The Obama Revolution: A New Era in U.S. Politics
The Democratic nomination of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the U.S. presidential elections in November marks a profound political revolution in bringing together a formidable rainbow coalition of ordinary people who are fueling his progressive campaign, and South Asians should get on the bandwagon, writes Partha Banerjee.
(Above): Sen. Barack Obama
One hundred and forty-six years ago, in June of 1862, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the abolition of slavery in America. In June of 2008, a black American man made history by winning the nomination to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s rise is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of American politics. It’s no less than a new, peaceful revolution.
Because of the war-mongering and destruction of an ancient civilization called Iraq, an unchecked looting of oil, and a near-total disintegration of the U.S. economy manifested through a colossal mortgage banking crisis and high food and energy prices, Americans are now hoping and praying for a quick adieu of the disastrous Bush-Cheney regime.
In this backdrop, it’s only a ceremonial matter, a mere wait period until November for the Democrats to return to the White House. Unless there is a political upheaval or an exposed scandal connecting Obama or his family and inner circles, this once-grassroots organizer of South Chicago is headed to be the 44th president of the United States.
Those of us who have been living in the U.S. for many years and participating in the democratic political processes, those of us who’ve decided to reject the run-of-the-mill, happy, Hollywood-Bollywood-content, “model immigrant” lifestyle, and kept trying to fight back against the war, oppression and government lies, even just a few months ago we could not imagine that Barack Obama would finally come out victorious in the Democratic Party’s internal elections. We could not believe that someone as young and atypically bright as this Young Turk could actually beat a well-known Washington insider such as Sen. Hillary Clinton who had all the crucial support from the machinery of her popular and powerful ex-president-husband Bill Clinton.
At the same time, however, we had noticed a wonderful, extraordinary unfolding of events — developments that we’d never seen before. Thousands of young men and women — including countless fresh high school and college graduates — enthusiastically joined in the countrywide campaign teams to work for Obama. Going completely against the conventional wisdom, a new leadership emerged all across America — from New York or Boston in the east to California, Oregon or Washington on the west, from Minnesota or Montana in the north to Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina or Texas in Deep South. It was a defining moment in American history; an emergence of a new political force that showed its genuine intention to bring the U.S. out of its primitive clutches of war, violence, gun-toting terrorism and day-to-day struggles of the working class — a force that does not care about the skin color of their talented, insightful leaders. The new-generation Americans decided to reject the outdated, divisive, elitist culture of the behemoth. First-generation, new American citizens, we were privileged to witness this social and political revolution.
As peace and justice activists, we now all want Barack Obama to be the next leader of this superpower nation. But by some remotest chance, even if he fails to do it in the November elections — and there can be many unimaginable twists and turns of fate between now and then — just the way this new, peaceful mass uprising took place in an environment of lies and misinformation, the new American uprising will indeed be considered without hesitation the newest, democratic revolution in the modern world. It will be particularly remembered because it happened in a country called the U.S.A. where even now in 2008, the pervading presence of extreme conservatism, social bigotry, religious fanaticism and lack of modern, scientific education in the corridors of political power are part of a carefully-kept secret that global copycats of an individualist- consumerist culture simply aren’t aware of; or else, don’t care about.
If one looked carefully at the map of the Democratic primaries, it’s quite evident that Obama came out winning in the liberal, high-literacy states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin or Vermont, as well as in some of the more conservative areas such as Mississippi, Georgia or South Carolina. This was an extraordinary accomplishment. Who’d have thought that a large enough number of white Democrats from a so-called color-divided society in Mississippi would vote for a black candidate, and would opt against a white contender such as Hillary Clinton? Who would’ve imagined that in near-absolute white-majority states such as Idaho or Montana, Obama would secure nearly two or three times as many votes as Clinton? It is therefore clear that in America, racism and politics of division are going to be matters of the past, especially for the newer generations; whatever remains of that shameful past does so in the far-right corners of society and in their sponsored politicians and spokesperson media — unfortunately, that antiquated lineage overlaps among Republicans and Democrats, and it resides in the seat of power.
After the primaries were over and Hillary Clinton reluctantly conceded defeat, right-wing Democrats such as Heath Schuler of North Carolina, along with war-hawk Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, came out expressing their vociferous opposition against Obama’s candidacy; Lieberman in fact had been hanging out with John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, for quite a while. At the same time, far-right media honchos such as Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin and Bill O’Reilly blasted the Obama achievements; numerous hate messages against Obama forced at least one major media channel CBS to cut off its online chat room. I deeply worry that these are the forces that might cause enormous trouble for Obama in the coming months.
