Socialist Worker

Barack Obama's campaign moves further to the right

by Abbie Bakan
Issue No. 2116

The Democratic Party National Convention (DNC), which took place this week in Denver, Colorado, will have been watched by millions. It will have confirmed Barack Obama as the party's presidential candidate.

It is a historic event to have the first black presidential candidate, a tribute to decades of struggle initiated in the 1950s and 1960s with the civil rights movement. Yet the Democrats focus on Obama's capacity to 'blend' with the 'mainstream' America.

The appointment of Delaware senator Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate is an indication of the rightward direction of Obama's election campaign.

For those who have watched the course of Democratic Party politics in the US over previous elections this may be no surprise.

But to recent enthusiasts who have entered mass politics for the first time – those who took seriously Obama's promise for real change – the DNC will generate false hopes, confusion and disappointment.

Biden is the not-Obama of the Democratic Party. He is seen as the guy who fills the gaps in Obama's resumé. Biden is chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, and, though he's since changed his tune, was an early supporter of the war on Iraq.

He is apparently the kind of racist that is OK with Obama – the kind that the Democrats see as 'normal' and might just get more votes.

As soon as Biden announced he was an official presidential candidate in February 2007, he had to apologise after stating that Obama was 'the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean'.

But the right turn in Obama's campaign runs deeper than the appointment of Biden.

Obama's recent tour of Europe and the Middle East was cultivated to show his capacity to change the image of the US. But it also demonstrated his deep commitment to imperialism.

Obama may be against the war on Iraq, but his views are consistent with a section of the US ruling class, not with any challenge to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama wants to maintain a US military presence in Iraq. And he is now indicating that the timetable for withdrawing the troops might depend on the advice of military commanders. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran clearly remain in his cross-hairs.

The Democratic Party is a party of big business and corporate power. But in order to get elected, the party is being forced to adapt to a new mood that is for progressive change and opposes war, racism and government cutbacks.

Obama's team has tapped into this sentiment, most clearly in the challenge to Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

The campaign for Obama fomented a kind of bureaucratic movementism, like a social movement but led from above.

Obama has used the energy and donations of tens of thousands of US voters who were previously alienated from electoral politics.

The politics of this new mood will also have been expressed on the DNC floor. According to journalist Steven Thomma, writing for the McClatchy Newspapers:

'The number of Democrats who support a government safety net for the poor – such as guaranteeing food and shelter for the needy and spending to help them even if it means more debt – jumped by 14 percentage points from 1994 to 2007.'

The compelling promise of 'Yes we can' that has marked the meteoric rise of Barack Obama, is likely to lead to a sense of 'Maybe he could have.'

The challenge for those who want to see real change in the US will be to maintain a movement against war and racism from below, independent of the Democratic Party machine, and of Obama and Biden.

Will the Democrats manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

by Sadie Robinson

George Bush has some of the lowest approval ratings for a US president recorded in history.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are massively unpopular, the subprime mortgage crisis has seen thousands of Americans lose their homes and the rising cost of living means that thousands are struggling to survive.

In this context, the Democrats should be heading towards a comfortable victory in November's elections. Instead, it looks as though Barack Obama could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Thousands of anti-war protesters demonstrated outside the Democratic convention in Denver as it opened on Monday.

Many were angry with Obama, who has backed sending more troops to Afghanistan and will not commit to withdrawing all US troops from Iraq.

Protesters chanted against Obama's backing of government surveillance of telephone calls and his stance on Afghanistan.

One protester told the broadcaster Al Jazeera, 'The Democrats are supposed to be the party that faces up to the Republicans and provide an alternative voice, but they've sat back and passed every act that infringes our civil liberties – they supported the war.'

A series of opinion polls have found Obama neck and neck with Republican John McCain. Some have even put McCain ahead and many seem to show him consolidating his support.

A CNN/Opinion Research survey on Monday found that Obama and McCain each had the backing of 47 percent of voters.

It showed that Obama's support had dropped. Some 66 percent of Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton now back Obama – down from 75 percent at the end of June. Some 27 percent back McCain – up from 16 percent in June.

Obama has consciously cashed in on popular anger with the Bush administration and the desire among ordinary people for a change of direction. His support is now threatened because he is failing to provide one.

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Tue 26 Aug 2008, 20:58 BST
Issue No. 2116
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