11.06.2008

imagining obama

Excellent letter in today's Globe and Mail!
Your editorial board expresses guarded admiration for Barack Obama and his promises for "change."

Now, imagine a political candidate who voted to renew the Patriot Act and fund the Iraq war, backed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reform Act, courted the Israeli lobby, supported the death penalty, refused to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, called to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, failed to call for a reduction in defence spending, and lobbied (and voted for) the taxpayer swindle known as the Wall Street bailout.

This candidate sabre-rattled at Iran, promised to roll back "Russian aggression" and to extend treaty protection to a Georgian regime that cluster-bombed its own people, advocated for military strikes in Pakistan, opposed same-sex marriage, and favoured extending the death penalty.

The candidate's name and party? Not John McCain, not Republican, but Barack Obama and Democrat. So, what exactly does Mr. Obama mean when he talks of "change"?

Chris Stolz
Vancouver

Once again, I'm thrilled the Republicans were not able to engineer the election for McCain, I'm thrilled a person of colour is finally President of the US. But this stuff is all true.

It was the same for Bill Clinton, and John F. Kennedy. The world flocked to these US Presidents, as they will to Obama, attracted to the beautiful oratory of inclusion, justice, moving forward, making change - attracted to their youth and good looks and liberal words. Liberal words are not liberal deeds.

21 comments:

Bob's Blog said...

Chris,
I agree with your post. America is a right of center country. If people weren't going bankrupt, losing their jobs, having their homes foreclosed, Obama would not be President-elect. However, the one thing where he will definitely make a difference (and it is a biggie) is in the two, or possibly three Supreme Court appointments he will make in his first term. They will most likely be liberal justices to replace liberal retirements. However, McCain would have appointed far-right Justices, tilting our Court even further to the right. We certainly don't need any more Scalias, Thomases, Alitos and Roberts.

Dharma Seeker said...

I will be the first to admit I haven't given the US election very much of my time or attention (there was an election happening here too after all!) but I do recall hearing Obama wanted to withdraw troops from Iraq, send more to Afghanistan, and close Gitmo? I know many would argue against sending troops anywhere but the US is very much a military country and that probably won't change overnight. Aren't steps in the right direction a positive thing? If Obama closes Gitmo he'll be doing more for Omar Khadr than Stephen Harper is willing to do. Which is nothing.

laura k said...

The point of the letter, and of my post, is not that electing a Democrat is exactly the same as electing a Republican. It's not. The point is that many people in many countries imagine Obama to be something he is not.

As far as closing Gitmo and ending the war in Iraq, I will overjoyed to see those things if and when they happen.

know many would argue against sending troops anywhere but the US is very much a military country and that probably won't change overnight.

Not "won't change overnight". Won't change. Both parties profit from war and both will continue it, if not in one country, in another.

M@ said...

promised to roll back "Russian aggression" and to extend treaty protection to a Georgian regime that cluster-bombed its own people

One of the least impressive things about Obama around the Georgia incident is that at first he was appropriately moderate (well, as far as US politicians go), saying that both sides should stop and exercise restraint.

Then there was a lot of yelling, and then Obama adopted the extremely American position that Russia was the aggressor, Georgia was the victim, etc etc -- a narrative that is uniquely American. Everyone else seems to understand that there is a lot of nuance in this situation, and a lot of blame to go around for both sides.

That Obama changed his position to get back in step with the US political establishment is not a good sign.

NA Patriot said...

Don't forget that Democrats need to get elected. And you don't win Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Indiana and other "reddish" states with positions like the writer would espouse. Obama got labeled as the "most Liberal candidate ever". If it was actually true, for better or worse, he would not be heading to the White House.

laura k said...

Don't forget that Democrats need to get elected.

Yup. They always do. They need to get elected, there's no viable party more progressive than they are, so they move to the right to get so-called centrist votes, knowing liberals and progressives will vote for them no matter what.

Then the centre shifts farther to the right, and the Dems shift with them to get those votes.

And so, until the Democrats' actions are indistguishable from what moderate Republicans used to be, and the Republicans are farther to the right than ever.

The next time you hear a Canadian calling for an end to the NDP, remind then of this.

laura k said...

And again, my point is not what Obama could have or should have done differently. My point is that Obama is not especially liberal, and certainly not as liberal as many people seem to think he is, especially (in this case) the Canadian media.

James Redekop said...

Of course, the US is in such a state that if Obama were to reinstate Executive support for the Endangered Species Act and the Office of the Science Advisor, it'd be a huge improvement.

You know you're in bad shape when catching up with Nixon is a positive move.

While all progressives have a long list of things they've been wanting to see forever, even such basic things as Federal investment in infrastructure and green industry would be huge improvements. These are things that should be no-brainers, especially when the economic situation calls for real stimulous (and not the one-off PR-centric "mail out a cheque) type.

Obama's bound to disappoint -- but I'll take someone who disappoints good intention over someone who exceeds bad ones any day.

M@ said...

