Which balance of the first government of Obama?
Obama, America’s first black president, was elected in 2008 on an image of a being some sort of “Leftist”, more connected to the realities of working people, who would bring change to the presidency after the 8 dark years of the Bush Jr. presidency. Obama’s 2008 campaign was able to galvanize many sectors not only from the ruling class but from the working class: from labor unions, to university students, to Blacks and Latinos. He was also able to out-fund and out-campaign his Republican competitor (John McCain).
Nonetheless, Obama’s election victory was an expression of the anger and discontent of Americans with the chaotic economic and political situation that Bush had led the country into, that is to say what we call the crisis of American imperialism, after 9/11 and the failure to win the wars of Irak and Afghanistan as planned. However, reality proved that Obama was just a continuation of Bush’s presidency, albeit with a more charming and popular appeal.
Obama made his whole campaign in 2008 about “Change”, making many promises: to end the Iraqi and Afghan wars, to defend labor rights by signing the Employee & Free Choice Act (EFCA), to make federally funded and single-payer health care a reality (he originally was supportive of the Health Care & Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), to sign an Immigrant Reform bill to stop the deportations and “illegalization” of undocumented workers and so on.
Instead, Obama’s policies since taking office in 2008 have affirmed our analysis of his candidacy and regime: not only has he continued and intensified the Bush agenda of more imperialist wars, kept the financial deregulation that had contributed to the Great Recessionwe are going through (that was originally started by Clinton), extended the Free Trade programs he mildly criticized before (South Korea, Panama, Colombia), but he has launched an unprecedented wave of attacks to the working class to make it pay for the whole crisis. This started with the cuts in social services (threats of cutting Social security, Medicare, etc.), going after public workers’ rights and pensions and slashing public education budgets, refusing any real plan of public works to combat unemployment, or any limitation to the predatory action of the banks that have already left more than 2 million families without homes, allowing the disparity of blacks and whites to intensify.
Reality showed that Obama’s promises were blatant efforts to appease the desires of the working class and oppressed masses while giving the bourgeoisie the necessary time to prepare and arm itself to respond with a plan of attack for the economic crisis that had just broken out. It’s no surprise that the first measures he took as President were to hand over trillions of public dollars to the big banks and corporations, the same ones responsible for the economic crisis.
Many workers don’t understand why politicians like Obama dare to deceive the people who threw their support behind him so he could become President. The reason for this is that behind all of his words lie the interests of the class he defends. Obama is not a loose wheel in the capitalist system. He is the highest representative of the Democratic Party, a Party that, along with the Republicans, has for decades dedicated itself to manipulating, repressing, and exploiting the masses in order to get out of them the maximum profits for the bosses. The three and a half years of the Obama administration have been the same game of faking “Left” and swerving Right; in other words, using different methods than the Republican Party but reaching always the same goals through similar policies.
Is the Obama Re-election a sure bet?
All signs (i.e. the bourgeois polls, the immense campaign money raised, the lack of popularity of Mitt Romney, labor unions and the media in Obama’s pocket, etc.) point to Obama having a good chance of getting re-elected this fall 2012, but we cannot be so deterministic about this and leave it at that. What is most interesting to note is Obama’s campaign ideology – his campaign slogan is “Forward” (as opposed to “Change” of his last election campaign) – and how he is planning on winning by telling Americans that they should elect him because Mitt Romney and his Republicans will bring America back to the Bush Jr. Years, to the “dark past”, and he will at least move things “forward”.
But what does this rhetoric of “forward” and “progress” really mean to the 99% – specifically the working-class and oppressed? If we are to look at Obama’s present managing of the nation, he is telling us and the ruling class that he seeks to push the same policies and plans forward – namely attacking the working-class here and continuing the imperialist agenda of re-colonization and exploitation of other underdeveloped nations. So it is a “progress” that Lenin branded already in 1916; “decadence” and a threat to the majority of the world population.
Furthermore, Obama’s reliance on pointing to the right-wing rhetoric of Romney and the Republicans as almost a fear tactic – a conscious lesser of two evils ploy- is indicative of American’s not wanting to revert back to the Bush Years (2000-2008) and how these period still resonates with people as the “bad times” – a period of economic crisis and lowering of standard of living. Obama’s exploitation of this is conscious and he is banking on winning through this in order to stifle the attacks he may get for his performances in the last 4 years.
