Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the Need for a Critical Progressive Perspective in the Age of Obama

As a Québécois of Haitain ancestry, it is quite human of me to be happy that Barack Hussein Obama, a biracial African-American man, has become president of the United States and how his historic election may enable Americans - white and black, Northerner and Southerner - to see and treat themselves differently in ways we cannot yet fully imagine.

However, as both a left-wing progressive and a critical thinker, I've always prefered that Obama be elected without any radical illusions. As Matt Taibbi of RollingStone.com reminded us with a cold shower way back in February 2007, Obama is first and foremost a politician regardless of how good a politician he has proven himself to be. Furthermore, although he will stir the US away from some of the authoritarian policies of the Bush administration, it doesn't change the fact that he, like Bill Clinton, is a "Third Way" centrist Democrat that will most probably govern from the American political center rather than the left.

So in order to be a credible force that can hold Obama to his liberal campaign promises, American progressives (and their allies and sympathizers in other countries such as myself) must resist getting swept up in the "Obamania" spreading all over the globe by remaining informed, engaged, and, most of important of all, critical.

This is why I very much appreciated this excerpt from an AlterNet.org article entitled Why Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, and Others Might Be Nervous About President Obama where Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! interviewed Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, and documentary filmmaker John Pilger for his response to the election of Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States:
John Pilger: Well, my response, Amy, is that really anyone was better than Bush and the Bush administration. Having experienced election night in the United States and then seeing the response here [in Britain], I feel that it's time that analysis and critical thinking took over and that those of us who wish to think that way, who wish to think critically, really should start addressing the -- this rather manipulated emotional response. I don't, in any way, cast doubt on the sincerity of the way people are speaking about the election of Obama around the world [...]. But I do think we have to consider President-elect Obama as a man of the system.

Michael Moore had it right when he said the other day, let's hope that Obama breaks all his election promises, as politicians generally do, because all his election promises, in terms of foreign policy, are a continuation of business as usual. And even if there is a return to what used to be called a multilateral world, I think there has to be critical analysis of the return to the pretensions of America as a peacemaker around the world. We had to endure this, and I mean endure it during the Clinton years, and I don't think that we, in the rest of the world, ought to have to endure it now through the Obama years, so that we have a continuation, if you like, of liberalism as a divisive, almost war-making ideology, being used to destroy liberalism as a reality, because that has gone on under so-called liberal presidents, from Kennedy to Clinton, Democratic presidents. And President-elect Obama suggests to us, in his promises, that he is going to continue that, bombing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Someone said to me -- in fact, I was talking to my daughter when I got off the plane from Houston this morning, and she said, "What was it like over there?" And we were discussing it, and I said, "Well, it comes down to, I suppose, asking an Afghan child how they feel when their family has been destroyed by a 500-pound bunker-busting bomb dropped by the United States and dropped by President Obama, as he continues that war. I think that's the reality that we really have to begin to discuss now, having celebrated, and rightly celebrated, the ascent of the first African American president of the United States.

JG: And, John Pilger, what sign would you look for in these early days now, as Obama begins to move into a transition period, that would indicate to you that he would be trying to break, in one way or other, from this neoliberalism of the Clinton years?

JP: Well, it's difficult to know. Breaking from the Bush years is going to be the first, and I suppose breaking from the Bush years means actually talking to people and negotiating. I think breaking from, let's say, the Democratic years [...] the Clinton years will mean giving us a sign that the ideological, rapacious, war-making machine that has been built over many years and reinforced, as perhaps never before during the eight years of Bush, that that ideological machine does not transcend a loss of electoral power. You see, that's really the central issue here, that a kind of ideological consensus has been built under Bush. Now, yes, Obama has been voted in, but will that vote, will that -- will a new president transcend this ideological machine?

You know, during the campaign, there was almost nothing between McCain and Obama in foreign policy. Indeed, Obama went further. I mean, he even declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He threatened Latin America. He, at times, seemed to be going further than Bush. And, of course, people, realists, the so-called realists, would shake their heads and say, "Well, yes, he has to do that."

Look, in answer to your question, I think he has to -- in order to show that he is in any way different -- he has to start dismantling this machine, for example, going against his promise to continue the embargo on Cuba, to drop that; to reach out to the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and Ecuador, each of which is under attack, subversive attack by the United States; to face the reality that Afghanistan is a colonial war; and to not let the so-called withdrawal from Iraq be a sham, that it leaves these so-called enduring bases. That, any one of those, any change in one of those, would indicate that Obama is truly different.

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