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Obama - defender of the status quo

As President Obama starts looking towards a second term in the White House, the realisation is growing among would-be supporters that he is just as much a defender of the status quo as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In fact, Obama has maintained many of the policies inherited from Bush. Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo remains open and military trials are still in place. Bush’s “war on terror” is carried on by targeted killing of “suspects” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A new military intervention, this time in Libya, was done without Congressional approval in the manner of the previous administration.

Banks continued to be bailed out at the expense of Main Street and tens of thousands of people lost their homes as Washington stood idly by. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, were extended last December while Obama last week agreed to massive public spending cuts that will fall on the poorest.

Now, Obama stands poised to attack the massive federal budget deficit by reductions in welfare programmes that increasing numbers of Americans rely on. In the early months of the Obama presidency, Glenn Greenwald was not one of those who thought that all that was lacking was sound advice and a good strategy.

Greenwald, a constitutional and civil rights lawyer, author and blogger, says: “What evidence is there that Obama has some inner, intense desire for more progressive outcomes? These are the results they're getting because these are the results they want – for reasons that make perfectly rational political sense.”

His economic policies, Greenwald says, have “the added benefit of keeping corporate and banking money on Obama's side (where it overwhelmingly was in 2008)”. Being surrounded by former Goldman Sachs executives like treasury secretary Tim Geithner doesn’t hurt either. These types do not sit around wondering how to increase welfare or get a decent health bill through Congress. Their instincts are entirely the opposite. More in sorrow than anger, Greenwald adds:

When does he [Obama] offer stirring, impassioned defences of the Democrats' vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It's not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It's that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn't try because those aren't his goals. It's not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it's that he doesn't use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire. Whether in economic policy, national security, civil liberties, or the permanent consortium of corporate power that runs Washington, Obama, above all else, is content to be (one could even say eager to be) guardian of the status quo. And the forces of the status quo want tax cuts for the rich, serious cuts in government spending that don't benefit them (social programs and progressive regulatory schemes), and entitlement "reform" -- so that's what Obama will do.

Greenwald’s analysis is, as far as it goes, sound. It is limited by his failure in nearly 3,000 words to mention the crisis of capitalism which is driving Obama’s politics. What next? Will the “liberals” in and around the Democratic Party once more campaign for Obama in 2012 on the basis that the Republicans in the White House would be far worse. It was the argument that resonated during last year’s general election in Britain, when it was clear that Labour was as much committed to spending cuts as were the Tories.

In practice, there is no essential difference between the two major parties in the United States, just as in Britain little separates the main parties. In Wisconsin, where the state government has implemented savage cuts and taken away trade union rights, the response was sit-ins and the creation of a People’s Assembly. That is the right response, not just to the failed politics of the Democratic Party but to the poverty of capitalist politics in Britain too.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
19 April 2011

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