Two tendencies that will impact Obama’s re-election
Spinning the economy
Obama’s campaign for Fall 2012 touts “28 straight months of job growth” and his administration’s success in reviving the manufacturing and auto industries. Try as he might, Obama is having a hard time trying to paint a rosier future for the economy. This is because more of the bourgeois pressand even the U.S. Federal Reserveare only seeing signs of economic stagnation. Though there was a momentary slight economic upturn and decline in unemployment in the earlier Spring 2012 quarter, data and numbers since then have shown that this was just that- momentary and not stable.
As outlined in Eduardo Almeida’s “The Global Economy is Shaking”, the capitalists will have a hard time to return to the growth of the years before the recession. Nevertheless, all signs of the economy point to the recession continuing and for a likely trend for a double-dip recession – i.e. that we will go into another economic crisis like in 2008. The bourgeois Government’s previous trillion-dollar bailouts did not work and that was one plan that they cannot afford or are able to do again.
Thus, Obama is in the meantime able to say that no double-dip recession has happened and, by using this logic, that his economic measures are having an effect in at least stalling the worsening of the economic crisis. However, this reasoning will only be able to work for so long and unless there is another economic upturn – which as outlined earlier is less likely – the economy will still be major obstacle in Obama’s re-election, even if he is talented at spinning it for his own favor.
Rightwing-ness of Romney & the Republican Party
Another tendency that is impacting Obama’s re-election chances is the Right-wing rhetoric and policies of Republicans and their likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney, who first of all is a Mormon, an unpopular variation of the Christian religion in the U.S., is proving to be a lackluster candidate for the Republican Party. He has too many weaknesses and holes that the Obama campaign and his supporters are attacking. Obama’s campaign strategy is to point to Romney deficiencies in order to make Obama look like the “lesser evil” candidate.
For one, Romney’s wealthy backgroundhas become an easy target for Obama (though Obama can’t quite pass off as working-class himself either). Romney, from his end, has been trying to pass himself off as the successful businessman who will be able fix the economy that he claims Obama has ruined. Given the economic and social crisis in the US, Romney’s identification with the 1% is more of a liability rather than an asset in a popular election.
Another liability of Romney is his right-wing stances of many popular issues with Americans, especially its working class and oppressed communities. For the meantime, he and his campaign are trying to make people forget his positions on a variety of issues like abortion and contraception, immigration, union rights and LGBT rights when he was competing to be the Republican presidential candidate in the past year. Furthermore, this flipping back and forth on key positions by Romney has become another hole that the Democrats and liberals are attacking.
Nonetheless, even if Romney tries to paint himself as a different candidate then Obama, the reality is that both party’s candidates share a similar agenda and agree on a lot – they just disagree in how best to apply it. This includes foreign policy, health care, the close ties of finance capital and corporations, immigration policy, cuts to social programs and public workers, and so on.
Obama, the bourgeois’ best candidate to attack the working-class & oppressed
Since 2010, the US’s main policy of imposing its austerity measures on the working-class and oppressed in the US and the World did not face much resistance from Americans. This changed drastically recently, with the occupation of the Wisconsin Capital of 2011 and now with the Occupy movement in the Fall of 2011.
The US government’s answer in this economic crisis has been the “shock doctrine” – it has used the opportunity of the economic crisis that they have caused in order to cut what’s left of the US welfare state and to privatize in order to provide the groundwork for profit-making. This is shown in its gutting of public education, social services for the poor, old, mothers and the needy (i.e. Medicaid, food stamps, etc.). Instead of strengthening the services for the poor and needy in times of economic and social severity, it is doing the opposite and dismantling the services.
The goal of the bourgeoisie is to save some money, privatize social services like health-care and to force the poor to work for less pay and more cruel jobs and working-conditions and create third-world conditions right at home.
However, its main obstacle will be the feasibility and profit-making-advantages of such a shock-doctrine plan and the resistance of the masses. If past history shows anything, it is that the masses will not take such extreme measures lightly – the Occupation of Wisconsin, the public education mobilizations, the Occupy movement, and the other regional fight-backs of the people show that the US bourgeoisie and its presidential candidate of choice will have a hard time imposing such austerity measures without a fight.
