Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Will We Mobilize in 2009?

(Obama + election analysis + case for activism rather than people sitting on their hands waiting for a new president to fix everything for them)

"Expecting that voting democratic is going to end the war is like drinking light beer and expecting to loose weight"

-Adam Jung, Tent State University

People who don't have a lot, and who work harder for what they have than those who work rather lightly for an abundance, have resentment and distrust drilled into them from day one. In a time of economic or political crisis, capitalist politicians will acknowledge that, and speak more candidly to us "Joe the Plumbers", and tell us that they feel our pain. Usually of course they try and do it in a way that diverts our attention from the real problems (such as unemployment, losing a war, or falling wages), confuses the issues (like pretending the economic woes of an aspiring small businessmen who fits into a $250,000 tax bracket are essentially the same of those who are broke and jobless when rent is due) and tries to offer us some kind of panacea (such as bashing immigrants, bailouts for wall street, "tax cuts", militarism, etc...) instead of getting to the real root of the problems.

It took defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the financial crisis, for the arrogance of the American ruling class to become tempered, and for it to remember "soft power", and to look back nostalgically upon the years of its influence and international stature under the days of Clinton.

The Bush dynasty, like all hereditary political systems, demonstrates once again the negative effects of inbreeding on mental development. The more consolidated opinion became, in the executive branch and simultaneously amid the general society through media mergers, the dumber America became, and the easier it was for all to march united behind a lie; or if not, to want to throw up our hands in exasperation.... to grumble, to hide, and/or to not particularly threaten the status quo.

The economic and the military crises demonstrate the long-term failure of American political consolidation and rigidity. Dissenting voices were marginalized and ignored. Disastrous interventions were undertaken that any expert could have predicted the failure of. Banks were allowed to "self regulate", and wound up throwing all caution to the wind. Policies responsible for this have been building for decades, through Democratic and Republican congresses and Administrations. Bush does not deserve all the credit, but when the house of cards fell apart he was the one left holding the bag. Certainly what was bad policy only accelerated under him, and he is worthy of whatever retribution that may come his way, in this life or beyond...

At this point it is no longer possible to rule in the old way. The authoritarian and militaristic tendency represented by George Bush and his hangers on has brought the country to the brink. If Obama did not exist he could have been invented. But bourgeois democracy is still well enough alive that, at the moment pretty much everyone saw change as necessary, he was waiting in the wings, and stepped forth to make himself available.

Yet the Democratic congress has one of the lowest approval ratings of any congress ever. Protest against it has been muted by a greater hatred of the President among liberals, and the hopes that many have placed in getting Obama elected. But it's an important development that shouldn't be ignored. Democrats may well sweep in this election, but what reason do we have to feel their record would shift in any significant way from what it has been?

The Democratic voting base is unhappy. Perhaps Nancy Pelosi was really the political love child of a Hamlet and a Kerensky: domestically unwilling to fight either Bush or Wall Street on any matter of substance that would actually resonate with their voters; while simultaneously promising to a war-weary electorate that they would not only continue to fund the wars, but indeed, they would Win them (or at least, one of them).

Obama echoes this stance on Foreign policy. Domestically he's quite capable of inspiring "ordinary" Americans that a new era of openness, honesty, and "fair play" is right around the corner. His speech in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, and the tales of Job loss and health care abuse that preceded it, have made this clear. That this is a message Americans have been ready for some time is reflected in his standing in the polls, and presumably at the time of this writing, will be so in the election as well.

This may tempt many to ignore, or at least, be polite enough not to bring it up at the dinner table, that Obama wants MORE Americans to be recruited into the military, be trained in how to kill people, and then be flown into a middle eastern desert with assault rifles, tanks, and explosives to impose the same agenda George Bush first sent them there after. If you are an Iranian or a Pakistani Obama does represent a continuation of saber rattling against your national borders. If you are a Palestinian you can be pretty well assured that Israel's occupation of your country will continue, with all the home demolitions, economic blockades, "Apartheid Wall" erection, orchard destruction, and refugee camps that entails- the resolutions of the UN General Assembly be damned. If you are an active duty Iraq Veteran Against the War currently deployed you need not expect to be coming home any sooner than you were before the election.

JFK was too an idealistic, inspiring, young American president who seemed to breathe a breath of fresh air into a suffocating political climate when he was elected in 1960. His picture today is likely to appear next to that of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a "leader" of the civil rights movement. That he escalated the intervention in Vietnam, or organized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba to overthrow a popular new government, is generally left out of such official histories...

