Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Michael Novick, "Obama’s election: Lessons for rebuilding revolutionary resistance," Pambazuka News, December 3, 2008.

  Obama seized on the opportunity of the latest and deepest capitalist economic crisis to develop a compelling narrative of how a lack of regulation, a lack of attention to the ‘middle class,’ and an arrogant unilateralism in ‘foreign policy’ weakened the economy, national security and the fiscal stability of the state. Neither the statist Left nor the anarchists are anywhere close to having the intellectual, political or organisational capacity to challenge that narrative or that definition of ‘change.’

The election of Barack Obama has been greeted in a variety of ways: elation and relief (tempered by fear of a racist backlash or assassination attempt) by supporters, particularly US Africans; predictions of enhanced recruitment opportunity by organised white supremacists; doomsday predictions by conservatives. On the Left there have been ‘exposes’ of Obama's Zionism, militarism and dismissal of the particular needs of black people or the working class. A group of DC anarchists has called for a disruption of his inaugural.

But any analysis needs to start from this reality: masses of people in the US feel they have helped make and change history by electing Obama. His victory is indeed historic in many ways. It required the largest voter turnout ever, and the highest percentage of registered voters in decades. Obama gained a clear majority, the highest percentage from a Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt – except for Johnson's landslide after the JFK assassination. He ran the most expensive campaign in history. He is the first "bi-racial" (called black or African-American) president-elect, and incidentally the first child of an immigrant. He is the first Hawaiian-born, one of the youngest presidents and by far the least ‘embedded’. Moreover, his was the first victory by a self-proclaimed 'anti-war' candidate in the midst of a war. But Obama's victory hardly signals that we are a ‘post-racial’ society, as evidenced by the self-contradictory self-congratulation of those who proclaim that “by electing the first black president” we have shown we are “colour-blind." Exit polls showed that about a fifth of ‘white’ voters acknowledged that ‘race’ was a significant factor. Interestingly, of those, 30 per cent voted for Obama. One explanation of this is that Obama's race made his intellect acceptable. US voters would never have elected a ‘white’ candidate as obviously intelligent as Obama. Yet they accepted and understood that a 'black' candidate would have to be twice as smart, twice as cool, as any 'white' to have a chance to succeed.

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