Just before the Texas state primaries, Rush Limbaugh announced on his radio show that he was inviting all his Republican listeners to go out and vote for Democrat Hillary. Not that Limbaugh is a great Hillary fan; if anything, he has been one of the worst adversaries that the Clintons had ever encountered. But the talk-show host did that in order to help Hillary win in a closely-contested battle in Texas, and thereby prolong the feud for the Democrats. The primary election process in some states including Texas is one of the most discombobulated: here, Republicans could cross party lines, however temporarily, to vote in a Democratic primary. In the conservative Deep South, Limbaugh’s trick worked: Hillary Clinton, with active, however unsolicited, support from Bush-McCain voters, defeated Obama; the primary process got delayed too. Is it democracy? I’d leave it up to you to judge.
Added to the above were disturbing, below-the-belt ad attacks. On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, the anti-Obama camp floated the now-infamous “red phone ad.” The scenario on the TV commercial was that white, middle class children were deep asleep late at night; at this time, a critically important phone call came to the White House: terrorists had attacked America. The ad asked the viewers: If it had indeed happened, could a black president be entrusted to deal with such a major crisis? The tone of the ad was seriously alarming as it clearly brought in and exploited the subliminal race and color divide in a not-so-subtle way. But it worked: Obama lost in predominantly-white Pennsylvania, and the primary process dragged on.
The Reverend Jeremiah Wright saga was used in a premeditated way: the Chicago pastor of Obama’s church and his fiery, race-laden speech were exploited to their fullest by some circles. However, if one closely looked into it, the issue, overblown by mainstream media, would be considered a non-issue. Because, one, church leaders, if they’re not directly involved in politics — and most of them are not — often go overboard with their sermons and nobody takes it seriously outside of the church. Second, if the candidates do not endorse the church leader’s point of view about race, no one can directly link them with the divisive, sometimes outrageous messages. Third, if religious leaders’ sermons and dictates were to be taken seriously in the political context, then the countless ultraconservative statements relayed on the media by groups such as the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, or Promise Keepers — would be investigated for their direct or indirect connections with U.S. lawmakers — George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Tom Tancredo, and McCain’s new-found friends Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas or the Indian-origin Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal might be held responsible for actively subscribing to the bigoted, supremacist views of their affiliations. In fact, George Bush won over Al Gore in the stolen elections in 2000 with huge, active support from some of the above groups. The National Rifle Association, a conservative gun lobby, could also be included in the above mix.
Bush never severed his ties with far-right Christian groups. But the media slander and political fallout from the Jeremiah Wright incident, which began when someone posted a small YouTube clip of Wright’s church sermon, forced Obama and his wife Michelle to quit the Chicago church they’d belonged to all their lives.
In spite of all the mudslinging and name calling, Barack Obama, a first-time U.S. senator and a 46-year-old black leader emerging from impoverished South Chicago, now has the reached a momentous milestone to be the first-ever black presidential nominee from a major party. The entire young generation — black, white, brown and yellow — is looking forward to his very possible feat to be America’s next president. We hope that South Asians, Chinese, Koreans, Latinos, Far-East Asians, Africans and other nationalities living in the U.S. would all come out of their long-held, meaningless prejudices against African Americans, and be a part of this newly shaping history.
I ask the first-generation, hyphenated American immigrants to talk to their second-generation, fully integrated American children: find out what the youth have to say about Barack Obama and his pro-peace, pro-prosperity messages; I’d ask them to read the speeches this articulate leader made at some of the massive rallies over the past few months. Barack Obama’s candidacy is strikingly different from what I’ve seen in America over the two decades of my political life in this country: it’s not about a person or a group of people, but rather about a well-crafted set of messages of hope and change for a peaceful, violence-free, terror-free, honorable future. These are clarion calls for an all-inclusive America where the land of immigrants really embraces all races, genders, religions, classes and lifestyles, and brings to them the fruits of democracy and equal opportunity. It’s a new horizon of bridge-building across America that the candidacy is striving for.
Ronald Reagan in his 1980 and 1984 elections won by bringing together Americans from various political shades; some called it a successful politics of forging a grand coalition. However, his so-called coalition never paid any serious attention to the underprivileged, working-class Americans; Reagan was much discredited in his later years for his anti-labor, anti-poor, anti-arms-control, anti-environment, pro-religious-right politics. During his eight years of grandstanding, America moved far to the right, and corporate America assumed unprecedented power. The Reagan administration also invented a new brand of media spin, where objective reporting of truth and information in the traditional, fair, journalistic way became a thing of the past. Reagan went largely unchallenged because of the concurrent fall of the Soviet Empire during his regime. Four years of George Bush, eight years of Bill Clinton, and finally eight more years of George W. practically consolidated what Reagan had set out to do. Even the U.S. judiciary tilted far to the right.
