Obama: cool, but....
Personal political reflections after his US election victory

Who pays who?

I was one of the many millions worldwide to breathe a sigh of relief when the US electorate voted in such large numbers to replace King George Bush II with an intelligent guy called Obama. That change should in theory mean tangible improvement for people in the USA and across the world.

Trouble is that, with things left in such a mess by the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II régimes, conditions are likely to deteriorate considerably before they start to get any better. Another problem is that Obama’s electoral campaign, despite an unprecedented amount of grass-roots support, was mainly financed by powerful capitalists, i.e. by those largely responsible for the mess that Obama, ordinary US-Americans and the rest of us are all having to face.

Mummy mend ‘The Market’?

Although I’m partly relieved that some of those capitalists have been smart enough to realise that their system cannot continue without public support —they have to scream for mummy to come and help when they’ve caused such a mess for everyone— you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be back to their usual Holy Market hocus pocus and to their “Greed is good” antics as soon as the temporary political detour, veering slightly to the left of extreme right, has sorted out the crisis.

Social democracy, capitalism’s cleaning company

Everyone (mostly in North America, I expect) keeps saying that Obama’s election victory is a historical first. So it is when it comes to race and his victory is of momentous historical importance in that sense. But it is not a first, not even in my lifetime, when it comes to something just as important: an electorate voting with an overwhelming majority to get rid of a rabid right-wing régime that made a mockery of notions like freedom and democracy. It happened just after World War II when Swedish capitalists understood that only the Social Democrats could ‘save’ their country from socialism: only they could act efficiently as the capitalist system’s socio-economic garbage collectors and allow the capitalists to go on accumulating wealth ‘within reason’ (whose reason?). It happened again in the 1970s when the Parti Communiste Français made their ‘historical compromise’ with Mitterand’s Parti Socialiste — and now the French have Sarkozy! It happened yet again in the mid 1990s when Blair’s “New Labour” in the UK replaced Thatcher’s and Major’s disastrous period of social, cultural and economic destruction. On all those occasions smart capitalists understood that their own system and their own privileges could not be guaranteed if the Holy Market Forces were allowed to run amok without any kind of public intervention, regulation or control. People would end up realising, as many are doing in today's financial crisis, that there’s something intrinsically wrong with the system.

The trouble with those social democrat governments is that they do not seek to replace the system causing crises like the one we’re currently facing but to patch it up (a ‘reformist’ agenda). Goverment by the people for the people cannot be realised if the government relies on handouts from big business and elitist lobbying. Government needs to become independent of those forces and dependent on the people instead. Reform can start pushing things in a democratic direction but reform regarded as too radical by the capitalists will be rejected and they will, understandably but immorally, put pressure on the government to act in their own interests, not in those of the popular majority. This is one reason why Obama’s electoral victory, although a great relief and hence ‘OK’, is also worrying.

Keep an eye out

I’m not a US voter. I don’t even live in the USA. Trouble is that what happens in the USA, due to its corporations (including their governmental regulation or non-regulation) and foreign policies, tends to affect the remaining 95% of the world’s population nearly as much as they affect US-Americans. Since I don’t have the right to vote in US elections whose outcome affects me (undemocratic), I take the democratic liberty of expressing my opinion here, suggesting that it might be an idea for US-Americans to keep an eye out on what happens in the near and medium-term future. I’d suggest starting by a visit to Ralph Nader’s 2008 election site, especially In the Public Interest: Restoring the Constitution, on environmental issues (I worry about Obama and coal, for example) and Jail Time Not Bail Time! (about mummy mopping up the mess made by Wall Street sharks).

Philip Tagg, Montréal, 2008-11-29