The Spark December 2008 - January 2009
Since the office was first introduced in 1789, the President of the United States has been the leading figurehead in American capitalism, imperialism and exploitation. It is impressive that for the first time in 219 years, in a country that only roughly 40 years ago institutionalised segregation and only roughly 140 years ago still practised slavery, a black face is now at the top. But that does not change what the US presidency represents.
Barack Obama is a very skilled politician. He recognised that the American people hated George W. Bush and were eager to throw him and the Republican Party out at the first opportunity available. As a fresh face to the US political stage, he did not have the baggage of a tired old politician that the public had been aware of for over a decade or more, as in the case of McCain and Clinton. Obama could present himself as a “blank canvas” for voters to paint their own hopes and dreams onto, like many successful populist politicians. He tapped into a public discontent and exploited it for his own advantage. His actual policies are almost inconsequential to his monumental success. That is where the “change” everyone is so hyped up about comes from - from cynical political posturing. It does not actually mean anything.
Due to his populism and “blank canvas” image, a lot of the left are likely to be very soft on Obama in the coming years. Which is odd, as Obama is no actual leftist. For example, he wants to withdraw from Iraq - so he can escalate the war in Afghanistan. While Obama was portrayed as an “anti-war” candidate, the reality is different. Obama opposed the Iraq war only because it went against American imperialist interests; as he said at a rally against the Iraq war in 2002, while he was still an unknown state senator, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
In many ways Obama will be better for US imperialism than Bush was, as now American imperialism will have a charismatic, likeable face which will make it much easier for America to get away with a lot of their despicable actions. Obama has also stated his commitment to capitalism time and time again, saying in a 60 Minutes interview, “I think our basic principle, that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates innovation and risk-taking - I think that’s a principle that we’ve got to hold to as well.” Obama has always been a capitalist and an imperialist politician at heart.
All of Obama’s cabinet and staff choices so far comprise Washington insiders, former Clinton administration officials and war hawks. There is no sign that there will be much of a change in direction for any future appointments. For example, his first choice as his running-mate was Joe Biden, the war hawk senior Senator from Delaware who is also the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Biden voted for the Iraq war and as recently as 15 November 2007 he expressed his support for the Patriot Act. This Act expanded the powers of the federal government to spy on its own citizens and allows the President to detain anyone he wants as an “enemy combatant”. Biden is also an avowed supporter of Israel.
Obama’s first cabinet appointment was Rahm Emmanuel as his chief of staff. Rahm Emmanuel is an Israeli-American congressman, a notorious Democratic partisan, and, like Biden, a pro-Israel warhawk, so this appointment goes against Obama’s to make politics less divisive. During a pro-Israel rally he claimed Israel was ready for peace and that Palestinians should “turn away from the path of terror”, which is a tad laughable considering all the atrocities Israel has committed against the Palestinians.
Rahm is also a prominent member of the New Democrat Coalition, an organisation within the United States Congress that advocates pro-business policies and economic liberalisation. This is the same group Hillary Clinton is a part of, and she is being appointed Secretary of State. But during the primary election campaign Obama claimed that the most striking difference between himself and Clinton was their foreign policy, as, like Joe Biden, Clinton also voted for the war in Iraq.
And if all this disappointment wasn’t enough for all the peaceniks who pinned their hopes on this candidate as a catalyst for “change” from the Bush administration, it was then announced after much speculation that Robert Gates from the Bush administration will stay as Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration.
As we can see, Obama isn’t going to be very left-wing. Not only has he appointed right-wing war hawk Democrats to important cabinet positions, but his economic advisory board consists of billionaires such as Warren Buffett and free-market advocates such Austan Goolsbee. His choice as head of the government’s National Economic Council is a man by the name of Lawrence Summers, an ardent proponent of globalisation and free trade. This man once advocated (in 1991) that the First World dump all its pollution into the territory of Third World nations. His logic was that “countries ought to export more pollution to developing countries because these countries would incur the lowest cost from the pollution in terms of lost wages of people made ill or killed by the pollution, due to the fact that wages are so low in developing countries”.