Thursday, 18 March 2010

Brand Obama - A lack of Audacity.

Hurray for Hope.

Barack Obama has had a busy year, to say the least, and has faced many obstacles in his path as President. Whether or not he has passed those obstacles is another matter... His economic strategy has been deemed "socialist" by the Republican Party and their friends in the media. He has faced hostility, from "Corporate America", over his proposed health-care reform. But there is no doubt that he has many more obstacles to face over the next 3 years. When Obama took office this day one year ago, there was an atmosphere of optimism and anxiety that he would be gunned down before he could live up to his rhetoric. Though, the rhetoric Obama used in his campaign was deliberately vague and lacked substantive content, in fact it consisted mostly of "hurray words" like hope, change and unity. Noam Chomsky predicted that the Obama administration would recycle the policies of the last half of the Bush years, which were considerably moderate when compared to the first term. Unfortunately, it appears that has come true, despite the rampant red-baiting at Fox News, Obama has not deviated greatly from the platform set by Bush. As Gore Vidal pointed out "The shock of this administration will reverberate for a long, long time."

It should be noted that Obama's victory was not a landslide, which is frankly shocking after two disastrous terms with the Bush Administration. Despite the fact that Obama's campaign outspent the McCain-Palin campaign by about $300 million. Arguably, this is part of a consistent pattern in American politics in which the candidates who spend the most win the elections. On an interesting side-note, Obama's campaign was awarded for being the most successful marketing campaign of 2008. It is true that Obama received a large amount of small contributions from people, but the majority of funding came from the same corporate entities and lobbyists, some of which had also backed McCain. Citigroup Inc, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley funded McCain and Obama. Clearly, as the campaign progressed, more of them increased their contributions to the Obama-Biden campaign. Though, between John McCain and Barack Obama, it was obvious, as it is now, that Obama was the lesser evil out of the two. But John McCain and Sarah Palin probably would not have dared to pursue the extreme policies as the Bushites had pursued since 9/11.

During the year since Obama entered office, the US government has sent numerous drones over Pakistan, killing hundreds of civilians and bringing the "War on Terror" to another country. Over the same period of time, Obama has continued a steady flow of military aid to Israel and has condemned a
coup d'état in Honduras while covertly supporting it. For which Obama has been rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize, though time has yet to tell if he is destined to join the ignoble likes of Jimmy Carter, who supported Suharto's genocide in East Timor, and Henry Kissinger, who backed bombing campaigns that killed millions across Indochina. Hopefully, as Cornel West emphasised, the Nobel Peace Prize could function as a form of pressure on the Obama administration, as it is difficult to commit mass-murder with such an award on your shelf. At the same time, the Obama administration has furthered the series of bailouts, which the Bushites initiated, and have poured over $3 trillion dollars into private companies considered "too big to fail". The administration has recently taken advantage of the situation in Haiti, putting the country through "shock therapy" and making sure that debt will keep Haiti paralysed for future decades.

But should we have even expected any "change" from him? The answer to that question is unfortunately, "No". In his brief time as a senator, Barack Obama did not rock the boat, he voted to extend the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed universal health-care, supported the death penalty and the USA Patriot Act. Guantanamo Bay has yet to be closed and no member of the Bush administration is likely to face trial for war crimes any time soon. The National Security Agency, strengthened under Bush, is currently constructing a vast database, the size of Salt Lake City, which will hold as much information as possible on every American citizen. The information has been gathered from some very cooperative corporations. From such information as credit card details, internet searches, phone calls, emails, text messages and so on, the NSA are going to decide who is and who is not a "terrorist". If this isn't bad enough, there are rumours of a second Patriot Act, even more extreme than the last, in waiting for America's next disaster to provide justification to clamp down on civil liberties.

It's a Free County...

Prior to Obama's victory in late 2008, many attempts at vilifying him were made in the media. Typically, vilification came in the form of labelling him as a Muslim, a terrorist, a foreigner, an anti-American and eventually a socialist. The Right has stuck with the "socialist" label, since it is the most politically acceptable and one of the most misunderstood words in America. The label also lacks the potentially racist connotations of "foreigner", "terrorist" and "Muslim". Though, some on the Right, who are less concerned about provoking a negative reaction, are still sticking with the more controversial labels. The term "socialist" needs no detailed explanation, since 70-odd-years of anti-communist propaganda has already done all the explaining needed in America. Unlike the term "anti-American", which requires an explanation, because Americanism lacks a clear definition that could be used against Obama. Whereas, the term "socialist" carries the connotations of anti-Americanism and of having foreign origins, without being explicitly racial. Though, racism still lurks in the background of the populist critique of the Obama White House.

