OBAMA’S VICTORY speech at the Xcel Center in St Paul, Minnesota, wouldn’t start until well after 8pm but by 5pm a youthful, festive line of 15,000 already snaked through the downtown streets.
College students sat in sidewalk discussion circles. Whole families were there, the bright-eyed children sucking up the excited mood. T-shirt and button vendors walked the lines, selling stylized images of Obama that evoked more Che Guevara or Hugo Chávez than a typical US presidential candidate.
Many turned up just to see the crowds, with no hope of getting into the rally. Local media reported 50,000 eventually lined up, with most turned away from the 19,000 capacity Xcel center.
Just before 7pm, cheers erupted down the line as news broke that Obama had just secured enough ‘super-delegates’ to claim the Democratic Party’s nomination. Murmurs about ‘this historic moment’ could be heard in the excited conversations that followed.
Obama has aroused enormous expectations. But, despite the radical imagery and rhetorical posturing, Obama remains a centrist, corporate-sponsored Democrat. Any sober look at his voting record, the substance of his policy proposals, the political character of his top advisors, or the sources of his massive corporate campaign contributions shows that Obama is, if anything, to the right of Clinton on the key questions facing working people, in the US and worldwide.
“Big money is starting to place a big bet on Barack Obama”, began a 3 May report in the Wall Street Journal. “While he has trumpeted his broad base of small-dollar Internet donors, recent campaign-finance documents show he is also drawing bigger cheques from corporate contributors.
Through the first three months of the year, employees of nine major industries – from communications and defense to transportation and Wall Street – gave the majority of their donations to the Illinois senator” over both Clinton and McCain.
With the long primary fight behind him, Obama wasted no time shifting gears for the general election. The morning after the St Paul rally, Obama gave a stunning speech before the powerful American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. He promised to “deepen” military cooperation with Israel to the tune of $30 billion, and to help secure Jerusalem – including Arab East Jerusalem – as Israel’s capital, despite all Palestinian claims.
For a politician who used to speak out against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, this speech was meant to give final assurance to the pro-Israel lobby, and the US foreign policy establishment in general, that Obama has decisively shed any hint of opposition to US imperialism’s basic strategic goals.
Nonetheless, the mass rallies and popular enthusiasm behind this campaign represents a certain political awakening in the US, with a new generation entering political life for the first time through these elections.
With the aid of a largely uncritical corporate media, Obama’s soaring rhetoric and carefully crafted image have captured the imagination of millions who are enraged at Bush and the direction of the country. The expectations of workers and youth have been raised.
If Obama wins the presidency, there is no doubt his popular, youthful base will be bitterly disappointed as his administration carries out a big business agenda as events unfold. But for many – young people in particular – the disappointment will be a political education.
In this way the ground is being prepared for a further shift leftward in US society. In the coming years, anger at the corporate-controlled Democratic Party will translate into support for the idea of a new left political party for working people.