One Year On, Obama's "Yes We Can" is Now "Incremental Change We Can Believe In"

Print Friendly
Original Content at
Dateline: November 2, 2009

By Kevin Gosztola

Too much caution or not enough principle.  The man—to many—remains an enigma.

Too much caution or not enough principle? The man—to many—remains an enigma.

A week or two ago I began to think about the reality that it had been about a year since Obama won the election. And, about a week or two ago, I began to see and read the first conversations about how the 2012 Election is set to begin in the spring of 2010.

I do not know how many Americans can handle the beginning of another election right now. It’s too early. We aren’t done with the man who currently occupies the White House.

Too many of us have failed to make him create the change we need, too many of us are still willing to buy into this idea that he could go to the root of many of our problems and make things better for a broad swath of America.

At least half of the country still believes in the power of Barack Obama.

I do not know what they believe or have faith in as they cling to these beliefs but my guess is these beliefs are compartmentalized—separated from the oncoming expansion and escalation of the Afghanistan War, separated from the permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq, separated from Obama’s cozying up to Big Banks like Goldman Sachs which placed risky bets on the housing market that heavily contributed to the economic collapse in 2008, and separated from the bailout to health insurance companies that will be cloaked in a so-called public option.

The separation of Obama from all the inequities and evils that continue in America’s name (the torture, the erosion of American civil liberties, the persecution of the Other, the drone strikes in Pakistan, the bailouts for the richest 1%, the rising costs of living, etc) is the glue that holds this country together. It keeps the country from totally coming apart from the stress of illusions and disillusion that reinforce each other.

The perpetuation of thinking that what we got on Election Day is fundamentally better than what John McCain would have been pacifies the masses, keeps the civil unrest significantly depressed, and quells the anger and frustration many are feeling.

A year on, Americans still wear cheaply made commercial merchandise they bought that night when Obama claimed victory (or that day when Obama was inaugurated). They wear hats that say “President of the United States of America” or “HOPE” or “CHANGE.”

The hats and shirts people wear with Obama’s name on them say it all. They say despite my hardship, despite my poverty I push on because you made me believe this country could do better for me and other people some day.

I do not think they know when that will happen. It probably will not happen before Obama’s Hope and Change Reunion Tour kicks off in the Spring of 2010 as he fights to maintain the support of those who were die-hard supporters in the spring, summer, and fall of 2008.

They don’t know when they will get Medicare for All and have their health care bills significantly reduced, they don’t know when they will be able to live a life without fear of having their home foreclosed on, they don’t know when they will be sure that their union won’t be forced to make concessions which result in a pay cut, they don’t know when they can be sure that they will have enough money to help get their sons and daughters through college, they don’t know when the next week or the week after they will know if they can afford to pay for all the groceries they need to feed their family— But the vast majority continues to live knowing the alternatives, giving up or dying, to be worse than the trials and tribulations they are experiencing.

Some turn to communities they live in for support —churches, neighborhood groups, schools, unions, clubs, family, etc. Some have the courage and wherewithal to point the finger and consider why they live like this —- why anyone in the world has to live like this.

Why does anyone have to live like that?

How do you sum up this past year and why the answer to one’s prayers has taken so long to do what was necessary?

Do you pinpoint American democracy as an utter failure? Do you put the blame on Obama and say he has not been the transformative leader necessary for real change and failed to take on corporate power? Or do you address the psychology of America, the systems that run rampant in America and suck human goodness, kindness, caring, and decency like a leech?

Truth is, stress and duress in society created by corporate dominance and power in this country has led to an American people who have psychological traits of the Corporation.

We all try to get by as those with the money and power exhibit callous unconcern for the feelings and plight of others, we all try to maintain enduring relationships despite our incapacity to stay grounded in the illusions we need to entertain to get so that these relationships can continue, we all show a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of others, we all practice a level of deceitfulness and con others to maintain a hold or grip on the rung of the class ladder that we temporarily occupy, we all to a certain degree have an inability to feel guilt or responsibility for war, for continued environmental destruction, for government repression, for policies creating vast inequality and manifesting a great fear in the Other, and we all are prone to a failure to conform to social norms with respect to the law.