The financial crisis of 2008 has been viewed by some as an opportunity for the Left and has even been referred to as the "Death of Capitalism". But as Slavoj Žižek stressed in First as Tragedy, then as Farce, it is short sighted to look upon the recession as an opportunity for the Left to reassert itself. Unfortunately, in financial crises it is the Left that is usually hit hard and the Right that propels itself onwards with a mighty shield of populism. There will be no political liberation due to this recession, though there will be a rise of reactionary ideology. Racist populism, war and a rise in inequality may lie ahead. The reaction to those, hundreds of millions, currently in need of food aid has been one of protectionism. This was made clear by the cuts made to foreign aid, that would feed those in need in the Third World, to help pay for the bailouts. It was further demonstrated when the anti-protectionist aspects of Prime Minister Brown's speech were not applauded by American politicians. Though, this is not a surprising reaction from the governing class of the most protectionist country in the world.

It is Obama, not Bush, who is being vilified as a socialist for bailing out needy corporations. As a consequence, he will be remembered for the bailouts and for his socialist label. Though, the Democrats and the Republicans don't even represent Left and Right. The latter represents the far-Right and the former represents what could be referred to as the centre-Right (at best). This is what the Right is currently doing in America, working towards establishing another reactionary President, like Bush or Reagan, who will be succeeded by a President posing as a progressive or a moderate. It's almost like a cycle. The Left will inevitably lose out, since it is only represented in the US by politicians like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich. The Left has already been harmed by the Right's claims that giving the rich more money is a socialistic action. The fact that Americans can actually fall for this is a testament to the success of massive corporate propaganda since the days of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann. The Tea Party Movement only further confirms this success.

This methodical vilification of the Obama administration and their policies could potentially lay the foundation for a much more extreme administration to succeed Obama. These tactics are no different than those which were used against Clinton in the 1990s, which led to the anointment of one of the worst Presidents in American history. This would appear to be the only logic behind the populist, and borderline racist, attacks launched by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Rupert Murdoch's pundits at Fox News. Perhaps, these individuals have an administration in mind that is even more extreme than the Bush administration. Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to that just from examining their rhetoric. The Democrats have to be turned into a party of elitist liberals, secular progressives, socialists and generic anti-Americans, so that the Republicans can be turned into a populist reaction against that. Which could lead to the election of such an administration in the future.

Elephants in the Room.

As Bill Maher once said on his show "The Democrats have moved to the Right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital." Sadly, it is true that the Democrats are now as thoroughly right-wing and capitalist as the Republicans, though they were never that left-wing in the 20th Century. But at least, it produced politicians like the progressive George McGovern and Franklin D Roosevelt, who took the US towards social democracy, but the party also produced the likes of Bill Clinton, who killed 1 million Iraqis with his economic sanctions, and Harry Truman, who turned the US into a fully militarised republic and nuked Japan. The problem with the Obamaites is that they are not radical enough, they are still the subject of the corporate stranglehold on American politics and a conservative wing in their own party. It is as though Obama could do with taking a page out of Bush's book and ram his policies through, no matter what anyone thinks or says. The bipartisan approach, between two predominantly right-wing political parties, is doomed to fail when trying to resolve problems in the American health-care system. But this is just one elephant in the room.

There is, of course, the military industrial complex which has been out of control since the days of Harry Truman. But the biggest elephant of all in the room, is the notion that the political ideals - negative freedom and business-orientated individualism - of America may not be enough to deal with the problems the country now faces. Privatisation and liberalisation of the health-care system will only function to further strengthen the position of insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations, who are already very powerful and rich. Especially, as the US Supreme Court has passed a ruling on corporate funding of political campaigns - Citizen United v the Federal Election Commission. This isn't surprising as the Supreme Court is effectively a conservative institution, though reactionary is a much more appropriate term to describe the Court today. It is hardly conservative to further the transition from politician to prostitute. So it seems, the record breaking $700 million the Obamaites received will be broken at the election of 2012. It may even top $1 billion and then we can see the winning campaign team receive another marketing award.

Though, it is tragic that another politician of hope may fail to deliver on his rhetoric. Just as the war "Corporate America" has launched against universal health-care is hard to stomach, Obama's failures will to be hard to handle for many. It will be the young people who voted for him and participated in his campaign, who believed his rhetoric about "hope" and "change", who will be most affected by these failures. Not to mention, the 50 million uninsured Americans, the 1 out of every 4 insured Americans who will be denied care, that he has already failed. The Obama administration have had a year, they have accomplished little, and if they don't turn things around over the next year Obama could become another Jimmy Carter or worse, another Bill Clinton. It's unlikely the administration can fail and Obama will come out of it being idealised like John F Kennedy. It is true that the Obamaites have a lot to deal with, but they should act swiftly if they aim to resolve these very serious issues. But instead we find them bombing women and children in Pakistan and loaning money to Haiti, which probably won't be paid back for decades.

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