Swelling support for Barack Obama is a two-sided phenomenon. On one hand, it reflects the sincere but misdirected anti-war, anti-racist aspirations of millions of people. On the other, it marks a concerted ruling-class effort to win these millions to the electoral system and thus to implicitly back U.S. imperialism. Communists should work among these masses to turn this around.
So whom does Obama serve, and what’s his agenda? A big hint comes from arch-imperialist Paul Volcker’s recent endorsement of Obama. Chief economist at Chase bank, director of the Rockefeller-led Trilateral Commission, Federal Reserve chairman who put millions out of work by jacking up interest rates to 20% to bail out bankers in the 1980s, Volcker hopes Obama’s “leadership…can restore confidence in our vision, our strength, and our purposes right around the world.” (Wall Street Journal, 1/31/08)
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Volcker exemplifies U.S. rulers who — facing inevitable clashes with regional rivals like Iran and global ones like China and Russia — need to mobilize and militarize millions of people. Obama, with his broad appeal to young students and workers, is giving the war-makers invaluable help. Robert Putnam, from Harvard’s Kennedy School, a top imperialist policy factory, writes, “Primaries and caucuses…in the last two months have evinced the sharpest increase in civic engagement among American youth in at least a half-century, portending a remarkable revitalization of American democracy.” (Boston Globe, 3/2/08) He could have said more honestly, “of the U.S. war machine.”
Crediting, both the “extraordinary” Obama campaign and 9/11 for the upturn, Putnam calls the new crop of voters a second “Greatest Generation.” He likens them to the tens of millions who, whether enlisted or drafted, fought fascism in World War II. The capitalists Putnam represents (the Ford, Getty, Carnegie, and Rockefeller foundations bankroll his “civic engagement” program at Harvard) hope voting will boost patriotism and, ultimately, troop strength.
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Near the end of, and after, the Vietnam War, the rulers tried several tactics to control youth. They dropped the voting age to 18 in 1972. Some bought it. That year 52% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, while millions received a steady diet of drugs and other aspects of a dead-end “do-your-own-thing” culture. In fact, with war out of the way temporarily, youth apathy pleased the bosses. Youth rates of voting in presidential elections fell steadily throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, reaching barely 36% in 2000. But by then China had emerged, and Russia reemerged, as serious U.S. foes. U.S. bosses now needed major sources of cannon fodder.
As Putnam notes, “Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001… a tragedy, but also the sort of opportunity for civic revival that comes along once or twice a century…. In the 2004 and 2006 elections, turnout among young people began at last to climb after decades of decline.” Like the rulers’ pre-9/11 Hart-Rudman Commission reports, Putnam welcomes terrorist mass murder as an aid in “galvanizing” the U.S. for global war. But, as motivators, 9/11s and Pearl Harbors, however useful, wane over time. They must be sustained by a Roosevelt-style, media-fueled charisma that mis-leads workers into voting booths, against their class interest.
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Putnam’s — and U.S. imperialism’s — reputed savior, Obama has a long history of luring people of military age into the system. His “Project Vote” in Chicago in the 1990s registered over 100,000 young first-time voters. Obama, who promises to add 92,000 soldiers to the Army immediately, has participated in the Seminar on Civic Engagement that Putnam leads at Harvard.
Pretending to be the “Out-of-Iraq” peace candidate, Obama supports the war agenda just as much as Clinton and McCain do. He recently fired a foreign policy advisor, Samantha Power, for letting that cat out of the bag. (Power, another Kennedy School guru, specializes in disguising military invasions as “humanitarian interventions.”) On March 6, a BBC reporter asked her: “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?” Power’s answer: “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009.”
Yes, Obama’s voting numbers present us an opportunity because they show that young people are now less cynical and more open to “talking politics.” But just what politics is crucial. The highly politicized Hitler Youth weren’t cynical. Many earnestly hoped for the better world Nazi imperialism claimed to offer. And Hitler, after all, professing “socialism,” was able to rally many well-meaning people seeking change to support German industrialists’ deadly schemes for territorial expansion.
Unless we actively participate in Obama’s campaign and expose his true purposes, any Obama success at the polls will prove deadly to the working class. The fatally deceptive optimism he sells masks imperialist objectives that are the exact opposite of PLP’s working-class program. Our long-term goals are waging a revolution to destroy the profit system and its endless wars and making a communist-led working class the rulers of society.
Obama’s Phony ‘Anti-War’ Roots
Obama mirrors both the rulers’ phony anti-war candidates McCarthy (1968) and McGovern (1972) as well as that era’s pro-capitalist, pacifist civil rights misleaders. McCarthy drew thousands of youth into his “anti-Vietnam War” campaign and actually forced the rulers to dump incumbent Lyndon Johnson. But the war went on. In 1972, McGovern again brought thousands of young people around his “anti-war” candidacy, but that effort didn’t end the war either.
When masses were in motion then, demanding change, PLP exposed the imperialist political content of those movements. Politics are primary.