Thursday, 29 January 2009

Obama: Right or Wrong? Pros and Cons

Obama Inauguration Crowd, estimated at well over 2 million

Obama, on his negotiating style

by Ernest Newman

While it may be true that "the devil is in the details", and that we cannot expect absolute, ideal policy and action from Obama, I think he has taken some fairly substantial initial steps in the first week of his presidency.

Also, while there is substantial basis for criticism, or, at the very least, some cynical skepticism, about many of his earlier appointments and projected policy statements, many of his appointments and statements have been much more positive and laudable than that.

People can rip and shred Obama, and nitpick every little detail of his position and practice, and they won't necessarily be "wrong", heh...

Obama is far from perfect...but I still have to say that he's clearly far "better", relatively speaking, than anything we could have expected from McCain/freakin' Palin.

Among Obama's more positive steps taken thus far as President:

Orders to close Guantanamo and secret CIA prisons, bring in Red Cross, stop military prosecutions and review cases, stop torture

End "Mexico City Policy" that restricted international US funds from abortion

Advocated, signed equal pay act.

Announced restoration of science as a major priority in all policy

Ordered Transportation to set new fuel efficiency standards, and EPA to review whether to allow Cali, other states to exceed those standards if they wish

Gave first media interview of his presidency to an exclusive with Saudi TV, where he offered a hand of friendship to Muslims, called for peace, promised to change policies

Advanced $819 billion economic stimulus bill, which passed in the House despite 100% "No" vote from Republicans

I have to acknowledge that even these more or less positive moves may have "devils" in the details, heh, but it still remains to be seen, for the most part, exactly what those will be, and exactly how things will actually develop, in practice...

I think attempting to ruthlessly and prematurely demonize Obama is going to tend to have negative blowback from the general public, whether that comes from the left, or the right.

If the left does not want to just be lumped in with the hostile spewing of the wing nuts on the right, as far as public perception goes, I think they should show a lot more restraint, and bring a more calm, reasonable, principled approach, and a lot less of what may seem like, and may even prove to be, in some regards, unfounded speculation and extrapolation.

Acknowledging what Obama does right, more or less, is as important as criticizing what he does wrong, if we want to appear objective and rational, and to show some principled solidarity with his unavoidably huge popular democratic mandate for hope and change, in pursuit of justice and peace, to save the planet.

In order to avoid taking up too much of the front page, I'm submitting my fairly lengthy actual response to Zoe's call for polemics on Obama as a comment to this item.

However, I have chosen to address my remarks to the left, rather than to Obama, which I hope will be more productive.

Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves♦ ♦Stumble ThisRedditSlashdot it

1 comment:

agitprop said...

To the Left, by Ernest Newman

As an "American", and a revolutionary, with over 40 years of practice in the US, I must say that despite the general correctness, more or less, of the prevalent left critique of Obama, I am somewhat appalled, and dismayed even, by the absolute villification so many people are spewing.

I'm not some naive, blind loyalist or fawning syncophant, who considers Obama to be anything more than what he actually is, another rich, bourgeois, more or less "liberal" politician who will ultimately serve the interests of his class, and capitalism.

I harbor no hopeful illusions that he is any kind of "savior", nor that he has any intention or desire to fundamentally change the inherently anti-democratic nature of the present "system".

I also share the contempt and disgust that a large majority of Americans hold for the present Democratic Congress, and the extent to which they have tended to collaborate with the traitorous policies of the Republicans, including tricking us into bogus wars, looting of the treasury and sabotage of the economy.

I'm certainly not saying that no criticism is in order.

But, yet and still, I also feel some restrain should be exercised, in the oppositionalist cacaphony of bitter recriminations being leveled against Obama, and the Democratic Party.

Why? Because the only absolute, in politics especially, is that everything is relative, and there are no absolutes.

Relatively speaking, Obama, and the Democrats, for all their shortcomings, are, at the very least, somewhat "better" than the Republicans.

To say that they are absolutely, unequivicably "the same" is just not true, qualitatively, or quantitatively, in terms of either rhetoric or program.

While the differences are certainly not great enough at this time to satisfy me, they are great enough to make the difference between life and death for millions of Americans and millions of "other" people all over the world.

If Obama kills, or allows to be killed, "in our name", a some innocent people with wrong-headed policies, and "only" improves the lives of a few million people with some half-stepping reforms, then we need to criticize the errors, and propose material alternatives, as well as to acknowledge what has been done more or less correctly.

And I will still have to say that Obama is still way "better", relatively speaking, than a Republican regime that would inevitably kill many millions more people, and only help a very few elite individuals.

Perhaps the main thing I have learned in my long experience is that demanding all or nothing too often means that you get nothing.

Absolutist idealism, while subjectively appealing to some, has ultimately tended to result, objectively, in more or less absolute disaster, over and over again.

