Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: Differences That Matter

[John Pilger's "Continuing the Tradition - Obama is a Hawk" was recently published in the British New Statesman and circulated widely. It opposed those urging a vote for Obama.]

With All Respect,

John Pilger
Is Wrong

By Tom Hayden

John Pilger is one of my favorite critics in the world, but he’s very wrong on Barack Obama. Not all wrong, though.

Take Robert Kennedy. Pilger says RFK, like Obama, was “a senator with no achievements to his name.” What? He was US Attorney General during the Freedom Rides; after a token start, he became an important supporter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.. He initiated the community action programs that briefly offered hope until the Democratic establishment smothered them. His backdoor diplomacy defused the Cuban missile crisis. He raised hopes in South Africa through a controversial visit. We can disagree with these gestures, in whole or part, but to say RFK had “no achievements” is foolish by far.

Neither is it accurate to assert that Kennedy “continued to support [Vietnam] in private.” What is true is that he was ambivalent in private and public, but determined to reverse a policy that was sinking 500,000 troops in a quagmire. At worst, as president he would have embarked on a gradual de-escalation combined with diplomacy. Pilger’s clear implication is that Kennedy was faking his opposition to Vietnam to seduce the anti-war vote.

Pilger says Kennedy’s motive was to rescue the Democrats from the “threat of real change.” And so he visited Indian reservations, Appalachian hollows, hunger-striking California farmworkers, and the streets of Watts in a deceptive campaign filled with “vacuities.”

To believe this narrative is to deny the living examples of Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, junior, and the leaders of black and latino communities who apparently continue the delusion of living out this pattern of “politricks” decade after decade.

Could Bobby Kennedy have been more antiwar? Yes? Was he too hopeful about the remedies to Bedford-Stuyvesant? Yes. But that doesn’t make him a vacuous politician peddling false hope. He would have appointed hundreds of progressives to civil rights, anti-trust, and anti-poverty offices, and been at least responsive to the winds of change which he himself helped to stimulate. For Pilger, it apparently wouldn’t matter if Kennedy, Humphrey or Nixon were president.

Now to Obama. It’s plain crazy to argue that Obama and John McCain are “almost united” on Iraq. It is a truism of politics that rival candidates tend toward the center to win uncommitted votes. That doesn’t obscure the obvious, that their differences on the Iraq war are wide and deep. Further, Pilger sees no differences between the two on domestic issues either. Why? Because Obama takes Wall Street money, apparently eclipsing the unprecedented sums his campaign has raised online.

For Pilger, tens of millions of Americans who either love or hate Obama are victims of mass manipulation, since Obama is neither their savior or enemy, but only another politician “exploiting the electoral power of delusion”...and so on.

Sorry for the unintended sarcasm, but there is an alternative to sitting on the sidelines waiting for people to wake up from their electoral fantasies.

It’s called

It’s a network for people who strongly support Obama, or Obama’s movement [myself], or who think Obama is the “best option”, or who simply want to stop McCain and the neo-conservative renaissance. Or people who believe it important to be engaged in mass movements.

We disagree on certain fundamentals with Obama, which is why we are independent of his campaign. We agree that his anti-war proposal will leave tens of thousands of Americans trying to carry out counterinsurgency in Iraq. We believe diplomacy, not escalation, is the best approach to Iran and Afghanistan. We believe deep revisions must be made to NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA and WTO. Those policies must be reversed by the power of social movements, public opinion and the election of a more progressive Congress.

But we believe that Obama’s core constituency is a progressive one, and the new voters he excites will be progressive political activists for years to come. We believe that certain presidential appointments matter to the progressive movement, such as the US Supreme Court, the civil rights division of the Justice Department, labor standards enforcers, appointments to the Federal Communications Commission, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And more.

As far as I know, none of us believe that a new president is a substitute for the education, organizing and movement-building that is the primary force in progressive social change. But experience teaches that who is president matters. And this is a major point of difference with Pilger, whose belief is that [a] an Obama victory will be “liberalism’s last fling”, and [b] that if Obama wins, “domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.”

