Beyond the Rhetoric – Would Obama Really Bring Change?


The 2008 election campaign has revealed the huge anger among workers and young people after eight years of George W. Bush’s big-business, pro-war, right-wing policies, as well as the Bush-lite Democrats who have been complicit in Bush’s crimes.

Massively indebted, faced with skyrocketing gas prices, stagnant wages, a wave of home foreclosures, and a hugely unpopular war, poll after poll shows over 75% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going.

Barack Obama has tapped into this anger and the widespread desire for change, presenting himself as a challenger to the Washington establishment. Obama’s campaign has politicized millions of workers, youth, and African-Americans who are understandably excited by the prospect of electing the first black president.

We, too, want an end to the disastrous policies of Bush and the Republicans. But looking behind the rhetoric at his actual policies, the reality is that Obama is tied to big business and will continue to implement the policies of the corporate establishment. Obama has aroused widespread expectations, but he will deeply disappoint and betray his supporters’ desire for change. He is campaigning on the left but preparing to rule on the right.

Socialist Alternative believes that neither McCain nor Obama deserve the votes of youth and workers looking for real change. We are supporting Ralph Nader’s independent, antiwar, anti-corporate campaign for president as the best way to popularize radical demands and strike a blow against the two-party system of war and corporate domination.

Unlike Obama and McCain, Nader stands for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, a drastic cutback in the military budget, a living wage, and universal single-payer health care. Every vote for Nader registers a protest against the establishment and their two parties – the people who are responsible for the Iraq war, the lack of healthcare, poverty, sexism, racism, and the millions rotting in hellholes called jails.

The articles below examine the truth behind Obama’s policies – facts every person should know before you vote.

The Myth of Small Donors

Obama used his success at fundraising from small donors to foster the illusion that it is ordinary people who control his campaign.

Explaining his decision to break his promise and become the first major party candidate ever to opt out of public financing in the general election, Obama said:

We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it. And they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally [been] reserved for the wealthy and the powerful (NY Times, 4/10/08).

Yet despite all the small donations, Obama’s campaign has remained dependent on mega-rich donors from day one. He has hauled in millions from corporate executives, whose representatives are involved in weekly conference calls with the campaign, a level of influence ordinary people could never hope for.

On August 18, Obama raised a record $7.8 million in just three hours at a San Francisco fundraiser where contributors paid anywhere from $2,300 to $28,500 a plate, only the most recent of more than a dozen fundraisers targeting the mega-rich.

The secret of Obama’s fund-raising machine is, the NY Times reports, “a phalanx of more than 500 Obama ‘bundlers,’ fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington. Lawyers make up the largest group, numbering roughly 130, with many of them working for firms that also have lobbying arms. At least 100 Obama bundlers are top executives or brokers from investment businesses: nearly two dozen work for financial titans like Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. About 40 others come from the real estate industry” (“Big Dollar Donors Are Major Force in Obama Campaign,” 8/06/2008).

Obama himself may not be taking direct donations from corporations, but his money still comes from personal donations from corporate senior and junior executives, and the Democratic Party itself is still directly soliciting money from corporations.

Numerous corporations paid over a million dollars to sponsor the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver. “Sponsors are promised … access to elected officials and Democratic leaders at a large number of parties and receptions” (NY Times, 7/14/2008).

The chief DNC fundraiser is lobbyist Steve Farber whose clients AT&T; and Comcast are big DNC sponsors. Not surprisingly, AT&T; and Comcast have greatly benefited from Obama and other Democrats’ recent vote in favor of telecom immunity.

As the Times comments, “Mr. Farber’s activities are a public display of how corporate connections fuel politics … exactly the type of special influence that Mr. Obama had pledged to expunge from politics when he said he would not accept donations from lobbyists” (7/14/2008).

Obama and the Economic Crisis

Many hope that Obama will reverse the growing inequality in U.S. society and help workers facing stagnant or declining wages, disappearing jobs, skyrocketing health care costs and gas prices, and the threat of home foreclosure. However, the Obama campaign is intimately tied to many of the people responsible for this mess.

Obama’s list of top donors reads like a who’s who of the banking industry, from Goldman Sachs to JPMorgan to Citigroup, all implicated in the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

This helps explain why Obama opposed a moratorium on home foreclosures and the freezing of mortgage interest rates while 2.5 million Americans are expected to have their homes foreclosed this year. It helps explain why he voted against an amendment to cap credit card interest rates at 30% and why he opposes any serious regulation of the banking industry.

Obama recently told CNBC, “Look, I am a pro-growth, free market guy. I love the market.” The head of his economic policy team, Jason Furman, is one of the most prominent defenders of Wal Mart, one of the fiercest anti-union companies in the world, labeling it a “progressive success story” that has benefited U.S. workers and consumers.

While Obama used populist rhetoric during the primary election and attacked corporate free trade deals like NAFTA as a “big mistake,” his top economic adviser assured the Canadian ambassador that Obama’s criticisms were “more reflective of political maneuvering than policy” (AP, 3/03/08).

