Saturday, November 14, 2009


Whose president is Barack Obama?

He would have us believe that he is president of “all Americans.” But how is that possible when there are such sharp conflicts of interest in American society? Does the business owner have the same interests as the workers he hires at or below the minimum wage? Or consider the health insurance company assessor whose pay and prospects depend on how many claims she denies. Does she have the same interests as those whose survival depends on her decisions?

Is Obama president of the millions of “black” Americans who voted for him with such pride in their hearts? He has not addressed the specific problems that face “black” people. True, he has raised their status simply by being president. By the same token, he provides a pretext for pretending that the issue of racism no longer exists. If he can make it, why can’t they?

Is Obama president of the millions of working people of all colors who voted for him because they hoped he would make their lives easier and more secure? Because they hoped he would stop layoffs, foreclosures, military adventures?

Look at the military budget. Look at Afghanistan. Look at the huge bank bailouts – with no relief for mortgage holders.

Obama’s bosses

This is not to say that nothing he does will be of any benefit to working people. But of one thing you can be sure. Obama’s bosses will not allow him to push through any far-reaching reform. That is, any reform that threatens important corporate interests.

Excuse me, what was that you just said? Obama’s bosses? Does the U.S. president have bosses? Isn’t he the boss?

Well, yes, formally he’s the boss. But – like every ambitious politician with his eye on the Oval Office – he went through a long process of vetting by potential wealthy sponsors. Without the backing of such individuals, he could not have got the money and media coverage he needed to run for president. (For a fuller explanation, see the article “Selecting a U.S. President: The Invisible Primaries” at

Even now he is beholden to his sponsors. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that they decide they have made a mistake, they have the means to undermine or even destroy him.

For example, one of Obama’s biggest backers was the commodity trader – that is, financial speculator – Paul Tudor Jones, whose fortune is estimated at $3.3 billion. He was instrumental in mobilizing the hedge fund business behind Obama.

Naturally, that has absolutely no connection with those unconditional bank bailouts.

Like all his predecessors, Obama is president of the U.S. capitalist class.

Are they all the same?

Does that mean that all American politicians are the same? That there is no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans, “liberals” and “conservatives”?
Not at all.

Different politicians rely on different sponsors. Each represents a specific mix of big business interests. In general, for instance, Republicans have closer connections with the oil corporations, Democrats with Wall Street.

Different politicians also use different kinds of rhetoric and have different approaches to government. Conservative Republicans ignore popular grievances and try to distract people by exploiting their fears (of “communism,” “socialism,” “radicalism,” terrorism, Islam, foreigners, etc.) and by waving the U.S. flag. Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, convey the impression that they understand and care deeply about the daily troubles of ordinary people – perhaps even deeply enough to do something about them (that’s where things start to get fuzzy). Some of them maintain links with trade unions. For them too, however, business connections are more important.

Escaping from the trap

Where does this leave us? It is tempting to support liberal Democrats because they seem to be – and to some small extent really may be – the lesser of two evils. But that offers us no hope of ever escaping from the trap. Politicians who promise change inevitably fail to deliver most of what they promise. Then their disappointed supporters relapse into apathy and the Republicans come back. And so on and on.

It makes more sense to work toward a fundamental change in the social system. To build up media and organizations independent of capitalist control, and eventually use our votes as part of a strategy to introduce the fuller democracy of socialism. It’s a long and uphill struggle. But what real alternative is there?


1 comment:

Alex Kostal said...

As a fellow socialist, I understand how frustrating "the system" is. There are, I believe, more reasons to be hopeful about the Obama years. The example of health care passing is a reason for cheer. To become real contenders in politics in the future, we need more middle-left people like Obama elected making small socialistic like changes.