This is why the US state, with Obama at the steering wheel, has been preparing and reconfiguring it’s tools of repression – the courts, legislation, police, the media, and its various state apparatus. It’s getting ready to use its entire means to squash any mass resistance it sees and the repression the Occupy movement has faced in the last year is proof of that. The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), and other elimination of civil rights are setting the groundwork for this.
Obama has been doing a spectacular job in imposing this “shock doctrine” of the bourgeoisie without much resistance by the masses – even with the splash of resistance of Occupy. The bourgeoisie could not ask for a more charming, media savvy, craft orator and flexible politician then Obama. Though he has a consistent tendency to lie and neglect certain facts of his policies and campaign accomplishments, he is able to juggle through it all and preserve a well-liked image that Bush Jr. was not able to do – and that former US president Clinton was able to do with some small success.
Pushing the struggle forward in the next period
The year 2011 will be known as the year that the U.S. peoples started coming out to the streets in significant numbers like in Europe, North Africa and Latin America in this present period. Obama’s regime cannot count on the masses staying quiet about taking the brunt of the pain that the capitalist class caused. Small bursts of struggle – the higher education protests of 2009-2010, the Wisconsin fight-back in 2011, and now the Occupy movement of this Fall 2011 & the Occupy Education protests in California in the Spring 2012, have shown glimpses of what is yet to come.
It is important to note for the upcoming period that the Occupy movement as a whole elevated the consciousness and discussion of the working-class and oppressed. Even if the demographic and leadership of the Occupy movement was mainly youth and precarious young workers, like the “Indignados” movement in Spain, it was a popular reflection of the masses disgust of not only the economic and social crisis in the U.S., but of the bourgeoisie politicians who caused it. This was reflected in the rhetoric and slogans: the 99% vs. 1%, independence from the 1% parties, make the banks and corporations pay for the economic crisis, etc. Hundreds of thousands were directly involved in occupy protests at one point or another, but it is the media and popular presence they made that enlarged their influence.
After the climax of the Occupy movement in late 2011 (specifically with the up to 30,000 community picket in Oakland the shut down the Oakland port for a day), the Occupy movement showed a decline in successful mass actions. However, a layer of the Occupy movement activists become more involved in the planning of May day events throughout the US, foreclosure work around foreclosed homes (Occupy the Hood) and also various occupies have become more involved in budget cuts and education sector work.
We will see how Occupy develops in the next period – though the trend we see is that the Occupy brand name is used less, does not have the influence as a brand that it had in the Fall of 2011, and that the Democratic Party is trying to co-opt it for the elections. The coming Fall election period will be a testing ground to see how Occupy evolves to deal with the repression, co-optation, and the influence of the Democratic through the labor bureaucrats and non-profits.
Moreover, bourgeoisie polls are showing the popularity of socialism amongst the youth, Black and Latino people, but the best gauge for us revolutionary Marxists is the class struggle and the strikes/work-stoppages of workers. In this respect, we can note some sizeable work stoppages/strikes in 2011: Communications Workers of America at the Verizon Communications (one of the largest US telecom company), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in various electric and light companies, Healthcare Workers at some of biggest healthcare industries (i.e. Kaiser Permanent), the victorious Tacoma Teachers Association strike at the City of Tacoma, Washington, and other healthcare, plumbers, and carpenters/pipe-fitters work-stoppages. But besides these strikes, it is clear that the overall levels of strikes and combativity of organized labor is at its lowest, with 2010 being one of the lowest years in terms of strikes compared with the 20th century, and 2011 only showed minor improvement. This shows that the working class fight-back is still to come, and we do not know if the unions, with their current state of degeneration and class collaboration, will be able to lead it, or if it will burst outside or around them.
