Revolution Online, October 17, 2008
Exchange with a Reader on Obama
Don’t Paralyze the People
I agree with almost all of the article (“On Obama’s Nomination: The Change You Believe In – And the Change You’ll Get,” Revolution #142, revcom.us) and even before I read it as I have been watching Obama in recent months and have been less and less enthusiastic about his candidacy. What I do know though is that his life has been mostly demonstrative of the same kinds of things that I value up until these recent speeches and maybe a few of the past votes he cast. Which I will admit may have not been in the best interest of the people. One of the things he has demonstrated, however, is his ability to admit his own faults and that is something that has immeasurable value to me. So, no I do not just see him as a “great black hope.” The bottom line is that anyone who makes it to where he is is going to have some undesirable qualities. I think the main thing to consider is that he is someone who is waaaaay more willing to listen to the people than the alternative and that is all we can hope for at this point. I agree that the people need to take this country, this world, back but until that day AT LEAST exercise the right to vote in addition to being a part of any and all revolutionary causes you believe in.
I think that articles such as these can be so damaging. There is a real difference between Obama and McCain and articles like these can paralyze the people and keep them from going to the polls at all which will most certainly give us McCain! I think we can all be clear that this would be a bad option. I think we need to stop being scared about this. One of the things that Obama did say is that change comes from the bottom up, from the people up, and anyone who says that is someone who feels like they owe the people something.
Yes, he was auditioning for the imperialist capitalists and he did a damn good job but we have to remember that he is doing so much of this to secure his position and when I start worrying about his words I stop and look at his life and feel more at ease. I know that once in office the words can and will change we all know that, but let’s just hope that this time the words change for the good instead of the other way around and I have faith that this is our best option for that.
Don't paralyze the people,
We agree that the specter of a McCain presidency is ominous. McCain is an unrepentant war criminal who was shot down and captured while dropping bombs on the people during the Vietnam War. He represents a continuation, and in some ways an intensification (with some adjustments), of the last eight years of horrors under the Bush regime. He is a “stay-the-course” cheerleader for endless and expanding war that has brought almost unimaginable suffering to the Middle East. And this so-called “anti-torture” “Independent/Maverick” shepherded legislation legitimizing and legalizing Bush’s open torture.
There are many people who are very disturbed by what Obama is saying and doing, who are angry that Obama is not standing up to McCain on any of this in any real way. He’s not, but that’s not the essential point of our argument; Obama’s role is worse than that. Obama, with his “bring us all together” mantra, is fundamentally capitulating to and strengthening all that McCain is associated with. Obama is working – consciously so – to look out for the interests of the capitalist-imperialist system that is the cause of all the oppression, exploitation, ignorance and suffering people face around the world. And you can’t do that, and at the same time represent the interests of the people.
Look at how Obama responded to comments by Congressman John Lewis about the atmosphere at McCain and Sarah “wanna-be-lynch-mob-leader” Palin rallies – rallies that have taken on a very ugly, dangerous atmosphere.
Palin has repeatedly accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” The state Republican Party Chair in Virginia, according to MSNBC, told 30 of McCain’s organizers to try to forge a connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. And statements by Palin referring to Obama, that “this is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” are code words to set off hard-core white supremacists. The media is reporting that people are yelling, “Kill him,” and “terrorist” when Obama’s name is mentioned at McCain and Palin rallies. And despite all the bullshit in the media about how McCain is supposedly “reining in” these kinds of vicious forces, McCain arrogantly denounced Lewis’ statement as “beyond the pale,” and “unacceptable.” And he went after Lewis’ statement as one of his “attack points” at the final presidential debate.
Lewis only touched on the surface of what is going on at these rallies, but he did identify something very real and dangerous when he said: “During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”
And here it is important to say clearly that if anything like the kind of thing that Lewis is warning about were to actually happen, that would be a tremendous crime of this system.
But what has been Obama’s response to all this? Did he forcefully call out what is going on? Did he call out McCain, and in particular Palin, for whipping this up with all their “coded” messages to the white supremacist hard core? Did he call out the pandering to and whipping up of “small town” values of ignorance, intolerance and racism?
