Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Obama Presidency and Some Question marks

(Excerpts from an excellent crtique in The Hindu by Aijaz Ahmed)

Barack Obama won as a progressive populist. However, his campaign also raised far, far more money than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history. His camp likes to claim that most of the money came from small donors. The fact is that while fewer than 2,600 contributors to Mr. McCain list their occupation as “chief executive,” nearly 6,000 of Mr. Obama’s contributors are chief executive officers. Huge sums came from Washington lobbyists and lawyers, the communication industry and the electronics industry, healthcare-related private interests, nuclear and pharmaceutical industries, and so on. When lobbyists alone have given $37 million, it is na├»ve to believe that they would not be rewarded. The same applies to all the big corporate donors.

Mr. Obama’s voting record is not inspiring either. That he made a speech opposing the impending Iraq war in 2002, before he came even into the Illinois Senate, has been cited ad nauseum. Since becoming a U.S. Senator in 2005, however, he has voted in favour of every war appropriation bill that the Bush administration brought forth. He was the Editor of the Harvard Law Review, taught law at Chicago University, and was a civil rights lawyer before coming into politics. However, as a Senator he had no difficulty in voting for the Patriot Act 2, possibly the most sweeping attack on civil liberties in recent U.S. history. Together with Mr. McCain, he voted in favour of the recent bailout plan which gifts hundreds of billions of dollars to the very financial institutions which caused the recent meltdown. And now as President-elect he has urged the Bush administration to bail out General Motors as well.

That past is a mere prologue. As President-elect, Mr. Obama awarded the seniormost White House position to Rahm Emanuel who holds American as well as Israeli citizenships and is associated with the most conservative wing of the Democratic Party. In 2006, he co-authored a book with Bruce Reid titled The Plan: Big Ideas for America. The authors write there: “We need to fortify the military’s ‘thin green line’ around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and Marines, and by expanding the U.S. Army... we must protect our homeland by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain’s M15.” Mr. Obama has adopted the plan for just such an expansion and it is possible that Mr. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security was inspired by the thinking of men like Mr. Emanuel.

No other senior appointment has been made as yet. However, the names in circulation — of men such as Richard Holbrook and Dennis Ross for Secretary of State, and Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers for Treasury — are not reassuring. Mr. Obama’s Brain Trust and Transition Team are studded with such names. Paul Volcker, the legendary chairman of the Federal Reserve, has made a comeback as Mr. Obama’s key adviser on the economy. This caused the Wall Street Journal to quote a ‘Republican supply-side economist,’ John Tamny, as saying that “Volcker whispering in Mr. Obama’s ear will make even Republicans comfortable, because he is a hero of the Right.” So are Mr. Rubin and Mr. Summers, who were Treasury Secretaries under Bill Clinton.

The enormity of the ongoing economic crisis may yet force Mr. Obama to scrap this whole trajectory and re-make himself into a latter-day FDR, as many are hoping. This is all the more likely if the electoral mass that put him in the White House becomes a mass militant movement from below. What is clear, though, is that the kind of military policies Mr. Obama is advocating are incompatible with the kind of investments he proposes to re-build America’s failing physical and social infrastructure. Something will have to give.

Roger And Out

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