One Year Later: Where's the Change?

Obama and supportersAfter just one year of the Obama administration, the sincere hopes for real change that energized and inspired millions in the 2008 elections have been dashed. As we explained in the months leading up to the election, and on election night itself, this was inevitable. For all his charm, lofty words and apparent sincerity, Obama was elected to represent the interests of Big Business, and when push comes to shove, he will always come down on the side of the capitalists. Those who hoped that somehow “this time it will be different” with the Democrats, are learning through bitter experience that the two corporate parties differ very little in substance.

The first year of a new president’s term is usually when the boldest legislation can be pushed through, the time when, as GW Bush put it, the president’s political capital is at its height. But what did Obama do with all the momentum he had behind him, with a super majority in both houses of Congress and the virtual implosion of the Republicans?  It’s been one excuse after another. The Democrats have done virtually nothing positive and plenty negative for workers, and quite a lot to ensure the continued profits of the capitalists. No wonder they have lost supporters by the droves, and the intensity of support of those who continue to hope for change from Obama has waned dramatically.

Nonetheless, Obama still has relatively healthy approval ratings of around 50%. But this is because there is no real alternative. The apparent re-emergence of the far right is in part a reflection of the ongoing polarization of American society, but above all, it is the result of the greater media voice these folks are being given. The Republicans are still broadly  discredited after 8 years in power, and their efforts to mobilize their more conservative base by stirring up the nationalist and xenophobic “tea parties” is alienating even many Republicans.

And yet, as the mid-term election campaigning begins, the Democratic Party tops are more than uneasy. They  understand that as the incumbent party, the party that has failed to do anything to improve the situation of those who voted them into power, they stand to suffer at the polls. Just one year ago, they seemed invincible, and now the Republicans stand to make at least some, perhaps even substantial gains.

However, this is not because Democratic voters are turning to the right, but because they are going home in disgust. This is the end logic of “lesser evil” politics: unless a genuine mass workers’ alternative to the corporate parties is built, eventually, the “greater evil” will get back in power. This is why the demand for a Mass Party of Labor based on the unions is so important.

Obama will likely try to throw some cosmetic crumbs to workers in the coming months in order to try and re-energize his base as the mid-terms draw nearer, but long gone will be the legions of union members and community organizers who pounded the pavement for him and the Democrats in 2008. Tens of thousands of these volunteers will stay home this election cycle, disillusioned by the lack of real change.

Unemployment LineIt’s no mystery why. 2009 ended with total job losses of 4.2 million and an average unemployment rate of 9.3%. That’s compared to an average of 4.6 percent in 2007. More than 8 million jobs has evaporated since the recession began in December 2007. The official unemployment rate for January remained at 10 percent, with 85,000 more jobs being lost in December, far more than the 8,000 many analysts expected. When the “underemployment rate” is figured in, taking into account those workers hired part-time but wanting full-time work as well as those who are too discouraged to actively seek work, the rate goes as high as 17.3 percent.

After more than a year in office, it is actually surprising how little the Obama administration has done to create jobs. Instead of any bold initiatives, Obama’s December “Jobs Summit” focused on offering incentives to re-train laid off workers for jobs in the “changing economy.” But when the economy has been changing into one dominated by mass unemployment, where will re-trained workers go? It is true that 47,000 people were hired as temporary workers in December. But, as workers young and old know all too well, “temp” jobs usually pay low wages with no benefits and there is no guarantee of long term full time employment.

The Associated Press has found that Obama’s economic stimulus package has had a negligible impact on job creation. The danger is that the ineffectiveness of government intervention is turning many against state intervention altogether. But the problem isn’t government intervention as such, but that this government defends the interests of Big Business and intervenes on its behalf, offering little concrete for workers. What is needed is a government run by and for the interests of the working class majority.

Unfortunately, despite the outright betrayal of the Democrats on jobs, the Employee Free Choice Act and single payer health care, the leadership of the AFL-CIO has de facto toed the White House line by failing to offer any real alternatives. Richard Trumka, new head of the AFL-CIO, has consistently pointed out the need for “a new kind of economy,” one that “works for everybody.” But beyond statements like these, little or nothing is said, let alone done.

In the face of Obama’s proposed tax on so-called “Cadillac” health plans, which are in reality health care benefits won through union struggles in the past, the labor leaders propose only to flood legislators with phone calls and e-mails. This inaction is due to the unwillingness of the current leadership to challenge the Democratic Party or to look beyond the narrow limits of capitalism. The labor leaders should do what they were elected to do: lead. They should lead the fight back against these attacks and mobilize mass coast to coast demonstrations to demand a vast program of public works to create millions of jobs with union representation, wages, benefits and control over hiring and firing.

Obama and BushOn one issue after another, Obama has disappointed those who literally wept with joy at his election. When it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Homeland Security” and the hysteria of the “war on terror” in general, he increasingly sounds and acts almost identically like his predecessor. Far from bringing the troops home, he has expanded the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan and now Yemen. He hasn’t even managed to close Guantanamo. All this from the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who has gone to great lengths to explain that perpetual war is actually the pursuit of “peace.”

The same ineffectiveness is evident when it comes to climate change, marriage equality, police brutality, racism and immigration. As for foreign policy in Latin America, the continued embargo of Cuba, more US troops based in right-wing-ruled Colombia, and US military aircraft violations of Venezuelan airspace are the face of “change” under Obama.

Enough is enough! Workers and the youth deserve better. Join us in the fight for change we can collectively make a reality, not merely hope for: socialism.


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