Three Years After Yes We Can

Linked on our blogs with forgotten how Govs have to be run? – Published on Solidarity, a webzine, by ATC editors, November/December 2011, ATC 155.

NO, HE DIDN’T. That’s the epitaph on the tombstone of liberal and left-wing hopes that greeted the historic election of Barack Obama in November 2008. Did anyone imagine then that the election itself, more than anything he’d do in office, would be the high point of the Obama presidency? Or that three years later, the power of “Yes we can” would be the eruption of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) spreading to one city after another — essentially nothing to do with president Obama?  

The much weakened “change you can believe in” President faces a year of daunting challenges: a difficult reelection campaign with high longterm unemployment, a demoralized Democratic base and a far-right-controlled Congress. And the 2012 election is being stolen right now, thanks to reactionary Republican power in critical state legislatures, enacting voter-suppression laws that will strip as many as five million Black, Latino and poor citizens of their voting rights, while Obama’s own Justice Department does little or nothing about it.

The Obama presidency also confronts a chain of crises stretching from Israel’s intransigence over Palestine, and bloody stalemates in Yemen and Syria, to the near fracturing of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Hanging over it all is the real possibility of a new global financial meltdown and recession, or worse. To say that the ruinous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan and the shambles of the U.S. budget were largely inherited from Obama’s predecessor is true, but of decreasing political relevance. What’s happened — and more important, what next?

To be sure, it was always self-delusion for anyone on the left to imagine that president Obama would attempt to govern on the basis of anything resembling a truly progressive agenda — massive economic stimulus and aggressive public works to confront unemployment; at least temporary nationalization of the banks to restore the flow of credit; a writedown of principal on “underwater” housing mortgages; a rapid end to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the immediate-if-not-sooner closure of the Guantánamo prison; a serious fight for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and universal single-payer health care reform or, at minimum, the once-promised and quickly-abandoned “strong public option.”

As for any truly radical measures — like freeing victims of racist and political repression entombed for decades in federal prison, and commutation for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders; full investigation and disclosure of the criminal abuses committed by the Bush-Cheney gang; banning deportations by executive order until the passage of comprehensive immigration reform – those were never even on the radar screen.

One strength of the movement around OWS is that illusions about Obama have significantly dissipated. There’s a serious question to raise about Obama’s course, but it’s not about whether the left could “influence” him. The left never had “a seat at the table” of the Obama administration, nor frankly even the space to be a fly on the wall, and it was absurd to entertain fantasies of “the left-wing component of the broad progressive bloc” that our Obama-enthusing friends in the movement envisioned as a counterweight to the influence of the bankers and hedge funds … //

… Cloudy Electoral Prospects:

We haven’t tried to explore here the other side of the political spectrum, in particular, the monster-raving-loonie spectacle that the Republicans present to a disbelieving and frankly horrified world — climate change, a hoax contrived by a globalist conspiracy; evolution, an unproven theory; Social Security, a ponzi scheme. Is it possible that a presidential election could actually be won by a party carrying those messages?

The answer, we think, is yes it can, especially with voter-suppression laws being put in place in broad daylight, but the odds are still against it. Given the present cast of characters, we assume that most sectors of capital in the United States would generally prefer to see a “moderate Republican” sort of president — fiscally conservative, but pragmatic if a threat of economic slump requires it; socially tolerant, e.g. not fanatically hostile to lesbian/gay rights but not overly committed either; solidly militarist and imperialist without being an international embarrassment. Barack Obama, stripped of a Democratic majority and facing no serious liberal (let alone left) pressure, can fill that moderate-Republican role better than any other available option.

In contrast, among the current crop of GOP candidates, Mitt Romney is the only major one who’s not committed to the extreme right (mainly because he’s not committed to much of anything except his own ambition). A Republican president along with a Tea-Party driven Congressional majority could be dangerous for capital itself, in the event of severe economic emergency. If such an administration were to believe and act upon its own rhetoric that massive budget-cutting creates jobs, Herbert Hoover style, it really could turn a downturn into a new Great Depression — especially at a moment when the major European countries are following the same consumption-crushing course.

We’ll be looking in coming issues of ATC at the 2012 election and potential openings for independent politics, but right now we envision a probable reelection of president Obama to a second term, but devoid of the hopes and the popular energy — and certainly without the Democratic majorities in Congress — that marked the beginning of the first. There will be those who, as always, will insist on loyally supporting the Democrats yet again to beat back the far right. That argument undoubtedly will gain traction as the election heats up, but it sounds more tired with every repetition — and it’s a long and sad road from the change that so many millions so recently believed in.

Until the emergence of a powerful social movement and at least the beginning of a new socialist left, there’s a very low ceiling for meaningful reform, for confronting the scandal of child poverty, the destruction of public education or reversing the collapse of working-class standards of living. That’s why Occupy Wall Street represents the rebirth of hope for what democracy is supposed to look like. (full long text).

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