Revolution #186, December 20, 2009

Tom Hayden's Bumper Sticker Drama

In the wake of Barack Obama's speech sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the activist and author Tom Hayden has announced to the world: "no (Obama) bumper sticker" on Tom's car until the troops are withdrawn. ["Obama Announces Afghanistan Escalation," Tom Hayden, December 1, 2009, The Nation]

In opposing Obama's escalation, Hayden makes an important point:

"This is not like the previous conflict with Bush and Cheney, who were easy to ridicule. Now [the U.S. war in Afghanistan] has a persuasive advocate, a formidable debater who will be arguing for support from the liberal center—one who wants to win back his Democratic base."

Obama, in other words, will be more effective in getting people to support this war than McCain would have been. But Hayden leaves out the role that he played in telling people to pour their energies into supporting this "formidable debater" as the best way to end the war. In a call entitled "Progressives for Obama" published in March 2008, Hayden—along with Barbara Ehrenreich, Danny Glover, and Bill Fletcher—promoted the illusion that the Obama campaign was a "social movement...greater than the candidate himself ever imagined." Hayden no doubt knew that Obama had actually announced during his campaign that he would not only continue the war in Afghanistan but "refocus American attention" on it. But this real-life position of Obama's wasn't even mentioned in this endorsement call—replaced instead by a wish that Obama not "simply transfer American combat troops from the quagmire in Iraq to the quagmire in Afghanistan." The election of Obama, in this fantasy, would be a "powerful peace mandate." Most damagingly, they demanded that "everyone must join this fight to the finish."

Hayden and his co-authors left out back then that not only was Obama saying very openly that he would continue to "project American power" (that is, use violence against everyone who got in America's way), but that mainstream conservative analysts like Andrew Sullivan were arguing that Obama should be supported precisely because he would have significantly more political credibility and finesse than John McCain in carrying out these, and other, wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Which has, in fact, proven to be the case: when was the last time a president traveled to pick up a peace prize barely a week after announcing the escalation of a war in one country and the further extension of that war to another?

Further, Hayden refuses anywhere in his current article to analyze or explain the real reasons that the U.S. is not just maintaining but raising the stakes of the highly risky war. He literally calls this an "obsession" of the U.S. (as if it were some kind of psychological disturbance), and paints Obama's decision as one borne of trying to please "the generals" and the "public" (the latter with a promise of withdrawal)—rather than a very risky but necessary move, as the accompanying article shows, to protect what Obama perceives to be the interests of the U.S. imperialist system. (See "Obama's War Speech: The Questions It Raises… And The Answer That Must Be Given" by Larry Everest, Revolution # 185. Go to

"Well," you might say, "what of it? Give poor Hayden a break, why don't you? At least he's opposing the war now." But what is Hayden telling people to do? Read the rest of his article, and while the phrase "hitting the streets" pops up once, and Hayden vaguely alludes to anti-war movements in Europe, the overall thrust of his article focuses people's attention on "persuading" Congress and working in the 2010 elections and then yes, once again, in the 2012 elections (Hayden rushes to assure us he will once again support Obama in those elections, even if "stickerless" this time)—in other words, Hayden continues to lead people to stay in the very quicksand that he and others did all they could to drag them into in 2008. He does NOT call for massive political resistance to this war. He also focuses people on U.S. casualties and moneys spent, not on the utter injustice of the war and the unimaginable brutality being dealt to Afghanistan's people. And he accepts that the U.S. has some sort of need to find a "negotiating partner" to preserve—and yes, he uses these words—an "honorable (!) exit strategy"—when what the U.S. must do is to get the hell out, now. Hayden, in short, seems to give voice to outrage...only to pull people back into the same terms and the same framework of understanding and political action that has kept them in a state of paralysis for the better part of a decade. He expresses great disappointment with results that he could have easily predicted—but rather than honestly examine and criticize the analytical framework that led to this disappointment, he instead tries to salvage and reinforce it!

At a "teachable moment" when people may be compelled to figure out how they were so badly deluded about Obama—and why they in large part deluded themselves—Hayden opposes Obama only to keep people clinging to the larger deception: that the rules of capitalist democracy can be played in the interests of the masses of people. Hayden gives comfort and further delusion to those who don't want to confront what is actually needed to change what this empire does all over the planet. This is very harmful. By draining people's anger into frustrating and impotent dead ends, Hayden's program of lobbying and electoral activity will actually prolong the pain. It reinforces the paralysis and thus prepares the ground for the next outrage.

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