The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him
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There are two examples that are worth mentioning here. One, the matter of race. Two, the matter of war. With regard to race, Obama never pretended that he was anything other than Black. Ironically, in the early stages of his campaign many African Americans were far from certain how ‘Black’ he actually was. Yet the matter of race was less about who Obama was—except for the white supremacists—and more about race and racism in US history and current reality.
Nothing exemplified this better than the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright, followed by Obama's historic speech on race in Philadelphia. Wright, a liberation theologian and progressive activist, became a target for the political right as a way of 'smearing' Obama. Obama chose to distance himself from Wright, but in a very interesting way. He upheld much of Wright's basic views of US history while at the same time acting as if racist oppression was largely a matter of the past. In that sense he suggested that Wright's critique was outdated.
Wright's critique was far from being outdated. Yet in his famous speech on race, Obama said much more of substance than few mainstream politicians had ever done. In so doing, he opened the door to the perception that something quite new and innovative might appear in the White House. He made no promises, though, which is precisely why suggestions of betrayal are misplaced. There was no such commitment in the first place.
With regard to war, there was something similar. Obama came out against the Iraq War early, before it started. He opposed it at another rally after it was underway. To his credit, US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq. He never, however, came out against war in general, or certainly against imperialist war. In fact, he made it clear that there were wars that he supported, including but not limited to the Afghanistan war. Further, he suggested that if need be he would carry out bombings in Pakistan. Despite this, much of the antiwar movement and many other supporters assumed that Obama was the antiwar candidate in a wider sense than his opposition to the war in Iraq. Perhaps ‘assumed’ is not quite correct; they wanted him to be the antiwar candidate who was more in tune with their own views.
With Obama's election, the wishful thinking played itself out, to some degree, in the form of inaction and demobilization. Contrary to the complaints of some on the Left, Obama and his administration cannot actually be blamed for this. There were decisions made in important social movements and constituencies to (1) assume that Obama would do the 'right thing,' and, (2) provide Obama 'space' rather than place pressure on him and his administration. This was a strategic mistake. And when combined with a relative lack of consolidating grassroots campaign work into ongoing independent organization at the grassroots, with the exception of a few groups, such as the Progressive Democrats of America, it was an important opportunity largely lost.
There is one other point that is worth adding here. Many people failed to understand that the Obama administration was not and is not the same as Obama the individual, and occupying the Oval Office is not the same as an unrestricted ability to wield state power. ‘Team Obama’ is certainly chaired by Obama, but it remains a grouping of establishment forces that share a common framework—and common restrictive boundaries. It operates under different pressures and is responsive--or not--to various specific constituencies. For instance, in 2009, when President Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown in a coup, President Obama responded--initially--with a criticism of the coup. At the end of the day, however, the Obama administration did nothing to overturn the coup and to ensure that Honduras regained democracy. Instead the administration supported the 'coup people.' Did this mean that President Obama supported the coup? It does not really matter. What matters is that his administration backtracked on its alleged opposition to the coup and then did everything in their power to ensure that President Zelaya could not return. This is why the focus on Obama the personality is misleading and unhelpful.