We reprint here two articles produced in the fall of 2008 and just days after Obama’s 2008 election victory. At that time, most of the left placed their hopes for progressive change in Obama and the Democratic Party or bent to the popular mood of the time and downplayed any criticisms of Obama. In contrast, Socialist Alternative took a principled stand and consistently warned that Obama and the Democrats’ big-business program would inevitably lead them to betray the hopes of their working-class supporters, which has unfortunately paved the way for a Republican resurgence.
Beyond the Rhetoric – Would Obama Really Bring Change?
August 26, 2008
By Dan DiMaggio
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 healthcare. 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” (New York Times 10 April 2008).
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 3 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 New York 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” 6 Aug 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” (New York Times 14 Jul 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” (14 Jul 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” (Associated Press 3 Mar 2008).
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 30 Jun 2008).
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 (New York Times 23 Apr 2008).
Obama Opposes Single Payer Healthcare
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 healthcare,” 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 (opensecrets.org).
Will Obama Deliver?
November 12, 2008
By Philip Locker
Riding a tidal wave of anger at Bush, the economy, and the Iraq war, the November elections saw a sweeping victory for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
There has been widespread celebration at the Republicans’ defeat and the election of the first African American president, an event of huge historic significance. Massive expectations have been aroused that Obama will carry out policies that will address the enormous problems facing workers and young people.
But as the euphoria wears off, hard questions will need to be examined. How will Obama and the Democrats use their new power? Will Obama make good on his promises, especially regarding the key issues of the economy, healthcare and the war in Iraq? Will there be the fundamental change that Obama voters are hoping for?
Obama and the Democrats are taking power amid a massive crisis of U.S. and world capitalism, with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a projected trillion dollar budget deficit reaching 6% of U.S. GDP, and the unraveling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While millions hope Obama will take the country in a new direction, a closer look at the reality of his positions and record, as opposed to his vague calls for change, shows he is thoroughly tied to the big business establishment.
The gap between the huge expectations of his supporters and the reality of Obama’s timid approach and corporate policies was graphically shown within days of his election victory. The New York Times reported “President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters” (6 Nov 2008).
In another article they comment, “Obama’s soaring speeches have created such a well of anticipation that there is a deep danger of letdown. He talked during the campaign of a ‘new politics’ bringing Republicans and Democrats together. But if he really works with Republicans to find common ground on issues like Iraq, terrorism and climate change, he risks alienating his liberal base” (5 Nov 2008).
An early indication of Obama’s politics was revealed in his first major appointment, selecting Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. Emanuel is a central figure in the Democratic Leadership Council, which brings together the most conservative and pro-business section of the Democratic Party.
As a key advisor in the Clinton administration, he was at the forefront of arguing for the Democrats to embrace NAFTA, “welfare reform” and a law-and-order agenda. Running for Congress in 2002 he supported the Iraq war, and he recently played a central role in shepherding through Congress the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.
Obama’s first post-election public appearance, held with his economic advisory board, was another indication of the direction his administration is headed. This group is almost entirely made up of bankers, corporate executives, and conservative Democratic Party economists, many of the same people responsible for the crisis they are supposed to solve.
The 17 members of the panel include the billionaire Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world, CEOs and senior executives of Google, Hyatt Hotels, Time Warner, Xerox, JP Morgan Chase, and TIAA-CREF (a private financial services company), as well as Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, both of whom carried out a neo-liberal agenda as Treasury Secretaries in the Clinton Administration, and Reagan’s former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
Obama’s economic team does not contain a single representative from the labor movement, which gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Obama and the Democrats. Nor does it have any representatives from any of the civil rights or women’s organizations. Obama no doubt heard plenty of advice from the big executives and bankers on his handpicked panel – but where was the voice of working people, the unemployed or those facing foreclosure?
Discussing how Obama will address the severe economic problems, Leon Panetta, who is heading up Obama’s transition team and was Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, told the New York Times, “You better damn well do the tough stuff up front, because if you think you can delay the tough decisions and tiptoe past the graveyard, you’re in for a lot of trouble… Make the decisions that involve pain and sacrifice up front” (5 Nov 2008).
Given the massive budget deficits, running at 6% of GDP federally and forcing emergency measures in state governments, Obama’s ability to enact serious reforms to relieve working-class people will be limited.
Nonetheless, Obama has been discussing with Congressional leaders about a possible $100 billion for public works, extending unemployment benefits, winter heating assistance, food stamps and aid to cities and states that could be passed during a lame-duck session the week of November 17.
Even from the standpoint of big business, such limited proposals are necessary to prevent a further economic collapse and discrediting of capitalism. However, such measures will at best slow, but not reverse, the catastrophic declines in living standards that are already underway in working-class communities.
Furthermore, as he did with the $700 billion bailout in September, Obama has indicated support for further taxpayer handouts to corporate America. The big three automakers, who have seen catastrophic declines in their sales, are faced with the prospect of bankruptcy unless the federal government comes to their aid. Such aid, however, will not reverse the layoffs and wage and benefit cuts facing autoworkers.
And while Obama has supported bailouts for big business, there has been no talk from his camp of using the governments’ ownership of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and shares in the banks to halt foreclosures for working and middle class homeowners.
It remains to be seen how rapidly or fully Obama will move to implement his various other campaign promises, from health-care tax credits to closing Guantánamo Bay. In Iraq, Obama aims to reduce the U.S. presence from 140,000 to 60-80,000 troops over 16 months, although it remains to be seen whether he will stick to this timetable. Even if he is able to implement this, which will not at all be easy given the danger of a U.S. withdrawal triggering increased instability, the war will not be over, as tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be left behind to defend the interests of U.S. imperialism.
Further, Obama wants to send troops from Iraq to escalate the brutal war in Afghanistan, in which U.S. and NATO airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians over the past few months. Already U.S. causalities in Afghanistan have overtaken those in Iraq, and the situation in is rapidly deteriorating with the U.S. facing defeat.
However, as the economic crisis deepens and demands for change grow, Obama may be compelled to introduce bolder, more far-reaching reforms than the limited measures already being discussed. But such steps would be carried out to save capitalism, not from the point of view of supporting workers and the oppressed. Already we have seen how the economic disaster forced the right-wing neo-liberal Bush administration to massively intervene in the economy in order to protect the system.
Even limited reforms by an Obama White House will contrast sharply with Bush’s reign, and will likely give Obama a certain honeymoon period. Democrats’ call for patience in the face of the economic crisis, which they have blamed completely on Bush, will get an echo for a period.
Nevertheless, millions of young people, people of color and ordinary workers have had their confidence raised. Many will be inspired to step forward into political activity as a result of this election. Many of them will see the need to mobilize campaigns and protests in an attempt to keep Obama’s attention on those who elected him.
Others will be forced into struggle to defend themselves against the cutbacks and attacks resulting from this recession. The wave of political awakening which Obama rode to power was not the creation of his campaign, and the radicalization of the working class won’t stop with the end of this campaign – just the opposite, in fact!
As movements develop in the next few years, they will inevitably come into sharp conflict with an Obama administration. While it not possible to foresee the exact timescale, at a certain point events will expose Obama and Congressional leaders as representatives of big business. As a result the way will be prepared for a new political and class awakening in U.S. society.
More than ever, the question of building a real political voice for workers and young people will emerge onto the political agenda. The idea of a new anti-corporate, antiwar political party, a party of working people, will gain traction in the minds of millions, as ordinary people struggle to find a way out of the economic and social crisis engulfing U.S. society.