FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Great Expectations

Barack Obama’s victory marks a decisive generational and sociological shift in American politics. Its impact is difficult to predict at this stage, but the expectations of the majority of young people who propelled Obama to victory remain high. It may not have been a landslide, but the vote was large enough with the Democrats winning over 52% of the electorate (62.4 million voters) and planting a black family firmly in the White House.

The historic significance of this fact should not be underestimated.

It has happened in a country where the Ku Klux Klan once had millions of members who waged a campaign of deadly terror against black citizens with the support of a prejudiced legal system. How can one forget the photographs of African-Americans during the first three decades of the last century being lynched under the approving gaze of white families enjoying their picnics as they watched ? in Billie Holliday’s memorable voice ? “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”?

It was the mass struggles for civil rights in the 1960s that forced desegregation and the black voter registration campaigns, but also led to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (just as he was beginning to insist on the unity of blacks and whites against a system that oppressed both). It would be trite to remark that Obama is not one of their number. He is seen as such by the 96 per cent of Afro-Americans who spilled out of their homes to vote for him. They may yet be disappointed but for the moment they are rejoicing, and who can blame them.

It was barely two decades ago that Bill Clinton was warning his Democrat rival, the liberal governor of New York State, Mario Cuomo, that America was not yet ready to elect a president whose name ended with ‘o’ or ‘i’. It was only a few months ago that the Clintons were openly pandering to racism by repeatedly stressing that white working-class voters would decisively reject Obama and reminding Democrats that Jesse Jackson, too, had done well in past primaries. The new generation of voters proved them wrong: 66% of those between the ages of 18 and 29, comprising 18% of the electorate, voted for Obama; 52% of the 30-44 age group (37% of the electorate) did likewise.

The crisis of deregulated, free-market capitalism led to a surge of support for Obama in states hitherto regarded as Republican or white Democrat territory, accelerating the process that defeated Bush/Cheney and the neo-con gang. However the fact that McCain/Palin still obtained 55 million votes is a reminder of how strong the American right remains. The Clintons, Jo Biden, Nancy Pelosi and numerous other Democrat heavyweights will use this to pressure Obama to remain loyal to the script he used to win the election. But bland, feel-good slogans will not be enough to secure a second term. The crisis is far too advanced and the questions agitating most American citizens (as I discovered when I was there a few weeks ago) concern jobs, health (40 million citizens have no health insurance) and homes.

Rhetoric alone is insufficient to deal with the slump in the real economy: there is a trillion-dollar credit-card debt that could bring down other banking giants; the decline of the car industry will lead to large-scale unemployment. And there is the bail-out that has mortgaged future generations of Americans to Wall Street. The panic measures of the Bush administration designed and orchestrated by the banker’s friend and treasury secretary Paulson have privileged a few big banks that are being subsidised by public money.

The Democrats and Obama agreed to the deals and will find it difficult to draw back so that they can move forward on another front. The expanding crisis, however, might compel them to move in a different direction. Austerity measures always hurt the less privileged and how the new president and his team deals with this will determine their future.

It is an awful time to be elected president, but it is also a challenge, and Franklin Roosevelt accepted such a challenge in the 1930s by imposing a social-democratic regime of regulation, public works and an imaginative approach to popular culture. He was helped by the existence of a strong labour movement and the American left: the Reagan-Clinton-Bush years helped to destroy the legacy of the New Deal. It is a new economy, heavily dependent on global finance and a deindustrialised America.

Does Obama have the vision or the strength to turn this clock back and forward at the same time? In the realm of foreign policy, the Obama/Biden approach has not been too different from that of Bush or McCain. A New Deal for the rest of the world would require a rapid exit from Iraq and Afghanistan and no further adventures in these regions or elsewhere. Biden has virtually committed himself to a Balkanisation of Iraq, which now appears less likely since the rest of the country as well as Iran and Turkey are opposed, for different reasons, to the creation of an Israeli-American protectorate in Northern Iraq with permanent US bases. Obama would be best advised to announce a rapid and complete withdrawal. Apart from all else, the costs are now prohibitive.

And sending troops based in Iraq to Afghanistan would only recreate the mess elsewhere. As numerous British diplomatic, military and intelligence experts have warned, the war in South Asia is lost. Washington is certainly aware of this fact. Hence the panic-induced negotiations with the neo-Taliban. One can only hope that Obama’s foreign policy advisers will force a retreat on this front as well.

What of South America? Surely Obama should mimic Nixon’s trip to Beijing and fly to Havana, ending the economic and diplomatic embargo of Cuba. Even Colin Powell acknowledged that the regime had done a great deal for its people. It will be difficult for Obama to preach the virtues of the free-market, but the Cubans could certainly help him in establishing a proper healthcare system in the United States. This would be change that most Americans would be happy to believe in. Other lessons are also on offer from other South American countries that foresaw the crisis of neoliberal capitalism and began to restructure their economies over a decade ago.

If change means that nothing changes and all we have is imperialism with a human face, then those who have put Obama in the White House might decide after a few years have passed that a progressive party in the United States has become a necessity.

PS: Fate and history: The same day that Spain denied the son of Osama Bin Laden political asylum, Obama appointed the son of an Irgun terrorist as his Chief of Staff. Osama’s son declared that he did not agree with his father’s actions or opinions. Rahm Israel Emmanuel is an Israel-firster, a pro-war DLC hack and a bully. Not an auspicious start.

TARIQ ALI’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power’ is published by Scribner.

 

 

More articles by:

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail