Obama started the election campaign with a set of distinct advantages. He was not George W Bush or a Republican. The promise of change seemed plausible. He appealed to the disillusionment with the Iraq war with the promise to rundown the war. He appeared to be a fresh candidate new to Washington & not tied to traditional lobbies as his early primary campaigns were based on small donations & a candidate from outside of the traditional Democratic Party leadership. He had the potential to attract massive financial backing from the corporations as the alternative leadership for America disillusioned by the results of Republican leadership at home & abroad.
These advantages were dissipated as Obama took policy positions that narrowed the difference between the candidates. His policy on the Iraq war softened from an anti-war stance to one of maintaining bases in Iraq. He announced enthusiastic support for the state of Israel & aggressive policies to contain the danger of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons. Competing for credibility in the ‘War on terror’ he announced his readiness to launch cross border attacks on Pakistan. He voted for the retrospective permission for the president to wiretap the communications of US citizens. In competing with Hilary Clinton while McCain stood apart as the Republican candidate he was painted as an elitist urban liberal out of touch with the working class constituencies of heartland America in the key states that any candidate has to win. With the selection of Sarah Palin, as the Republican vice-presidential candidate reinforcing McCain support from the reactionary wings of the Republican coalition, Obama’s victory has looked far from certain.
Although the polls narrowed after the 2 conventions with the crisis of capitalism & the manoeuvres over the bailout the gap between the candidates has widened again, as have the odds given by the bookies. Sarah Palin is beginning to look dangerously inexperienced & even incompetent as the deputy to a candidate of whom there are serious doubts about his age, health & temper.
Can Barack Obama make a difference to USA policy?
From his background there are grounds for optimism. He is the son of a single mother, of mixed race & culture, a brilliant orator with an excellent educational record. His record in politics indicates that he is on the liberal end of the American political class. However, his record indicates that this is a man who likes to build consensus with the groups he is involved with. He is not likely to be radical.
He would be constrained by the American party system. America has always been ruled by bourgeois political coalitions represented since 1932 by the Democratic Party, dominant party from 1932 to the 70’s, a party that has been eroded in its base of support since the 70’s by the resurgence of the Republican party as a coalition against the cultural, economic & political changes made by the New deal democratic coalition. In America there is only a choice between which wing of the business class will, the more liberal or progressive or the more conservative & reactionary. To quote Gore Vidal, America has one party, the Property party, which has 2 wings. Due to the structural constraints of US politics is unlikely to have much room to manoeuvre, even if as a conventional US liberal he wanted to.
There is little difference between both parties on foreign policy. Neither party differs in the overall hegemonic objectives of US policy; the parties only differ in the means by which they would pursue this objective. The Democrats being more inclined to pursue their objective by multilateral negotiations rather the unilateral actions of the Bush administration. Within all but the extreme margins of both major coalitions, no-one is questioning the imperial policies of the USA economically or politically.
There is a glimmer of optimism in the fact that US society has reached a critical point. After the era of New Deal Democrat politics we now seem to be reaching the end of the neoliberal era. The political, economic & ideological of that era are being put under strain by crisis that is upon us. When enthusiasts for free markets are forced to nationalize finance and subsidize the wealthy & the world can see the results of giving free rein to free markets even the weakest minds are forced to query the promises made & the assumptions behind such policies. An adventurous US foreign policy has run into the sands of Iraq & Pakistan. Will a financially weakened state be able to throw its weight around in the manner of George W Bush? In such a situation, a clever politician like Obama will have the opportunity to make decisions that could define a new era of capitalism as FDR defined his era in America. However, from his record his expressed inclinations & policy & the constraints under which he would labour anything but a radical result can be expected.
Written prior to the election, this article was the basis for a presentation given to the Erdington and Sutton Coldfield Stop the War Coalition.