We act out because we know we must to survive. We act out because we see others doing it and figure if others do it and we can get away with it then it must be okay.

The psychology of the corporations which have penetrated the halls of power, the traits of the special interest groups that now for the most part control what goes in and what comes out of Congress have over the past decades spread rapidly like a virus to American citizens.

We now think like they do. We think about “the good of the country” and not ourselves or our communities or the greater humanity, which we are a part of.

We subscribe to the idea that this is the way things are and we have to get used to it just like the CEOs, boards of directors, and other members of the moneyed elite want us to do so they can continue to direct the bewildered herd which they are convinced they must direct and exact influence over for the good of the country.

We have been brainwashed to believe we must get change through the system and any action for change outside the system will go nowhere and so our actions for the change we believe in prevent from happening what leaders and politicians don’t want us to believe in.

The idea of “change we can believe in” prevents creative action which could blow open a whole set of possibilities for radical reforms and systemic change if a mass majority participated in it. It shrewdly deludes us all into thinking, instead, that incremental change is what’s possible and what’s only possible.

It leads us to the current point in history when “Yes We Can” and “Change We Can Believe In” has transformed into phrases like “Change is hard,” “Change isn’t supposed to be easy,” and “Change doesn’t happen overnight.” Such phrases put a damper on all populism across America.

So, finally, the disappointment of Obama’s first year is that several opportunities presented themselves for real change: health care reform could have been single payer, “financial reforms” could have been created to include a worker’s bill of rights, the PATRIOT Act and its expansions could have been repealed, the economic crisis of the time could have kickstarted a radical restructuring of our national economy in favor of Main Street not Wall Street, the bloated military budget could have been cut significantly so that more money could go toward education, jobs, housing, etc, foreign policy could have been created to end the wars in the Middle East, and much more could have been done to deal with the impending environmental destruction that will occur as a result of global warming.

All of these changes could have been put into motion, but these were deemed changes we were not to believe in.

Change we can believe in was never anything more than a figment of our imagination, a largely undefined belief to keep us all in check and allow for a president to tap in to the political energy and frustrations of the time.

“Change is hard” is not an acceptable outlook for the future. “Yes we’ve failed” is much more appropriate for summing up the past year since Obama’s election.

Author’s Bio:

Kevin Gosztola is a trusted author who publishes his writing regularly to OpEdNews and Open Salon and he is a 2009 Young People For Fellow. He is a documentary filmmaker currently completing a Film/Video degree at Columbia College in Chicago. Currently, he is working on a documentary project on Renaissance 2010 and Chicago Public Schools. On Columbia College’s campus, he helps organize events and programming with a humanities/social sciences group known as Critical Encounters. He is currently working with the group to plan a media summit for Chicago in April 2010 and is currently seeking speakers who are willing to participate in talking to artists and media makers about how they can use participatory or social media to create art & media that promotes conversation and action on political, social, and cultural issues.

One comment on “One Year On, Obama's "Yes We Can" is Now "Incremental Change We Can Believe In"
  1. I think this article puts it best

    On the eve of Obama’s inauguration
    20 January 2009

    The inauguration of Barack Obama has become the occasion for a tidal wave of media-orchestrated delusions and stupidities designed to overwhelm and chloroform public consciousness. The junior senator from Illinois is being compared, and is comparing himself, to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. An observer of the wall-to-wall coverage of the events leading up to Obama’s swearing in as president might think he was witnessing nothing less than the second coming.

    Such events are always repellent to those who retain their critical faculties. But the hoopla inevitably exhausts itself and what remains after the litter is swept away is reality—in this case the coming to power of the man who will preside over the most reactionary state in the world, under conditions of an unprecedented crisis of American and world capitalism. The policies of the Obama administration will be determined not by media image-making or hollow rhetoric, but by the imperatives of the crisis and the social interests which Obama represents.

    Obama has already indicated that his policies will in all essentials be a continuation of those of the outgoing administration, perhaps in a somewhat more skillfully packaged form. He has surrounded himself with individuals associated with imperialist crimes and financial scandals, including Bush’s Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, who presided over the military “surge” in Iraq and opposed any timetable for withdrawing US troops from the devastated country.

