name is seen as a liability even at his own alma mater. So why has Obama chosen this moment, when all illusions of a consensus have dropped away, to go Chicago retro?”

The question is the answer. For all his talk about change, Obama is showing in such actions his commitment to an economic program that is acceptable to Wall Street and Corporate America.

ALAN MAASS is editor of the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALAN MAASS is the editor of the Socialist Worker and author of The Case for Socialism. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail