A Nigerian view on the US Presidential elections
Americans have a decision to make on November 4, when the US presidential election is to be held. Evidently, Barack Obama’s candidature and campaign for the presidential seat has become a global phenomenon, not just in America and Europe but also in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. It is not only because of his multi-racial background that Obama appeals to millions across the world, but also because his claim of giving hope resonates in the minds of Americans who are seeking a change from the 8 year-long economic deprivation wrought by the neo-liberal policies of the Republican Bush presidency.
In the Middle East, millions hope an Obama victory would signify a change in US foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran etc. Africans especially, see America as a second home, with its large population of African diaspora, meaning that the socio-economic wellbeing of the US is of prime importance to the millions of African families who have relations pursuing the ‘American dream’. As Dr. Reuben Abati put it in his “Obama and the Tom Bradley effect” (The Guardian, Sunday October 26, 2008, pg 70), the Obama craze has infected Nigeria to such an extent that the “National Assembly almost passed a resolution endorsing Barack Obama for US president” while cars, motorcycles, barbers’ salons and pepper soup joints are adorned with Obama-for-President stickers. This is a testimony to the phenomenal support which Barack Obama enjoys around the world, even from those who are not going to vote in the Nov. 4 elections.
But the twist is that though millions of working and middle class Americans have so much hope in Obama, the rich in America, Europe and Asia, bankers, stock brokers and big corporations are also looking to him for a way out of the current global financial meltdown which was triggered by the gambling of US fat cats, the consequences of which will be deep, drawn-out and devastating. Thus, Barack Obama can be said to be in the eye of the storm, comparable to the Biblical Jesus whom average Americans look to for salvation from mounting debts, foreclosures, job losses, unemployment and poverty, but who the greedy fat cats also look to, to save the capitalist system. Don’t forget that as well as the donations of average Americans and youths to the Obama campaign, records show that big corporations and banks have donated the most, thus making the Obama campaign the most expensive in the history of US.
In the countdown to the November poll, some world media organisations such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and some of our own Nigerian media organizations and journalists, like Dr. Reuben Abati have all endorsed Barack Obama’s candidature thus effectively making the Nov. 4 polls seem a mere ritual, as his victory seems already assured.
The aim of this article is to examine what many Obama advocates have refrained from examining: can the conflicting hopes of rich and poor working and middle class Americans vested in Obama be genuinely fulfilled? A careful look at the economic and political policies of Barack Obama and John McCain is therefore necessary.
‘Joe the Plumber’
And where better to start than with the famous plight of ‘Joe the Plumber’, who had challenged Barack Obama’s taxation policies as a threat to the ‘American dream’. The American dream is the alleged, much touted ability of Americans, irrespective of social or economic background to climb the social ladder. This much touted ‘American dream’ was reinforced by the welfare policies of the US state in the 50s to 70s, influenced by the need to develop society after the ravages of the 1929 Great Depression and the Second World War. Thus we had the ‘New Deal’ of Franklin Roosevelt and the post-Second World War ‘Marshal Plan’. This entailed massive state intervention and investment in housing, education, health etc which led to improvements in the standard of living.
However, with the restoration of naked neo-liberalism since the end of the 70s (from Ronald Reagan till now), the ‘American dream’ has become illusory. Since 1979, the share of income of the richest 1% has doubled, leaving the US with the greatest inequality among all developed nations. The richest 10% of the adult population possess 69.8% of the country’s wealth. The result is a middle class hardly distinguishable from the working class. Millions (blacks, Latinos and whites etc) who had hitherto enjoyed some improved standard of living have now been thrown onto the garbage heap, as a result of the unbridled, profit-driven economic policies of the past three decades. It is these millions, angry and shocked at the horrific plummeting of their living standards that McCain and Obama are scrambling desperately to win in this election.
This explains the popularity of the ‘Joe the Plumber’ scenario in this election and McCain’s effort (while offering nothing better) to discredit Obama’s tax policies. Despite the efforts of Kennedy Emetulu in his article ‘Joe the phantom plumber’ (The Guardian, Sunday October 2008, P. 16) to play it down, this issue remains a sore point. In truth, McCain’s tax policy pampers the rich but Barack’s too equally toadies after the corporations who are funding his campaign, while offering peanuts to small businesses. Of course, millions of Americans facing foreclosures and job losses would welcome the tax relief promised by Obama, but this cannot fundamentally improve living standards in the immediate and further future.
