Many progressive commentators have observed that Barak Obama’s rhetoric and supporters seem quite progressive, but his policies and record are much less so. Responding to Obama’s speech last week on race in America, Steven Pitts in The Black Commentator observes that

the power of a speech lies not its words nor its deliverer. The power of a speech lies in the strength of the movement that inspires the speech and is inspired by the speech. Without such a movement, the spoken words are like the sound of a tree falling in a forest when no one is around. The challenge for Black progressives (and all progressives) [is] to use this moment and the incredible energy unleashed by the Obama candidacy to build a movement for social change that will make a lasting mark on U.S. society.

Similarly, addressing Obama’s record on the war, Joshua Frank in Dissident Voice notes that the Republican establishment deems Obama a serious threat because of his grassroots support, not his [purported] “antiwar views.” "Simply put: Obama is not antiwar but his following seems to be." The World Socialist Web Site notes that Obama has vowed not to reduce the US military budget but rather to increase it; he has called for recruiting more soldiers for the Army as well as more Marines; and he has pledged to keep American forces in Iraq to defend ‘US interests’ and conduct ‘counterterrorism operations,’ a formula that would see tens of thousands of US soldiers and Marines continuing to occupy Iraq and repress its population for many years to come.” On other economic issues, Ethel Long-Scott observes that although Obama’s March 18th speech was moving,

it did nothing to unravel the central contradiction of Mr. Obama’s candidacy. That contradiction is rooted in the fact that America has always needed a class of workers who are kept downtrodden and in poverty to make its economy work. That is a fact that has not changed, and none of the remaining presidential candidates are dealing with it.

Dan LaBotz in Monthly Review similarly notes that Senator Obama’s position is not unique to him, and the current economic crises are not the result simply of the current administration.

President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society with its War on Poverty, both failed to fundamentally change the situation of blacks and did not end poverty among whites, largely because they did not end corporate domination of American society. Under President Bill Clinton, the Democrats turned away from even those liberal programs and adopted the conservative (or neoliberal) policies long identified with the Republicans. Democrats have not proposed [. . . ] any fundamental changes in the social programs of the country. Today, there is a real question of whether or not the American capitalist system -- faced with problems of competitiveness, productivity, and profitability -- has the capacity to construct a liberal or social democratic system which would ameliorate [. . . ] the race and class systems of the country.

Certainly nothing in Senator Obama’s voting record suggests he will be a source of major economic improvement for most people. Matt Gonzalez in Counterpunch online and Pam Martens in the print edition have examined his record and his funding base—which, despite his campaign claims that he doesn’t take lobbying money nonetheless includes registered lobbyists as well as Wall Street financial firms, midwest mining companies, and other corporate donors. Barak Obama has voted for legislation that will make it harder to bring class action suits against corporate abusers; voted against legislation to create the first federal cap on predatory credit card interest rates; voted to limit the recovery that victims of medical malpractice could obtain through the courts; and voted against collecting royalties from corporations that mine hard rock minerals on public lands, royalties that would have provided funding for the cleanup of these areas currently paid for by taxpayers rather than the mining corporations As Ethel Long-Scott argues,

while major party politicians can talk about change, they are not likely to fight for the kinds of changes that would really end poverty. To do that, we the people must organize with new ideas and a new vision of justice. In the face of the growing encroachment on rights and democracy we, the people must gain the political power to direct society's resources so we can end the problems of poverty, national & women’s oppression, and this outrageous war. A new society is not only possible, but necessary.


For the Old Mole Variety Hour 24 March 2008 


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