My point is that Obama is not especially liberal

As Allan and I were both saying in another thread, this idea that Obama is "the most liberal senator in the USA" and suchlike is transparently false and extremely stupid.

If there were a functioning media in the USA, they would mercilessly taunt and jeer anyone who said this. But there isn't, and they don't.

allan said...

My point is that Obama is not especially liberal, and certainly not as liberal as many people seem to think he is, especially (in this case) the Canadian media.

My snip from the G&M yesterday is a great example of the rose-coloured glasses through which the Canadian media views Obama. They treat him as someone outside the US two-party system. It is positively bizarre.

I admit I have lost touch with the Supreme Court. The story is that a few will retire soon. But what is the breakdown now, 6-3 for the right? I can't imagine Obama nominating anyone that is not in the center. (And any choice has to be confirmed -- it's not solely the president's choice.)

He's a mainstream Democrat -- usually voting with the Republicans on the military and foreign issues, and picking their spots to oppose them on domestic matters.

I don't think anyone here is saying Obama is not better for the US than McCain, but I imagine he'll move away from some of Cheney's super far-right policies, while keeping a lot of the odious laws enacted over the last eight years in place (since he voted for them in the first place).

laura k said...

He's a mainstream Democrat -- usually voting with the Republicans on the military and foreign issues, and picking their spots to oppose them on domestic matters.

I don't think anyone here is saying Obama is not better for the US than McCain, but I imagine he'll move away from some of Cheney's super far-right policies, while keeping a lot of the odious laws enacted over the last eight years in place.


Yes, thanks, that's my point. Just a reality check.

There is zero reason to assume that he will govern more liberally than his prior voting record. That's not the way US politics work.

James Redekop said...

And so, until the Democrats' actions are indistguishable from what moderate Republicans used to be, and the Republicans are farther to the right than ever.

I have a feeling -- or maybe just a fantasy -- that if the Republicans continue like they have been for too much longer, they're going to fracture. The Chris Buckley fiscal conservative types will get to the point that they can't stand what the religious right is doing, and are either going to kick the social conservatives out or split themselevs, resulting in separate right and far-right parties.

That might persent progressives with a good time to get in with a new federal party of their own. Leave the Dems for the centre and stake out some real territory on the left.

As long as the federal scene is dominated by these two juggernauts, though, third-party candidates are in a very weak position.

laura k said...

Obama's bound to disappoint -- but I'll take someone who disappoints good intention over someone who exceeds bad ones any day.

Yes, I agree. It's just good to know what those intentions are. They are not to remake the US into some kind of liberal paradise. Not that he could do that - but that's not his goal.

this idea that Obama is "the most liberal senator in the USA" and suchlike is transparently false and extremely stupid.

If there were a functioning media in the USA, they would mercilessly taunt and jeer anyone who said this. But there isn't, and they don't.


Yup.

laura k said...

I applaud James's fantasy.

Tom said...

Here at work I sit near three black co-workers and they cannot stop raving about Obama. Which I completely understand based on the historical and personal significance. When someone joked the guys are Brokeback over Obama the response was.

"Brothas don't go brokeback"

I couldn't imagine a clearer example of how Obama and Prop 8won. It's indecent to not overcome the racial prejudice my generation was raised with, yet not the anti gay.

What's even worse I am out at work and it didn't matter in the least because he made the comment twice.

So the little joy I got from an Obama win ended within 7 hours of when waking up to the reality that US is still a shitty place for people like me.

As pointed out here, what's the big change?

laura k said...

Ugh. Awful.

Even worse for the gay people of colour. If "brothas don't go brokeback," black men can't be "brothers" if they're gay.

The US still has a looong way to go until all its citizens are equal.

laura k said...

Tom, were you able to say anything? I'm not saying you should have - it's a horrible position to be in, and whether or not you can say something depends on many factors. I'm just wondering if you did.

Tom said...

I let it go this time, but during the Canadian election one of the black guys was saying he could not vote for Dion because he's French. I told him that's the same as an American not voting for Obama because he's black.


The silence amongst the group that followed was hysterical.

laura k said...

I told him that's the same as an American not voting for Obama because he's black.


The silence amongst the group that followed was hysterical.


I can imagine! It's amazing that he would be so blatant and open with his racism. Fool.

pg said...

Obama's election provides the American Left with an opportunity it has not had in a long time: the chance to capture some of the energy that Obama has mobilized when the folks who voted for him become disillusioned with him. And disillusionment is guaranteed if he tries to rescue the American Empire. The US can't afford guns and butter.

His top 20 contributors included Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citibank and JP Morgan. The piper must be paid.

Obama was perhaps more truthful than he knew when he said, in his acceptance speech:

". . . But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you. . . And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.

"You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."

If Obama continues with politics as usual (and nothing he has done seems to indicate he won't) these challenges will not be met and there will be a lot of unhappy people looking for answers.

Keep up the good work, and congrats on your pending Canadian citizenship.

James Redekop said...

Here's a little cartoon on "Yes We Did".