November 04, 2008

Barack Obama: A Force for Change

Published in Dissident Warwick Issue 3/11/08
by Barnaby Pace

I hope the change that is on offer in US politics today is real. I am not referring to the facetious image politics of the new hopeful having a different racial background, gender or being somebody you would have a drink with but a lasting sea change from the self-serving, squalid and sometimes cruel political climate that has existed in the US for the last 8 years. Yes we are talking about Obama. He is not, and cannot be all things to all men, he isn’t Santa, the Easter bunny or the second coming of Jesus (despite the McCain campaign’s nickname for him, “the one”) but he does offer real hope to both the American people and to everyone else around the world.

In the last 8 years we have witnessed corruption, authoritarian domestic security policies, torture programmes, pugilistic foreign policy, increasing poverty inside the US, the export of an extreme ideological economic policy, denials and obstructionism of action on climate change and a failing US economy, to name but a few issues. We are extremely fortunate that Bush has become a lame duck president with little support in the House of Representatives or Senate. It seems that opinion of US politics is at rock bottom.

It is worth remembering at this point that there will be flaws in the policies put forward by any politician. For my part I dislike the unbalanced pro-Israel stance that Obama has adopted during the campaign, the pugnacious attitude to cross-border strikes in Pakistan, his support of the FISA bill which granted immunity to telecoms companies for illegal wiretapping ordered by the Bush administration, the unwillingness of nearly every US politician to consider prosecuting the current administration for war crimes. On the economy Obama, considered by many an extreme lefty in US politics could be considered either moderate or right of centre by the standards of UK politics. US politics always has been very free market oriented and that is unlikely to change. Obama and the US democrats are not perfect, but we cannot expect any politician to be.

Obama does however have a huge amount to offer. Unlike every US presidential candidate before him his finances are not coming from special interest groups and lobbyists but from small donations from supporters now numbering in the millions. This unwillingness to kowtow to businesses we can hope will be a foundation of many aspects of an Obama presidency. Obama’s plans to reform bankruptcy law to protect pensions over executive pockets, to allow the medicare programme to find cheaper generic prescription drugs from anywhere in the world and to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour are indicative this.

America has become trapped into the Bush-Cheney sabre rattling form of “diplomacy” where anyone who’s not your friend is your enemy, and anyone out of favour cannot even be spoken to. This does not look tough, it looks arrogant. Real diplomacy is based on talking to anyone, friend or foe. The Obama-Biden commitment to talk to any leader and to attempt to re-establish the US as a nation to lead on diplomacy, instead of one to block and bully is one that represents a real hope for action. On issues ranging from global poverty and global arms control to climate change, a new diplomatic approach is much more likely to suceed. The proof of interest in these issues can be found merely by looking at Obama’s voting record and the bills he has sponsored whether on Darfur in the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2006 or by opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which said that the US presence in Iraq should be used to counter any Iranian threat, which would have been a highly aggressive and provocative step.

This is arguably the most scrutinised election in memory with US escapist drama viewers switching to the reality TV of election fever. Barely a day goes by where you cannot find a sizeable article in every UK broadsheet analysing the twists and turns of this election. This isn’t merely due to the spectacle of the rallies or the constant TV adverts but because what this election embodies the hopes of Americans and the world. We see in Obama not only somebody to steer American away from the horrors of the Bush years but to quote former president Clinton, we want to be awed by the power of America’s example, not the example of its power. We can hope that this renewed interest and scrutiny of American politics continues and that a potential Obama presidency is one that is made to live up to the ideals of the lofty rhetoric expressed by the Obama campaign.

We cannot expect Obama to solve every problem, we certainly cannot expect him to do everything we could wish of him, but he has the opportunity to help the millions of American’s people around the globe whose lives have only been made harder directly or indirectly by the Bush regime. Obama can restore our hope that America can be a beacon of hope for the world not the source of pain.


- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I’d recommend reading Chris Rossdale’s article that made up the other half of the head to head feature, his article can be found at http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/dissidentwarwick/entry/barack_obama_change/

    04 Nov 2008, 18:14

  2. Sue

    I can’t help thinking that whoever wins the election will soon become the person everyone loves to hate. I hope I’m wrong.

    04 Nov 2008, 20:29

  3. Vincent

    This argument has some fatal flaws. I’ll attempt to highlight some.

    I hope the change that is on offer in US politics today is real. I am not referring to the facetious image politics of the new hopeful having a different racial background, gender…

    Then you are not talking about this election. [more on that below].

    ...the self-serving, squalid and sometimes cruel political climate that has existed in the US for the last 8 years.