In summary, Obama’s re-election will depend on the trajectory of the strength of his campaign, the Romney’s campaign performance, the economic crisis, and the resistance of the masses. The very fact that Obama might get re-elected, that is to say that he is not going to pay the price of leading the first round of dire attacks and cuts (like how Zapatero government in Spain or the Sarkozy government in France paid for their austerity policies), shows that the level of struggle was not strong enough, compared to the strikes and mass actions of the Indignados of Spain, or the mobilizations led by the masses in France in the Fall 2010 against the pension reform. It is a contradiction that most of the working class vote in the US will likely go to Obama; it reflects the fact that working people’s consciousness needs to be transformed through struggle more than through distorted electoral debates on TV.
It is also unfortunate that the working-class and oppressed don’t have their own mass party to put forward and that there has not been a mass resurgence of class struggle since the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement filled a political void that a worker’s & labor party could’ve filled but its limitations as a movement (with no party at that) and its class character (mostly middle-class students and precarious workers) could not carry this expression to its end – that is, to the need to build a working-class party of the exploited and oppressed in order to challenge the bourgeoisie’s twin parties (i.e. Democrats and Republicans).
We feel though, that the major task posed today in the US is first to educate our class not to trust any of the bourgeois parties and to throw all our energies into organizing the working-class fight back against the austerity measures, more than to throw ourselves into a hopeless electoralist campaign “to vote socialist” like some sectors of the Left are doing (i.e. FSP).
The working class must build a mass and democratic movement (and if conditions emerge to pose the need of an Occupy and Labor party to channel our demands) to organize our class to resist to the next wave of attacks. Our embryonic forces of a revolutionary party in La Voz, with the assistance and support of our international world party – the International Workers’ League (IWL-FI) will do our best to push the struggle forward regardless of the conditions that confront us – both in the U.S. and the world, seeking to do unity of action with other Left forces that want to fight, and putting forward our program of demands as it is linked to the movement and the struggle for socialism. The exemplary fight of our comrades of Corriente Roja in Spain in rallying the class in support of the mine workers can only inspire us and show us the way forward.
 The bill would have, firstly, allowed a union to be certified as the official union to bargain with an employer if union officials collect signatures of a majority of workers. The bill would have removed the present right of the employer to demand an additional, separate ballot where over half of employees have already given their signature supporting the union. Secondly, the bill would have required employers and unions to enter binding arbitration to produce a collective agreement at latest 120 days after a union is recognized. Thirdly, the bill would have increased penalties on employers who discriminate against workers for union involvement. For more info see See generally, Beam, Christopher (2009-03-10):http://www.slate.com/id/2213352/, “Uncivil Union: Does card check kill the secret ballot or not?”
 The “great recession” we refer to is the economic recession that started in 2008 and has since still not been solved by the economic or political policies implemented.
 John Whitesides, “Obama expands lead on Romney, voters more optimistic” 7/10/12, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/10/us-usa-campaign-poll-idUSBRE8691DP20120710
 Jason Lange, “Dismal hiring shows economy stuck in low gear” 7-7-12, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/07/us-usa-economy-idUSBRE86504K20120707
 ”Fed ready to do what is needed to meet goals: Williams” 7-9-12, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/09/us-usa-fed-williams-idUSBRE8680S420120709
 Dennis Jacobe, “U.S. Unemployment Declines in March” 4-5-12, http://www.gallup.com/poll/153761/unemployment-declines-march.aspx
 Eduardo Almeida, “The Global Economy is Shaking” http://www.litci.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1840:the-global-economy-is-shaking&catid=41:world
 John Whitesides, “Obama expands lead on Romney, voters more optimistic” 7/10/12, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/10/us-usa-campaign-poll-idUSBRE8691DP20120710
 Thomas Schaller, “Will Obama’s Bain blows land?”, 7-12-12, http://www.salon.com/2012/07/12/will_obamas_bain_blows_land/
 ”Mitt Romney On the issues” http://www.ontheissues.org/Mitt_Romney.htm
 Andrew Sullivan, “Romney’s Non-Positions On Immigration, Taxes, Spending, Etc.” 6/26/12, http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/06/romneys-non-positions-on-immigration-taxes-spending-etc.html
 Aaron David Miller, “Barack O’Romney”, 5-23-12, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/05/23/barack_oromney
 ”MAJOR WORK STOPPAGES IN 2011″, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2-8-12, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkstp.pdf
* The authors are members of La Voz de los Trabajadores, IWL-FI section in US