Dealing with The Great Mirage

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President Elect Barack Obama in Chicago, shortly after being declared the projected winner of the 2008 election. Long on symbols, short on substance, but no matter. After Nov. 4, as far as the global plutocracy is concerned, the Obama brand may be the world’s most valuable brand. 

Hold the champagne: Peeling away the layers of the Greatest Show on Earth


The Obama victory presents the authentic Left with a genuine challenge, one just as tricky as if John McCain had been pronounced the victor in the latest exercise in American managed elections. At a point when the Empire’s massive moral, political, and economic crimes had begun to threaten the continuing legitimacy of capitalist rule; when the old machinery of rhetoric and delusions that allow the US corporate oligarchy to rule pretty much undisturbed by the demands and needs of the masses was beginning to show signs of fatigue, they seem to have found a savior in Barack Obama, the ideal politician to confound skeptics at home and replenish luster to the name of America abroad.  

Still, no matter what his supporters or enemies may say or wish to believe about the man, Barack Obama’s career is not that of a fiery reformer, let alone revolutionist. Obama is first and above all a cautious centrist, an opportunist in the Clintonian mould, and therefore a skillful accommodationist to the powers that be (please forgive the redundancy). Obama’s temperament is calculating, triangulation comes naturally to him, his fire in the belly seems to be missing, or curiously muted, and his unspoken mantra seems to be “get along by going along.” That should be obvious from the affectionate—some have aptly called it “boosterist”—manner in which the empire’s toxic tentacles, most notably the corporate media, embraced him from the start, during the 2004 Democratic Party coronation, which marked his breakout role in Big Party Politics. Considering the shabby and disrespectful treatment accorded genuine critics of the status quo, this general fawning, this sudden infatuation by the press, should have alerted us that not all was what it seemed with Obama. Thus, whatever we may want to read in this election, and far too many people would like to read the arrival of a new messiah and a new era in American politics, the fact remains that Obama is a mirage where the symbolic —first Black chief executive in the White House—far exceeds the substance, not to mention the record. And therein lies the risk of a long period of demagoguery on behalf of the system’s policies, with a salesman of perhaps unmatched talents at the top, one capable of selling us policies of mild meliorism in critical areas such as health and the environment as if they were audacious accomplishments pushing the very limits of what American can accomplish.

This site has carried numerous pieces analyzing Obama [see below], many penned by leading African American intellects with long track records of uncompromising activism on behalf of Black people and ordinary Americans, and by equally astute white observers. On the whole the balance is less than encouraging.  It appears that most progressive commentators who have followed Barack Obama’s career closely reach for their pen not so much to praise Obama (leaving the fluff aside there’s so far little to praise except for his onetime opposition to the Iraq War, which he has since diluted with practically no one noticing)—but to denounce him.

Warning signs

This November 5th, the day after a memorable election, there’s already talk in the Obama camp of the “need for national unity”, “bipartisanship”, “harmony”—and similar words that sound awfully good to a country exhausted by a whole generation of extreme rightwing divisionism, and which yearns to heal this rift—but whose connotations in the current context may mean something entirely different than what the public understands.

Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are

Fact is, the early call for unity offers us critical clues to Obama’s true political persona, for behind such ostensible high-mindedness the new president gives himself the freedom to pick a cabinet and entourage of advisers from precisely the same old discredited quarters that gave us Iraq, the financial meltdown (and subsequent open-ended theft of the treasury to the tune of trillions), and rapid immiseration of tens of millions of Americans. And we’re much too polite to mention here the unrelenting rape of the environment and the obscene levels of inequality we observe in America today, a nation still formally defined as a democratic republic.  (Wall Street, not known for high principles, gave hundreds of millions to the Democratic ticket this year).

Rahm Emanuel, fundraiser san pareil

Yes, expect Republicans in key positions in the Obama regime.  And Obama will not end the primacy of the Zionist Neocons in Washington, (he just named former investment banker Rahm Emanuel, a notorious Democratic party insider and fierce Zionist as Chief of Staff), nor Israel’s deforming influence on US foreign policy, for he already paid AIPAC the obligatory visit to guarantee obeisance. (Admittedly, as things stand in the Empire at this point, he has little room to wiggle any type of defiance.)

More worrisome, as both Obama and Biden have frequently intimated under the guise of preparing the people for the “hard road ahead” and the “tough things we need to do in order improve our national security against all enemies,” this administration may actually end up presiding over a significant expansion of the current wars in the Middle East to new theaters inside Pakistan itself, Central Asia, and beyond. 