    Obama has devoted the months since his election—a sweeping popular repudiation of the Bush administration’s policies of war, repression and social reaction—to conciliating and reassuring the Republican right. The New York Times reported Monday that Obama has regularly consulted his defeated opponent, Republican Senator John McCain, allowing the virulently pro-war senator to vet his nominees for top national security posts. The Times notes that, according to South Carolina senator and McCain associate Lindsey Graham, McCain has told colleagues “that many of these appointments he would have made himself.” McCain was Obama’s guest of honor at his pre-inaugural dinner Monday night.

    To the extent that there is any basis for the self-congratulatory tone of the media hype, it is the fact that Obama is the first African-American president. This is undoubtedly a milestone. But its significance is vastly eroded by the fact that in the current historical circumstances it is impossible to associate his ascendancy with a revival of policies that promote social equality.

    It is many decades since the American ruling class took the civil rights movement in hand and, on the basis of identity politics and affirmative action, integrated the black upper-middle-class into the political establishment. Obama represents the apotheosis of the politics of race, gender, etc. that were used to evade and bury the more fundamental social and class issues in American society, while the conditions of the working class, including the vast majority of African-Americans, steadily deteriorated.

    It should not be forgotten, amidst the officially sanctioned celebration, that the last two secretaries of state, who presided over the crimes of Iraq and Afghanistan, were African-Americans.

    It is also necessary to recall that Martin Luther King, Jr., whose memory is being cynically exploited, was the representative of a great struggle for social equality and a vehement opponent of American imperialism. In the months before his assassination, King publicly denounced the War in Vietnam and increasingly insisted that the central issue in America was not race, but class, a conviction which he sought to act upon by initiating the “poor people’s march.” During that period he began to raise the need for a labor party and a break with the Democratic Party.

    It is impossible to attribute any such principles to Obama, who has never been associated with a popular struggle and who spent much of his adult life working his way up within the Illinois Democratic Party machine, where early on he was groomed for high political office. From the outset, his presidential effort was organized and financed by powerful factions within the US political and corporate establishment, which saw in him an instrument to refurbish the image of the United States after the disastrous blows to the prestige and position of American imperialism during the Bush years.

    It is not necessary to refute in detail the absurd comparisons of Obama to Lincoln or to the far lesser figure of Roosevelt. However, it should be noted that in the utterly superficial and ahistorical analogies that are being conjured up, there is no consideration of the explosive manner in which the crises they confronted developed. Notwithstanding Lincoln’s oratorical brilliance (to which Obama’s canned speeches bear no resemblance) the contradictions he faced erupted within five weeks of his inauguration into civil war.

    Within a year of Roosevelt’s inauguration, he faced massive social struggles by the working class, including general strikes in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco, followed shortly by the formation of the CIO and sit-down strikes that assumed a quasi-insurrectional character.

    The most pathetic and despicable role in the glorification of Obama is being played by liberals and “lefts” associated with the Nation and similar publications. Through their campaign for his election and their portrayal of him as the leader of an insurgent movement for “American renewal” they are facilitating the implementation of right-wing policies that would otherwise be politically unfeasible, including the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, trillions more in handouts to the banks and cuts in bedrock social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    It would, however, be a mistake to believe that the combination of deception and self-inebriation of this opportunist milieu is shared by the working class. It lives in the real world of surging unemployment, poverty and homelessness. Even to the extent that workers have expectations that Obama will realize their aspirations for genuine change, this will not stop them from entering into struggle. And events will, sooner rather than later, shatter their illusions and clarify that the new government is no less their enemy than the old one.

    For our part, we have not forgotten that four years ago the accepted wisdom was that George W. Bush bestrode the world like a colossus. Many of the “lefts” who today praise Obama as the new messiah were the most deeply convinced that Bush was omnipotent.

    The real issue that dominates the inauguration of Obama is the fact that he assumes the presidency in the midst of a historic crisis of American capitalism that is compounded by the aggressive global agenda of US imperialism. After January 20 comes January 21. The mounting contradictions of American capitalism abroad and the sharpening social divisions at home will produce something for which none of the power brokers or their “left” appendages are prepared—the reemergence of the American working class.

    The inauguration of Barack Obama ushers in a period of unprecedented social and political upheavals.

    Barry Grey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


From Punto Press



wordpress stats