Category Archives: Obama

Once Again: Obama, The Left and the Crisis

A week after the Obama administration has pushed through the Bush era tax cuts for the rich, it is a good time to again reflect on the meaning of Obama and the role of the Democratic Party.

The 2007-2008 election campaign of Obama was unique in that it took on a popular character, which ultimately helped him win the Democratic primary and the general election. Under the slogan of “change we can believe in” Obama promised a new type of bourgeois politics to answer the country’s pressing problems.

However, after two years of economic crisis the capitalists and ruling class have responded by successfully attacking the living standards and the remnants of the political power of the working classes and oppressed people. Arguably, general social and political polarization is the greatest it has been in generations.

How do we explain the discrepancy between the promises of Obama’s election victory and this reality? What is the nature of the Democratic Party? How can we historicize its current character? What is its relationship to the need to find the political forms within the new content among the American oppressed and working classes that seems to be emerging in response to the crisis?

Meanwhile, a new dust up within the Left is going on between supporters and critics of Obama and the Democratic Party.

One side, led by the trade unions, the Congressional Black Caucus, The Nation and the former Progressives for Obama, argues for a popular front against finance capital and the white populist right.

The other side urges direct opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party and the call for some kind of political alternative.

We are reposting some of that analysis below.


Protest Obama, An Open Letter to the Left Establishment

Bill Fletcher, Responding to the Letter to the Left Establishment regarding Obama

Glen Ford, Psycho-Babbling Obama

Paul Street, Note to “the Left”: Obama Hates You

After the Midterm Elections: How Should We Think About the Democratic Party?

We are reposting here two different perspectives on the elections. After one of the biggest defeats of the Democratic Party in history, amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, how should we think about the role of the Democratic Party?

Bill Fletcher, a founding member of Progressives for Obama, wrote this essay in the lead up to the recent midterm elections. It is taken from the website of Progressive Democrats of America.

For an opposing view we turn to the World Socialist Website below.


Enthusiasm?: I Am Not Interested in Things Getting Worse!

by Bill Fletcher, Jr

There has been a lot of discussion about the apparent enthusiasm gap between Democratic voters and Republican voters.  While it is beyond question that the Obama administration has accomplished significant reforms in its first two years, the manner in which these have been accomplished, combined with the fact that they were generally not deep enough, has led many liberal and progressive voters to despair.

So, what should we think as we quickly approach November 2nd? First, there were too many magical expectations of both the Obama administration and most Democrats in Congress.  Many of us forgot that while they represented a break with the corrupt Bush era, they were not coming into D.C. with a red flag, a pink flag or a purple flag. They came to stabilize the system in a period of crisis.  President Obama chose to surround himself with advisers who either did not want to appear to believe or in fact did not believe that dramatic structural reforms were necessary in order to address the depth of the economic and environmental crises we face.  They also believed, for reasons that mystify me, that they could work out a compromise with so-called moderate Republicans.  

The deeper problem, and one pointed out by many people, is that the Obama administration did not encourage the continued mobilization of its base to blunt the predictable assaults from the political right.  As a result, many people sat home waiting to be called upon to mobilize. Instead, we received emails or phone calls asking us to make financial contributions, or perhaps to send a note regarding an issue, but we were not called upon to hit the streets.

Unfortunately, the main problem rests neither with the Obama administration nor the Democrats in Congress. It rests with the failure of the social forces that elected them to keep the pressure on.  Too many of us expected results without continuous demand.
Continue reading After the Midterm Elections: How Should We Think About the Democratic Party?

Lee Sustar on the Current State of US Labor

The prospects and challenges currently facing not only organized labor but the working class in general are synthesized well in the below article from International Socialist Review no. 66, “US Labor in the crisis, Resistance or retreat?” authored by Lee Sustar.

Sustar, who relies to a certain extent on Kim Moody’s very solid 2007 book, US Labor in Trouble and Transition, paints a broad picture of contemporary labor as one that has faced a thirty-year employer assault that has destroyed its organizations, left workers with stagnant wages, and looted its social services, meanwhile the profits and power of capital soar. The result of this attack has not only left workers in the objectively worst position it has been in since the 1930s and before but has also created a general crisis of historical memory where a newer generation of workers lack the traditions of struggle of an older one.

