It seems like only yesterday that America faced the question of whether Barack Obama would be the country’s first black president. Back then, there was seemingly an inexhaustible supply of enthusiasm, energy, and vitality amongst masses of people looking for “hope” and “change” in Obama as a guarantor against continuation of the Bush-era policies. Yet here we stand four years later, and not only have those very hopes for change been completely dashed, but the continuity between the past and present has been remarkable.
For many, Obama’s election victory appeared to mark a turning point for the USA – a shift away from the launching phony wars against “terrorism,” of ending financial breaks and “welfare” for the super-rich billionaires and bankers, of restricting democratic rights and civil liberties, of attacks on workers’ rights to unionize, etc. Millions of the poorest, particularly African-Americans, looked to Obama to deliver them from a decades-long decline in wages and welfare rights, as mass unemployment and soup kitchens spread across the richest country in the world.
It did not take long, however, for the millionaire-backed politician from the openly pro-bourgeois Democratic Party to enervate any illusions of what his presidency might mean for the poor and downtrodden. The ecstasy and far-reaching intoxication that came with November 2008 culminated, as it usually does, in a brutally painful and near incapacitating hangover as Obama made his first priority after taking office servicing not the needs of the working poor but of the bankers and bosses. Since then, there has been nothing standout-ish about this presidency other than the absurd and downright tiresome lengths to which Obama can and does go usually to justify and rationalize his pro-1%, imperialist policies.
Of course, he obtained a perennial excuse when the Republicans retook the House of Representatives in 2010 with the help of the Tea Party pressure-group insurgency active from within. He then sold the lie to the American people that progressive policies had to wait until another election, whereby the voting of Democrats back in office was the solution. But even before this, when the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, Obama did not move on his promises. What was the excuse then? It came down to a matter of political allegiance: the bosses’ came before the rest of us.
Obama’s shameful record
When the car companies needed a bailout and were given a pro-capitalist restructuring policy with the blessing of the President, paid for by cuts to autoworkers’ jobs and wages. But the Employee Free-Choice Act was dropped, despite its being the trade unions’ key demand in exchange for supporting Obama in 2008.
Obama stated publicly that he would walk the line with striking workers whenever and wherever the situation arose. Not only has that not happened, especially in key struggles where the trade-union constituency of the Democratic Party mobilized (like in Wisconsin or even recently with the teachers in Chicago), but the President equivocated while his party either sold the struggle short or attacked it outright.
The already bled dry working and middle-class taxpayers found themselves made to re-capitalize the ailing banks, buying effectively their worthless assets, and helping pay for “stimulus” packages that did not put millions of the unemployed back to work for good pay but provided excellent profit incentives for the currency traders, speculators, and stock coupon clippers.
For all those who believed that Obama would be a president of peace, that he would be nothing like his “shoot from the hip,” warmongering predecessor who near unilaterally orchestrated two imperialist invasions of sovereign countries, of all the miscalculations, this one undoubtedly has to be the most intelligible. Not only has Obama not ended any wars, he has expanded them prodigiously, e.g., Afghanistan. Even worse than Bush, Obama has amplified the CIA-led program of drone strikes that have killed hundreds of innocent women and children in a number of countries and in direct violation of their national sovereignty: Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, just to name a few.
Obama’s administration has been more than plucky – unlike elsewhere – on its efforts to deport an influential and strategic support base for his 2012 campaign: immigrant laborers predominately from Latin America. Upwards 400,000 “undocumented” people have been rounded up and kicked out since 2010 alone. This staunch betrayal of people promised sanctuary to both live and work is one of the most disgraceful of all.
The one “shining beacon” the dwindling die-hard supporters of the President continue to point to, however, is his success in passing health-care reform. Yet even this bill does disproportionately more for the health corporations than it does for millions of the currently uninsured. For even with the passage and future implementation of the bill, there are, and will still be, millions of people remaining without any health coverage. Now Medicare is going to pay the price to ensure the state does not have to tax the rich to cover the subsidies necessary to make sure millions of people do not have to pay a fine for not having health insurance. And the president dares call this a progressive effort at resolving America’s long term health-care deficiencies?
As always, on every issue the Democrats’ excuse to their supporters is that “the Republicans are even worse!”
Obama does not deserve workers’ votes
Obama’s greatest strength is the divisions in the Republican camp, which gave the Republican candidacy to the unpopular millionaire Mitt Romney. Unsurprisingly, there is no repeat of the 2008 “movement,” which saw tens of thousands of young, black, and union activists working for an Obama break, just election year business-as-usual as its costs pass the billion-dollar mark.
Though the Democrats try to pass themselves off as more progressive than the Republicans, both are big business parties, despite trade union support for the Democrats. The working class should not fall for this to vote for Obama as the “lesser evil.” What’s the point of playing the lesser-evil card when the lesser evil takes office and conducts policy that is indistinguishable overall from the “greater evil”?
Activists are told to “wait” for the Democrats to deliver. Then when they deliver inadequate policies – or actually attack workers – they are told, “don’t rock the boat or the Republicans will get in.” This hamstrings any serious fight against war, racism, and neo-liberal policies. Any “gains” won this way are minimal, far less than could be gained by mobilizing workers or the oppressed in a real struggle. These gains either fit in with capitalism, like Obama’s healthcare that requires workers to enroll for expensive plans or be fined, or see a few of the sharpest aspects of an attack knocked off, while the overall decline in living standards continues.
American workers can’t keep watching their position decline forever; many are already on the breadline. They need organizations that will mount mass campaigns, protests,and strikes to defeat the policies that enrich the 1%, whether from Obama or Romney. This is especially true as the US debt crisis comes to a head, and both parties threaten to attack key welfare gains like Social Security.
Rather than voting Obama to block the Republicans and hoping he’ll be different this time around, workers, youth, and the socially oppressed should abstain from the polls and organize themselves to be ready for the inevitable class battles looming on the horizon.
To end the Democrat-Republican cycle of government that just leaves everyone worse off, the trade unions and anti-cuts movements in the US need to launch an independent working class party, with a strategy not only to block the worst effects of the capitalist system but get rid of it completely, through a revolutionary struggle for a Socialist United States of America.