Does this mean I have abandoned all hope for real, revolutionary change? Hell no. Regardless of who "wins" the corrupt, commercial, completely contrived and bogus bourgeois "elections", the struggle continues.

But I do think it matters, that millions of people have been stripped of everything they have worked all their lives for, under the Republicans, and that a very small number of very rich people have automatically consolidated and increased their wealth as a direct result.

I think it matters that millions of people will get at least a little more access to health care, education, housing and jobs, and at least a little raise in pay, under the Democrats, and that the richest will be taxed at least a little bit more.

I think it matters that racist, chauvinist, unbridled greed and murderous military intervention have totally defined Republican foreign policy, and that Democrats will tend to put at least somewhat more emphasis on rational diplomacy.

I think it matters, that Obama is black, with some muslim and foreign background, has direct personal experience of poverty, and has worked as a grassroots organizer and a lawyer for poor people.

I think it matters that McCain is a crotchety old war criminal, and that Palin is a wingnut traitor, tied to "Joel's Army" (please google that up, if you are not aware of the implications).

I think it matters that Obama won.

While the Democrats are no "solution", they remain at least somewhat of a "lesser evil" than the Republicans.

The lesser evil is, indeed, somewhat less evil, destructive and murderous than the greater evil.

To dismiss and disregard the millions of lives that hang in the balance between these two "choices" seems absolutely unconscionable to me.

What is so hard to understand about that? How can anyone dismiss the fact that this does, and should, and must matter, for a revolutionary, or even just for a concerned American, or a human being, anywhere?

Those who say that it's "better" to have Republicans in power, because their more draconian and overt policies will somehow prod the masses into more determined and revolutionary resistance, are blowing it out their ass.

Hitler, Nixon, Reagan and Bush were not "good for the revolution". They bled, coerced and demoralized the population, inundating them with counter-revolutionary propaganda, and also decimated the resistance with ruthless repression that tends to foster burnout, despair and futility.

Those who say bourgeois reform only buys off or puts to sleep the population, fostering illusions that everything is "all good" and that revolutionary changes are thus unnecessary, are full of shit.

The most revolutionary upsurges, especially in US history, have come when the population has been inspired by some hope for the future, through reform, which in fact tends to cause people to aspire to and demand more comprehensive, actual real changes, beyond mere token gestures. When you give people an inch, they tend to want to take a mile.

Callous, misanthropic, opportunist disregard for the lives and the suffering of the people does not deserve to be called "revolutionary" or even "progressive". It's something else entirely, smacking a lot more of bourgeois elitism, or wannabe authoritarianism.

Rhetoric matters, a lot. That is perhaps the greatest material difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.

If you can't see beyond the subterfuge that tends to be inherent to all rhetoric, and distinguish between the concepts, the expectations, and the attitudes that the differences in rhetoric tend to foster in the people, the profound differences in the propaganda of the two parties, then you have no real claim to any "analysis" of the popular democratic aspirations of the people.

If you harbor utter contempt and disdain for the people, what good are you to the revolution, or to those people you seek to "represent" or "lead", or to express your own rhetorical "solidarity" with?

Unprecedented numbers of youth, and virtually all peoples of color in the US, and world wide, have responded in the positive to Obama's hopeful rhetoric of change, and have resoundingly rejected the divisive, destructive rhetoric and programs of the Republicans.

That's a good thing, and a legitimate cause for celebration, compared to having freakin' Palin and "Joel's Army" a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Now it's all the more on us, to press the contradictions between rhetoric and practice, in a calm, reasonable, principled, proportional manner, in terms that people can understand and accept.

This will not be accomplished with absolutist idealist ranting and raving, citing 100 year old catechisms of dogmatic, doctrinaire subjectivity and abstract rhetoric, that to most people will have no bearing on, and no relevance to their real life needs.

Revolutionaries should be relentless, but not ruthless. There's an important difference. People are burned out by the hate and anger, the pontificating, slanderous, hostile, pedantic harangues of the Republicans.

If you really must spew, why not aim it at the Republicans, whom everyone in the world, damn near, will agree actually deserve it the most? Why aim it at Obama, especially now, before he's even had a chance to establish a practice, and while the whole world is celebrating his election?

Why try so hard to sound just like Rush Limbo ("I hope Obama fails") and the Republicans? It can only serve to alienate you from the masses, who love him.

Those who engage in such methods, regardless of their intentions, real meaning, or even the technical correctness of their message, will tend to be lumped in with the "same kind" of nauseating bile people have been hearing from the Republicans, and will get kicked to the curb, just like the Republicans.

And what is the goal, after all? Is it some nebulous, incomprehensible, abstract concept of some ephemeral, some day, maybe, utopian ideal...something vague...that seems so far removed, and so impossible to achieve, given the many crises and hurts that assail all of our day to day lives?

