The Socialist 4 November 2008
Striking against low pay
If Obama wins - Looking beyond the hope bubble
A Nigerian view on the US presidential elections
BARACK OBAMA'S candidature and campaign for the US presidency has become a global phenomenon, not just in America and Europe but also in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Taiwo Hassan Soweto, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria)
It is not only because of his multi-racial background that Obama appeals to millions across the world but also because his claim of giving hope resonates in the minds of Americans who are seeking a change from the eight year long economic deprivation wrought by the neo-liberal policies of the Republican Bush presidency.
In the Middle East, millions hope an Obama victory would signify a change in US foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. Africans especially, see America as a second home, with its large population of African diaspora, meaning that the socio-economic wellbeing of the US is of prime importance to the millions of African families who have relations pursuing the 'American dream'.
The Obama craze has infected Nigeria to such an extent that the "National Assembly almost passed a resolution endorsing Barack Obama for US president" (The Guardian Nigeria, 26/10/08). While cars, motorcycles, barbers' salons and pepper soup joints are adorned with "Obama-for-President" stickers.
But the twist is that although millions of working and middle class Americans have so much hope in Obama, the rich in America, Europe and Asia - bankers, stockbrokers and big corporations - are also looking to him for a way out of the current global financial meltdown. A crisis triggered by the gambling of US fat cats, the consequences of which will be deep, drawn-out and devastating. A careful look at the economic and political policies of Barack Obama and John McCain is therefore necessary.
'Joe the plumber'
And where better to start than with the famous plight of 'Joe the plumber', who had challenged Barack Obama's taxation policies as a threat to the 'American dream'.
The American dream is the alleged, much touted ability of Americans, irrespective of social or economic background to climb the social ladder.
This 'American dream' was reinforced by the welfare policies of the US state during the 1950s to 1970s, which in turn were influenced by the need to develop society after the ravages of the 1929 Great Depression and World War Two.
Thus we had the 'New Deal' of Franklin Roosevelt and the post-World War Two 'Marshall Plan'. This entailed massive state intervention and investment in housing, education, health, etc, which led to improvements in living standards.
However, with the restoration of naked neo-liberalism since the end of the 1970s (from Ronald Reagan till now), the 'American dream' has become illusory. Since 1979, the share of income of the richest 1% has doubled, leaving the US with the greatest inequality among all developed nations.
The richest 10% of the adult population possess 69.8% of the country's wealth. The result is a middle class hardly distinguishable from the working class. Millions (blacks, Latinos and whites, etc) who had hitherto enjoyed some improved standard of living have now been thrown onto the garbage heap, as a result of the unbridled, profit-driven economic policies of the past three decades.
It is these millions, angry and shocked at the horrific plummeting of their living standards that McCain and Obama are scrambling desperately to win in this election.
This explains the popularity of the 'Joe the plumber' scenario in this election and McCain's effort (while offering nothing better) to discredit Obama's tax policies. In truth, McCain's tax policy pampers the rich but Barack's too equally toadies after the corporations who are funding his campaign, while offering peanuts to small businesses.
Of course, millions of Americans facing foreclosures and job losses would welcome the tax relief promised by Obama but this cannot fundamentally improve living standards in the immediate and further future.
Another issue of concern in the current election campaign is the US occupation of Iraq, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and is bound to cost more blood and money if troops are not immediately withdrawn. Neither Obama nor McCain have promised to immediately withdraw the troops.
All Obama has promised is phased withdrawal within 16 months. What this means is that Obama would only completely withdraw all US combat forces when the puppet Iraqi government proves it can police the country on its own.
In time, Obama's presidency may be bogged down by Iraq as much as Bush's. We should not expect immediate withdrawal from Iraq especially as his government will also be faced with the need to restore the hurt confidence, integrity and pride of the US as the world's policeman.
In all respects, both Obama and McCain are essentially the same, the difference being that where the former plays to the gallery by inflating a bubble of hope which will soon burst in a flurry of disillusionment, the latter bogged down by his identification with the hated Bush regime, has less room to manoeuvre and thus sticks to conservative Republican trash with a conceited air of indifference.
Little wonder that fat cats and campaign financiers have jumped over to Obama. Thus, the Republican party is cash-strapped while the Democrats swim in an ocean of funds.
In this election, average working class and middle class Americans lack a real choice precisely because there is as yet no genuine third political party in US which offers a credible alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. Thus, the task facing poor and working people in the US and in fact all over the world is the need for the trade unions and pro-masses organisations to build a mass working class party with socialist policies.
The current global financial meltdown, triggered by banks and subprime mortgages in the US has already proved that the current casino economy is not viable and the fact that, even if eventually the world recovers from this crisis, without a revolutionary movement of working people to take over the reins of society, the greed of the capitalists will continue to drag humanity through a giddy cycle of boom and bust.
When the Bush regime was forced to swallow its free market vomit in shame, by taking over the running of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (both failed mortgage providers), the Democrats hurled the insult of 'socialism for the rich' with glee. But when McCain used 'Joe the plumber' to paint Barack Obama as nearing socialism by his tax policies which aimed to 'distribute wealth', the Democrats shrieked in horror.
Who is afraid of socialism, we ask? Surely not the poor, working American people seeking a way out of the economic crisis wrought by capitalism.
Only the capitalists are afraid, because socialism means the wealth of the society will be redistributed to all working members of that society - while taking care of the young, the old, the sick, the infirm or disabled through a system of collective social security comprising free education at all levels, free health services, extensive transportation system, housing etc.
Contrary to the Soviet Union which degenerated into Stalinism (a bureaucratic totalitarianism, totally alien to socialism), socialism also means the guaranteeing of democratic rights of all, including the right of people to self-determination, the right to free speech and assembly, no discrimination against women, rights to practice the religion of your choice, etc.
If Obama says or does anything close to socialism, the Washington Post, New York Times and the fat cats pouring dollars into his campaign will run berserk and you can bet that the Democrats' campaign funds will dry up, while McCain becomes their preferred choice overnight.
That is why every effort is being made to counter McCain's claims by saying that Obama does not wish to 'redistribute wealth' but 'spread wealth'. Who doesn't know the difference, which is that the former will bail out the whole society while the latter will bail out a few failed banks and corporations?
Have you wondered why Barack Obama is running the most expensive campaign while McCain and the ruling Republican party are cash starved? It is because the majority sections of the capitalist class are supporting Obama as the only man who can direct the anger of millions of poor Americans at the economic situation into a huge bubble of illusion and hope, thus ensuring that this anger does not lead to a social revolution.
Capitalists have throughout history distinguished themselves as capable of jumping on any life boat in order to preserve their rule and they have no shame now in abandoning their old friend, George Bush and his Republicans for a boyish Illinois senator little known a couple of years ago. As Republican Colin Powell's defection to Obama's camp has demonstrated, all is for the safety of the system and it is hoped that old McCain will understand!
If Obama wins, eventually events and experience will show that people's high expectations are not being met. Then, far more will think seriously about the need to build a third alternative party that stands for the real interests of working people and in which arguments for socialism can gain an audience.
In this issue
Socialist Party campaigns
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news