The latest in a long line of false champions of the people.
Let’s Get Real / Guest editor: Morris Berman
I thought this article by John Pilger, the British journalist, on Barack Obama was too important to pass up, especially in view of the fact that most Americans have not read “Dark Ages America” and would hate it if they did. (I encourage you to cut, paste, and circulate this essay.) For those of you who did read it, you may remember I said that it was virtually impossible to get elected president if you did not support corporate America’s agenda and the national security state. The following essay strikes me as being an important antidote to the naive belief that Mr. Obama somehow represents a radical alternative to the status quo, or that the November election represents some sort of watershed in American history.—MB.
Published on Saturday, May 31, 2008 by The New Statesman (UK)
After Bobby Kennedy (There Was Barack Obama)
by John Pilger
In this season of 1968 nostalgia, one anniversary illuminates today. It is the rise and fall of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president of the United States had he not been assassinated in June 1968. Having travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June, I heard The Speech many times. He would “return government to the people” and bestow “dignity and justice” on the oppressed. “As Bernard Shaw once said,” he would say, “‘Most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask: Why not?’” That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.
Kennedy’s campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised the expectations of young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war’s conquest of other people’s land and resources, but because it was “unwinnable”.
Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism’s last fling. In the United States and Britain, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality. A great many people understand this, as the hatred of Blair and new Labour attest, but many are disoriented and eager for “leadership” and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on extremes of wealth and privilege, liberalism as expressed through the Democratic Party has played a crucial, compliant role.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party and his own ambitions from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil rights campaign and the anti-war movement then commanding the streets of the main cities, and which Martin Luther King had drawn together until he was assassinated in April that year. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skilfully suppressed as he competed against the maverick Eugene McCarthy, whose surprise win in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-war ticket had forced President Lyndon Johnson to abandon the idea of another term. Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy assiduously exploited the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for politics that represented them, not the rich.
“These people love you,” I said to him as we left Calexico, California, where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty and people came like a great wave and swept him out of his car, his hands fastened to their lips.
“Yes, yes, sure they love me,” he replied. “I love them!” I asked him how exactly he would lift them out of poverty: just what was his political philosophy? “Philosophy? Well, it’s based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them, because we are the last and the best hope of the world, as Thomas Jefferson said.”
“That’s what you say in your speech. Surely the question is: How?”
“How . . . by charting a new direction for America.”
The vacuities are familiar. Obama is his echo. Like Kennedy, Obama may well “chart a new direction for America” in specious, media-honed language, but in reality he will secure, like every president, the best damned democracy money can buy.
As their contest for the White House draws closer, watch how, regardless of the inevitable personal smears, Obama and McCain draw nearer to each other. They already concur on America’s divine right to control all before it. “We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good,” said Obama. “We must lead by building a 21st-century military . . . to advance the security of all people [emphasis added].” McCain agrees. Obama says in pursuing “terrorists” he would attack Pakistan. McCain wouldn’t quarrel.
Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Tel Aviv, unquestioning support for which defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a UN Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel’s starvation of the people of Gaza, Obama was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton. In January, pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people” to now read: “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel [emphasis added].” Such is his concern for the victims of the longest, illegal military occupation of modern times. Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran, whose regime, he says absurdly, “is a threat to all of us”.
On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of “100 years”, his earlier option). Obama has now “reserved the right” to change his pledge to get troops out next year. “I will listen to our commanders on the ground,” he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq, Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush’s demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His senior advisers embrace McCain’s proposal for an aggressive “league of democracies”, led by the United States, to circumvent the United Nations.
Amusingly, both have denounced their “preachers” for speaking out. Whereas McCain’s man of God praised Hitler, in the fashion of lunatic white holy-rollers, Obama’s man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth. He said that the attacks of 11 September 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of US power across the world. The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear an oath of loyalty to the Bush lie that “terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms”. So he did. The conflict in the Middle East, said Obama, was rooted not “primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel”, but in “the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”. Journalists applauded. Islamophobia is a liberal speciality.
The American media love both Obama and McCain. Reminiscent of mating calls by Guardian writers to Blair more than a decade ago, Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote: “There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline . . . Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature’.” At the liberal New Republic, Charles Lane confessed: “I know it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. I’m falling for John McCain.” His colleague Michael Lewis had gone further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like “the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls”.
The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America’s true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. “Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors,” wrote the investigator Pam Martens, “consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages.” A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States. “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign,” said Obama in January, “they won’t run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president.” According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.
What is Obama’s attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy’s. By offering a “new”, young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party – with the bonus of being a member of the black elite – he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell’s role as Bush’s secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.
