Barack Obama and The Audacity of Deception

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No. 1 in our “We Gave You Fair Warning” series—

obamavanityfair

The Manufacturing of Illusion

By Paul Street [Presidential Politics 2008 – Obama] | [print_link]

[First run on Wednesday, 12 December 2007, Black Agenda report]         

Barack Obama and his corporate handlers are masters of smoke and mirrors. Obama claims to have bumped his Afro-centric pastor from his official presidential announcement to “protect” the minister, rather than to shield his own candidacy. Obama implies that Hillary Clinton is a tool of corporate money, when he is a cog in the very same machine. He tells a Black audience that his own conception was made possible by civil rights struggles at Selma, Alabama, 1965, and Birmingham, 1963 – but Obama was born in 1961.  And he claims a vote for him is the equivalent of joining the anti-war movement. Of course, real anti-war activity isn’t that easy – what comes easy for Barack Obama, is lying.

“From the very beginning, Barack Obama said No to the War in Iraq.  Join the movement to end the war and change Washington.” – Flyer mailed to Iowa voters, Obama for America. (Des Moines, IA)

All mainstream United States politicians purvey falsehoods big and small, but United States Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and his campaign lie and deceive with distinctively nauseating chutzpah.

Last February, for example, Obama promptly revoked Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s scheduled statement of a public prayer before the senator officially declared his bid for the White House. A preacher known for fiery sermons against American racism, poverty, and imperialism, Wright was Obama’s avowed spiritual mentor – his personal agent of religious conversion on the South Side of Chicago in the middle 1980s.

Last April, Obama told New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor that he was “only shielding his pastor from the spotlight” when he booted Wright from the stage (Kantor 2007). In July, Obama told Newsweek reporters Darren Briscoe and Richard Wolffe that he “may have been over-protective” toward Wright (Briscoe and Wolffe 2007).

“Obama acted to protect his campaign from charges that it was too closely connected to the preacher.”

But everybody knew Obama had acted to protect his campaign from charges that it was too closely connected to a preacher who occasionally questioned dominant U.S. social hierarchies.  Kantor said as much when she wrote that “Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February” (Kantor 2007).

“So they got together and Barack Obama, Jr. was born.”

But the Rev. Wright story was just a little white lie compared to the big black fib Obama told in Selma, Alabama last March. Trying to sound authentically African-American during a speech memorializing the forty-second anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights March at the Pettis Bridge in Selma, Obama claimed that his black (Kenyan) father and white (Kansan) mother married and conceived the future Barockstar because of the great Civil Rights struggles fought in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama. “There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama,” Obama intoned, “because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they [his parents] got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born.” 

“So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama,” Obama droned on.  “Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama. I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me” (Obama 2007).

Wow.  Too bad Barack Obama Jr. was born in 1961, two years before the famous campaign to desegregate Birmingham, three years before the Civil Rights Act, and four years before the famous Selma march!

It’s true that Obama’s immaculate multicultural conception came four years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but his parents “getting together” across racial didn’t have much to do with the Civil Rights Movement.  It was more likely a reflection of the fact that his home island of Hawaii was relatively “tolerant” on racial questions – a distant geographic and cultural cry from the racially segregated U.S. South to which Obama absurdly tried to claim strong biographical connection.

“Not because of the folks writing the big checks.”

But let’s move on to more substantive matters.  It’s important not to get overly mired in personal matters along the lines of Hillary Clinton’s recent (literal) kindergarten assault (Bosman 2007)on Obama (1). 

Last August, Obama audaciously told thousands of labor union members at Chicago’s Soldier Field that he was “running for president…because of you, not because of folks who are writing big checks” (Helman 2007).  He made a big point of the fact that he “does not take money from corporate lobbyists,” unlike business-friendly Hillary Clinton.

APTOPIX Obama Texas  2008

He uttered his worker-pleasing words even as his campaign was bending with fierce plutocratic winds fanned by giant global investment firms and corporations that were helping him join leading corporate Democrat Clinton in setting new electoral fundraising records.

