In the United States, it is customary to assess a president’s first 100 days in office, a tradition that goes back to the Great Depression. Fearing that the collapse of Wall Street and the enormous suffering it caused was laying the groundwork for a socialist revolution in the U.S., newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt briefly closed the banks. With the help of a terrified Congress, he swiftly passed legislation to aid the poor, create publicly funded jobs, help farmers and homeowners and regulate the banks.
Since that time, the first 100 days of an administration are seen as a gauge of a president’s effectiveness.
From a ruling-class point of view, President Obama’s initial 100 days were spectacular. Among his achievements: an $800 billion economic stimulus package and mortgage relief to quell unrest among working people; massive government underwriting of banks and insurance corporations to calm Wall Street; government-backed buyouts of the auto industry that destroy unions but preserve corporate interests; a fake proposal to end the unpopular war in Iraq and a real plan to expand it in Afghanistan and Pakistan; a multibillion-dollar package for the military; trips abroad to win back fans of U.S. imperialism turned off by eight years of Bush; and promises to “fix” the for-profit healthcare system by keeping it more or less the same.
However, despite his best efforts to save capitalism, the president is often called a communist by rightwingers and berated by racists. Mike Huckabee, a Republican contender for president, called Obama’s bank bailouts “something that Stalin and Lenin would love” and warned that “the Union of American Socialist Republics is being born.” At a recent rally to protest Obama’s “socialist” economic program, the governor of Texas threatened to lead a secession movement.
This redbaiting sends paroxysms of joy through the ultra-right and the white supremacists. But President Obama is turning out to be much more like George W. Bush than a Bolshevik – or even President Roosevelt.
The meaning of the election.
The vote for Barack Obama was an important acknowledgement that people should not be judged by the color of their skin or any other irrelevant criteria – nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Its importance lay in its symbolism.
But his assumption of power was a double-edged sword. It was “a great public relations show,” as one South African publication wrote. “Its real purpose is to make a dark skinned president do all the dirty work of U.S. imperialism in the hope that the dirty work will evoke less opposition and resistance.”
This strategy has been very effective, not only at the Summit of the Americas, at the G20 meeting in Europe, and during Obama’s tour of the Middle East, but in the U.S. itself. The president may not have tamed his rightwing opposition, but his election has tamed the U.S. anti-war movement, whose liberal leaders supported Obama as a “peace” candidate.
Making war Obama’s way.
Among the first things Obama did in office was to announce an expansion of the war in Afghanistan – a war that 51 percent of U.S. residents and 64 percent of Democrats oppose.
Incredibly, this move has not generated widespread protest, because anti-war movement leaders demobilized the grass roots during the election campaign and threw their support to Obama. Now that same leadership does not want to “embarrass” the first Black president by opposing his war-making!
Obama is asking Congress for $10-20 billionover the next six or seven years to train an Afghan army, plus additional funds for more U.S. troops. The argument he makes for a bigger war sounds very much like Bush. Al-Qaida, he says, is planning attacks on the U.S. “homeland” from the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan – an area that has become “for the American people, the most dangerous place in the world.” (Actually, thanks to the loss of pensions, retirement funds, and homes, many people in the U.S. today consider Wall Street the most dangerous place in the world!)
The president is also seeking money to expand the undeclared war in Pakistan, which includes commando raids, drone missile attacks and CIA covert operations.
Meanwhile, his conception of “ending” the Iraq war is to leave behind 50,000 soldiers and to increase the number of armed mercenaries, whose numbers have grown since he took office. According to a Pentagon report, they numbered at least 132,610 as of June. The same report acknowledged that there are 68,197 “private security contractors” in Afghanistan.
In regard to ending the Iraq occupation, it’s worth noting that the U.S. still has bases in Europe more than 60 years after World War II and nearly 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is absolutely certain that the U.S. is not going to be leaving Iraq any time soon, if ever, short of socialist revolution in one or both countries.
The federal military budget almost doubled over the last eight years. Now Obama wants to increase it by another 2.1 percent and add nearly 100,000 troops to the Marines and Army.
