"Change we can believe in."
"Yes we can!"
"Change the world."
For hundreds of millions of people, the slogans of the Obama campaign are not the focus-group tested products of marketing gurus and professional campaign strategists. They’re not empty words printed on cheap plastic yard signs, on banners, or on the podium from which Obama speaks.
To them, these slogans and Obama’s candidacy are what the 2008 elections are all about. Somewhere around 85 percent of the country thinks things are going in the wrong direction. It’s gotten so bad that even Black Republicans are thinking of voting for Obama.
The question is: will Obama deliver?
Of course, electing a black man to the throne of the American empire would make history, given that America is the land of the free and the home of the slave. But the millions, especially in the black community, who look to Obama for change don’t simply want a black man in the White House. They want real, substantial change. Health care coverage for all. Reform of the criminal justice system and out-of-control police brutality both of which have devastated black and hispanic communities. Debt relief for homeowners. Halting the three decade decline in working-class living standards and the skyrocketing price of food and energy. Fixing the dysfunctional two-party system. Steps to finally overcome centuries of racism. An end to the war in Iraq.
That’s a tall order for one man to live up to. Unfortunately, I don’t think Obama has any intention of delivering on these lofty goals.
For example, take his position on Iraq. According to conventional wisdom he is the candidate who will get U.S. troops out of there, as opposed to old man McCain who is more than happy to keep them there for 100 years. But Samantha Power, one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers (who resigned after she called Hillary Clinton a "monster"), made it clear that Obama has no intention of being bound by anything he says on the campaign trail.
Obama’s criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a similar case of mendacity. Behind the scenes one of his advisers told Canadian officials "not to be worried about what Obama says about NAFTA." Translation: don’t worry, Obama is just telling voters what they want to hear. Given the free-market ideologues he has surrounded himself with, lying about NAFTA shouldn’t be a surprise.
However, I don’t think Obama is a bad person, that his lying is some kind of personal flaw, or that it’s a compulsion that he has no control over (as it seems to be for President Bush).
Rather, it’s because Obama has made a series of political choices, the cumulative effect of which is real change we can believe in because we can see it before our very eyes. He might have set out to change the system, to change the way politics is done in this country, but it is the political system that has changed him.
The first and foremost example of this has been the way he threw his pastor of two decades under his campaign bus. The thought police – er, I mean the corporate media – focused with laser-like intensity on Reverend Wright’s suggestion that AIDS was the product of a government conspiracy to rid the country of blacks (as if AIDS only infected them). They exploited this remark to villify Wright and distract people from the content of what he said about U.S. foreign policy. When he spoke up in his own defense, Obama severed all ties to him, proving without a doubt that Obama is indeed a conventional politician. As Wright himself put it, "politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls."
The corporate media forced Obama to choose between his pastor and a shot at the presidency, between principles and power. After some hesitiation, Obama chose the latter.
Obama faced the same choice on the issue of Israel and Palestine. He could either continue saying "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," or he could stop worrying about them and learn to love Israel for ensuring American dominance of the Middle East. (One Major General said Israel is worth "5 CIAs" and that it would cost $125 billion a year to maintain an American force in the region the size of Israel’s, making the $5 billion a year the U.S. gives to Israel every year an amazing bargain).
The day after clinching the Democratic Party nomination, Obama told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel, i.e. that the Palestinians had no claim whatsoever over the Holy City. That put him to the right of Bush and the Israeli government, both of whom pay lip service to Palestinian aspirations and say that the city’s final status is subject to "future negotiations." He said he would do "everything" in his power to defend Israel. Over time Obama chose the Israeli Goliath over the Palestinian David.
Apparently he didn’t see the irony of the first black President-to-be calling for Jerusalem to be a Jews only city and pledging to preserve Israeli apartheid by any means necessary. Malcolm X had a term for politicians like Obama. Hint: it wasn’t field negro.
People may not want to hear it, but "change we can believe in" is a lie almost as big as Iraq’s WMD or Saddam Hussein’s connection to Al-Qaeda.
If Obama represents some kind of watershed or fundamental break with the past, why is his panel of foreign policy advisers dominated by officials from the Clinton administration? If Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the woman who said killing half a million Iraqi kids through sanctions was "worth it," is giving Obama foreign policy advice, how many Iraqi and American lives will be "worth it" because he refuses to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq? If he represents such a dramatic break with Bush’s policies, why is he open to keeping Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Pentagon? Is it because Gates is secretly a big fan of Cindy Sheehan, or is it because Obama and Gates want to mend, not end, the occupation of Iraq and American domination of the oil-rich Middle East?
Even Obama’s call for ethanol to replace gasoline as a fuel source is disingenuous. He opposes importing Brazilian ethanol derived from sugar which is cheaper, cleaner, and produces more energy than the domestically produced ethanol derived from corn. Why? Could it be because Archer Daniels Midland and other American agribusiness corporations that produce corn ethanol have close financial and personal ties to his campaign and his advisers?
Like McCain, Hillary Clinton, and every politician on both side of the aisle, his positions on every issue are heavily conditioned by what big business is willing to tolerate. That doesn’t mean he won’t talk a good game on the campaign trail and ride the intense desire for change that’s gripped the country all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, it does mean that progressives (or The Left, if you prefer) need to wake up and take advantage of the rising expectations generated by Obama’s campaign. Both the hunger for real change and the elite’s determination to block it have never been greater.