Ever wonder why the “progressive” (as he repeatedly describes himself) Obama dances for Wall Street on the (fake) Social Security “crisis” (Krugman 2007a) and sounds like Mitt Romney and Rudy Guliani in decrying the specter of “government mandated” universal health care (Krugman 2007b)? Curious about why the avowed environmentalist thinks that nuclear power should be considered part of the solution to America’s energy crisis and has recently joined Hillary in voting for the extension of the corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement to Peru?

“Obama’s campaign was bending with fierce plutocratic winds fanned by giant global investment firms and corporations.”


Follow the money. Obama’s presidential campaign has received nearly $5 million dollars from securities and investment firms and $866,000 from commercial banks through October of 2007.  Obama’s top contributor so far is Goldman Sachs (provider of $369,078 to Obama), identified by Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) investigators as “a major proponent of privatizing Social Security as well as legislation that would essentially deregulate the investment banking/securities industry.” Eight of Obama’s top twenty election investors are securities and investment firms: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros. (number 2 at $229,090), J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. (# 4 at $216,759), Citadel Investment Group (#7 at 4166,608), UBS AG ($146,150), UBS-America ($106,680), Morgan Stanley ($104,421), and Credit Suisse Group ($92,300).  The last two firms are also known to be leading privatization advocates (Center for Responsive Politics 2007a).

 

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With Obama in the White House, plutocratic interests are in perfectly safe hands. Bush’s departure is only of symbolic value, as Obama is far more effective in selling the rapacious status quo to the masses. 

Meanwhile, Obama’s presidential run has been “assisted” by more than $2 million from the health care sector and nearly $400,000 from the insurance industry through October of 2007 (Center for Responsive Politics 2007b). Obama received $708,000 from medical and insurance interests between 2001 and 2006 (Center for Responsive Politics 2007c). His wife Michelle, a fellow Harvard Law graduate, was until a recently a Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, a position that paid her $273, 618 in 2006 (Sweet 2007).

And Obama’s sixth largest contributor is Exelon, the proud Chicago-based owner and operator of more nuclear power plants than any entity on earth (Center for Responsive Politics 2007a).

Go figure.

As for his “lobbyist ban,” last August  the Los Angeles Times reported that Obama “raised more than $1 million in the first three months of his presidential campaign from law firms and companies that have major lobbying operations in the nation’s capital.”  Campaign finance expert Stephen Weissman observed that this raised troubling questions about the practical relevance of Obama’s much-ballyhooed pledge to turn down donations from “federal lobbyists.” 

“Obama’s rise to national prominence and presidential viability, Helman discovered, depended significantly on PAC and lobbyist money.”

As Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain explained, “some of the most influential [lobbyist] players, lawyers and consultants among them, skirt disclosure requirements by merely advising clients and associates who do actual lobbying, and avoiding regular contact with policymakers.  Obama’s ban does not cover such individuals.”

Thus, to give one example, Obama received $33,000 in the first quarter of 2007 from the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird, which maintains a large lobbying division in Washington.  Obama’s $33,000 came bundled from a number of “consultants” employed by the firm.

Also deleted from Obama’s “ban” are state lobbyists. Obama took $2000 from two Springfield, Illinois lobbyists for Exelon, which spent $500,000 to influence policy in Washington in 2006 and gave $160,000 directly to Obama (Morain 2007).  

An especially big dent in the armor of Obama’s effort to sell himself as the noble repudiator of lobbyist, PAC, and special interest money generally was inflicted in early August of 2007.  That’s when the Boston Globe published a widely circulated article titled “PACs and Lobbyists Aided Obama’s Rise: Data Contrast With His Theme.” Globe reporter Scott Helman reviewed campaign finance records to find that a “more complicated truth” lurked “behind Obama’s campaign rhetoric.”  Obama’s rise to national prominence and presidential viability, Helman discovered, depended significantly on PAC and lobbyist money, including large sums from “defense contractors, law firms and the securities and insurance industries” to his own powerful PAC “Hopefund.” Of special interest was Helman’s determination that Obama was retaining close and lucrative funding relationships with leading Washington-based lobbyists and lobbying firms while technically avoiding direct contributions from those key campaign finance players (Helman 2007)[2]. 