Another issue of concern in the current election campaign is the US occupation of Iraq, which has cost tax payers billions of dollars and is bound to cost more blood and money if troops are not immediately withdrawn. Unfortunately, neither Obama or McCain have promised to immediately withdraw troops. All Obama has promised is phased withdrawal within 16 months. What this means is that Obama will only completely withdraw all US combat forces when the puppet Iraqi government proves it can police the country on its own. And as this will never happen in time, Obama’s presidency may be bogged down by Iraq as much as Bush’s. Recall that as an Illinois Senator, Obama once voted for funding for the prosecution of the Iraq war which is ultimately being waged for the profits of capitalists and their corporations. If Obama wins therefore, we should not expect immediate withdrawal from Iraq (although, at some time the US will eventually be compelled to withdraw, especially if the resistance within Iraq intensifies), especially as his government will also be faced with the need to restore the hurt confidence, integrity and pride of the US as the world policeman.
Therefore in all respects, both Obama and McCain are essentially the same, the difference being that where the former plays to the gallery by inflating a bubble of hope which will soon burst in a flurry of disillusionment, the latter bogged down by his identification with the hated Bush regime, has less room to manoeuvre and thus sticks to conservative Republican trash with a conceited air of indifference. Little wonder that fat cats and campaign financiers have jumped over to Obama. Thus, the Republican party is cash-strapped while the Democrats swim in an ocean of funds. But this is a ‘subprime’ bubble which is bound to burst soon. Unfortunately, it is on the heads of the American working and middle classes that this bubble will burst, especially when an Obama presidency defends the greed of the capitalists against working people.
In this election, average working class and middle class Americans lack a real choice precisely because there is as yet no genuine third political party in US which offers a credible alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. Thus, the task facing poor and working people in US and in fact all over the world is the need for the trade unions and pro-masses organizations to build a mass working class party with socialist policies of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic management of the working people as against the capitalist policies of the official parties, which defend the interests of the rich few. If such a working class party were to be present in the current US elections, the current hope which millions of average Americans have misplaced on Obama would have been correctly placed on such a party – a party funded and democratically controlled by poor and working Americans and not the Democrat or Republican parties being funded and controlled by the rich.
Poor Americans need a President and party that will truly guarantee a permanent and improved standard of living. Poor Americans need a President that will boldly announce immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, in order to allow the Iraqi people to democratically determine their destiny and not this fuzzy hope that Obama preaches. Poor Americans need a government that can guarantee employment with decent pay, free and quality education and healthcare, quality and affordable housing, care for the environment, gay and lesbian rights, rights of abortion and genuine world peace by ending wars fought in the commercial interests of US capital.
But how can they possibly get this under an Obama presidency which merely wants to tax the rich a bit more? The current global financial meltdown, triggered by banks and subprime mortgages in the US has already proved that the current casino economy is not viable and the fact that even if eventually the world recovers from this crisis without a revolutionary movement of working people to take over the reins of society, the greed of the capitalists will, for as long as capitalism lasts, continue to drag humanity through a giddy cycle of boom and burst.
Reuben Abati in his article mentioned above said, “The crisis on Wall Street is a clear, measurable confirmation of Obama’s message that America needs to be fixed”. Then, why can’t Obama promise to go further than the miserable George Bush by nationalizing not just failed banks, but all banks, mortgage providers, insurances and financial firms under the democratic control of workers, while paying compensation to small shareholders on the basis of proven need and guaranteeing the safety of depositors’ savings? This would save the jobs of millions who will be rendered jobless under the current pro-rich package of Bush. If nationalized banks are then integrated with public ownership of all the commanding heights of the US economy with democratic management of committees of workers, experts, government and community representatives, it would then be possible to halt the dangerous slide into recession, re-energize the US economy and guarantee permanent, decent living standards for all. This would ensure the bail-out of the whole of society, rather than the nationalisation of failed banks carried out in Britain, US, France, Japan, Russia etc which only amount to compensating a few capitalist gamblers for their loss while millions face job losses. If Obama promised this, wouldn’t it be a clearer and more measurable confirmation of his message that America needs to be fixed?
