Socialists for Obama?
My interest in the campaign of Barack Obama to become President America has had a long gestation. It began a little less than a year ago when I heard the excellent journalist Gary Younge give a talk on the topic of African-Americans and their struggles at Marxism 2007. Whilst admitting that an Obama victory would be primarily of symbolic importance, Younge argued, persuasively I thought, that symbols matter. The "symbol" of a mixed-race man raised in, by all accounts, humble conditions by a single mother becoming President on a platform emphasizing his "premature" opposition to the War in Iraq would be a powerful one. Amongst his other foreign policy promises is to meet "without prior conditions" the leaders of America's enemies.
His domestic policy program is a fairly standard reproduction of the traditional Democratic Party formula: steps towards universal health care, soft-Keynesian economics, taxes on "profiteering" Oil companies, vague opposition to trade deals, environmental concerns, support for choice etc. It contains all the same compromises and deficiencies one would expect. His assurances that he would be willing to "bomb Pakistan" if it looked likely to become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda members fleeing the meltdown in Afghanistan was an attempt at "toughness" that now seems entirely incongruent. His earlier "sympathy" with the Palestinians has been replaced with AIPAC adoration and the routine about the special relationship with the Israeli ethnocracy.
His opponent in the race is Hillary Clinton, who supported the War and whose foreign policy includes a commitment to "obliterating Iran" if it attacks Israel. This assurance, whilst totally in line with her strict neocon foreign policy (she was, apparently, instrumental in her husband's decision to bomb Serbia in the 1990's) is completely silly and would constitute a violation of the constitution of the United States, in which only Congress can give authorization to declare war. Hillary's main claim on the trail has been that she's "experienced", although, as most observers have pointed out, this "experience" includes things like the entirely failed attempt to introduce Universal health care during the first Clinton's administration.
On the question of finance, Obama has raised more money than any other Presidential campaign in History at this stage, and has done so mainly on the back of a million or so small donors. He has refused to accept money from Federal PAC's (Political Action Committees), claiming correctly that you can't be the voice for working people in Washington if you accept money from groups designed to silence that voice.
More recently, the media campaign has centred on a particularly ugly attack on Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, whose remarks about American foreign policy and its malcontents scandalized an American public who assumed America had been handing out free candy in the Middle East for the past 15 years. This has led to a "problem" for Obama, particularly amongst older "white working class" (yes, this term has been imported from America!) voters. Obama also got himself into some bother when he said that white working class people in rural towns in the Midwest had become "bitter" and attached themselves to "guns and religion". First of all, if you consider that in a state like Ohio 1 in 10 people are now on food stamps, it's small wonder Americans are "bitter". Second of all, the policy of the Republicans (to support the redistribution of guns and god but not food or wealth) seems to add some weight to Obama's comments.
The Republican candidate is a mentally ill 71-year old named John McCain of noble (inbred) extraction who played his part in the killing of men, women and children in Vietnam, was captured by the Viet minh and tortured, an unfortunate episode that apparently led to him revealing secrets in return for his own safety. He is running on a platform of a hundred year occupation of Iraq, a retrenchment of Bush's tax cuts for the rich and a health care policy I doubt even he understands. He also, in uncommonly comical mood for a man known for his violent temper, called for the U.S to "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of a well-known Beach Boys track. I can't think of what the world would look like with this crazed neo con as Emperor - well, actually, probably about the same as it does now.
I mention all this because I'm a little bit perplexed about the attitude of the British left to all this. I can remember having discussions with people at the time of the 2005 election about the realities involved in calling for a "defeat for Blair". I pointed out that if Blair was defeated this would almost certainly mean, in reality, a conservative government led by, god almighty, Michael Howard. However, leftists seem to be less willing to express support for defeating McCain at all costs. Why?
Well, first of all, there is the purely reflexive response ("they're all the same"). When one points out that they're not (McCain's Thousand Year Reich vs. Obama's opposition to the War) the differences are then declared inconsequential.
Off the top of my head, I can think of one group to whom these differences have consequence - the people of Iraq! Don't we think that we should try and support politicians who claim to oppose the war and occupation of Iraq (and Obama's claim is more convincing than most), as well as continue to build the anti-war movement? Don't left-wing anti-war Americans have the right and the duty to Iraqis to try and elect Obama as opposed to John McSame, if that is the choice presented?
Secondly, they posit the zero sum game ("We need to build the anti-war movement, never mind elect anti-war Presidents"). If this is true, why did we bother calling for a vote against Blair? If we're being consistent, we would have hope to see ALL the warmongers defeated, not just the British variety.
Thirdly, we can't support Obama because he's a Democrat ("Vote Ralph Nader"). This is perhaps the most attractive alternative to Obama and the Democrats. Nader is, after all, an appealing reformist politician who has gained some good support in the past. Does that mean we should support him every time he decides to run no matter what the other factors to be considered? I don't think so. If the choice between Obama and McCain is this stark, I think we can safely call for a vote for the Democrat. The principle reason why Nader did so well in 2000 is that there was simply no substantive difference in the campaigns of Gore and Bush. Nader's campaign helped to bring Gore to the Left a bit, and his eventual vote was an impressive one. He ran in 2004, when the choice again seemed stark to most Americans, and he didn't do nearly as well. He won't do well in 2008 either, I don't think.
It's always hard to support politicians as a socialist. We're naturally inclined to be suspicious of people in suits and ties. Obama is a not a radical. He's not committed to Soviet power and the outlawing of wage slavery, that's clear.
But on the most important issue in the world right now (the growing humanitarian and political disaster in Iraq) he stands - tentatively, insecurely but clearly - on the opposite side to his opponent.
People should think about this on those terms and realise that there's only one conclusion.