Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sometimes I lie awake at night and think "I wonder what Obama's doing right now?"

This may shock or even horrify you, so if you're of a nervous disposition please look away now. The Democratic nominee for President is not a socialist, again.

I know, it comes as a surprise to us all. He's a supporter of Israel, has at no point called for the military defeat of the US armed forces in any war, is not calling the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy nor has he sent a Valentine's card to Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro or Gilbert Acher.

Who would have thought the Democrats could elect such a fiend? Well, most of us I guess - although it does seem to have taken a few people with indignant surprise.

But you know what, Mr Obama is ace. He really, really, really should be President. No, he doesn't know Jesus or Superman but if Obama was elected it would represent both a significant symbolic shift in American politics and a real shift in the American government. Yes, a real shift. Even though he's a Democrat.

Here my five reasons why this shift is real as well as symbolic.

  1. McCain's plan is to continue and escalate George W. Bush's policy of permanent war and belligerence. President Obama has no intention of walking that path.

  2. Health insurance is probably the most pressing issue for millions of the poorest, and not so poorest, Americans. One key plank to Obama's campaign is to end the appalling fact that millions have no health insurance at all and millions more are under insured. To end it.

  3. We may be used to a President in the pocket of big oil but Obama is different. He's banned lobbyists donating money to his campaign and is not above telling off the motor industry when he has to. The survival of the human race depends upon the American government taking climate change seriously, Obama does.

  4. If the US elects Obama it will force a radical rethinking of attitudes to race in one of the most segregated nations on Earth.

  5. The desire for change among his supporters has raised expectations on progressive reform. Whether Obama is all that or not (and he is) his reliance on a grass roots, insurgent campaign has mobilised the hopes and aspirations of millions. This in itself is of the utmost political significance beyond simple symbolic value.
Each and everyone of these issues is sufficient, on its own, to give any thinking leftist pause for thought. When I voted Labour in '97 I had no illusions that Blair was going to be some sort of socialist or that his policies would be any different to that of the Tories - New Labour were completely open with us about this - but I, and almost all of the left, understood that it was vital to elect Labour to open up the possibility of change. I don't regret it for a second.

Unlike Blair Obama actually does have different policies to his Republican predecessor and no amount of dismissive, unthinking "oh the Democrats and Republicans are just the same as each other" can alter that fact. Obama has the most liberal voting record of any Democratic senator and is far to the left of anything we could have hoped for.

Let's look at some detail. Healthcare- one of Barack's top three election pledges. What's the problem as he sees it? Emphasis from source.
"Millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured because of rising medical costs: 47 million Americans — including nearly 9 million children — lack health insurance with no signs of this trend slowing down.

"Health care costs are skyrocketing: Health insurance premiums have risen 4 times faster than wages over the past 6 years.

"Too little is spent on prevention and public health: The nation faces epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases as well as new threats of pandemic flu and bioterrorism. Yet despite all of this less than 4 cents of every health care dollar is spent on prevention and public health.

His solution? My emphasis this time.
"My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you will have it after this plan becomes law. No one will be turned away because of a preexisting condition or illness.”
If you haven't got health insurance now you will have it. What happened to all that stuff about Obama never saying anything with meaningful content?

It's absolutely right that he is not proposing to introduce a national health system like we have here, but if you can't see there's a difference between this and everything that has gone before you might as well sew your eyes shut right now, cos sight is wasted on you.

This is the foremost class issue, the foremost cause of misery, the foremost source of injustice in America and Obama has it to the front of his campaign with a pledge to do something never before achieved ensuring that every American is covered by health insurance.

So what about another key pledge, foreign policy?
“When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq; or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; or that I supported Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders that we don't like. And he will not be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it is ok for America to torture — because it is never ok… I will end the war in Iraq… I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus... And I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.”
And this guy wants to be President of the United States? Ain't he heard of imperialism? I don't think it's enough to point to areas where his rhetoric is unsatisfactory to say the least, like Israel, to write off all those areas where he is something completely new. He's taken a massive amount of abuse for saying he would talk to the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Iran yet he has stuck to his guns. If that's not the wrong turn of phrase.

You can't consistently attack Guantamo Bay, the continuing occupation of Iraq or the obstreperous approach to foreign policy of the Bush regime and refuse to acknowledge that all of this can be changed. There is a candidate who can win the Presidency who is committed to ending these injustices. Obama. Getting hung up on particular details should not allow us to miss the big picture.