“‘Join the movement to end the war’…by caucusing for Barack Obama.”

But for my money the worst example of Team Obama’s taste for truly audacious deception is their effort to appropriate the spirit and support for the antiwar movement.

Listen to these two sentences from the cover of a shiny new mailing that I just got from the Obama campaign in Iowa: “From the very beginning, Barack Obama said No to the War in Iraq.  Join the movement to end the war and chance Washington” (Obama for America 2007). 

Yes, you read that correctly. “Obama ‘08” is equating caucusing for the junior senator from Illinois with joining the antiwar movement. 

Never mind some basic facts of history.  In late July of 2004, for example, Obama admitted to the New York Times that he did not know how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote. Here is the relevant Times passage: “In a recent interview [Obama’ declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.’ But, I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? I DON’T KNOW.’ What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made'” (New York Times, 26 July, 2004).

“Obama admitted to the New York Times that he did not know how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote.”

Obama has never opposed the “war” (naked and one-sided U.S. imperial aggression) on the same terms as the actual antiwar movement. His much-ballyhooed “antiwar speech” in Chicago during the fall of 2002 followed much conventional wisdom in the foreign policy establishment by criticizing “dumb wars.” It said absolutely nothing about the obviously criminal and imperial, oil-motivated nature of the great international and human rights transgression Cheney and Bush were preparing for Iraq and the world community. 

In the part of his famous 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address (generally credited with producing his national celebrity) that came closest to directly criticizing the Iraq invasion, Obama suggested that the Bush administration had “fudged the numbers” and “shad[ed] the truth” about why “our young men and women” were “sent into harm’s way.” He added that the U.S. must “care for [soldiers’] families while they’re gone, tend to the soldiers upon their return, and never go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.”

Morally cognizant and reasonably informed listeners were left to wonder about the considerably larger quantity (well into the tens of thousands) of Iraqis who had been killed and maimed and who lost income as a result of the criminal U.S. invasion of their country by the summer of 2004. What about the massive harm U.S. forces were ordered to inflict on Iraqis, considerably greater than the damage they experienced?

“Securing the peace” was a morally impoverished and nationally arrogant, self-serving way for Obama to describe the real White House objective in Iraq by the summer of 2004: to pacify, by force when (quite) necessary, the outraged populace of a nation that understandably resented a brazenly imperial invasion it saw (with good reason) as driven (as even Alan Greenspan admits) by the United States’ desire to deepen its control of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil.

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And “shade the truth” didn’t come close to doing justice to the high-state deception – the savage, sinister, and sophisticated lying – that the Bush administration used and is still using to cover their real agenda, understood with no small accuracy by the people of Iraq.  It is hardly a “war,” moreover, when the most powerful military state in history attacks and colonially occupies a weak nation it has already devastated over decades of military assault and even deadlier “economic sanctions.”

It gets worse. Obama has repeatedly voted to spend billions on the illegal invasion since his arrival in the U.S. Senate. He inveighs against the “Tom Hayden wing of the Democratic Party” and has told congressional Democrats they would be “playing chicken with the troops” if they dared to actually (imagine) de-fund the Cheney-Bush “war.”

He voted to confirm as Secretary of State (of all things) the mendacious war criminal Condoleezza Rice, who played a critical role in advancing the preposterous Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims Bush used to invade Iraq.

“Obama has repeatedly voted to spend billions on the illegal invasion since his arrival in the U.S. Senate.”

He distanced himself from fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin when Durbin faced vicious right-wing attacks after daring to tell some basic truths about U.S. torture practices in Iraq.

Obama used his considerable political and campaign finance muscle to back centrist Democrats against antiwar progressives in numerous Congressional primaries in 2006 (he even supported the neoconservative Joe Lieberman – his self-chosen Senate mentor – against the antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont in Connecticut). After their attainment of a majority in the Congress in November of 2006, Obama warned Democrats against being seen as working against the remarkably unpopular and arch-criminal Cheney-Bush administration.

Obama has repeatedly and absurdly claimed that the illegal invasion was launched with the “best of [democratic] intentions.”