This ruling class offensive which has been exacerbated by the economic crisis, has hurt people of color, women, and queer folks most acutely. Talks of the “he-cession” which depict the loss of those jobs that employ men disingenuously leave out how it affects the unpaid labor of women who both produce future workers and reproduce current workers’ ability to work. They forget how the recession affects queer folks who already are not entitled to domestic partner benefits. And they forget the already disproportionately unemployed and underemployed black working class who have suffered another round of job losses and concessions that have affected the industries where they are most concentrated, including public employment.

The union bureaucracy has undergone a change. Decades ago, they were reined in through the capital-labor social contract to help deflect working class self-activity into bureaucratic channels. The union structure became removed from the struggles of the shop floor and colluded with management to ensure labor’s productivity. Nowadays, these institutions are dead and dying as capital no longer needs them. The appearance of labor’s organized reup via Andy Stern’s SEIU is in fact appearance only, for in the name of organizing it has undercut labor conditions, bargained behind workers backs, attacked independent unions, and has partnered with management to ensure not only productivity, but capital growth. The UAW is another manifestation of this transition where it has gone from management partner to shareholder under American auto’s restructuring. Where previously it oversaw the destruction of union jobs and wage and benefit concessions, under its new position it is leading this process with the creation of a two-tier workforce.

The hopes for any labor renewal from above that came with either the election of John Sweeney to the AFL-CIO helm in 1995, the Change to Win split in 2005, or the election of President Obama have come crashing down every time. Instead, Sustar points to the 2006 immigrant general strike, the Republic Windows occupation, the Smithfield Strike, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers boycott, and the growth of workers centers as new forms of organization and activity as new possibilities for renewal. People of color have been central to each of these experiences and, at least with the CIW, the Smithfield Strike, and workers centers, have taken place within the US South.
Continue reading Lee Sustar on the Current State of US Labor

The Ecology Movement, Climate Change & US Empire

There has been a lot of excitement by the left and the ecology movement lately, particularly around the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, the climate bill proposed by the House and recently amended by the Senate, and finally around the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen.  But it’s worth noting how the broader political terrain today forms the hot topics of the ecology movement if we’re to effectively plan our campaigns and strategies.

This past spring, despite the hopes of environmentalists that lined up behind Obama’s presidential campaign, the EPA okayed over 40 mountain-top removal coal-mining projects without scrutiny. This form of coal mining is one of the more the ecologically destructive methods of coal mining.  The process dumps tons of chemicals and unwanted material down the sides of the mountain. burying wildlife and vegetation on the sides, and contaminating local water supplies.  It also allows mining companies to lay-off workers and cut labor costs because less people are needed than traditional forms of mining.

But just before labor day the EPA released a letter that indicates that the Obama administration and the EPA are seeking to block one of the largest mountain top mining permits issued, citing violations of the Clean Water Act.

Around the same time, the NYTimes began a series on water pollution noting violations of the Clean Water Act by coal mining companies.  The piece sites the lack of oversight and enforcement as a major problem, with companies dumping as much as 1000% of the allowed chemical concentration into local water systems in W Virginia.

So why the about-face?  Is Obama finally fulfilling his campaign promises to the environmental movement?

Continue reading The Ecology Movement, Climate Change & US Empire

What next for US Empire in Afghanistan and Pakistan



There are a lot of dimensions to the Af-Pak situation. Here are some of the key ones:

Most immediately are the tensions and “knife fighting” going on in administration over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and what strategy to pursue.  It is definitely worth discussing what this debate says about Obama’s administration and at the same time the challenges and concerns facing US Empire.

Second there is the issue of what strategy to pursue. During the spring Obama went with a padded counter-terrorism strategy meaning the general thrust was to go after the Taliban and Al-Queda with some aid and development tacked on. It looks like McChrystal is calling for a full-blown counterinsurgency stategy which is civilian-centric and closer to nation-building.

Continue reading What next for US Empire in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Navigating the Honduras Coup: Barack Obama and the New Alliance for Progress

By Chris Shortsleeve

As the crisis in Honduras escalates, as the coup regime enters its fourth month of political power, evicting OAS representatives, barricading the Brazilian embassy, and instituting martial law, it is worth revisiting a question that has not been sufficiently and systematically discussed in left publications – namely, why the seemingly confused policy towards Honduras by the Obama administration? Why the vacillation between rhetorical condemnation of the Honduran coup on the one hand, and the complete absence of meaningful political pressure on the coup regime itself on the other? Furthermore, where does Honduras fit in the future of US imperialism – what does Obama’s response to this coup perhaps indicate for the future of US policy in Latin America?

