Change We Can Truly, Deeply Believe In … or Not
On January 20th, 2009 at 12:05 pm EST, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the USA–the first African American to become president of a nation founded upon the institution of slavery.
The mainstream media has plenty of articles and commentary on the momentous historic significance of Obama’s inauguration and how it represents the renewal of America’s promise and a chance to restore its “moral credibility” in the world, etc.
One of the primary political themes that defined Obama’s campaign and in fact powerfully drove his popularity was the promise of “change.”
His presidential campaign slogans, for instance, repeatedly hammered upon this meme:
Change We Can Believe In.
Change is Coming.
The Change We Need.
For many grassroots supporters of Obama, he is the living embodiment of change both symbolically as the first African American president of the USA and in terms of a fundamental shift in policy from the Bush regime.
Barack Obama represents their greatest hopes. Their deepest desires. Their fondest dreams.
The only question is whether this faith is warranted.
Is Obama’s audacity of hope based upon substantive reality, or is it merely a cruel illusion that will bring disappointment and shatter the aspirations of many?
Meet the New Boss
As has been noted by more critical analysts, Obama’s rhetoric of change is perhaps belied by his actual voting record in Congress, his public stand on policy issues, and his political appointments:
- His voting for the FISA-free domestic spying bill in Congress despite his earlier promises to oppose it.
- His support of the $700+ billion dollar bailout of Wall Street, with his aides pressing Congressional Republicans to allow the first $350 billion to be released.
- The decision to retain Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the same post.
- The selection of corporate centrists and war supporters like Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
- His appointment of people like Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council, and Paul Volcker as head of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. These three figures in particular have a demonstrated track record of supporting economic austerity and free market “reform” policies. For instance, Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank under Bush and thus a played a critical role in (mis)handling the current financial crisis.
- His calls for increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan and US attacks on Pakistan, despite his putative antiwar reputation.
Of course, some will suggest that the change Obama represents lies in the mere fact that he is the first African American president of the USA. As a result, some people have effectively abandoned critical questioning of Obama’s actual policy positions in favor of a “cult of personality” devotion to Obama the icon. In fact, everything from Obama comic books to Obama sneakers has been popping up.
While the (racial) symbolism of Obama is to be noted, it begs the question as to how Obama will differ from his predecessors on actual concrete issues including that of White supremacy and racism.
In fact, during the Democratic Party presidential campaign, the NAACP did an extensive questionnaire and analysis of both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s positions on important policy issues. The findings?
As one article put it, “Obama and Clinton’s positions are remarkably similar, most often nearly identical in content, if not style.”
Even neoconservatives like William Kristol of the New York Times have noticed the continuity of Obama’s politics with the past, with Kristol titling an editorial about Obama accordingly: “Continuity We Can Believe In.”
An even better analysis is an article by Paul Street where he dissects the hidden political motivations that drove the rise of Barack Obama and how they likely will powerfully shape his regime: “Barack Obama: The Empire’s New Clothes.”
The gist of Street’s article is that Obama politically represents an attempt by the US ruling class to “rebrand America,” or give the USA a political face lift, so as to more effectively carry out the same basic foreign and domestic agendas–this time with a more progressive veneer.
Given that the past 8 years of the Bush regime have caused widespread political revulsion both around the world and domestically, US ruling class policies of economic austerity at home and American geopolitical expansionism abroad have been thrown into crisis. For the ruling class, there is a need to “change horses” and find a kinder, gentler political face in order to more convincingly sell these policies.
In contrast to the “Texas cowboy” George Bush, this person ideally should have a more multicultural heritage amendable to a world that is increasingly not White nor Western. Indeed, what better way to symbolize a break not only from the Bush era but also politics as usual than to put into power a racial minority who can serve as a more effective frontman for the American empire.
Enter one Barack H. Obama.
What’s that line from The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?
Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.