The Nation and the Obama campaign

Original article, by Jerry White, via World Socialist Web Site.

The “special convention issue” of the Nation magazine features a lengthy article entitled “Progressives in the Obama Moment,” which seeks to make the case for those opposed to war and the reactionary policies of the Bush administration to rally behind the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Note: The Nation article is here:…

The authors of the article engage in verbal contortions in an attempt to square the notion that Obama represents a progressive, anti-war impulse of far-reaching dimensions (“The Obama nomination sets the stage for a sea-change election”) with the plain fact that his actual policies are of a thoroughly conventional character and are well within the confines of the right-wing consensus of American bourgeois politics.

You might call bourgeois politics middle-class or centerist politics (or some combination of the two).  It certainly has a capitalist slant.  The question the article covers is where exactly is Obama not going to be a continuation of the failed policies of the past eight years (and, if you really look at it, the past 40 years).

The result is a piece laden with internal contradictions and non sequiturs. It exemplifies the combination of self-delusion, cynicism and deceit that is characteristic of the Nation and the milieu of left-liberals and ex-radicals who cling to the Democratic Party and concentrate their efforts on keeping social discontent within the safe political channels of the two-party system.

Which is understandable, from an American point of view.  They have some sway within the two-partied imperialist neo-liberal establishment.  They want to keep that power.  Their argument will be accepted (even if by nose holding) by ‘progressives’ and ‘leftists’ simply to have power.  ‘Hope’ and ‘change’ are bandied about based on a change in the public head of the duoparty.

The article, by Robert L. Borosage and Katrina vanden Heuvel, has two essential aims. The first is to quell growing disillusionment with Obama among many initial supporters of his campaign, including readers of the Nation, and secure his victory in the November election. The second is to define in advance the legitimate parameters of social opposition and protest that will emerge under an Obama administration.

IE, to quell dissent before it gets started, or at least to meld it to the needs of the duoparty.

The authors all but acknowledge that in his campaign, Obama has not advanced an agenda that departs in any significant way from previous administrations-Republican and Democratic-which, they say, were guided by “conservative ideas that have dominated our politics for three decades.”

B…but…but he can’t get elected if he expouses anything near a ‘progressive’ line.  Maybe so, but if he’s hiding his progressive line, he’s lying to the American people.  That’s you (for the most part).

They quickly acknowledge that “many on the left” have been “dismayed” by Obama’s “compromises and backsliding.” But, they add, “Much of the alleged retrenchment has been exaggerated,” attributing this “exaggeration” to the influence of Republican strategists over the media.

White’s response is exactly what it should be:

Exaggeration? Really?

And White gives a short list from the past few months:

The record shows that within days of securing the nomination, the Obama campaign began its march to the right.

* Obama’s first major move was the appointment of Jason Furman, a Wall Street insider known for his pro-market views, as economic policy director.

* This was followed by his denunciation of the Supreme Court decision outlawing the execution of people convicted of child rape, and his nod to the pro-gun lobby regarding the court’s decision to strike down Washington, DC’s gun control law.

* In late June and July he embarked on a “Patriotism Tour” to identify his campaign with US militarism, while continuing to back away from his primary campaign pledge to withdraw US combat forces from Iraq based on a definite timetable.

* This was followed by a pledge to substantially expand the Bush administration’s program providing federal funding to so-called “faith-based” service organizations.

* On July 10, Obama voted in the Senate to expand warrantless wiretapping and provide immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated the White House’s illegal domestic spying operation.

* During his tour of Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, Obama made clear that his call for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq was linked to his proposal to dispatch as many as 10,000 troops to Afghanistan to escalate the war and even expand it into Pakistan. At the same time, he praised the results of Bush’s “surge” and made clear that he would leave sufficient US troops in Iraq to maintain a long-term occupation of the country.

* Most recently, Obama joined with Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain in threatening Russia and calling for retribution for its intervention against the US client regime in Georgia. He has supported Bush’s military provocations, including the establishment of a permanent US military presence in Poland.

