In light of such lofty promises, the public must consider whether President Obama is a true “champion” of the people – as his campaign team portrayed him – or just another capitalist politician in the pockets of big business. Of the many issues included in the expansive Obama platform, those relating to the “War on Terror,” economic recovery, the Employee Free-Choice Act, and healthcare reform were central. To a lesser extent, issues concerning student debt reduction, increased funding for alternative energy research, and the creation of so-called “green” jobs played a key role in galvanizing the youth and environmental votes.
Obama and the war
While on the campaign trail, President Obama frequently cited his opposition to the war in Iraq, repeatedly pledging to reduce and eventually withdraw all U.S. forces stationed within the country if elected. Taken from his list of promises related to Iraq, it is clearly stated in his election platform that, “[American armed forces] will not build permanent bases in Iraq for the purposes of preventing ‘an occupation of undetermined length.’” Yet the construction of Bush-era permanent military bases continues unabated.
And while he is painted by some “progressive” democrats as anti-war, he is in no way committed to ending the imperialist wars initiated by the previous administration.
In line with his idea that the war in Afghanistan and in the surrounding regions (i.e., sections of Pakistan) is a “just” war, he pledged to “focus on the right battlefield in Afghanistan.” So far, he has stayed true to his promise: by the summer of 2009 an additional 21,000 troops will put their boots down in the region, increasing the number of U.S. in-country forces to 62,000. In addition, drone attacks continue to kill both resistance forces and civilians in the South Waziristan tribal region, not to mention the previous military offensive by the Pakistani government supported by the United States in the Swat River Valley, further fostering an attitude of U.S. resentment and facilitating the material conditions for the insurgency of tomorrow. For all of his platitudes about the debacle that was and remains the Iraq War, President Obama is setting the U.S. up for an even bigger failure and more casualties in Afghanistan.
Banks before people
As the global recession grinds on, President Obama frequently pledged to ease the plight of working-class Americans though a combination of far-reaching government interventionism and massive deficit spending. With the expected deficit to reach nearly $9 trillion by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office5, the administration has allocated a staggering amount of money – $787 billion – for the sole purpose of “economic relief,” yet the working class has seen little benefit from such action. Months have passed since $200+ billion in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program were used to bail out insolvent banks, yet the unemployment rate is consistently on the increase, despite reports from financial institutions reporting better-than-expected returns.
It is evident that the administration is more concerned with shoring up bankrupt financial institutions at the expense of the working class, than doing anything to alleviate their present suffering. If the latest unemployment figures of 9.4 per cent 10 are correct, the much-touted efforts by the administration to put the economy “back on track” have not helped workers or the overwhelming majority of the US population. The measures show the true colors of the Obama administration: propping up the crisis-ridden capitalist system with government handouts and subsidies at the expense of workers and youth who have no interest in paying for and maintaining these decrepit institutions.
Union rights stalled
When was still campaigning for the Presidency and trying to win the support of the trade-union leadership and the rank and file, candidate Obama promised union officials that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would be a major priority of his presidency. If the EFCA became law, the ability to decide on the use of a secret ballot would fall solely in the hands of the employees, rather than employers, and thus greatly facilitate efforts to unionize workplaces. Additionally, it would penalize employers that violated provisions issued by the National Labor Relations Board. The benefits of such a move are obvious; so it made sense for the major labor unions in the U.S. (grouped in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win confederations) to throw their collective weight – some $80 million of campaign funds – behind the Democratic ticket.
It is no surprise that the bill stalled in Congress. Any effort to empower the working class threatens the interests of capital, and, as such, the positions of power held by the bourgeois politicians tasked with “representing” the people. Rather than make a concerted effort on his part to push the bill through, Obama is content making promises and then conveniently shifting his attention to supposedly more pressing matters – like economic recovery and health care reform – knowing that any effort to pass the EFCA at the current conjuncture is next to “impossible.” This is the nature of a bourgeois party that leans directly on the mass organizations of the working class once is gets into a position of governmental power. Because Obama and the Democrats ultimately serve the capitalists, they will seek any compromise (especially with “Blue-Dog Democrats”) that serves to remove all the meaningful content from the EFCA.