With a political, military, and economic embeddedness that almost mirrors places like Pakistan and Iraq, Honduras is essentially a US client state. The Honduran economy and political elite are completely dependent on the United States, as 70% of all Honduran exports end up in the U.S., 40% of all capital investments originate in the US, and the entire Honduran military is funded and trained by U.S. aid. Thus, contrary to Obama’s recent press conference statement that “there is no magic button” to the Honduran political situation, there actually is: the US has merely to cut off the $100 million in aid it gives to Honduras each year, and the coup regime would be untenable literally in a matter of weeks.

This obvious hypocrisy gave rise to certain theories on the left this summer that perhaps the US was behind the Honduran coup. After all, why would Obama and Hillary Clinton back Zelaya, a left-center president who has been knick-named “little Chavez” throughout the region, when the coup regime so clearly represents a conservative restoration of unchecked US financial power in the region, a staging ground, perhaps, for a whole new era of neoliberal policies throughout Latin America? Why, if under Micheletti, Honduras could become for Latin America what Iraq has failed to become for the Middle East – the poster-child of the Project for a New American Century – has the Obama administration publicly condemned such a golden opportunity for the long term hegemony of American imperialism throughout Latin America?

Continue reading Navigating the Honduras Coup: Barack Obama and the New Alliance for Progress

Thoughts on a Health Care Forum

Written with Khalil, Afrose and Tyler Zimmerman.

AustinHealthCare2At the end of August, a Health Care Forum was organized in Austin, TX, by the Democratic Party and a number of liberal organizations including With the forum the Democrats sought to “honor their commitment to grassroots organization” by bringing out Obama supporters and the media to hear “real voices for change” like Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has been perceived as progressive for supporting a public option in the health care plan. This forum was a response to a town hall meeting with Doggett that was shut down by anti-reform protestors earlier in the month (the terms pro- and anti-“reform” are being used loosely here, as they are somewhat misleading about the character of the actual health care proposals on the table).

Close to 2,000 people attended the forum, filling to capacity the First United Methodist Church where the panelists spoke and a nearby AFL-CIO hall that was open for additional seating. There was a small union presence, mostly from the Texas State Employee Union (TSEU) which has been involved in some important health care battles among graduate students at the University of Texas. Unfortunately, the union’s organizing has centered around lobbying at the Capitol, a strategy which doesn’t stray far from how the AFL-CIO, with which TSEU is affiliated, has intervened in the health care debate. The Democrats brought in supporters from nearby cities like San Antonio and tightly controlled the forum, prohibiting Q&A or any disruptions.

A majority of people who came out supported some type of health care reform, with a general consensus that the current state of affairs was untenable and a clear failure. There was also a very visible and vocal minority of rightwing protestors against reform. The latter arrived more prepared with chants and placards. The protestors consisted of a mixed bag of “astro-turf” groups – associated with and/or receiving funding from inside the Republican Party – as well as rightwing libertarian types and unaffiliated individuals. It wasn’t clear whether larger organizations that have attended town hall meetings elsewhere – such as Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, or Americans for Prosperity – were actually present in Austin, but their influence could be felt. There was a lot of rhetoric about Obama’s secret socialist agenda, Obama = Hitler, “Show me the birth certificate,” and images of Obama dressed as the Joker from Batman, as well as other slogans like “My Body, My Choice” (ironic how the right takes a slogan usually reserved to the pro-choice left and animates it with an anti-choice politics).
Continue reading Thoughts on a Health Care Forum

Obama and Health Care “Reform”

imagesTwo days ago senator Max Baucus revealed the Senate Finance committee’s health care bill. Baucus had delayed this bill for months in an attempt to get what he had promised as moderate Republican support. Baucus, who is heavily funded by the health care industry, has strong links with industry lobbyists, many of whom are former staffers in his office. His attempt to get Republican support for a centrist bill have collapsed in his face. In the end, Baucus’ plan has failed to build consensus among the political elites.

