|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Obama’s historic victory
A quarter of a million ecstatic, cheering supporters greeted Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as US president-elect. Those jubilant scenes were replicated around the world as millions more celebrated the end of George W Bush’s rule. More importantly, people saw in Obama’s victory hope for real change, a central theme of his campaign. He now stands with a massive burden of hope on his shoulders. In a series of articles by members of Socialist Alternative (CWI USA), Socialism Today looks at this momentous event and its implications.
BARACK OBAMA’S HISTORIC victory opens up a new period in American history. Obama won 52% of the vote to John McCain’s 46%, defeating him by 7.4 million votes. Democrats also picked up at least five Senate seats and 20 House seats, to have a comfortable majority in both chambers. It is not just a massive repudiation of eight years of Republican rule. It is just 40 years since segregation ruled in the South, yet a black man has now been elected to the highest office in the land, winning the state of Virginia, the cradle of the Confederacy.
This will be celebrated by millions not only in America, but around the world. The vision of an African American man, with the middle name Hussein, replacing the hated Bush presidency will be looked upon with joy. However, what is not so clearly seen, at this stage, is his deep ties with the political and corporate elite who will determine the content of his administration.
The key factor in this election was the economy, named by 63% of voters as their most important issue. Of the 50% of voters who said they were ‘very worried’ about the economy, 60% voted for Obama. This trend crossed ages, gender and race. This is at a time when an astonishing 85% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track.
The Bush administration’s blatant pro-business rhetoric and its outrageous handouts to corporate friends caused a large target to be painted on the back of any Republican candidate. Following a steady decline in living standards over the last two decades, the economic meltdown in October sealed their fate. The boast by Republican kingpin Karl Rove that he was building a permanent new ‘Republican majority’ lies in ruins.
Obama has also rewritten the book on electoral campaigning. He had 3.1 million financial contributors, 2.2 million supporters on his Facebook page, and more than 700 campaign offices, with at least one in every state in America. Obama raised more than $640 million, dwarfing the amount raised by McCain.
In a clear pointer to how a campaign could be won without relying on corporate dollars, he set up a dynamic election campaign that put far more bodies on the streets that even the famed Republican machine of old. This was also reflected in massive rallies of 100,000 and the enthusiastic mood for his campaign among many young people and workers.
Attempts by Republican candidate McCain to redefine the dominant issue of this election totally failed, as did his attempt to paint Obama as a friend of terrorists, a Muslim, culturally ‘different’ (coded racism) and, finally, as a socialist. The blatant misrepresentations used to bury Democratic Party candidates in 2000 and 2004 failed to stick.
Interestingly, the attempt to define Obama as a ‘wealth redistributor’ actually helped expose how unequal American has become, due in part to the Republican-initiated tax cuts for the rich. The attempt by Republicans to inject class into the election, in the person of Sarah Palin and in their engagement of ‘Joe the plumber’, also failed. The majority of voters soon found out this was just another trick by Republicans to confuse them.
The repudiation of Palin by a majority shows how much of a minority view the right-wing agenda is. One can expect to see a fierce battle for the soul of the Republican Party in coming years, as the different wings wage a battle for domination. More ‘moderate’ Republican candidates have lost their seats in the Senate. The Republican Party is being pushed further into being a southern party, increasingly dominated by what The Economist describes as "southern-fried moralism".
Instead, the economic collapse pushed voters to demand change and to vote for Obama. It was this that allowed him to win majorities among new voters, young voters, women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and people living in cities. One photograph showed a homemade sign with the Confederate flag. It read: ‘Rednecks for Obama. Even we’ve had enough’.
BUT OBAMA RAISED most of his money from the rich and Corporate America. The wealthiest Americans, making over $30 million per year, gave to Obama three to one over McCain. Also, three-quarters of the $640 million he raised came from donors who made contributions of $200 or more. His major funders include a Who’s Who of investment banks and Wall St. companies (www.opensecrets.org).
Here lies the contradiction in Obama’s win. Obama has managed to speak to Americans of all incomes, including the very rich and the poor. He has received money from regular workers and from corporate CEOs. He has promised to govern one America. However, we don’t live in one America. We live in two Americas, one that has gotten fabulously rich and the other that has been taking it on the chin, has unstable jobs, and is one step away from losing their homes or apartments and being on the streets. One America for billionaires, and a different one for the almost 50 million who lack healthcare.
It will not be ordinary working-class people who will be sitting in his cabinet or advising him on policy issues. It will be same Wall Street and corporate executives and established pro-imperialist foreign policy advisors who have sat in the cabinets of US presidents for generations. They will be the ones driving Obama’s domestic and foreign policy.
Obama’s victory itself does nothing to assure genuine change for the majority of African Americans, who continue to face the worst jobs and living conditions. But its importance cannot be underestimated in a country where, just 40 years ago, Jim Crow laws assigned African Americans to second-class citizenship and where dogs and water cannons were put on those who fought against this.
The election of the first black president will be seen as a victory not only for African Americans, but also Latinos, Asians, and Americans of other races who have been shut out of power during the long racist history of American capitalism. Today, families from Mexico and Latin America are being arrested and split up in racist immigration raids.
The possibility of Obama becoming president had a huge galvanizing effect for African Americans. The New York Times described a 55-year-old African American janitor who registered to vote for the first time a month ago: "This is huge. This is bigger than life itself. When I was coming up, I always thought they put in who they wanted to put in. I didn’t think my vote mattered. But I don’t think that anymore". (2 November) Obama’s election could well be the catalyst that sparks African Americans to step up their struggle for better conditions.
David A Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, stated: "It’s not just a question of Obama as the first black nominee; it’s also that African Americans have suffered substantially under the Bush years and African Americans have been the single most anti-Iraq-war group in the population". (New York Times, 2 November)
Millions of young people, people of colour, and ordinary workers will be inspired to step forward into activity as a result of this election. Many of them will see the need to help organise campaigns and protests on the ground in an attempt to keep Obama’s attention on those who elected him. Others will be forced into struggle to defend themselves against the cutbacks and attacks resulting from this recession.
President-elect Obama faces the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a new unravelling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Obama is forced by his party and his corporate funders to come out on the side of big business, this will prepare the way for a new political awakening, growing struggles, and a growing working-class consciousness. In this way, a new political movement can begin that rejects the Democratic Party as its friend and, instead, sees the need to build a new party of workers and young people as the only way to bring about fundamental change in our lives.