The state of health care in the United States is abysmal to say the least. According to U.S Census Bureau data, as of 2007, 46 million Americans are without health insurance. To most Americans, the situation has only got worse because the majority of U.S. workers receive their insurance through their employer. The tight coupling of employment and health care make an already unpleasant situation – unemployment – that much worse and considering “official” measures of unemployment are nearing 10%, more and more working-class Americans are being thrown into the ranks of the uninsured. More than ever, universal healthcare is on the minds of the people, yet Congress and the President are making little headway. Not only do working-class Americans have to worry about tying to pay bills, pay the mortgage and find a new job, they also have the permanent fear of falling ill and having to pay the extortionate medical bills.
Although President Obama has a majority of Democratic support in the House, this is not the case in the Senate. To win over Republicans, as well as opposition from within his own party, i.e. the Blue-Dog Democrats concerned over the cost of health care reform, Obama is willing to make serious concessions. Already, one of the most promising features to emerge from the effort, the availability of a public option in his campaign’s words, a “new public plan based on benefits available to members of Congress that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health coverage” is unlikely to make the cut. With only private insurers providing coverage, any future reforms will only serve to fill the coffers of the insurance giants.
If Obama was truly serious about providing universal coverage, he would call for a tax on the wealthy to pay for it, yet he does nothing of the sort. This is because he is the politician of the bosses, so there are lines he is incapable of crossing due to his “association” with the ruling class. Public pressure, therefore, is crucial to getting the “change” the working class really needs. This includes stepping up political action: demonstrations, rallies, boycotts, work stoppages, etc to force Obama and the Democrats to do what they said they would do once they got into office.
At the same time, we cannot depend on the leaders of the health care reform movement, as they are in collusion with bourgeois politicians. They are unwilling to make the serious kind of demands necessary to realize healthcare for all workers in the U.S, citizens or otherwise, for fear of losing the lucrative advocacy positions they occupy. The reformist illusions they hold regarding the ability of Obama and the Democratic Party to enact real, meaningful change with regard to the health care structure of the United States necessitates a constant pressure on these “mis-leaders” to go further than their limited programs outline.
Needless to say, if mobilizations do achieve, albeit limited, reforms on health care, why stop there? The working class, in such cases, should not limit itself solely to winning reforms that are – frankly speaking – acceptable to the capitalist class. Reforms may alleviate severe conditions affecting certain sections and strata of the working class, but if our goal is to ensure quality treatment for all, then a complete overhaul of the entire system is necessary.
The working class and other forces currently working within the health care reform movement must prepare for the intensification of struggle once the Obama administration ultimately rejects our demands because of their impact on the profits of the drug and insurance companies. Only through sustained effort and greater organization will it be possible to fight for and obtain the change we really need: a health care system that operates on the premise of need, not private greed.
If we really want a health care system that provides for all and reduces overhead expenses, then we need to intensify our political activism to the point whereby Obama and other Democrats cannot equivocate on the issue. We must demand that he and other Democrats institute a national health care program paid for by taxing the multi-nationals and financial institution parasites, not working-class people already struggling to make ends meet.
State bureaucrats, however, are by no means the antidote to the insurance profiteers who, essentially, decide who gets treatment and who does not. The bureaucrats of the capitalist state must not have authority over the running of the national plan. To make a national health care service truly effective and available to all, we must fight for democratic organizations of workers and professionals within the field to decide how to best organize and dispense medical care to all those living in the country.
It seems fitting – what with the mounting problems working-class Americans currently face (recession, a health care crisis and all the battles it entails, the raging of imperialist wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, military build-ups in South America, and even support for a military coup in Central America) – that the majority of the American government is currently on “vacation.” Even with his brief time in office, we can clearly observe the class character of Obama’s presidency. His promises to workers, to the youth, and to all “progressive” forces seeking a new direction for American politics now present themselves as what they really were from the beginning: disingenuous demagogy masking carefully devised prevarication.
Time will tell how Obama and other Democrats plan to “represent” their constituents in the coming months and years, but if Obama’s first six months in office are any indication of how he will continue to conduct White House affairs, then he will be hard pressed to find the same electorate willing to give him a second term in 2012. A space will surely open over the intervening years for those arguing that US Labor needs – at long last – an independent party of its own.