Obama and 'Change': A Letter from the US

The 2008 election was historic as the United States (US) voters elected the first African American President. This is of immense importance in a country where African Americans had been systematically lynched for having the audacity to vote. In a country built using slave labour, it is the Blacks who built the White House. Now a Black man will reside in the White House.

Barack Obama won the presidential election after winning 365 electoral college votes, calculated based on number of states won, out of a total of 538. He received more than 65 million votes in total. Despite the institutionalized racism being perpetrated by the system and commercial media, white people voted for an African American candidate with the name Barack Hussein Obama. This again shows that it is possible for people to overcome their prejudices despite the propaganda. The highly unpopular eight years of the Republican party with George Bush as the most despised President did provide a conducive environment for this polarization.

The Dominant Issues

The election campaign started in 2007 with war in Iraq and Afghanistan as the top issue. In a matter of months, by 2008, economic issues started to dominate the election campaign. This recession is being called the worst since the great depression. Despite the massive infusion of government money the economy continues to plummet. Individuals bankruptcies have jumped. Foreclosure on houses has skyrocketed. People of colour and women are the ones who are always disproportionately affected. The unemployment has increased to 6.5% and unemployment claims are highest since 2001. Amongst African-Americans it is 11.1% and Latinas it is 8.8%[1]. As is well know, these numbers are underestimates of the actual unemployment and suffering. As peoples' suffering intensifies the commercial press is full of articles on the great depression and speculation about its present re-incarnation.

The financial crisis has become a global capitalist crisis. The capitalist tactic has been the bailout of firms – socialization of losses – and lately massive government investment – socialization of investments. The first instalment of the bailout money has already been spent on the large US financial institutions from American International Group (AIG) to Bank of America to Goldman Sachs. An economic 'stimulus' package has already been spent and more are in the works – as tax rebates to massive infrastructure projects. More than $ 2 trillion of government money has been pumped into the economy. Now the three big US auto makers want a bailout. The US national debt will soon be more than $ 11 trillion. At this juncture the ideas of John Maynard Keynes are being promoted than those of Milton Friedman as possible solutions. The Democratic party and Republican party, along with their presidential candidates, worked together to implement the corporate bailout. Barack Obama has promised to continue to implement this corporate welfare program.

Obama launched his career at the national level as an anti-Iraq war candidate. However the Obama plan is to withdraw troops slowly but still keep a residual force in Iraq to conduct “targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Permanent US military bases in Iraq have already been built and US is likely tomaintain military presence for the foreseeable future. Whenever Obama talked about the Iraq war, which is estimated to cost $ 3 trillion, in the same breath he would add how he wants to increase military presence in Afghanistan. Even leaving open the possibility of attacking Pakistan if needed.

While campaigning Barack Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby group. He said "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel”, and promised continued American military assistance to Israel. Rahm Emmanuel, a big supporter of Israel's policies, is now Obama’s chief of staff.

With the recent spike in energy prices, the 'new energy' policy also was on peoples' minds. The solutions proposed by the two capitalist parties were nothing but 're-cycled' energy industry plans. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed yet private industry based solutions continue to be proposed. Immigration policy of both the parties continues to support militarization of the border. Raids and deportations have increased dramatically. This was an important issue for the new immigrants, especially from Latin America.

Obama's campaign mostly avoided the questions of race and class. When speeches of Jeremiah Wright, Obama's radical black priest, stressed that present day racism and imperialism has to be understood in the context of colonization and slavery, Obama disassociated himself. The opposition campaigned to instil fear in the electorate that Obama was a Black radical a la Malcolm X. Obama actually quotes Martin Luther King but never his radical speeches against US militarism, imperialism, and bigotry. Obama was also accused of 'palling around with terrorists' such as Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical. In the same vein, he was also accused of being a socialist – a supposedly derogatory term. Interestingly, people, especially the youth, have become more curious about Socialism.

The Money Issue

Elections in capitalist democracies are money dominated. This election set a new record. The finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector was the most generous and collected at least $13.4 million for Obama. Executives from firms such as Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers, and Goldman Sachs, who are at the epicenter financial and economic crisis, bundled millions of dollars. Courtesy of all the large and small contributions, Obama had an almost two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain. This obviously gave the Obama campaign a major advantage[2].

The securities and investment industry contributed $101 million in total during this election, 56 % of which went to Democrats. The Democratic party became the favorite of the securities and investment industry that has preferred Republicans in the last 10 years. The average cost of winning a House seat was $1.1 million and the Senate seat almost $6.5 million. The total cost of the 2008 elections for Congress and the White House is estimated at $5.3 billion. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics said “The 2008 election will go down in U.S. history as an election of firsts, but this was far from the first time that money was overwhelmingly victorious on Election Day,” and added “The best-funded candidates won nine out of 10 contests”[3].

The Change Issue

The campaign centred on “Change We Need” and “Hope”. In these depressing and alienating times, people needed something to 'Believe In'. Obama's campaign created this image of an African American who rose from an ordinary family to graduate from Harvard Law School and then gave up trappings of wealth to become a community organizer. This is a carefully crafted image. The Obama campaign mobilized youth and people of colour in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Traditional door to door campaigns to Internet based social networking tools were used. People of colour and youth in the US identified with Obama because he mirrored their aspirations for change. The hopes of people have been raised.

The two progressive independent/third party presidential candidates were Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader. Having run for president earlier, Nader is a known figure and he received 672, 000 votes[4]. The Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, an African American woman, ran on a progressive platform for change. After being kicked out of the Democratic party, she has been trying to build a progressive movement and was supported by several socialist parties. Communist Party USA, as in previous elections, supported the Democratic party.

The Democratic party is doing what it has always done, being a good manager of capitalism and imperialism. Obama's transition team consists of bankers and Bill Clinton appointees, including Indian American Sonal Shah. She has reportedly served on the governing body of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America. This appointment, with the Hindu fascist links, has become quite controversial. Bush policies have lowered the expectations such that if the Democratic party is willing to even talk with Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, it is a major sigh of relief. If organized labour, which supported the Democratic party, can conduct union-organizing drives under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, it is groundbreaking. If minor progress can be made on social issues such as abortion and same sex union rights, it is a major achievement.


1. Reports, US Bureau of Labor Statistics. []

2. News articles, Center for Responsive Politics. []

3. News articles, Center for Responsive Politics. []

4. Reports, The Independent Institute. []

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