* Finally, in a move made after the publication of the Nation article, Obama chose Joseph Biden, a long-time fixture in the US Senate and early supporter of the Iraq war, as his running mate.

I’m sorry, but I’m against all of that.  I don’t want a leader who supports all of that.  This is one of the reasons I’m not a Republican.  I’m not going to support a Democrat who supports an agenda that Republicans can.

They write: “On national security both candidates have pledged to increase the size of the military, adding billions to a bloated budget that already represents nearly half the world’s military spending. Both assume America’s role as globocop; neither suggests unraveling the US empire of military bases. Both seem intent on deepening the occupation of Afghanistan. Neither has dared to embrace the conservative RAND Corporation’s conclusion that the very notion of a ‘war on terror’ is counterproductive, and that aggressive intelligence and police cooperation should be the centerpiece of our strategy.”

Hmmmm…both candidates.  Don’t get me started on Joe “No-fly zone over Sudan” Biden.  Grrrrrrr….

White then covers the Nation’s view on Obama’s domestic economic agenda, finishing with:

This entirely conventional and conservative agenda can hardly be characterized as a “stark ideological contrast” with the right-wing social policies of his opponent.

White continues:

The authors fare no better on the question of democratic rights. “And while Obama is a former professor of constitutional law,” they write, “he hasn’t called for dismantling the imperial presidency.”

His vote for the FISA bill should have dispelled any notions of that.  Perhaps BO won’t expand the nascant (well…nascant’s being nice) police state we find ourselves in today, but he’s not committing himself to dismatleing it either.

Rejecting any class analysis of the Democratic candidate and his party, the Nation presents him as some kind of disembodied force, floating above class interests and at least potentially free of political and economic entanglements. He may surround himself with Wall Street advisors and Washington insiders and rely on hundreds of millions in corporate cash for his campaign, but somehow, through popular pressure, he can be forced to wage battle against this established order.

Obama as a waft of smoke.  There might be some substance there, but it’s not much more substance than air.  We currently have a President with roughly the same substance.

One particularly glaring example of the double-talk that permeates the article is the following contradiction: At one point, when they are seeking to rally the wavering to fight for an Obama victory, the authors assert that the election could produce “increased reform majorities in both houses of Congress.” But later, when they are laying down the parameters of legitimate “progressive” political action under an Obama presidency, they write that “while Democrats are likely to enjoy larger majorities in both houses, their caucuses are likely to be less progressive as they pick up seats in very conservative, formerly Republican districts.”

The latter point-a shamefaced admission of the rightward trajectory of the Democratic Party as a whole-is intended to buttress their call for the development of a movement “independent of the administration or the Democratic leadership in Congress” to overcome the constraints of the establishment, which will try to block Obama from implementing his “reform agenda.”

We will have to fight outside the Democratic party.  The question is when are we willing to make that break?

In the end, after all the verbal contortions and mumbo jumbo, their argument, stripped down to its essentials, is that Obama is the spearhead of a progressive reform agenda because-he is a Democrat, with the added fillip that he is black.

We should be able to discern from the actions of the current Democratic Congress what use that will be in the long term.  Unless we see a rise of true ‘progressives’ and ‘leftists’ within the party, the Democrats are as good as useless.  Keep this in mind when you’re in the polling booth during the remainder of this election season and beyond.  There are alternatives.

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  1. We will have to fight outside the Democratic party.  The question is when are we willing to make that break?

    I’m pretty comfortable with my answer to that question. We fight it at the local level – building up from there. We had a Green Party candidate come within a hairs breath of making it to the general election for Mayor in this city a couple of years ago. Next time – maybe a real leftist gets through.

    And we fight it during the primaries. I agree with Molly Ivins completely when she said,

    In the primaries, vote with your heart.

    In the general election, go with your head.

    Launching the fight during the general election of a presidential race is not the time to do it, IMHO.

    • Viet71 on August 27, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    you’ll be among the first to go to a re-education camp.

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