[Marxism] Notes on an Orientation to the Obama Presidency
cb31450 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 17 15:11:29 MDT 2009
Notes on an Orientation to the Obama Presidency
The election of Obama, while enthusiastically embraced by most of the
left, has also occasioned some disorientation and confusion.
Some have become so used to confronting the dismal electoral choice
between the lesser of two evils that they couldn’t figure out how to
relate to a political figure who held out the possibility of
substantive change in a positive direction.
Others are so used to all-out, full-throated opposition to every
administration that they wonder whether and how to alter their stance.
Still others sat out the election, for a variety of political and
organizational reasons, and were taken by surprise at how wide and
deep ran the current for change.
Now there’s an active conversation on the left about what can be
expected of an Obama administration and what the orientation of the
left should b e towards it. There are two conflicting views on this:
First, that Obama represents a substantial, principally positive
political shift and that, while the left should criticize and resist
policies that pull away from the interests of working people, its main
orientation should be to actively engage with the political motion
Second, that Obama is, in essence, just another steward of capitalism,
more attractive than most, but not an agent of fundamental change. He
should be regarded with caution and is bound to disappoint. The basic
orientation is to criticize every move the administration makes and to
remain disengaged from mainstream politics.
It is possible to grant that Obama is a steward of capitalism while
also maintaining that his election has opened up the potential for
substantive reform in the interests of working people and that his
election to office is a democratic win worthy of being fiercely
Obama is clear – and we should be too – about what he was elected to
do. The bottom line of his job description has become increasingly
evident as the economic crisis deepens. Obama’s job is to salvage and
stabilize the U.S. capitalist system and to perform whatever triage is
necessary to restore the core institutions of finance and industry to
Obama’s second bottom line is also clear to him – and should also be
to us: to salvage the reputation of the U.S. in the world; repair the
international ties shredded by eight years of cowboy unilateralism;
and adjust U.S. positioning on the world stage on the basis of a
rational assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the changed and
changing centers of global political, economic and military power –
rather than on the basis of a simple-minded ideological commitment to
unchallenged world dominance.
Obama has been on the job for only a month but has not wasted a moment
in going after his double bottom line with gusto, panache and high
intelligence. In point of fact, the capitalists of the world – or at
least the U.S. branch – ought to be building altars to the man and
lighting candles. They have chosen an uncommonly steady hand to pull
their sizzling fat from the fire.
For some on the left this is the beginning and the end of the story.
Having established conclusively that Obama’s fundamental task is to
govern in the interests of capital, there’s no point in adjusting
one’s stance, regardless of how skillful and popular he may be. For
the anti-capitalist left that is grounded in Trotskyism,
anarcho-horizontalism, or various forms of
third-party-as-a-point-of-principleism, the only change worthy of the
name is change that hits directly at the kneecaps of capitalism and
cripples it decisively. All else is trifling with minor reforms or,
even worse, capitulating to the power elite. From this point of view
the stance towards Obama is self-evident: criticize relentlessly,
disabuse others of their presidential infatuation, and denounce
anything that remotely smacks of mainstream politics. Though this may
seem an extreme and marginal point of view, it has a surprising degree
of currency in many quarters.
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