Is Barack Obama an Alternative for U.S. Workers?

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After years of Bush’s open-ended war on working people at home and abroad, many on the “left” are desperate for an alternative. For many, that alternative is Barack Obama, a Democratic Senator from Illinois. Obama, who is very careful with his words and actions, has done a good job so far of portraying himself as a “sensible progressive”.  However, far from being a “progressive” alternative, Obama is at his core a typical representative of the bosses’ political parties. Despite presenting himself as a candidate of “change”, Obama is a defender of capitalism and imperialism, and hence of exploitation and oppression. On all fundamentals, he is far closer to Bush than he is to being a genuine alternative for working people.

Joseph LiebermanFar from seeking the end of class exploitation, Obama is a true believer in the capitalist system. Along with the likes of Joe Lieberman, a political and financial supporter of Obama whom Barack considers to be his “mentor”, he makes it clear that the Democratic Party is a party of the bosses: “The last I checked John Kerry believes in the superiority of the U.S. military, Hillary Clinton believes in the virtues of capitalism…”

Obama even criticizes the Democratic party from the right: “…Democrats are confused. There are those who still champion the old-time religion, defending every New-Deal and Great-Society program from Republican encroachment, achieving ratings of 100 percent from liberal interest groups. But these efforts seem exhausted, a constant game of defense bereft of energy and new ideas needed to address the changing circumstances of globalization or a stubbornly isolated inner city.”

Obama, who earned just under $1million last year, is a supporter of the Hamilton Project, a group founded by Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury and current chair of Citigroup (the world’s largest company, with total assets of $2.02 trillion). As a Senator, Obama opposed a bill that would place a 30 percent interest rate cap on credit cards, which would help relieve high interest payments for many U.S. working families.  Yet he voted for a “tort reform” bill that rolls back workers’ ability to seek redress and compensation if they are wronged by their employer.

On the question of health care, Obama is opposed to national single-payer health care, on the grounds that it would leave workers in the private health care industry, such as Kaiser and BlueCross BlueShield, unemployed! This is a smoke screen of the worst kind. He is attempting to appear pro-worker, while he is really defending the interests of big business against working people. Instead, he is in favor of “voluntary solutions” as opposed to “government mandates”. Yet as every worker knows, the bosses never “volunteer” to give us raises or benefits. The super-profitable health care industry is not going to sacrifice its profits. Obama is merely evading the question.  He might as well state the truth: he is not for any fundamental change.

Obama and ExelonLike all good big business politicians, when the capitalists come with money and gifts, Obama becomes their political guardian angel. For example, he is a loyal defender of the leading U.S. nuclear power company Exelon, which has given more than $74,000 to his campaign. Exelon is the parent company of ComEd, the energy company currently price gouging Illinois consumers. Agro-capitalists Archer Daniels Midland have reportedly lent him the use of private jets for his campaigns. A few months after entering the Senate, Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in AVI BioPharma, a pharmaceutical company that would have benefited from legislation that he backed. George Soros, the prominent billionaire and master of capital speculation, supports Obama, although he said he would support Hillary Clinton, if she won the Democratic nomination. In either case, he feels confident that his billions of dollars will be safe.

It is on his “opposition” to the war that Obama has garnered much support, and understandably so, as the war is every day seen by more and more U.S. workers as a complete disaster. Many are seeking a real political opposition against the war, but what exactly does Obama mean when he “speaks out against the war”? Far from opposing the war on the basis that it is a war on workers and the poor at home and abroad, he would have preferred that the war had been better presented and more carefully planned. He is in favor of U.S. imperialism winning, but adds a pinch of semi-populist rhetoric, as many Democratic politicians have been doing as of late.  He was simply quicker to jump on the bandwagon.

Obama is in fact a vigorous supporter of the wider “war on terror”.  As he stated in a so-called anti-war speech in October 2002: “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.”  Obama voted to re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act, which has been heavily criticized by civil rights layers as curtailing civil liberties. He opposed moves to censure Bush for illegal wiretapping, and voted to approve Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.