Yet one of the many ironies of the 1960s was that thousands of young people, who had once found themselves "turned on" to politics, change, activism, and involvement by JFK himself, would some years later find themselves protesting his successor, demanding his resignation, and a halt to the destructive foreign policy that JFK, along with general media ignorance and goodwill, had quietly escalated while he was president.

"Rich White Men" do run the world. But they're smart enough to recognize it will take a Black Liberal to re-sell endless war to the American people. At the moment the needs of the Democratic Party, and by extension (quite clearly visible through a look at the names of large campaign donors) the more intelligent and far sighted elements of the American ruling class, are coinciding with a general desire for change, new ideas, and fresh approaches, among much of the electorate. Yet how far in the development of such a new political paradigm most "ordinary" Americans may be willing to go is likely to prove quite different from the caution- particularly on foreign policy- that an Obama administration would exert.

Take health care for instance- millions of Americans are convinced by Sicko, their own life experience, and even their own interpretations of the words of Obama himself that For-Profit, corporate health care is ineffective at best and an abomination at worst. Yet the Obama platform envisions a continued role for the private insurance industry: the very root of the problem!

The presidential debates as well reveal, like most mainstream sources of information, more by what they do not say than by what they do. The Candidates were asked, "What might you cut from your program for 'change' given the state of the economy?" Of course, as to be expected, they both responded evasively. But what was shocking was that no one mentioned cutting the war in Iraq.

Obama's plan for withdrawing a few combat units at a time over a period of 16 months is not based on any military assessment of what is needed, nor is it based on respect for the political disposition of Iraqi citizens. Least of all is the terrible (financial and human) cost of it all factored in. It is essentially a stall for time, that allows both Obama and Maliki to appear to be "ending" an occupation unpopular in both their countries, while (ideally) the Iraqi military might be able to build itself up to point where that state could survive with a limited (though not eliminated) American presence.

America is ready for political change. The ideologies of this country's inhabitants are in a state of flux. Textbooks on Free Market Economics that were printed only a few years ago can no longer be taken seriously by college students, let alone the "man on the street"... But this process is not complete, nor is it self-fulfilling. The confidence of stock market boosterism is gone; and while the same writers search frantically for answers in the very pages where once they cheer led the invasion of Iraq and the deregulation of Wall Street, the structure that keeps them as writers and keeps you as passive recipients of other people's news remains intact, albeit a little shaken. Ears are certainly open.

Are your mouths?

The Antiwar movement, with notable exceptions (particularly the role of IVAW, and the march in Denver after the Rage Against the Machine show), has pretty well shut itself up over the summer. It was great that Code Pink came out to protest at the DNC, but many of their members have also been donating a lot of money to Obama. High level members of UFPJ were on the conference calls in weekly meetings in the lead up to the protests, but there was no effort put into making Denver the sort of mass mobilization that has occurred time and again in the streets of Washington, DC, New York or San Francisco (geographic isolation and high gas prices notwithstanding).

What kind of message does that send?

In the lead up to an election the contradiction between promises, both inferred and spoken, and actual candidates' behavior may be well overlooked by their own supporters, for whom a presidential election may appear as one of the only tangible levers of power they will ever have the opportunity to pull. But in office it is unlikely that such a coalition of the people, and their new president, will be as solid as it has been in the lead up to November 4th.

Ideas are in flux. The old ones are being daily broken down and the new ones are for most intangible and only perhaps half ways developed. It is precisely here that our voices are crucially important. Will we mobilize in 2009 or will we "wait and see"? Is it possible that enough domestic reform might take place within the US for a public that deep down knows better to give the new Administration the benefit of the doubt with regards to foreign policy? And what are the costs of the left, and the antiwar movement, continuing to silence itself, particularly when the far right is passing anti-immigrant statues right and left at the local level across the nation?

No one who has lost their job, or who has seen their savings wiped out, will cheer the crisis. But no thinking leftist has any business to ignore the opportunities it provides. What new political alignment may emerge from an Obama administration will depend in large part on whether or not the left will point out the gap between rhetoric and reality and consistently push substantive change via the construction of responsive, independent, and grassroots sources of power- regardless of whether or not it they have already have any advocates in Washington.

The case for activism is easier to make now than it ever has been. Millions wait and hope, unsure if it is as yet a necessity. It is the job of a left to be there, "out and proud", listening and speaking alongside those whose condition is increasingly pushing it to be one.

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