This is significant because Obama embraced a strategy that hoped to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton administration’s health care disaster by hitching his ride to Baucus and the finance committee to come up with a centrist plan. This contradicted his earlier positions as both a Senator, when he backed a universal single-payer system, and as a presidential candidate, when he retreated to a commitment to a public option. As support for Obama fades quickly there is no better contrast between the hopes of millions of people who were key to his election victory and the realities his actual politics expose about bourgeois democracy.

But Obama also has a problem with the House Democrats who, along with liberal talking heads, columnists and the “netroots”, pushed back against him at the end of August after he said he was willing to drop support for a public option. House Democrats and the liberal section of the Senate have staked out their own position around the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s bill that emerged in July. This bill is similar to one in the House.

The main difference between the two Senate bills is the public option. Where the HELP committee’s bill contains it, Baucus has purged it from the Finance committee’s plan. If the public option is apparently a source of tension between centrists and liberal wing of the Democratic Party, then what is the public option composed of?
Continue reading Obama and Health Care “Reform”

Balance Sheet on Obama and the Left

election-nightIt’s 8 months into the Obama administration and approaching two years since the national debate began about Obama and the left. The images and feeling of election night, being on the street when thousands of young people spontaneously came out, are now only a powerful memory of the deep desires and frustrations of a new generation growing up in America where social conditions and oppression are only getting worse.

In many ways that night was a confirmation of the essential character of the Obama phenomenon. While Obama was New Democratic-Clintonian politics, he was so in new language and form that made visible for a moment something new in the U.S. Tens of millions expressed a desire for a break with the slogans and programs of ruling class politicians that have overseen a broadening and deepening of social polarization the last 30 years. What seemed like a break for many, Obama’s election and the Democratic Party victories since 2006 only raised expectations that couldn’t be met. Obama has overseen and implemented the capitalist offensive, taking advantage of the crisis, and has proven to be no protective umbrella from the return of white supremacist populism of the Right.

Discussions about Obama and the Left take on a new urgency given these realities. No longer are discussions about what might happen–we are now living perhaps at the end of a long list of Obama’s “betrayals” with his abandonment of the so-called “public option” in health care. Where are all those millions of people who are learning from this experience? How are we to understand Obama and the progressive Left? How are revolutionaries to move forward in linking reform and revolution? What are the forms of struggle and new types of organization that are emerging and are needed? These aren’t new questions on the blogosphere, and the past and contemporary break-outs of struggle are a guide.

With this in mind, here is an article by Charlie Post that appeared a couple months back via Solidarity

Post writes:

“Historically, attempts to simultaneously build an alliance with Democratic Party centrists and build social movements have led the disorganization and decline of the movements and a shift to the right in politics. Time and time again—from the CIO upsurge of the 1930s, through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, to the movements against the Vietnam War — the decision of the leaders of powerful and potentially radical social movements to pursue an alliance with the Democrats have derailed these struggles.”


“The same pattern is and will be repeated by the leaderships of the labor and social movements in the age of Obama. Not wanting to alienate Obama and the Congressional Democrats, the leaderships of both the AFL-CIO and CTW have done little to publicly oppose the Democrats back-pedaling on the EFCA—with Andy Stern of the SEIU, as always, leading the retreat. The labor officials and many mainstream immigrant rights groups are abandoning the struggle for universal amnesty and a direct route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in favor of the Obama-McCain plan. Proposals for a single-payer insurance system appear dead in the water, leaving the Democrats and Obama free to implement their “universal health care” program based on massive subsidies for private insurance companies. The list can, depressingly, be multiplied across a wide variety of popular reform issues.”


How should the left relate to Obama? A response to Linda Burnham

by Charlie Post

There is a broad consensus on left—from those who actively campaigned on his behalf, through those who sat out the election, to those of us who supported the independent candidacies of Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader—that the election of Barack Obama represents an important opening for anti-capitalists and radicals in the US. The election of an African-American to the highest elected office in a republic founded on white supremacy was, in itself, an important symbolic blow against white supremacy. Even more importantly, Obama’s victory was a political and ideological defeat of the right. The 2008 election has raised popular expectations of the possibility of gains for working and oppressed people—national health insurance, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a renegotiation of NAFTA, the expansion of civil rights for queers, women and people of color, and an end to the imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Continue reading Balance Sheet on Obama and the Left