Troop DeploymentObama has called for a “phased withdrawal” of U.S. troops and an opening of diplomatic dialogue with Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran. In other words, he understands that the best U.S. imperialism can do is soften the blow of a defeat; outright victory is now an impossibility.  Like other slightly more far-sighted leaders of the ruling class, he approaches this from the perspective of preserving the cohesion and readiness of the military – so it can be used in other imperialist adventures such as Afghanistan and beyond. Far from calling for an immediate withdrawal of occupying forces in Iraq, Obama has the perspective of further  interventions in the region, with one possible scenario involving U.S. forces remaining in an occupied Iraq for an “extended period of time”, acting as a launching pad.  This would call for “a reduced but active U.S. military presence” that “protects logistical supply points” and “American enclaves like the Green Zone,” which would send “a clear message to hostile countries Iran and Syria that we plan to remain a key player in the region.” U.S. troops “remaining in Iraq” will “act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and to go after terrorists.”  Above all, Obama wants a “pragmatic solution to the real war we’re facing in Iraq,” and to “defeat the insurgency.” These, of course, are mutually exclusive aims. The insurgency is the popular uprising of an occupied people. The only solution is the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and “coalition” troops from Iraq.

In March, Obama called Iran’s government “a threat to all of us … [The U.S.] should take no option, including military action, off the table.” He added that the U.S.’ “primary means” of relating to Iran should be “sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions.”

In short, Obama is trying to be everything to everyone, both for the continuation of the war for one sector of the ruling class, and posturing against the war for another sector, all while demagogically trying to win votes from genuinely anti-war working people.

Obama, who could well be the first black U.S. president, has attempted to make benign the malignancy that is racism in the United States. American capitalism relies heavily on the oppression of minorities as a means of exploiting and dividing the working class. But Obama believes that “cultural issues” are at the core of black poverty – an argument also embraced by many right-wing racists. Even a cursory look at the history of oppression that black workers and communities have been faced with shows that this has little to do with “cultural issues”, but rather, has everything to do with the social structure of U.S. capitalism.  

Are police brutality, the de-funding of inner city schools, and the gutting of public housing a “cultural issue”? Should  the brutal repression and liquidation of an entire generation of black leadership, including MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, be considered a “cultural issue”? Is the fact that one in three black men in their twenties are in prison, out on bail, on probation, court supervision, community service, or parole a “cultural issue”? And yet Obama sees the discrepancy between blacks and whites in the U.S. as a question of personal drive or the lack thereof.  He has claimed that blacks can’t progress, “If we don’t start instilling in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement. I don’t know who told them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something ‘white.’ ”

Certainly, there are those who are critical of Obama due to the color of his skin. We soundly reject this racist point of view. Black workers in the U.S., along with their class sisters and brothers of all races and ethnicities, run the world’s most advanced economy every day. There is no reason why black men or women cannot not play a leading role in the political shaping of society. However, for Marxists, it is a question of which class interests someone defends. It must be made clear that anyone who wants to seriously tackle racism must be prepared to tackle capitalism. As a representative of the capitalist class, Obama is neither willing nor able to tackle either.

Border FenceWhen it comes to immigration, Obama has sought to lump immigrant workers with terrorists in the drive to militarize the border. Obama took an active role in the Senate’s drive for further border security linked to new immigration laws. Beginning in 2005, he co-sponsored the “Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act” introduced by Sen. John McCain. He also supported the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act” sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, which did not pass the House. In 2006, Obama supported another related bill, the $7 billion dollar “Secure Fence Act”, which authorized the construction of 700 miles of fences, walls and other security measures to be built up along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Bush signed it into law in October 2006, calling it, “an important step toward immigration reform.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose appointment Obama approved, said the bill would “make substantial progress towards preventing terrorists and others from exploiting our borders,” directly implying immigrants and terrorists are one and the same.

He is also a strong supporter of “guest worker programs” and gave glowing praise to the May 18th proposal in the Senate that includes provisions to detain up to 27,500 immigrants per day, to hire 18,000 new border guards, and to construct an additional 370 miles of border walls.

Bush and his circle are certainly an extremely hawkish section of the ruling class, with plans for imperialist conquest based on their specific economic interests: oil and other energy holdings, armaments, construction, and other contract companies that benefit from military interventions, such as Halliburton. But the distinction between Bush and Obama is not principled. Obama, along with the more far-sighted strategists of the ruling class, seek only to curtail the excesses of the Bush clique, which are a threat to the stability of U.S. capitalism as a whole. In this sense, Barrack Obama actually more faithfully represents the interests of the capitalist class at this point in history than Bush. So is Obama really an alternative for working people? The facts speak for themselves.

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