Let’s Break from the Party of War and Wall StreetBy Stanley Aronowitz
From the January 8, 2010 issue | Posted in National | Email this article
People cannot live without hope. The long night of the eight Bush years was tolerated only because many of us believed it would come to an end. That Obama seized on that belief better than his Democratic opponents is a testament to the high expectations people had that regime change in Washington just might bring about a better life. While Hillary Clinton, his main primary opponent, evoked the traditional symbols of military preparedness combined with liberal domestic policies, Obama steadfastly preached the gospel of peace and hope and carefully avoided making lavish promises. Clinton won the backing of most organized labor, women’s organizations and major Democratic politicians. But Obama, the only fresh face in the gallery of candidates, outmaneuvered the traditional party dons. With little support at the top, Obama went for the grassroots, correctly gauging the country to be fed up with the old ties and old ideas.
Obama had the advantage of being African-American, even though many black politicians had hopped on the Clinton bandwagon early in the campaign. But Obama’s not-so-secret weapon was his appeal among youth who, responding to his bold message of hope and change, came out of the woodwork by the thousands to volunteer in his campaign, trudging door to door in the cities and tipping the balance in states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. They also delivered much of the West to the insurgent. What befuddled the pros and the pundits was Obama’s ability to mobilize youth who chronically stay away from the polls, largely because they see little point in voting. He seemed to have the power to make them believe in the system. Although the overall vote count was not remarkable compared to past presidential elections, the proportion of voting youth and blacks helped give Obama a relatively easy victory over John McCain, the lapsed maverick.
For many who voted for Obama, 2009 has been a year of deep disillusionment. The degree to which the Obama administration revealed its basic war and big business orientation was first shown by his major cabinet and staff appointees. Robert Gates, Bush’s defense secretary, was retained; Hillary Clinton, perhaps the Senate’s leading hawk, became secretary of state; the crucial position of treasury secretary went to a Federal Reserve bureaucrat and Wall Street ally, Tim Geithner; and Lawrence Summers, Bill Clinton’s last Treasury head, became Obama’s chief economic advisor.
What was obscured by Obama’s rousing campaign and nimble rhetoric has become brutally apparent in the aftermath. The Democratic Party has, since the end of World War II, been the favored party of finance capital. That mantle once belonged to the Republicans — the fabled party of the rich and wealthy. But the GOP has sunk into a right-wing party of opposition and no longer pretends to be a party of government. Its cast, begun as far back as the Goldwater takeover in 1964, is anti-internationalist, narrowly ideological and administratively incompetent. Meanwhile, the Democrats live a glaring contradiction: on the one hand, they rely on labor and the new social movements of feminism, ecology and black freedom both for votes and for a large portion of their political cadres. On the other, they need hundreds of millions of dollars to oil the party apparatus and run 535 national election campaigns. Aside from the unions, most of this money comes from corporate sponsors and wealthy individuals.
This contradictory existence accounts for several important political realities: Despite a large “progressive” congressional delegation, especially in the House of Representatives, the Democrats’ weight of governance falls on its debts to, and alliances with, leading financial corporations. For example, that the Democrats are forced to sponsor some version of healthcare “reform” cannot disguise the fact that the big insurance companies have called the tune on the legislation. Nor are the Democrats’ ostensible commitments to dealing with global warming as powerful as the influence of the energy giants who have systematically thwarted any attempt to address what may be the defining public issue of this century. And the Obama administration has handled the most profound economic crisis since the Great Depression by continuing the Bush policy of bailing out the banks and insurance companies and virtually ignoring rising joblessness, burgeoning foreclosures and deepening black and Latino poverty. In short, Obama is the perfect manifestation of the contradiction that rips across the Democratic Party bow.