    In the last 8 years we have witnessed corruption, authoritarian domestic security policies, torture programmes, pugilistic foreign policy, increasing poverty inside the US, the export of an extreme ideological economic policy, denials and obstructionism of action on climate change and a failing US economy…

    America has become trapped into the Bush-Cheney sabre rattling form of “diplomacy” where anyone who’s not your friend is your enemy, and anyone out of favour cannot even be spoken to. This does not look tough, it looks arrogant.

    When we can name an American administration that does not exhibit these qualities, I’ll be willing to let the comments stand as independent and worthwhile. The common mistake is that the last 8 years have been a radical departure in terms of policy, especially foreign policy. From what I can see, it is true that they are driven by a particular dogmatism, which means their realpolitik is not very subtle, not very developed. In terms of the consequences, it is not to be seen as dissimilar. People who can remember and/or have read in depth about other administrations come out with a different opinion. It’s not in any way a Republican/Democrat issue, and further discussion of the history of the two parties and how that differs from today’s experience will serve to reinforce my claim.

    Obama and the US democrats are not perfect, but we cannot expect any politician to be.

    This brings to my mind the common argument that politics is about compromise, but essentially an effort for good and for change. I’m going to say the same as every time I hear that argument…it simply stretches credibility that these great minds, our self-declared leaders, fail so terribly each time to enact policies that could be pro-human or pro-equality. The motivation is not there from the off, that’s the point. They are not flawed but essentially well-meaning men of honour, they are something else entirely. That’s before we get into the actual reality which is that we should see the modern politician as tools in the hand, not as independent and autonomous beings.

    ...

    05 Nov 2008, 14:09

  4. Vincent

    ...

    The differences here are essentially our political differences in fact. the Obama argument in this issue could just as easily be titled “can anyone do anything in the current situation?”. I would argue no, but that’s because of what I’m concerned with. Let’s say I’m concerned with economic inequality and secondly its strong correlation with race in the USA. Now it’s not surprising that most of the talk in presidential debates is about the [lower] middle class. This is all completely anathema to me. Very little is said of the working class, (and in the USA they make a sharp distinction between “working class” and “poor”, a distinction not made here, and given that almost a quarter of American families earn less than half the national median [itself ever declining since the 1970s], a particularly bizarre distinction), the ideal of life is still to make it big, rich, and leave the rest behind. Obama has constantly referred to the American dream, but the problem of course with a capitalist society is that not everyone can make it to be lawyer, doctor, politician, superstar. Nothing so far has been said about those that remain, and a cursory glance over the statistics will alert us to the massive problem that exists. Visit the urban ghettos and the rural south in 8 years and try to spot the differences for the people that need it. No change in alienation of labour and no change in job and life security, I’ll bet. Without this, it’s all games.

    Even in terms of your own politics, the explication here largely fits the also common “I don’t agree on [insert most important policies], but I really think [insert self-serving politician of “change”] can do it….somehow” argument, which always sounds like an an act of bad faith clinging on to hope. Again, it’s a “how many examples do you want” issue. After the 1997 election a friend and I went round the playground shaking hands with everyone whose parents voted Labour (i.e. everyone). Obviously at that age I hadn’t done the reading, I didn’t know about the striking down of clause IV or the project as a whole, I just wanted the Tories out. And look what we’ve done with it after a decade. Likewise Clinton’s years were very successful and came after a similarly dogmatic 12 year period, but delve more into it and your opinion changes… we could go on. I really don’t see what should be different about things this time. To me it seems the jubilant crowds are jubilant because of the dogmatic/pragmatic issue, with memories stretching only to the year 2000.

    To the talk of change of I mentioned at the start. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating… the change, the “history” being talked about here is simply the fact that we were either going to have the first black man as president, or a woman as vice, and the former is major departure. We had the first black nominee, the second female vice nominee. But this is merely identity politics. I take a very dim view of identity politics. When you can point to a momentous change in policy…but that requires a major overhaul of the system of policy formation, power relations, method of production, etc. Both your own and Chris’s article outline major continuities which will not be broken. What little policy discussion there is in modern politics is about method, not principle.
    But as I say, this difference in analysis is probably simply be a difference between your politics and mine, between relatively liberal social democratic notions, and a systematic critique of all power and human motivation, and in that, to be fair, the vast majority of what considers themselves left or progressive.

    I think that will do for today.
    If we want to take up policy issues such as global warming, we can do that a bit later.

    Anyway, congratulations all on this issue of Dissident Warwick.

    Vincent

    05 Nov 2008, 14:11


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