Obama the excellent

American sociologist Andrew Arato, writing recently for a European audience in the Reset Dialogues on Civilization, made a few surprising claims:

In the United States a party may very well come to power that has the ideological inclination to carry out and solidify a paradigm change abandoning the Washington consensus, and in the direction of regulated capitalist economies. Moreover, this party, for a change, is led by a remarkable person, who has in domestic and economic policy at least a capable team around him. Thus what we are witnessing is not only a dramatic crisis, but also its potential longer-term solution.

What makes Arato's assertions unusual is the fact that the Democratic Party, as led by the Democratic Leadership Council and the Democratic National Committee, has shown no penchant whatsoever to abandon the "Washington Consensus" and America's global empire. Nor has the Party revealed a commitment to implementing a tightly "regulated capitalism." In fact, key Congressional Democrats just recently led their Party and a few obstinate Republican hardliners in the fight to give Wall Street the better part of a trillion dollars with little in the way of effective supervision! In what sense would this fealty towards finance capital and the Pentagon mark a break with the recent past?

In fact, despite the candidate's rhetoric of change during the fall campaign, he has made no effective promise to break with the past. We can easily see the truth of this judgment when we consider what a left-democrat committed to implementing decisive reforms may want to include in his or her minimal program. I would suggest this program would include the following:

  • The thorough demilitarization of the Federal government
  • The thorough demilitarization of the economic system
  • The reformation of the electoral mechanism, change meant to promote accountability and transparency, equality and participation
  • The partial demonetarization of national politics
  • The partial nationalization of big finance
  • The partial provision of debt amnesty to the common folk
  • The implementation of a reindustrialization program, but one strongly committed to developing eco-friendly technologies and forms of life

What is the intent of this program? Briefly put, Pax Americana and market fundamentalism, America's duopolistic party system, Wall Street and Main Street (such as they have been known since the end of the Second World War) must go and they must be sent off quickly if the country hopes to move beyond the present crisis and to generate the resources needed to master the ominous crises of the future. A principled abandonment of power politics, big finance and self-destructive modes of life — these make up the general goals a minimal reform program ought to achieve if successful.

Yet, the historical record shows that our "dramatically impressive candidate" intends to support America's global empire and fund its militarism when he is the President. He has already rattled the saber in South Asia, the Middle East and South America just as he has pledged to defend Israel without exception. He will support these gestures of aggressive self-assertion by adding troops to the Army and money to the always-bloated Pentagon budget. Once again, Americans will not receive a "peace dividend" from their President because this "tranquil force"
intends to prepare for war! Nor, for that matter, might the impoverished billions around the world expect a respite from America's intrusive and self-serving foreign policies and, of course, from the demented militarism that supports those policies. With respect to America's relationship to the world as a whole, system maintenance remains a key goal for both parties and their candidates. Empire always enjoys bipartisan support in the United States.

This candidate fares no better on Pax Americana's second pillar: Big finance. I say this because we recently could watch him provide qualified but firm support to the reactionary Paulson Plan and its progeny. Despite his mild criticisms of the Plan, he translated his rhetorical bet-hedging into Plan support as such when he voted for the Senate version of the bill. The upshot: When the time came to make a stand against America's plutocracy, and there could never be a more decisive moment than this one, he stood with Wall Street, not Main Street.

The vote for Paulson's gift to Wall Street was not the first time this candidate indulged in such a politically revealing act. He previously supported the:

Finally, the one-time community organizer has even upped the ante this election cycle with regards to the use and abuse of money in presidential electoral politics. He accomplished this by accumulating a massive war chest, which his staff put to effective use during the campaigns. He now stands as "…the most successful presidential fundraiser ever," according to OpenSecrets.org, having gathered $639M. This "victory," when coupled to his probable success on Election Day, merely reaffirms the point that money — and money in vast quantities — drives America's political system. In the future, presidential candidates will treat his 2008 campaign as having set a new funding bar for serious candidates.

After recounting Senator Obama's record, the constraints he will face and the debts he must clear, we may still hope that this "remarkable person" will prove himself worthy of the enormous demands a faltering country and world will surely place upon him. Nevertheless, what we should expect, if we wish to be prudent, is for President Obama to closely observe the recent traditions of his office, the common and time-tested practices of his government and, to be sure, the demands he acquired from his corporate sponsors.

During this time of crisis, Americans should not let Barack Obama's charisma tempt them to indulge in "delusions of adequacy," as Andrew Arato has. They need more from their political system. Demanding more is a reasonable response to the crisis of the moment.

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