But he'll be in the pockets of big industry, yes? Well energy is the last of his three big core policies, and this is what he had to say on the environment;
“Well, I don't believe that climate change is just an issue that's convenient to bring up during a campaign. I believe it's one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation. That's why I've fought successfully in the Senate to increase our investment in renewable fuels. That's why I reached across the aisle to come up with a plan to raise our fuel standards… And I didn't just give a speech about it in front of some environmental audience in California. I went to Detroit, I stood in front of a group of automakers, and I told them that when I am president, there will be no more excuses — we will help them retool their factories, but they will have to make cars that use less oil.”
Unless the world can shift the US towards more environmental policies we are all in dire trouble. We're so used to a US government that acts like a bulldozer over every international treaty and agreement on climate change that we've come to think of this as inevitable. Yet there is a whole movement, mainly led by Democrats, across the US to push through local environmental legislation, sometimes piecemeal, sometimes quite radical. President Obama can play that role on a world scale in a way that we desperately need him to.

Obama's victory in wining the nomination has been an extraordinary blow against the elite political dynasties, and it was no easy win. People forget that he was the rank outsider and many in the big campaigns wrote him off as a no hoper. Whilst I don't necessarily share the messianic fervour of some we should note that this isn't simply mass hysteria but based on the prospect of a genuine and radical shift and it should come as no surprise that the right of the Democrats has not been shy of voicing its discomfort.

For months Clinton's campaign has essentially laid out all of McCain's strategy for him finding and creating attack points. The most vicious of these was the lie repeated over and over that he wasn't liked by white workers - over and over again - until it's ingrained into your subconscious that he is not white enough. But there's only one way that America will be ready for a black President, and that's to elect one. Racism has to be addressed in the US, and this is a perfect contribution to that.

Beating Clinton was no easy feat - and McCain wont be a push over either - which is why Clinton's attack strategy, attempting to show he can't win will be a problem for Obama. Yet another reason why she's unfit to be Vice President

As Diane Abbott says her camp "recycles bogus statistics about Clinton getting the majority of the popular vote. Clinton arrives at this figure by ignoring all the caucus states; adding in the residents of Puerto Rico (who have a vote in the primary but not in the actual general election) and adding in the vote in Florida where there was no official campaign (wherever there was a proper campaign Obama narrowed the gap with Clinton even if he did not overtake her) And for good measure she throws in the votes from Michigan, where Obama was not even on the ballot paper. The superdelegates know Clinton's figures are junk. That is why they ignore them."

McCain can win - but it does not appear to be the most likely outcome at the moment. Whilst those outside the US have limitted ability to help Obama win we all have a vested interested in making sure that he does.

The question here is which US foreign policy do we want? McCain's permanent war or Obama's willingness to talk? Anyone who thinks these are the same things should kindly take themselves to Coventry where they belong until they get serious. Bombing someone and talking to them is not the same at all.

Don't get me wrong I'm sure there's a massive gulf between what he says and what he'll do, but the rhetoric is a shift in itself and why he won his party's nomination, particularly in the caucuses. The core pledges are not just meaningful soundbites they are an indication that President Obama will not be either Bush III or Clinton II, and thank God for that.

Al Jazeera thinks it will force the world to rethink America if Obama won and, as many have pointed out, he is the world's nominee. The day Obama is elected there will be a world wide street party and what sort of miserablist would argue against that?


scott redding said...

Obama might also be able to pull off a historic shift in religious-centric voters. Time magazine is reporting that Obama is adding a "full-time evangelical-focused staffer" to organise "a thousand house parties" about faith and politics. He could shift 40% of self-identified evangelicals to voting Democrat. There have been signs of this happening for a while.

The View from Steeltown said...

On the whole you provide a very balanced portrait of the issue. Obama is not a saviour, he is not a socialist, but he offers a real opportunity to get rid of the bellicose attitude of the current White House administration. And you are correct, McCain would offer much of the same. In fact McCain may be even dumber than Bush if that's possible. The world cannot bear another 4 years of Republican rule. Maybe it's time to buy some "November Obama wins the White House" champagne.

Sunny said...

fucking spot on.

hysperia said...

Oh my ... goodness. Have you seen what Obama has done though? Kowtowed to Israel, hired Bill Clinton's Friedmanesque economists, supported the FISA "compromise" ... Obama is marginally better than McCain and should get votes on that basis. Beyond that, Obama is right of centre, arguably right of Hillary Clinton and will disappoint people for the next four to eight years. If we're lucky.

Jim Jay said...

To the right of Clinton? Well not on the basis of the three items you mention. "Kowtowing to Israel" like every serious presidential candidate in the last fifty years. Including Clinton.

Surrounding himself with Clintonites? That doesn't sound more rightwing than actually *being* a Clinton. It's practical politics ensuring the Clinton wing of the party continues to support him.

FISA - come on - It's consistent with Obama's position on civil rights "It [the Bill] restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance -- making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law,"

I happen to think he might be wrong on this - but Clinton doesn't give a stuff about civil rights - she is well to his right, particularly on issues around foreign policy. She's up for obliterating Iran with nuclear weapons he wants to talk to the regime... he's not just marginally better than McCain - he will kill less people and improve the lives of poorer Americans - this is a substantive difference.

It also does not mean he is the new messiah.