But as expected, both Obama and McCain avoid bailing out the whole of society. When the Bush regime was forced to swallow its free market vomit in shame, by taking over the running of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (both failed Mortgage providers), the Democrats hurled the insult of ‘socialism for the rich’ with glee. But when McCain used ‘Joe the Plumber’ to paint Barack Obama as nearing socialism by his tax policies which aimed to ‘distribute wealth’, the Democrats shrieked in horror.
With anger, Kennedy Elumelu writes, “They are trying to say he’s a socialist or Marxist who is itching to take away your riches and give them to those vermin on the streets. They are telling you he’s going to punish industry and entrepreneurship and ruin your proud and beautiful edifices of individualism, hard work and honest earnings”. Note the word ‘vermin’, which clearly denotes the average poor American made homeless and jobless by industry, entrepreneurship and the capitalist brand of hard work and honest earnings, which consists of drunken gambling on the stock exchange while those who produce the wealth slave 10 hrs a day in poor conditions, with peanuts as take-home pay and forever threatened by job losses whenever the chicken of capitalist gambling comes home to roost. The’ vermin’ are the American working class on whose back American civilization and industry was built.
And to assure the capitalist class that Obama is for them and will continue to be for them, Kennedy Elumelu says further, “Obama on his part must continue to let Americans know that he has in his team of advisers some of the richest, most credible and most accomplished Americans alive and that these people are joining and seriously supporting him because they know he isn’t going socialist’. Surely, only the richest are allowed on Obama’s team of advisers. Surely the ‘vermin’ have no place in the Democratic or Republican parties just as they will have no say when eventually either Obama or McCain wins.
Who is afraid of socialism, we ask? Surely not the poor working American people seeking a way out of the economic crisis wrought by capitalism. Only the capitalists are afraid, because socialism means the wealth of the society will be redistributed to all members of that society according to the amount of work done while taking care of the young, the old, the sick, the infirm or disabled through a system of collective social security comprising of free education at all levels, free health services, extensive transportation system, housing etc. Contrary to the Soviet Union which degenerated into Stalinism (a bureaucratic totalitarianism totally alien to socialism), socialism also means the guaranteeing of democratic rights of all, including the right of people to self determination, rights to practice the religion of your choice, right to free speech and assembly, no discrimination against women etc.
Despite the abuse piled on him by capitalist commentators, many economists when analysing the current global financial meltdown have had cause to admit that Old Karl Marx was right after all. Despite it being the only way to save humanity from the current madness of global financial crisis, boom and bust, poverty amidst plenty etc, if Obama says or does anything close to socialism, Washington Post, New York Times and the fat cats pouring dollars into his campaign will run berserk and you can bet that the Democrats’ campaign funds will dry up, while McCain becomes their preferred choice overnight. That is why every effort is being made to counter McCain’s claims by saying that Obama does not wish to ‘redistribute wealth’ but ‘spread wealth’. Who doesn’t know the difference which is that the former will bail out the whole society while the latter will bail out a few failed banks and corporations?
Have you wondered why Barack Obama is running the most expensive campaign while McCain and the ruling Republican Party are cash starved few days to election? It is because majority sections of the capitalist class are supporting Obama because they see him as the only man who can direct the anger of millions of poor Americans at the economic situation into a huge bubble of illusion and hope thus ensuring that this anger does not lead to a social revolution. Capitalists have throughout history distinguished themselves as capable of jumping on any life boat in order to preserve their rule and they have no shame now in abandoning their old friend, George Bush and his Republicans for a boyish Illinois Senator little known couple of years ago. As Colin Powell’s defection demonstrated, all is for the safety of the system and it is hoped that old McCain will understand. Dr. Reuben Abati was right when he ended his above mentioned article thus, “The first and the continuing task for an Obama Presidency, in the event of victory, will be the hubris of high expectations”. If Obama does not win, a few years from now, myth will have it that he had the best policy to preside over America at a most trying time but was not given a chance because he was black. If Obama wins, eventually events and experience will show that “high expectations” are not being met.If Obama wins, eventually, events and experience will show that “high expectations” are not being met. At that time, far more will think seriously about the need to build a third alternative party that stands for the real interests of working people and in which arguments for socialism can gain an audience.