No he did not. In fact, Obama refuted the essence of what Lewis said. At the final presidential debate, Obama said that Lewis “inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there [at the McCain and Palin rallies] and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don't think that comparison is appropriate.”
If Obama were to “go there,” to really speak the truth about the ugly and threatening scenes at these Palin and McCain rallies, to put on the table the question of what is behind all that, and the current situation in regard to the oppression of Black people in the U.S. today, that would require, or at least open the door to, examining how deeply embedded white supremacy is in this society. Right now white supremacy is intensifying – it is a critical part of the social glue that keeps this country cohered and in line at a time of great crisis and uncertainty. And in that context, Obama’s “post-racial” message serves to cover all that up at a time when what is really required is recognition of and resistance to the continuing oppression of Black people. Here’s the reality: You don’t get to be one of the two candidates for president without the backing – money, media, and everything else that is necessary to be a “credible” candidate and without being fully vetted and approved by the ruling class. And, if you do become president, you are the president of the capitalist-imperialist system, and what you do is going to be locked into and defined by that.
And that is why, to just take one example, you can go back to day one of this campaign, and examine what Obama has said and done about the “race” question – the oppression of Black people in particular – and you’ll see that whatever his personal life experience and even personal inclinations, his words and actions are guided by the interests of a ruling class for whom white supremacy is a cornerstone of the society they rule over. (For a critical analysis of these questions, see “The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need” – that appeared as a special issue of Revolution #144 that is still available in print, and can be read online at revcom.us.)
There are differences between McCain and Obama on how to cohere or re-cohere society in the face of a future of endless war for empire, repression, and severe economic crisis. But again, these are differences over how the current setup will emerge stronger – in a better position to wage its wars, oppress and exploit people, and impose death and terror on the world.
In this light, what about Obama appearing to be more willing to listen to people than McCain? In many ways because of his background, and his ability to appear to be listening to people, Obama is uniquely positioned to divert and stifle grassroots anger and opposition to all kinds of potential scenarios that the ruling class of this country thinks they may confront. His ongoing message of “bringing us all together” is essentially one of leading those who are on the correct side of basic dividing lines in society (over the right to abortion, opposing racism, opposing the war, opposing the imposition of Christian theocracy…) to “come together” with and capitulate to the forces and agenda that have been concentrated in the Bush regime.
And, if what we are saying about Obama, and his role, is true, then how can it be harmful, or paralyzing the people, to tell people this truth? People can only become conscious, and act in their own interests (and not be played by the system against their interests), if they understand the real situation. What is harmful is that people’s anger, hopes, dreams, energy and resources are being channeled into the Obama campaign – something that is going to strengthen the very system that is responsible for all the things that oppress people. And the Obama campaign is strengthening dangerous illusions about the system and narrowing people’s sights to what the system will allow – as we have said, Obama is “change – that you are allowed to believe in.”
You write, “AT LEAST exercise the right to vote in addition to being a part of any and all revolutionary causes you believe in.” But supporting Obama is not a matter of doing what we can until there is a chance to build a revolutionary movement. Supporting Obama is working against building a revolutionary movement, which is where people’s time, energy and resources really need to go. And supporting Obama is an obstacle to even standing up to and resisting what the powers-that-be are doing right now. For example, some leaders and organizations in the anti-war movement opposed protesting the war at the Democratic National Convention because this would hurt Obama’s campaign.
Exposing Obama is not what is paralyzing people. Right now, people are way too paralyzed. But they are paralyzed by the terms being set by the ruling class – that the “choice” they are allowed to make is between McCain and Obama. The way out of that paralysis is not to promote illusions about what Obama is about. The way to break out of this box is to pose that the real choice right now is between being caught up in and locked into the terms being set by the election overall, or busting out of those terms.
For those of us who understand that this world must be taken in a completely other direction, who understand that capitalism is the source of such profound and unnecessary suffering, exploitation, war, oppression, and ignorance, building real resistance to the whole direction of things must be part of the whole process of building a revolutionary movement. Let us not forget that times of great turmoil can provide openings for such a revolutionary movement, if we keep firmly in mind and act based on the real interests of the people of the world, and we do not – in the name of “getting people involved,” or whatever – support things that strengthen the forces of oppression and exploitation and deter people from doing what is really needed to fight this system and bring about real change.
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