US Primaries: The Obama Mirage

Behind the rhetoric of "hope" and "change"

It seems like on the cusp of being real. For the first time in the U.S., a black man has a serious chance of being the next occupant of the White House. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucus in Iowa and finished a strong second to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

The centerpiece of his campaign has been the claim that he is the candidate of "hope" and "change" as opposed to the establishment figure Hillary Clinton. He has crowned himself the king of post-racial and post-partisan politics. With the assistance of the corporate media machine, he’s been allowed to capture the imagination and hope of millions of voters, particularly new layers of politicized young people.

This includes hope that he has a "realistic" plan to end the Iraq War, that he is not beholden to big business interests and that he’s the candidate of universal healthcare. Obama wants us to believe that he’ll lift up the working poor and save the middle class.

A corporate candidate

The truth behind the Obama phenomenon however is much less attractive than the image. If you actually look at his concrete policy statements, voting record and source of campaign funds, Obama is a trusted servant of the big business elite. He represents the U.S. ruling class’s desperate attempt to put a new face on its domestic and global domination.

Obama’s list of top campaign contributors reads like a Wall Street Who’s Who list, with Goldman Sachs at the top. How does he claim to not be taking money from lobbyists and PACs and still raise over $80 million? ( The answer is the magic of bundling – elite individuals with a lot of influence get many senior and junior level executives to donate the maximum amounts ($2,300 for both the primary and general elections). As of October 29, Obama had received 46% of his campaign money from mega-rich donors who had given $2,300 or more.

It’s very convenient for "antiwar" Obama that he wasn’t in the Senate to vote for the Iraq war resolution in 2002. Based on a tepid speech he made in 2003 in which he attacked the war in Iraq as the "wrong war at the wrong time," Obama claims he has opposed the war from the start. His record in the Senate should speak much louder. He has consistently voted to approve hundreds of billions of dollars for the war and refuses to commit to pulling all the troops out by the end of his first term, in 2013! Further, Obama supports a troop increase in Afghanistan and is fully committed to the so-called "War on Terrorism." Obama supports an expansion of the military by 100,000 more troops and increasing the bloated Pentagon budget.

Obama’s claim to be the candidate of universal healthcare is no better. His plan, like Clinton’s, is only a reorganization of the current private healthcare system. This is less a guarantee for universal healthcare and more a huge scam to line the pockets of the private healthcare industry by forcing working people to buy insurance from them. As long as private profit isn’t taken out of all aspects of the healthcare industry through a single-payer system, talk of affordable and universal healthcare is no more than a mirage.

Post-racial politics?

Obama’s success as a mainstream candidate reflects his unspoken promise not to have a "race agenda." Instead, he makes patently false statements about how "blacks have already come ’90 percent of the way to equality,’ inferring that his election would provide the final ten percent" (Glen Ford, In reality, people of color face huge inequities that belie Obama’s anesthetized proposition of a post-racial paradigm.

2005 Census data show that the median income for black households was $30,939 whereas in white households it was $50,622 (Washington Post, November 14, 2006). Although only about 12% of the US population, the July 2007 Sentencing Project Report found that 900,000 of the nation’s 2.2 million prison population is black. Equally grotesque structural racism can be found in the criminal neglect of infrastructure, education and housing in the black community.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama attempted to tamp down the legitimate anger of Blacks in New Orleans, saying "The incompetence was color-blind." He had to be poked and prodded to even bother responding to the clear racist double standards in the prosecution of the Jena 6 in Louisiana.

Nevertheless, Obama’s rhetoric about change didn’t come out of thin air. Most Americans want to ditch the eight-year burden of the extreme right wing, militarist presidency under George W. Bush along with his Democratic Party accomplices. Millions of working class people and youth are frustrated by their falling incomes, lack of healthcare and the unending military occupation in Iraq. Obama’s campaign strategists have skillfully tapped into this very real sentiment for change.

Workers, young people, and people of color should reject Obama and the Democratic Party. We have no need for a party of big business that pretends to fight for regular people. We don’t need any corporate politicians whose purpose is to confuse and derail our path to independent politics. What we need are principled independent antiwar, anti-corporate, pro-worker candidates to challenge the two parties of big business at all local and national levels of office.

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January 2008