James Petras, retired Professor, Binghamton University, New York
The Obama Presidency and the run-up to his past and present electoral campaigns have had a devastating impact on popular social movements, engaged in issues of peace, labor, immigrant and constitutional rights and environmental regulation.
The peace movement virtually disappeared as its leaders urged its supporters to turn their activities to supporting Obama’s election. He rewarded them by escalating military spending, and engaging in sequential wars, directly or by proxy, in seven countries, wreaking havoc and destruction. He faced minimum opposition as ex-peace activists, in dismay, turned away or grabbed a post and apologized for war. By 2012 the follower- less peace leaders repeat the same mantra to support Obama; but dare not repeat the past lie (in the name of ‘peace’) rather they claim in order ‘to defeat Romney’.
The immigrant rights movements prior to the 2008 election of Obama mobilized several million…. till it was infiltrated and taken over by Mexican-American political hacks from the Democratic Party ad turned into an electoral machine to secure elected posts for themselves and Obama. He rewarded the immigrants by setting a record: seizing, jailing and expelling 1.5 million immigrants over his tenure in office. The immigrant rights mass movement has been largely dismantled and now Democratic political hustlers hire canvassers to round up and register, highly disillusioned immigrant voters.
Afro-Americans were the most neglected sector of the US working class under Obama: they experienced the highest levels of unemployment and home foreclosures and the longest period of joblessness. They became politically invisible as Obama bent over front ways to appease rabid White racists seeking to label him a ‘black president’. The established black leadership-political and religious – and the media celebrities went all out to block any expression of grass-roots opposition, claiming it would only “help the racists” – ignoring Obama’s embrace and bail out of White Wall Street and showing his backside to millions of black households under water. Without movement or leadership, fearful of the problem (economic racism) and the solution (4 more years of invisibility under Obama) most black workers are left to abstain or hold their nose and vote for ‘Oreo’ Obama.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement, precisely because it was independent of the Democratic Party and fed up with Obama’s total subservience to Wall Street, provided a temporary voice for the vast majority of Americans opposed to both political parties. The local and state Democratic officials applauded “the cause” and then repressed the movement.
A spontaneous movement without political direction, and lacking an alternative political leadership, was incapable of confronting the Obama regime: the movement declined and disintegrated, many sympathizers sucked up by the Obama ‘lesser evil’ propaganda campaign. The mass popular animus to Wall Street was defused by Obama’s claim to have saved “the economy” from catastrophe by channeling $4.5 trillion dollars into the bankers’ pockets.
Constitutional rights were savaged by Obama’s defense of military trials, Bush era tortures, expansion of arbitration executive power including the assumption of Presidential power to assassinate US citizens without a trial. While legal organizations fought the good fight for civil liberties, the vast majority of liberals were notable by their absence from any sustained democratic movement upholding the rights of 40 million Americans under police surveillance, especially Muslim citizens and immigrants. They chose not to embarrass their Democratic President: they placed the re-election of a police-state Democrat over and above their putative defense of constitutional rights. No mass marches for civil liberties; no protests against Home Land Security; no campus-wide free speech movements against the abrogation of the right to criticize Israel.
For decades, the trade union confederation and senior citizen movements defended Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. With Obama in office, openly declaring and preparing major reductions and regressive clauses on coverage (raising age qualification) and indexing, there is no significant protest movement. Programs which for the better part of a century (social security) or half century (Medicare, Medicaid) were considered untouchable are now, according to Obama, “on the table” to be gutted (“reformed”, “adjusted”). The trade union millionaire bosses hire a small army of campaign workers and raise over a $150 million to re-elect a President who promises to make huge cuts in medical programs for pensioners and the poor. Obama has legitimated the regressive social positions of the far-right while the Democratic Party neutralized any trade union opposition or mobilization.
Last but not least, the Obama regime has co-opted progressive liberal social critics via backdoor support. In the name of “opposing Romney” the progressive pundits, like Chomsky and Ellsberg, end up in alliance with Wall Street and Silicon Valley billionaires, Pentagon militarists, Homeland Security boosters and Zionist ideologues (Dennis Ross) to elect Obama. Of course, the support of the progressives will be accepted -but hardly acknowledged- but they will have no influence on future Obama policy after the election: they will be discarded like used condoms.
With or without the re-election of Obama, his regime and policies have laid the groundwork for an ever more regressive and reactionary social agenda: living standards including health, welfare, social security will be cut drastically. Afro-Americans will remain invisible except to the police and racist judicial system. Immigrants will be hunted down and driven out of homes and jobs: immigrant student dreams will become nightmares of fear and trepidation. Death squads, proxy and drone wars will multiply to prop up a bankrupt US empire. Unaccountable and hypocritical progressives will shift gears and criticize the president they elected; or if it’s Romney they will attack the same vices they overlooked during Obama’s electoral campaign: more cuts in public spending and climate change will result in greater deterioration in everyday life and basic infrastructure; more floods, fires, plagues and blackouts. New Yorkers will learn to detox their toilet water; they might be drinking and bathing in it.