Or is it something much simpler, more straightforward, and already virtually universally acknowledged as being the principle obstacle to real progress and material resolution of the burning issues of the day?

I would propose that the only real solution, and the only thing really worth talking about, the only real "hope" for any real "change", is democracy.

Democracy is the most fundamental revolutionary concept.

You can angst and moan 'til you're blue in the face, about all of the various laundry lists of dire symptoms and looming "issues" that arise from the lack of democracy.

But ultimately, it all comes back to, and it's all linked together by, that fundamental lack of real genuine democracy.

It's really the only thing that will ever bring justice and peace, to save the planet.

Therefore I propose that whatever your pet issues and causes, whatever protests, demonstrations, political work inside or outside the "system", whatever your chosen program for revolutionary struggle may be, whatever your analysis and critique of the present "system" may be, genuine democracy needs to consistently be the primary point of address in dealing with any of it, all of the time, every time.

And this must not be about someday, maybe. We can't wait for, or demand, or expect utopian perfection, or refuse to even try, because it's not perfect "yet".

Democracy has to be demanded, fought for, and practiced now, to whatever degree that is possible, with an express goal of improving on that process, toward further developing and implementing it, toward further demanding and insisting on real democracy.

In that vein, I further propose that the most critical priority right here and right now in the US is preparing for the interim elections coming up in 2010 and 2012, when the other half of the Congress will be up for election.

Besides the local and state elections, which are also of critical importance, and will benefit from this focus, the composition of the Congress going forward is the most urgent and significant material determinant of what Obama will be able and willing to pursue, in terms of actual policy and program.

If it matters to you in the slightest how many people are going to suffer and die, and how many people are going to realize some modicum of hope for dignity and survival, both at home and abroad, these elections will be among the most critical and decisive moments in US history, beyond even the election of Obama.

Obama isn't going to be able to do jack, to really change anything, without some much more progressive backup in the Congress.

I might add that I think this approach applies to most other countries in the world.

It's time to call off the electoral boycotts, and to unite, to cut off people like Sarkovy, and the fascist Greek regime, by voting for whoever has the best prospect of blocking them from power, rather than abstaining from or splitting the vote, and handing the worst available fascists the power by default.

I can hear the ideologues on the left screaming hysterically, "That's no solution!" LOL.

While I have nothing better to offer at the moment, I defy anyone to bring forward a more material program, with better prospects for even the slightest degree of improvement in the lives of the people.

I would point out that the people of the US have rejected the calls of the more absolutist left for electoral boycott, or to vote for guaranteed loser "alternative" splitters. They have voted with their feet by marching to the polls, to elect Obama, and to reject the Republicans.

I would also point out that this approach has had good results in Latin America of late.

The FMLN is even now about to seize the power in El Salvador electorally, instead of by armed struggle and civil war, which served only to exhaust and destroy the lives of the people.

They, and Venezuela, Argentina, Equador, et al have not solved all their problems by this means, but they have moved forward, toward a brighter day, when mutual aid, cooperation and solidarity can finally hope to prevail over capitalism.

Obama has won the hearts and minds of the people of the US. He's a brave man, to even front like he has. Chances are, he may be killed for his efforts, by the right.

Do you really wish to continue to be marginalized, disregarded, and eventually despised by the general population for continuing to dis and deny their hero, and their very real and sincere hopes and dreams?

Are you willing and able to accept their leadership, and get on the bus, to fight for the aspirations of the masses? Or will you turn your back on them in contempt, attack them, and their first genuinely elected representative in so many years,"just like the right"?

Do you really believe in revolution, "by any means necessary"? If so, it's time to engage the enemy in all arenas, including the electoral arena. It's time to press the contradictions, for real, to the max.

The people have spoken, and they want Obama and the rhetorical promises he has made to them. Are you willing to fight for that? If not, then why should the people respect or listen to anything you say or do?

The remaining Republicans and as many Blue Dogs (conservative Democrats) as possible must be removed from all levers of power, to the greatest extent possible, for the US to really surge forward in any meaningful way.

The more successful that is, the more readily we can press the contradictions, between jive ass rhetoric, and actual material practice. This is called supporting the bourgeois liberal politicians tactically, like a rope supports a hanging man.

While they are not the strategic solution, they can be a tactical vehicle to victory.

One last point. If you believe that only civil war, to completely overthrow and destroy the system, will bring real revolution, then I would propose that this program I propose is the surest means to precipitate that civil war.

The more successful this program is, the more certain it is that the right will initiate civil war, as has always been the case, historically, anywhere. Personally, I do not look forward to that horrible prospect. I do consider it theoretically possible, for the all out civil war stage to be avoided, or substantially minimized, if a sufficient popular democratic mandate is mobilized to resolutely suppress the counter-revolution first.

I think it's wisest to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, in that regard.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues.

Seize the Time!

All Power to the People.