It’s also possible that an Obama defeat will accelerate domestic resistance, based on a larger, angrier constituency than ever before, and they won’t be followers of those who sat by dismissing the Obama campaign. On the other hand, a November Obama victory, like the Obama primary victory, will energize a spirit that will lead to a new progressive cycle of organizing and movement building and trigger expectations that will surprise the new president.


Bill Baar said...

I don't know...I've voted for Obama thinking him a sort of neo-liberal... sort of a Democratic version of a neo-con...

There is the Obama you hear, the Obama you read, and the Obama who votes and they can be awfully different.

Carl Davidson said...

The NeoCons were Democrats for a while, until Reagan. No, Obama is a 'soft power' guy, and definitely not an ideologue. He understands both the importance of the market AND the smart regulation of it. I'd guess he's trying to shape something new, more in tune with global capital's real challenges today and tomorrow, and this old labels don't work too well.

Bill Baar said...

...old labels don't work too well.

That's for sure... wish more people realized that.

Now, what good is that neocon label folks always lay on me?

I don't mind, but afterall, labels don't tell much now a days...

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading. Is that Obama you write about the man who wants to wage yet another war of aggression, this time against Pakistan? Is that Obama the AIPAC's friend who believes in "undivided Jerusalem" as Israel's capital? Is that Obama the candidate who's got the support of the Rupert Murdoch's Dynasty? Is this Our Savior Obama just another Disneyland Production? Empires don't elect Presidents but select Emperors.

Carl Davidson said...

No, Obama's hardly our Savior, or anyone else's. There's just a difference that makes a difference between Obama and McCain. It's not rocket science, if you want better conditions to end this war sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

He isn't a Savior indeed, especially not for the Palestinians:
Obama's AIPAC speech

Carl Davidson said...

I agree. And for all his 'proper litany' at AIPAC, it didn't do him any good, did it? They still target him as their worst. With Zbig in his camp, a dinner with Khalidi, and having once said 'the Palestinians suffer most,' it doesn't matter what else he says. Not that an anti-Zionist position would help him either. There's no majority in the country for that, unfortunately. Here's one case where some proper 'triangulating' might be called for.

Anonymous said...

You can call it a "litany", and ignore the content of his speech, but it _is_ what he said, and he should be judged by it.
This IS Obama, whether you like it or not. It is the same Obama who wants to expand the military, and who is very popular with Wall Street banks, who are among his top contributors.
They know whom to pick....

Carl Davidson said...

I'm not ignoring what he said. I think it was wrong, not only for what it was, but for getting him nothing.

My point is that AIPAC ignored what he said.

The far tougher question is what do you think he should have said that would still unite a solid majority of the voters in 2008, ranging from left to center-right?

Any ideas? And those that mean he goes out in a blaze of glory don't count.

Anonymous said...


AIPAC will always push for more -- more illegal wars and violations of the basic human rights of Palestinians. They will always push for more.

That is the difference between their power and the lack of power of the anti-war movement. They make demands on the candidates.

Here, anti-war activists will push others to support somoene who wants to expand the military by 92,000 troops, threaten Iran with military attack, move combat troops from Iraq to Kuwait so they can attack Iraq from there, leave 140,000 mercenaries and 35,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq and call it withdrawal.

AIPAC gets what they want because they keep pushing for it even when the candidate kow-tows to their every demand -- they just come up with more.

We could learn something from them.


Carl Davidson said...

Push with what, Kevin? AIPAC pushes with organized voters and organized money. If you have no organized voters that belong to you in your target's base, or if you do and their demands will cost him or her more votes than they might gain, all you have to push with is hot air. As for organized money, well, Obama's led the way on that. We have things to learn from him and his millions of small internet donors, don't we?

Anonymous said...


Making demands on Obama before giving him support is a muscle the peace movement does not use. In fact, some in the peace movement have already pledged their support for Obama despite his pro-war policies and military expansion plans.

You've got to exercise the muscle to strengthen it.

I agree we need organization. And, it is something we are all trying to do in our own way, but we should use the muscle we have. And that begins by making demands before pleding to be "For" Obama.


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