No. 1 in our “We Gave You Fair Warning” series—
The Manufacturing of Illusion
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.
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).
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).
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).
“‘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.
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 ( email@example.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).