He praises U.S. military personnel for their “unquestioning” “service” in Iraq and (despite numerous U.S. atrocities there) for “doing everything we could ever ask of them.”

His belated calls for withdrawal are hedged by numerous statements indicating that an Obama White House would maintain a significant military presence in and around Iraq for an indefinite period of time. And Obama has refused to support taking a reckless (possibly even nuclear) U.S. military assault on Iran off the table of acceptable U.S. foreign policy options. Obama couldn’t bother to be present on the Senate floor to vote against the Bush’s administration’s provocative, saber-rattling move to define Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as “an international terrorist organization” (3).

So, yes, by all means let’s “join the antiwar movement” by…voting/caucusing for… no, not for the actually Left-progressive antiwar candidate Dennis Kucinich, but for…Barack Obama.

Please lie less (brazenly)

If you’ve read this commentary in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada, please print it off and take it down to your closest Obama ’08 “HOPE” headquarters.  Ask the staffers there to tell Barack Obama to cut the crap – or at least just to lie a little less often and a little less brazenly.

Tell them this isn’t about the juvenile mudslinging that Hillary Clinton has embraced.  It’s about empire and inequality, corporate power/business rule, the meaning of progressivism, the business-sponsored authoritarian peril that haunts our fading democracy, and the invisible lives and fates of billions around the world.

Veteran Left historian Paul Street ( paulstreet99@yahoo.com) is a writer, speaker and activist based in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007);and  Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005).

2 comments on “Barack Obama and The Audacity of Deception
  1. What’s so repugnant about most crooked politicians like Obama is that they sell themselves (and the public interest) so cheap to the powerful interests…a thousand dollars and you get his ear; a few hundred thousand and you but immunity from consumers or advocates for true democracy. For corporations that customarily throw billions around with ease, that is pocket money. A repulsive system that only a benighted nation could stand. And THIS is the best that humanity can do? Please!

  2. Thank God for Paul Street!
    written by Preston , December 12, 2007

    Thank you for another incredible article about Obama! Sadly, too many folks have bought into the whole “rock star” image of Obama and fail to examine what he’s truly about. I think it was Glen Ford who said that Obama is another snake oil’s salesman, just like Bill Clinton.

    Keep them comin’, Mr. Street! You’re one bad-mutha-shut-yo’mouth!

    What’s Wrong with You People?
    written by Micah , December 12, 2007

    To what end do you publish this garbage? What is your stake? It doesn’t matter if what you are saying is factual or not. This article does not make you look intelligent or cogent or purely journalistic. It makes you look foolish. A man set against himself. Sad even. Its your right, Mr.

    So what you’re saying, Micah, is that even though what Mr. Street write is accurate, we should still support neo-liberal pimps like Obama?
    written by Preston , December 12, 2007

    This article by Street — as well his others about Obama — was on-point and hard-hitting as usual. If we truly had a “liberal media” Obama would’ve been exposed as fraud a long time ago.

    But I guess some black folks would rather ignore everything — even when the candidate is a continuation of America Imperialism — just because the person is black and represents the bourgeoisie wing of the black community. Pathetic.

    Some People ARe Never Satisfied
    written by Eric , December 12, 2007

    So who’s your candidate, Mr. Street? Who is the person (not identified by you) whose fundamental values and desires for this country are better than Barack Obama’s, but who also can GET ELECTED? Or are you one of those folks who would sooner have the Republicans win again than see someone who’s less than 100% “pure” be the Democratic nominee?

    Nice try!
    written by See right through you , December 12, 2007

    You use alot of words to try and mask the fact that this is a thinly veiled political hit with a whole lot of rehashed non news. Nice try though. See you at the Inaugaration! lol

    LMAO! Funny how none of the Obama sheep can debunk what Mr. Street wrote!
    written by Preston , December 12, 2007

    Keep doing your thing, Mr. Street. You’re striking a nerve with many of his sheep followers and they ain’t likin’ it one bit!

    A vote for Obama……
    written by christianslayer , December 12, 2007

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama wins>>He won’t survive but,he just may win.The American people(white) are so tired spiritually that,out of some sense of collective feeling of atonement,Obama may be looked upon as an instrument of penitence.It is my prediction that if this happens,this country will become engulfed in a new civil war…When these racist white Americans realize what they have done,all hell will break loose…..

