Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Obama?

I posted this recently on the Facebook Progressives (Critically) for Barack Obama group and incited some discussion. I know that this is a controversial debate on the Left, and I think that it is an important one, too.

Why Obama?

by Daniel Denvir

It has become increasingly clear that Barack Obama is no progressive. His vote to approve Bush’s illegal spying, his call for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his close Wall Street ties make this abundantly clear.

McCain, however, represents a serious danger to the world. Voting for Obama is the right thing to do this November. That said, it is most important that one do so without misconceptions or delusions. Obama will rein in the more extreme tendencies of US imperialism. But we’ll get what the Democratic Party usually offers us: a better managed, more polite form of corporate world domination. And this too has consequences. Under either Party, people throughout the world will continue to suffer in sweatshops for the benefit of a few, the beneficiaries of our amicable “free” trade agreements.

And while we’ll protect a few more forests and abstain from drilling offshore or in ANWR, does Obama really have the vision necessary to move beyond oil, nuclear and highly subsidized agro-industry? Don’t get your hopes up.

The Democratic Party is not and will never be a vehicle for real progressive social change. We need a mass movement—a movement of movements—that can build a third party and an electoral system that will give it space to speak to the American public and compete. This means two rounds and instant run off voting. It seems impossible otherwise.

Unfortunately, neither Nader’s independent candidacy nor Cynthia McKinney’s Green Party candidacy represent such a force in 2008, however much some Lefties would like to believe so. Nader’s candidacy in 2000 was an opening for progressive politics. With the race getting closer between Gore and Bush, however, many Nader supporters switched their votes and we lost that chance by not getting 5% of the vote.

The war in Afghanistan is another important if under-discussed issue. Obama is calling for an escalation there, in a conflict perhaps more “unwinnable” than the one in Iraq, where more civilians are killed by US bombs than by the Taliban. With an Obama presidency hopefully withdrawing (most?) US troops from Iraq, the anti-war movement must focus on an end to the war in Afghanistan. But isn’t Afghanistan the “good” war? Both wars can’t be wrong, can they? Yes, yes they can.

Although Obama positioned himself to the Left during the primaries to show up corporate hack Hillary Clinton, it is very unclear to what extent Obama is committed to supporting a (slightly) more just global model. While he criticized NAFTA on the campaign trail, recent comments and his selection of neoliberal and Wall Mart-loving Jason Furman as his chief economic advisor indicate that his populist rhetoric may be a pyrrhic victory for the Left.

But I still say that there are real difference between Obama and McCain. Under an Obama Administration, progressives will have more space to push for social change. Under a McCain Administration, we will stay on the defensive, defending the few remaining social programs we have and trying block a war with Iran.

Some say that an Obama presidency would lead to the Left demobilizing, focusing all of our efforts into the electoral wastebasket. Perhaps to an extent. But Bush has had the worst effects possible on progressive organizing and movement building.

Our mobilizations against corporate globalization and other issues have been shifted to new, more horrible realities. I remember during the Clinton Administration, when I came of age as an activist, focusing my work on the global justice movement, environmental justice, death penalty abolition, prison issues, and labor activism. What happened to those huge mobilizations in Seattle and Washington, DC? September 11th and the Bush Administration happened.

Bush’s hyper-imperialism has made those issues second-tier priorities for most, as we, on the defensive, scramble to stop ever spreading wars and non-stop attacks against the domestic poor and immigrants. I think the once typical statement on the Left that a Bush presidency would “radicalize” the population has proven to be quite untrue. Instead, Bush’s disaster administration has fueled a messianic, any-one-but-Bush, Democratic Party-loving ideology. People I know, friends of mine, have listed “Democratic Party” as their political view on Facebook! This is not good for the Left.

This may sound perverse, but Obama’s soft imperialism and corporate-rule lite will, I think, offer more spaces for truly progressive organizing—more than Hillary, and certainly McCain, could possibly offer.

Throughout his campaign and once he’s in office progressives have to fight, like we’ve fought every president, for socio-economic justice and a new sustainable economy.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist from the United States in Quito, Ecuador and is Editor-in-Chief of caterwaulquarterly.com. He is the 2008 recipient of NACLA's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.

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