A Silly Question: “Is Barack Obama a Progressive?”*

By Paul Street

*Opening comments in a debate with John K. Wilson, a former Barack Obama student and author of the book President Barack Obama: A More Perfect Union (Paradigm, 2009) The debate, held by The Open Univesity of the Left in Chicago on Thursday, August 27th, 2009, was titled, “Is Barack Obama A Progressive?”

Thank you, Open University. I didn’t really write a book about Barack Obama. I wrote a book about the United States ‘ corporate- and empire-captive, media-saturated dollar democracy in what I knew by late 2006 to be the dawning Age of Obama.

Is Barack Obama a progressive? John Wilson says “yes,” I say “no.”
But how much does the question really matter at the end of the day? Obama wasn’t selected to head the United Way or the White Sox. He’s chief executive of the American Empire. He is a politician above all – one who was selected to sit atop and, I think, to re-brand what the left-liberal political scientist Sheldon Wolin rightly calls “Democracy, Incorporated.”

Every four years millions of American voters are induced to put their political hats on, to hope a bit, and then to go back to sleep. To hope that a savior or at least a more effective manager can be installed in the White House to raise wages, roll back war and militarism, provide universal and adequate health care, rebuild infrastructure, fix the environmental crisis, reduce inequality, and generally make life more livable.

The savior can be named Jack or Bobby or Teddy or Gene or George or Jimmy or Bill or Hillary or John or Adlai or Barack. It doesn’t matter. Under the rules of what Wolin calls “corporate-managed democracy,” officially “electable” candidates who want a serious shot at lasting power subordinate themselves to what Ed Herman and David Peterson call “the unelected dictatorship of money,” which “vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial regime.”

The Obama presidency so far is a chilling object lesson in the reach, power, and bipartisan nature of that “unelected dictatorship.” Obama is following what David Rothkopf, a former Clinton official, calls “the violin model: you hold power with the left hand and you play the music with the right.” In other words, you gain and hold the presidency with populace-pleasing progressive-sounding rhetoric but you govern, you make policy, in service to existing dominant institutions.

ZMag for more

Comments are closed.