The first Black president? Barack Obama: The talk and the walk

Don Franks

“The presidential nomination of the Republican Party is up for grabs among a motley collection of mean-spirited law-and-order fanatics, anti-immigrant bigots and warmongers,” commented the US Socialist Worker of January 11. “This is the consequence of the crisis of the Bush administration – mired in Iraq, distrusted for its shredding of the Constitution and responsible for the steadily worsening mess of an economy.”

Socialist Worker argued that ” voters’ desire to see political change has become the undisputed theme of the 2008 US presidential elections”.

As this article is being written, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination and possibly the US presidency is black Illinois senator Barack Obama.

When it comes to political change, Obama can certainly talk the talk.

Speaking at the University of Wisconsin on the night of his victories in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC primaries, Obama claimed to champion “the woman who told me she works the night shift after a full day at college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill”, and “the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet”.

Obama slated trade agreements that “ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers for minimum wage at Wal-Mart”.

And he pledged to be “a president who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a president who will stand with workers, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard”.

On Iraq, he declared: “Our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and should’ve never been waged.”

He poured scorn on those who “use 9/11 to scare up votes”.

Obama promised tax cuts for working people, health care reform, better pay, and a government that would “protect pensions, not CEO bonuses”.

But offstage and away from the spotlights, it’s business support fuelling the Obama machine.

BusinessWeek noted Obama’s exchange of emails with Robert Wolf, CEO of UBS America and conduit of millions in donations for Obama’s campaign from fellow multi-millionaires.

Obama also keeps close contact with Warren Buffett, the second-wealthiest individual in America (worth around US$52 billion). His leading economic advisors include Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor who advocates free-market policies.

According to estimates made by the Center for Responsive Politics, 80% of the money raised by the Obama campaign last year came from donors affiliated with business. More than half of the money came in the form of donations of $2,300 or more.

In spite of Obama’s claim that he refuses contributions from lobbyists or political action committees, his top campaign staff includes three registered lobbyists formerly representing dozens of corporations, including Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin.

Like his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton, Obama has received more than US$100 million in campaign donations. Corporate America has shifted from its traditional first choice of the Republicans to shovel money into Democratic campaigns.


Former Federal Reserve board chairman and finance capital bagman Paul Volcker put it this way: “The breadth and depth of challenges that face our nation at home and abroad… demand a new leadership and a fresh approach.”

Obama’s leadership, he thought, could “restore needed confidence in our vision, our strength and our purposes right around the world.”

In other words, US imperialism urgently needs a new face to succeed the universally hated features of George W. Bush. The black Illinois senator could be trusted to provide a fresh new image while dealing the same corporate product.

When offstage and talking turkey to his backers, Obama has advanced conservative fiscal policies, stressing the need to reduce debt and deficits. Because he would take office with a near-record $400 billion deficit inherited from the Bush administration, that can only foreshadow anti-worker austerity measures.

On war, Obama has promised not to reduce the estimated $700 billion US military budget and to increase it if necessary. He has called for the recruitment of another 65,000 soldiers for the army as well as 27,000 more Marines.

Obama’s promises to end the war in Iraq clash with his pledge to keep American forces there to defend “US interests” and conduct “counterterrorism operations”. That can only mean a programme of continuing the present occupation.

Among the leading candidates still in the Democratic party race, the real differences are not so much about policy as “tone, style and generational image”, wrote the Washington Post’s Dan Balz.

Image does matter. Barack Obama has excited the hopes of many oppressed Americans because he’s black, just as his more conservative-talking rival Hillary Clinton has won votes by being female.

But Bush’s US State Department Secretary Condoleezza Rice is black, female and relatively young. None of those attributes has brought the slightest softening of US capitalist belligerence at home or abroad.

Image matters, but substance matters more. Political change for the benefit of US workers can’t be effected by self-interested corporate funding. Real change can only come from an independent movement of the working people themselves .

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