    Black voters
    written by christianslayer , December 12, 2007

    Why do Black people even bother to vote Democrat when they are the most ardent supporters of Republican ideology…Republicans are using Christianity to push us back in slavery and Black folks are enabling them all the way with God,Jesus and the holy ghost leading the march.No matter who becomes president,we will always be lost until we renounce the white man’s superstitious mind controlling ideas.

    what exactly has obama said?
    written by christianslayer , December 12, 2007

    The man has not said anything worth remembering>>>He speaks in abstract terms full of empty and hollow rhetorics.If repeating over and over that he is tired of the same old politics and that it’s time to move forward are enough to excite a person to vote for Obama,that person needs to have his or head examined

    Follow Up
    written by Paul Street , December 12, 2007

    The problem is systemic. No candidate who says everything I want to hear could emerge under our classist and racist winner-take-all “market democracy.”

    Having said that, I’m well to the left of Dennis Kucinich but agree with Preston that Edwards is the best of the top three (viable) Dem candidates. That’s not saying much but he’s more than insignificantly better than Obama (I won’t even both with Hillary) in two ways: (i) most relatively progressive and sincerely and substantively populist (most obviously on socioeocnomic inequality but even it appears on race)and (ii) most elect-able terms of elect-ability (recent CNN match polls had Edwards beating all the messianic-militarist arch-athoritarian super-plutocratic Racist Republicans by larger margins than the neolibertal BaRockstar and of course Hillary) — of the Big 3 Dems.

    It is foolish beyond words for Eric to equate criticizing Obama (whose self-chosen Senate mentor was the neocon War Hawk Lieberman) with wanting the Republicans to win in ’08. Not to mention that Obama’s whole thing is “bipartisanship” and reaching out across party lines: why doesn’t he run in the GOP primaries or as an independent is partisan divisions are so awful?

    I think Christianslayer ( I think it was) is correct that Obama could pull it off – something that would actually work to the advantage of institutional racism oddly enough: see my “Barack Obama’s White Appeal and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era” at http://www.blackagendareport.c…&Itemid=34

    Always follow the money: look up Barack’s (and John’s and Hillary’s etc.) at:
    http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/index.asp?cycle=2008

    Micah’s comment is childish. If Micah wants to challenge an assertion then do so but the sources are all there. Annotation is included in the original Z-Net version: http://www.zmag.org/content/sh…emID=14448

    Barak Obama
    written by Mike , December 13, 2007

    I suggest that Obama seek an audience with Chavaz of Venezuala. He could learn alot from a real leader. And stay away from Joe Lieberman, a racist war criminal.

    Nevadan for REAL Change
    written by Danielle , December 13, 2007

    Great article. Obama doesn’t impress me in the least, just another D.L.C. Democrat.

    I will be exercising my right to vote for a true progressive, a leader who really stands for the ideals and mores of the Democratic Party; Dennis Kucinich.

    Is he electable? The logical answer is yes. Anyone who says different has both swallowed and digested the corporate electability myth.

    The power is in the voter’s hands, the media can attempt to influence our choice, but the truth is voters will decide.

    Right on Mike !
    written by Truth , December 13, 2007

    Just follow the money & his political connections to find out what he’s really about. I wish more of our people would do their homework. We would’nt have all of this division if we were all clear on the facts. Don’t misunderstand the true black progressives opposition to Obama. It would be nice to have a BLACK president not a NEO-TOM like Obama,Powell,Keyes,Elder & other disgraceful NEGROES that embarasses the rest of us in the diaspora. It’s not a BLACK THANG it has to be the right thing & even though Kucinich is’nt black he’s the only humane canidate so far running. Obama is’nt one of our leaders & deep down we all know this. They assassinate or harrass our leaders ,they don’t support them the way they have with Obama. Now ask yourselves why ? The same reason they supported the other NEO-TOM’s above.You keep the safe self-hating NEGROES in the WHITE HOUSE to be used as a tool of deception.

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