Instead of being the man of peace signaled by his charming, relaxed personal style, it turns out that President Obama is just another imperialist warmonger.
Violating prisoners and the Constitution.
The news that Obama intended to shut down Guantánamo and outlaw torture was cause for celebration. But this has been followed by much bad news.
Obama continues to assert the presidential right to do whatever he says is necessary to fight terrorism. Instead of sending Guantánamo prisoners home, he is trying to create a new legal basis for holding them elsewhere. And the administration claims that military prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, who have been held for years without charges, have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment.
The president also refuses to renounce “preventive detention” and “extraordinary rendition” (the transfer of terrorism suspects to other countries). Under these policies, U.S. citizens and residents as well as foreigners have been jailed without charges and tortured.
Before his election, Obama promised to review and publish secret memos of the Bush administration that laid the legal basis for torture. He hasn’t done it. Instead he publicly assured CIA agents that they would not be prosecuted as torturers. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has attempted to get lawsuits against torture thrown out of court by claiming they undermine “national security” – a Bush-era argument.
And finally, Obama overturned protections for federal employees who speak out about corruption and misdeeds in government – guaranteeing that the public will be kept in the dark.
Social programs go begging.
Because war-making drains 40 percent of the U.S. budget, money is scarce for essential social services for the poor and unemployed, public education and healthcare, and public assistance for children and the elderly and disabled.
The federal budget crisis has deeply affected the states, which provide many of these services. Cuts to state programs have produced large layoffs of public workers, protests and hunger strikes by teachers, cutbacks in care for the mentally and physically ill, and growing encampments of homeless people.
Obama proposes to answer this crisis by privatizing education, “reforming” healthcare by taxing workers, cutting payments to seniors, and providing limited mortgage assistance for homeowners – and, of course, billions and billions of dollars for corporate America!
No help offered against a growing right wing.The current climate of economic scarcity and fear about the future breeds the search for scapegoats. Immigrants, gays, women, Jews and people of color are the targets of this misplaced anger.
Violence against these groups has escalated as white supremacists seek to recruit around an ultra-right program blaming immigrants for high unemployment, gays and lesbians for “moral degeneracy,” feminists and abortion doctors for “killing babies,” and Jews for everything.
So far Obama’s immigration policy is the same as Bush’s: militarize the border and deport undocumented workers. He has said nothing about the murder, beatings, humiliations and roundups that immigrants have suffered at the hands of white supremacists and the Border Patrol.
He did, however, issue a very brief statement about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, as he also did for Stephen Johns, a Black security guard gunned down at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
But Obama’s support for women’s issues boils down to appointing a few women to high office: Hillary Clinton to head the State Department (another imperialist hawk, but in a skirt), Sonia Sotomayor to join the Supreme Court, Janet Napolitano to run the Department of Homeland Security. This does nothing good for either the rights or the material welfare of working-class and poor women and in fact hurts them.
Obama also opposes same-sex marriage while supporting the expulsion of open homosexuals from the military.
The shortage of capitalist solutions. Over the decades, the U.S. corporate class has tried various antidotes to capitalism’s illnesses.
Protectionism and “free trade” both produced trade wars, hot wars and colossal unemployment on a global scale. After each acute crisis, bankers and industry leaders submitted to various forms of regulation only to do their best to subvert them later – thereby laying the groundwork for the next speculative crisis.
Search as they might, the bosses have no permanent solutions to the periodic crises of overproduction and the human suffering they produce.
And so they fall to fighting with each other. Today the titans of Wall Street appear to spend most of their time arguing about how to manage the global chaos they created. At this point, they would gladly run Lenin for president if they thought it would save their system.
Instead they picked Barack Obama – a handsome, charming politician from Chicago with a short work history, a professorial approach, and a multiethnic touch. But the change he promised the people and what he is delivering on behalf of his corporate masters are two different things. One thing can be said with confidence: the social crisis in the U.S. is bound to deepen – and with it the resistance of the multiracial, multinational U.S. working class, which has barely begun to fight.