Is Barack Obama making a turn to the left? His recent statements on the US economy seem to suggest so.
Obama told an election rally in New Mexico last week, “Our troubled economy isn’t news – 600,000 Americans have lost their jobs since January. Pay cheques are flat and home values are falling. It’s hard to pay for gas and groceries, and if you put it on a credit card they have probably raised your rates.”
The wreckage of neoliberalism has become part of daily life in the US. One in 40 homes are being repossessed – a rate of some 10,000 a day – unemployment is rocketing and the US national debt has tripled in a few weeks.
So Obama has moved to tap into the latent anger among ordinary people stating that the economic turmoil was “the final verdict on a philosophy that has finally failed”.
To loud cheers Obama said he would “fire the whole trickle-down, on-your-own, look-the-other-way crowd in Washington who led us down this disastrous path”.
He promised a “new deal” that would include a rise in wages and a $50 billion job creation scheme. Obama would end budget cuts, change bankruptcy laws to stop repossessions and “recruit an army of new teachers and pay them higher salaries”.
Yet despite this tilt towards class anger, he is still pulling up short. With George Bush deeply unpopular and the Republican candidate John McCain representing the same discredited policies, Obama should be miles ahead in the polls.
But the race is still too close to call.
For the economic chaos has also exposed Obama’s major dilemma – how can he reconcile the growing anger among ordinary people with a Democratic party deeply wedded to US capitalism?
Obama has been attempting to talk his way around this problem. But his solutions are little different from the measures put in place by the Bush administration – bailing out the banks and regulating the financial system.
The Democrats hope they can take for granted the votes of those who are opposed to the war and neoliberalism. With these supposedly in the bag, they softened their message to appeal to the right.
But this strategy of “triangulation” nearly destroyed Obama’s campaign. After the original surge in support, Obama’s popularity began to ebb away and his ratings dipped.
Then came the economic meltdown. Helped by McCain’s fumbling over the crisis, Obama’s poll ratings began to recover.
The issue in the election has become the economy – what the Financial Times calls “grown up politics”. Central to this battle are the millions of working class voters.
Here Obama should have the edge. The AFL-CIO union organisation, representing millions of US workers, has mobilised 200,000 volunteers to help his campaign.
But as one union organiser told the BBC, “Obama’s campaign is infested with Wall Street insiders, and he has, at times, taken tepid positions on working class issues like trade, wages and jobs.”
As Obama tried to distance himself from the crisis in Wall Street, it emerged that some of the biggest contributors to his election war chest were senior executives at Lehman Brothers, and his key economic advisers were the architects of deregulation during Bill Clinton’s administration.
Meanwhile McCain has been putting himself forward as the outsider who will reform Washington.
David Plouffe – the Democrat campaign manager – has pointed to Obama’s dilemma. In 2005 Bush won the state of Florida by 380,978 votes.
But half a million black voters, and 900,000 young voters, didn’t turn out. A further two million eligible voters did not register. Obama should win the state by a landslide. Instead the polling figures are putting McCain in the lead.
For that to change, Obama has to offer the poor and working class more that just promise of change.
He has to break with the pro-business policies of the Democratic party – a step he is unwilling and unable to make.