Piracies and Dangers
America’s war on Iran has already begun. In December, Bush secretly authorised support for two guerrilla armies inside Iran, one of which, the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, is described by the state department as terrorist. The US is also engaged in attacks or subversion against Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and Venezuela. A new military command, Africom, is being set up to fight proxy wars for control of Africa’s oil and other riches. With US missiles soon to be stationed provocatively on Russia’s borders, the Cold War is back. None of these piracies and dangers has raised a whisper in the presidential campaign, not least from its great liberal hope.
Moreover, none of the candidates represents so-called mainstream America. In poll after poll, voters make clear that they want the normal decencies of jobs, proper housing and health care. They want their troops out of Iraq and the Israelis to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. This is a remarkable testimony, given the daily brainwashing of ordinary Americans in almost everything they watch and read.
On this side of the Atlantic, a deeply cynical electorate watches British liberalism’s equivalent last fling. Most of the “philosophy” of new Labour was borrowed wholesale from the US. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were interchangeable. Both were hostile to traditionalists in their parties who might question the corporate-speak of their class-based economic policies and their relish for colonial conquests. Now the British find themselves spectators to the rise of new Tory, distinguishable from Blair’s new Labour only in the personality of its leader, a former corporate public relations man who presents himself as Tonier than thou. We all deserve better.
John Pilger is a veteran Australian journalist, well known for his brave and in-depth critiques of status quo figures and policies throughout the Anglo-American sphere. Morris Berman is an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, and was the first recipient of the annual Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992. His blog Dark Ages America is at http://morrisberman.blogspot.com/
The Party is Over. Yeah! The Democrats are the Real Problem
July 21, 2008 Reality Check // By MIKE WHITNEY
Obama’s candidacy is over; kaput. He’s already stated that he has no intention of stopping the war, so he has disqualified himself. That’s his prerogative; no one put a gun to his head. His op-ed in Monday’s New York Times just removes any lingering doubt about the matter. What Obama proposes is moving the central theater of operation from Iraq to Afghanistan. Big deal. Why is it more acceptable to kill a man who is fighting for his country in Afghanistan than in Iraq?
It’s not; which is why Obama must be defeated and the equivocating Democratic Party must be jettisoned altogether. The Democrats are a party of blood just like the Republicans, they’re just more discreet about it. That’s why people who are serious about ending the war have to support candidates outside the two-party charade. The Democrat/Republican duopoly will not deliver the goods; it’s as simple as that. The point is to stop the killing, not to provide blind support for smooth-talking politicos who try to mask their real intentions. Obama made his choice, now he can suffer the consequences.
Nancy Pelosi is a perfect example of what the Democrats are all about. Just look at the way she brushed aside the people who got her elected. They mean nothing to her. In a matter of months, the “San Francisco liberal” has achieved what former-Speaker of the House Hastert could only dream of; she’s driven the Congress’ public approval ratings into single digits for the first time in history making her the worst speaker of all time. She rubber-stamped the FISA bill, concealed what she knew about the CIA’s global torture programs, and vowed to stop any public effort to hold the administration accountable for its war crimes. (No impeachment) She has betrayed her most ardent supporters and singlehandedly transformed an already-emasculated congress into a purely ceremonial body incapable of doing the people’s work.
At least Bush never betrayed any of his supporters. Never. Pelosi is worse than Bush, much worse.
And yet, liberals still insist that we should vote the Democratic ticket. In your dreams!
What leftist or progressive is not totally fed-up with the Democrats cagey “bait-and-switch” hypocrisy? Voting the Democratic ticket is not a sign of “hope”; it’s a sign of being a schmuck. The Democrats have done nothing to stop the war and will do nothing to stop the war. The Obama candidacy is merely a way to replace one group of genocidal maniacs with another. Who needs a charismatic, flannel-mouth glamor boy to lead us into battle when a senile fogy with “anger management” issues will do just fine.
Voters of conscience should reject that choice altogether. Just as they should reject the “lesser of two evils” theory which does not apply when ordinance is being dumped daily on innocent civilians. It has to stop.
Obama is not an antiwar candidate, that is merely a fiction maintained by his public relations team. In fact, he wants to beef up the military with 65,000 additional ground forces and 27,000 more marines. He’s also stated that he will add “two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan” and encourage NATO to make “greater contributions—with fewer restrictions”. In his op-ed he boasted, “As president, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
He also added this ominous warning:
“The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.”
Obama supporters should take their candidate at his word. What he is proposing is a dramatic escalation and expansion of the war into another sovereign country. How is this consistent with the demands of his base or the millions of Americans who believe that Obama represents real change.
It’s time for a reality check; the Democrats are the real problem not the Republicans. If the path to peace requires crushing the Democratic Party and its blood-thirsty candidates; so be it. The main thing is to stop the killing. If Obama won’t do it; we’ll find someone who will.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org