Barack Obama is now the Democratic nominee for President. He promises change, but promises are the currency of the politicians everywhere. What does this mean for America, and should we be so sure about the “change” he is bringing to the nation?
Oh yeah, it is a “change” that he is a Kansas-Kenyan hybrid born in Hawaii. Obama has lived in the three major divisions of American life: inner city, rural Kansas, and (I think) suburbia with the bonus of having lived in a foreign nation. It has given him the multiple perspectives of white, black, and foreign eyes. But we knew that stuff already, he sells himself on his story. What about the substance? What kind of America is he leading us to?
Overlooked in so much of the talk about Barack Obama is the fact he is a politician from Chicago, Illinois, one of the dirtiest places to practice politics in America. Chicago, if you don’t know, is a familial dictatorship of Mayor Richard Daley, Jr. and his political machine. Graft is common and hardball politics is the rule.
How hard is Obama? Pop quiz: anyone know how he got into public office and got that fancy Illinois record before he ran for U.S. Senate? By knocking the opposition right off the ballot.
Obama ran against a popular African-American state senator in a majority black neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. Since the district would always vote Democratic, one only had to win the Democratic primary to win since no Republican would run. Obama’s lawyers challenged her filing paperwork and petition signatures, won the challenge, and ended up being the only candidate on the ballot sending him straight to Springfield.
And his Senate record in Springfield? Nothing to speak of until he decided to run for U.S. Senate in 2004. Obama didn’t pass a single bill until 2003, when the Democrats took over the Illinois Senate. The new president of the Senate, Emil Jones, was black and “adopted” Obama, stealing other senators’ bills and handing him 26 high profile laws to pass so he could get an excellent record before he started running for national office. Emil Jones said he was going to “make me a U.S. Senator” and oh boy did he get one. Read all about Obama’s Illinois days and his testy relationship with the black community in the Houston Press.
Even neoconservative David Brooks called Obama the perfect merger of an academic liberal and a brass knuckle Chicago operator. Obama can talk nice, but he knows how to fight. Or fuck you over.
The New Politics or just another hack?
The promise of Obama is not in the silly symbolism and rock star appeal of a black man becoming president. Charisma doesn’t sell me, but Obama is using his charisma to re-build American community and democracy by making his supporters rebuilt, revamp, and re-sexify community organizing (“the first mass multi-racial collaboration in the United States since the Southern Civil Rights movement.”)
What is often forgotten when discussing Obama’s electoral successes is his past as a community organizer in Chicago. Rather than use the Democratic establishment to get votes out, Obama relies on young people as precinct captains and full time field organizers to get the vote out in every state and in almost every county.
Obama has a special fellowship in community organizing for his volunteers. What he emphasizes is that those skills will not just be for putting Barack Obama into the White House but for rest of your life life when you need to help improve your town and community. Obamamania will hopefully spread democracy in America, and he will putting staff in all 50 states by the end of the summer. When he says “you are the change you have been waiting for” he means it. We would never have had grassroots leverage with other candidates.
But will he sell us out for $2,300 checks and a little political posturing? Despite his obscene lead in fundraising, Obama says he will forgo public financing in the general election and keep collecting donations (he says from the general public, I say from the special interests). Obama’s compromises range from the excusable (pandering to the Israel lobby) to the indefensible.
Wall Street has been pouring money into the Democrats this year for the first time, and Obama admits in his book he has a softness for investment bankers for donations. Will he still let the hedge funds get away with paying only 15% tax while the rest of us pay full fare?
What about his economic advisers from the University of Chicago? The University of Chicago gave the world the “Chicago School” of free market fundamentalists. Their handiwork in tearing up livelihoods can be seen throughout the hemisphere from privatizing tin mines in Bolivia, pushing Argentina into a depression, and the Caracazo food riots in Venezuela. Right-wing Friedmanite economics has had its run in this country for long enough, isn’t it time for a, um, change? What are these hacks doing vetting his vice-presidential search?
Obama recently swore allegiance to AIPAC and giving all of Jerusalem to Israel after hinting he would be even-handed on the Israel-Palestine issue. His health care and fuel efficiency proposals are laughable compromises. Hillary Clinton and he both voted for the Patriot Act renewal, and he says he will vote for the outrageous telecom wiretapping bill.
Parties as grassroots and left-wing as the Brazilian Workers’ Party, South African African National Congress, and British Labour Party have all seen right turns to market fundamentalism, sometimes even before inauguration. Like Obama says, it is up to us.
Keep an eye on that boy.