Obama confirmed the shallowness of his populist rhetoric in a June interview in Fortune, where he referred to his criticisms of NAFTA during the primaries as “overheated and amplified” and backed down on his pledge to reopen NAFTA to expand labor and environmental protections.

Trampling on Our Civil Liberties

Perhaps Obama’s biggest betrayal came when he voted for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in July, despite making his promise to filibuster the bill a centerpiece of his primary campaign.

This bill gives retroactive immunity to the big telecommunications companies for helping the Bush administration illegally intercept millions of Americans’ emails and phone calls, and it provides for the program’s future expansion.

This shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise, however, given that Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2005.

An “Antiwar” Imperialist

In the primary election, Obama highlighted his pre-war opposition to invading Iraq, but in the U.S. Senate he consistently voted to fund the war.

He promises to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months of taking office, but his “withdrawal” plan would still leave 60,000 – 90,000 U.S. troops in bases in Iraq for years to come – in addition to private mercenaries like Blackwater. Further, Obama recently backtracked and said he would be willing to “refine” his timetable for withdrawing troops.

This is far from an antiwar stance, but rather one increasingly promoted by the foreign policy establishment to defend the position of U.S. imperialism. Obama’s stance reflects the consensus of growing sections of the U.S. ruling elite who realize they face an untenable position in Iraq – economically, militarily and politically – and they are searching for a way to extricate themselves from the disaster they created.

69% of national security experts in a recent poll by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress support a “drawdown of the majority of U.S. forces in Iraq over the next 18 months and redeployment to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.”

At the same time, the ruling class (and Obama) are unwilling, at this stage, to support a full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. They want to avoid the massive blow to U.S. prestige that would come from a humiliating withdrawal; Iraq is situated in the heart of Persian Gulf, home to two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves; and there is the danger of Iraq breaking up into different states and triggering a regional war.

Obama also wants to send at least 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the brutal U.S. occupation there, a position he shares with Bush and McCain. While dressed up as a fight against terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, like Iraq, is in reality about the power and prestige of U.S. imperialism, not the interests of ordinary Americans or Afghans.

Obama has also echoed Bush’s calls for increasing the U.S. military by 92,000 troops! Obama says he will maintain the massive U.S. military budget, currently over $600 billion and larger than the rest of the world’s military’s combined (Reuters, 6/30/08).

He has pledged $30 billion in U.S. aid to the brutal Israeli government over the next 10 years (much of it military) to continue its oppression of the Palestinians, and he endorsed the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem. Despite his pledges for more diplomacy, he has called for the continuation of the blockade of Cuba, military aid to the right-wing repressive regime in Colombia, and promises to take a hard line against Iran.

Obama and African-Americans

The election of the first African-American to the White House, in a country where just over 40 years ago blacks were murdered for demanding the right to vote, would not be an insignificant event. Nevertheless, while Obama points to the economic and social disadvantages faced by African-Americans, his answers to the crisis are nicer CEOs and blacks taking personal responsibility for their plight.

Obama has gone so far as to tout his support for Bill Clinton’s welfare reform, boasting that it “slashed the rolls by 80%.” This disproportionately hurt poor black and Latina women by cutting off guaranteed federal aid, while the government failed to take responsibility for providing decent, living-wage jobs.

Obama’s rhetoric ignores the systemic, structural racism at the heart of U.S. capitalism, which was built on the brutal exploitation of African slaves and African-American workers. As Malcolm X said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

Obama is not using his campaign to speak out against the racist war on drugs, the death penalty, or the racist criminal injustice system, which consigns 1-in-3 African-American men to prison at some point in their life. With 2.3 million prisoners, 900,000 of them black, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, 6 times the world average (NY Times, 4/23/2008).

Obama Opposes Single-Payer Health Care

Despite a clear majority of Americans, including a majority of doctors, wanting a single-payer national healthcare system, Obama refuses to support this solution. Is it so surprising then that Obama has received more money from the health care industry than McCain?

Instead Obama, under the vague cloak of calling for “universal health care,” would maintain the current broken for-profit system but would provide government subsidies to try to help people buy private insurance – a de-facto subsidy and handout to the giant heath insurance companies.

A Dead End Energy Policy

Obama has touted his work in the Senate to “increase access to and use of renewable fuels” – but most of his work has been aimed at securing massive subsidies and protective tariffs for ethanol.

Numerous studies have shown that ethanol does little, if anything, to curb greenhouse gas emissions, with some showing that it actually increases them! Ethanol does, however, result in huge profits for corporate agribusiness giants like Archer Daniels Midland, based in Obama’s home state of Illinois, the second largest corn-growing state in the U.S. Meanwhile, the use of corn for ethanol production has played a major role in the global food crisis.

Obama, along with the Democratic leadership in Congress, has now backed off his earlier opposition to offshore oil drilling, opposed by environmentalists because of its impact on coastal habitats and continued reliance on fossil fuels instead of clean energy sources.

He also says nuclear power should “continue to be a part of the U.S. energy mix.” The largest nuclear power company in the U.S., Exelon, ranks #20 on Obama’s donors list. Its employees contributed $239,061 as of July 28, 2008 – in addition to being his #6 contributor during his Senate career (

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