Bill Clinton, an iconic figure to many of us, was greatly responsible for the destruction of the safety net for the poor; he was the first president that criminalized undocumented immigrants in his 1996 immigration legislation; and he was the president that first orchestrated an inhumane economic sanction on Iraq that resulted in the death of many thousands of Iraqi children between 1992 and 2000. Many say his regime was also responsible for both creating the term “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and putting together the Kafkesque U.S. Patriot Act; the barbaric terrorism of September 11 provided the George W. Bush administration a politically expedient tool to use and abuse. Bill Clinton’s infamous North American Free Trade Agreement treaty destroyed the economy and livelihoods of indigenous farmers of Mexico and Latin America, sharply devalued the Mexican peso, resulting in mass immigration of impoverished workers into the U.S.
Barack Obama, however, wants to construct a broad-based coalition that builds bridges across the working-class communities; and even though only time will tell how sincere he is about practicing what he preaches, it can be safely said that an Obama presidency would be diametrically different from a McCain presidency in several respects. Some of the foremost McCain policies, especially on war, corporate welfare, women’s issues, education, health care, energy and environment, do not differ significantly from the ones the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft axis have followed over the last eight years.
On the other hand, from the policy positions the Obama campaign has posted on its Web site (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/), it is quite apparent that the new leader wants to make a serious point of departure from the failed, pro-war, pro-repression politics of fear of the Bush presidency. Even though big media is now trying to discover a new line of alliance with the McCain candidacy by showing how different he always has been from Bush and Cheney on policy matters (See a critique of New York Times story -- http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3461), there are countless examples of McCain’s years of close ties with the present government. In fact, even on two of the very few areas where he’d once showed some opposition to the Capital Hill Republicans — his stands on immigration and corporate welfare for the very wealthy — since he began running for the Republican nomination, he’s turned around completely, and endorsed his party’s anti-labor, anti-immigrant, pro-corporate-America doctrine.
My own experience as a longtime political worker, however, tells me that one of the biggest obstacles Barack Obama has to overcome will be from the centrists from his own party and the neoliberals. I’ve tried to impress upon the Obama people that, in spite of all the ugliness he’s faced from his rivals, it’s imperative that the campaign reach out to the Clinton voters immediately, and extend an olive branch. Health care, education, woman and civil liberties — some of the issues at the forefront of the Clinton agenda — must be sincerely embraced by Obama’s platform. Social conservatives, neoliberals and pro-war corporate media would do their best to undercut the possibility of an Obama victory — journalists such as Judith Miller of the New York Times, who’d earned the dubious distinction of cheerleading the WMD propaganda against Iraq, would now come out in full force to deny the pro-peace Americans a chance to get a pro-peace president; they’d now find every opportunity to glorify the so-called war-hero role of McCain and create knee-jerk “Osama Bin Laden’s here”-type paranoia, neglecting and marginalizing all other critically important subjects and present crises in health care, education, housing, environment and civil liberties that not just the American citizens, but the entire civilized world show deep concerns about.
Of course, elements of the failed and discredited Bush-Cheney regime would happily join in on the Judith Miller-type bandwagon. Name calling and propaganda on the American media would reach an abysmal low — it’s already raising its ugly face. Dangerous traps and provocations would jeopardize the physical and mental health of Obama and his family and campaign staff. It’d be an extremely formidable challenge for the young, inspiring leader to keep his composure and integrity, and not get distracted from substantive issues. He must forge and consolidate the sane and moderate left-right coalition of working people and the youth that he’s promised to build.
On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and leading to the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The civil rights movement and the 1964 watershed act paved ways not just for the black Americans to assume civil and voting rights; the law also made more achievable the dreams of all newcomer immigrants, to live and work in the U.S., to pursue a better future. We’re therefore all indebted to our African-American brothers’ and sisters’ struggles for equality, justice and dignity. Here’s a question for us all: If they hadn’t sacrificed their lives to gain those precious rights, where would we be today?
Barack Obama carries on the legacy of the glorious civil rights and peace movements in America. It is now upon us to decide whether or not we want to be a part of that legacy.