Plus que ça change: Pre-emption and stasis

In sum, those who expect the Israeli lobby, the eternal militarists, the free-market wackos, the professional patriots, the corporate lobbyists, the Wall Street mob, etc., to be thrown out of the temple in an Obama administration will be sorely disappointed. For their expectations are—to put it charitably—grossly unfounded since perhaps one of the most discomfiting features of Obama’s victory is that, as the ever prescient Ralph Nader puts it in the video interview we reproduce below, this is a “landslide without a mandate.” Meanwhile, under the slogan already in ample circulation, “in America anything is possible,” the corporatists have recharged (albeit momentarily) their franchise and are busy rebuilding a badly tattered legitimacy.  More to the point, with a re-energized Democratic Party, the faux solutions to the system’s crises have gotten a fresh coat of paint, maybe a full makeover. This spells an indefinite period of pre-emption for left initiatives and a capture of the public imagination by the same DNC crowd that gave us the Clinton playbook and other centrist nostrums. With such accumulating signs on the horizon, as the campaign dust settles, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the work for those who yearn for real change, for real democracy, has never been more urgent, but with Obama in the White House, the obstacles may be paradoxically greater.—PG


And check also these related essays on Obama:



Putting Black Faces on Imperial Policies / By Glen Ford, Chief Editor, Black Agenda Report [BAR]

Barack Obama and the Winds of War: Turning Right / By Glen Ford

KUCINICH: A ‘BLACKER’ CANDIDATE THAN OBAMA / By Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report

3 comments on “Dealing with The Great Mirage
  1. An edifying morning for me, Patrice. Much thanks.

    No quibble with your analysis. The fix is in. The American people are mesmerized by their new savior. In some ways the Left’s challenge is more formidable than ever: How to break through the miasma and illusions?

    Both you and Ralph Nader allude to Obama’s accommodationist personality, his triangulation. It is an absurdity to think of this politician as a standard bearer for progressive causes. To paraphrase Ralph: The rock concert is over now; the fans will go home, back to their fragmented lives; and the corporations will continue to ride roughshod over any real reforms, let alone, positive, revolutionary change.

    Where is the “fire in the belly” that Nader talks about–the sustaining power to see the hard tasks through; to talk, to organize, to take to the streets, commandeer newsrooms, hospitals and schools; to persist in an election campaign (as Nader has) for decades as a means of educating and transforming?

    You have it, Nader has it. I suspect there are tens of millions in America now who are half-awake, who have the kindling of awareness in place and need only a final spark to be set ablaze.

    What will that spark be? When the “testing” that Powell and Biden have already telescoped–when that occurs (as no doubt it will–precipitated by US or Israeli actions), will that set the kindling ablaze?

    You alert us to the dangers that are lurking round the corners. Not imaginary–but very real.

    I’ve been a fan of Ralph Nader since hearing him speak when I was a young instructor at the University of Florida over 35 years ago. Only in the past two years have I become aware of your work of witnessing: your sagacious analysis, steadfastness of purpose, the persistent glow of the fire.

    Thanks for bringing your thoughts and Ralph Nader’s to the fore.

  2. (NOTE: This letter was sent to the editors of a promient Vancouver daily.)

    Letter to the Editor

    Stages of Obama

    Your editorial board expresses guarded admiration for Barack Obama and his promises for “change.”

    Now, imagine a political candidate who voted to renew the Patriot Act and fund the Iraq war, backed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reform Act, courted the Israeli lobby, supported the death penalty, refused to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, called to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, failed to call for a reduction in defence spending, and lobbied (and voted for) the taxpayer swindle known as the Wall Street bailout.

    This candidate sabre-rattled at Iran, promised to roll back “Russian aggression” and to extend treaty protection to a Georgian regime that cluster-bombed its own people, advocated for military strikes in Pakistan, opposed same-sex marriage, and favoured extending the death penalty.

    The candidate’s name and party? Not John McCain, not Republican, but Barack Obama and Democrat. So, what exactly does Mr. Obama mean when he talks of “change”?

    Chris Stolz
    Vancouver, BC

  3. After watching the IWT video I have to agree with Ralph Nader (and the other commenters on this blog), that Obama seems to have no real “fire in the belly” when it comes to assisting the people. For a man of his intelligence to drop the ball CONSISTENTLY, as Mr Stoltz enumerates above, and the editor lays out in his own introductory column, is simply inexcusable and unpardonable. No, real change will not come from Obama, or any otehr creature vetted by the system. It will have to come from us, and the sooner the better!

    Thank you for such terrific articles and materials.

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