cross posted to Jack & Jill Politics (warning, this post is massive. grab a cup of tea and settle in).
Over the past month, I have gotten more involved with and attentive to parts of presidential politics than at any previous point in my life. Following and, increasingly, participating in the Obama campaign has become a third or fourth job. My conversations, my blog posts, my leisure reading, my dreams -- all have been gripped by the extreme gravitational pull of this season. As votes began to be cast, I have reached out to friends and strangers alike, attempting to get them to see what I saw (I'm headed to DC this weekend to campaign). As the Clintons attacked
recklessly, I grew more adamant in my defense of Obama and promotion of his campaign.
There is a cost to all of this, and on the periphery of my consciousness I hear the voices of accountability calling out my name. It's time for me to take a step back, to remind others but mostly myself, why I support his campaign. Here's why I feel the need to do this.
First, a few weeks ago, I tuned in to Democracy Now and caught Glen Ford and Michael Eric Dyson engaged in one of the most fascinating discussions
of Obama's candidacy I've yet heard. It was wide-ranging, touching on the legitimacy of a term such as "post-racial" and the moneyed interests that capture all high-flying politicians. Glen is with Black Agenda Report
, and they have what appears to be no love lost for Senator Obama. I don't agree with their strong stance against him, but I cannot deny the importance of many questions they raise. In this interview, Ford asked, "What good does it do to put a black face on American imperialism?" Let that one ring in your head, and as fellow new media brotha, Clarence Smith Jr.
, would say, "marinate."
Another moment occurred on that same, annoyingly insightful program, Democracy Now. Amy Goodman hosted a discussion
with the head of the Progressive Democrats of America, a writer from Black Commentator and several others. Most supported Obama but they did so because he represented the best chance for movement politics to gain a closer and stronger foothold to real power in this country. While supporting Obama, they also wanted to push him further on issues such as reduced funding for the military (I agree) or an even more aggressive health care proposal (I admire the rational choice foundation of O's current plan
just the way it is).
Finally, what really grabbed my attention was an old friend of my mother's in DC. Several weeks ago, she reached out to me saying she wasn't convinced about Obama but was open to hearing more. This week, I got in touch and heard her concerns. A few of them had ready answers (e.g. Q: what are his criminal justice proposals? A: here they are as part of his poverty plan
), but one struck at the heart of this entire presidential election drama. "Who does he owe?
" she asked me. "Before he started getting money from citizens, somebody chose him and saw potential and decided he could be president. I just want to know what he compromised to get to where he is."
Aye, there's the rub.
Now I don't think there was a secret back room meeting between Obama and the Five Philandering Families at a secret retreat off the Cayman Islands, but my friend was raising a larger point. It is nearly, if not completely, impossible to be taken as seriously as Obama is being taken without having had to cut deals or ignore controversies or take money from some shady (most likely economic) interests. You don't become president without being sat down and told what the real deal is by those whose power and influence pre-dates your arrival and outlasts your departure. Those of us here on the ground level of society have the luxury of not being bombarded by such pressures. I'm convinced that if Dennis Kucinich ever did become president, he would be sat down on Day One and presented with an envelope. He'd open it, and he'd simply say, "Ooooooh. Now I see. Let us commence the bombing." I'm only half-kidding.
But back to the legitimate question: who does Obama owe?
It's not too hard to find out. The short answer is Wall Street employees and execs. OpenSecrets analyzes FEC filings and compiles easy-to-read reports. It's true that Obama relies much less on large scale contributions
than does Hillary. However, Obama's top contributors
are those at investment banks like Goldman Sachs ($400K), UBS ($300K) and Lehman Brothers ($250K). You'll remember that Goldman made a killing off the subprime crisis as it ripped apart the bottom lines of other banks and the financial assets of so many Americans. (Here's Clinton's for comparison
Another noteworthy contributor is a (primarily) nuclear power company named Exelon. The NY Times ran a hard piece
about Obama recently for what looks like him watering down an enforcement bill that would have affected this company. Obama also sees nuclear as a necessary component of our energy mix, a point many strongly disagree with (as a self-studied peak oil
nut, I too see a role for nuclear).
Hillary Clinton shares some of this influence and often leads Obama. McClatchy covers how Wall Street has made it rain
on both their campaign coffers. Bob Sheer of Truthdig concludes
that neither Hillary nor Barack are demanding a needed reduction in America's insane levels of military spending, writing:
Which one of the likely winners from either party would lead the battle
to cut the military budget, and where would the winner find support in
Congress? Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have treated the
military budget as sacrosanct with their Senate votes and their
campaign rhetoric. Clinton is particularly clear on the record as
favoring spending more, not less, on the military.
Having been exposed to the high altitude of political power far longer, Hillary has many of her own distinct crosses to bear. She's the top recipient of money from the weapons industry
among Republicans or Democrats (yes, war profiteers!), and she refused to vote for a ban
on those horrific devices of arbitrary destruction known as land mines and cluster bombs -- even in the topsy turvy world of Senate votes and back room deals, this vote looks unforgivable.
I happen to think Clinton's real and perceived concessions to those sucking the lifeblood out of our democracy are more egregious than Obama's, but the point remains that neither's hands are truly clean. By definition, a successful politician has some dirt on his or her hands. I do think, however, that Michelle Obama's point is relevant
. The Obama's are much closer to normal than the Clintons. They haven't had their norms so stewed for as long by access to the moneyed people of the world.
So, let's take it as a given than in joining ranks of the League of Potential Presidents, Obama has made some compromises and has the appearance of many more. He has accepted money from people in the financial services industry which wields US policy like a market-fixing bludgeon, or from a nuclear power company interested in avoiding as much government regulation as possible. Why, again, do I support him and why, so much moreso than Clinton?
I return to my original endorsement letter
of Jan 3, 2008
Obama is neither a Magic Negro nor a messiah. He is not Martin Luther King Jr. nor is he Sojourner Truth. He cannot change this country and make it all the great things so many people want it to be on his own. No politician can. No single person can. Anyone who promises that cannot deliver it. What I hope and increasingly believe, however, is that his ability to connect with people, to inspire participation, to transcend some of the more obscene flavors of recent partisanship will encourage us to take a step closer to fixing this country ourselves.
It says something powerful when you have the largest pool of small campaign donors in the history of presidential elections. It says something powerful when you can lure 30,000 ordinary people to a political rally, especially when you do so in a country whose leader doesn’t wear fatigues or put his image on the nation’s money.
If President Obama can accomplish two or three of the changes that candidate Obama has laid out, that would be a vast improvement for the country. But what I’m really rooting for is that he will help rekindle that spirit of civic engagement and community that is the lifeblood of this experiment called democracy. In the end, it’s not about Obama. It’s about us!
I will add to that.
My support of Obama goes beyond him and perhaps eventually even against him. My support is based on his ability to activate the civic gene in many more Americans. His effect is undeniable (though unproven in the long term), for look at the vastly different types of people he is getting to pay attention and turn out for rallies and turn out to vote! Yes, Obama is a politician. Yes he is and will be beholden to financial interests. But you cannot tell me that "any ol politician" gets old white Republicans and
young feminists to be enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for them.
If he is even partially successful, he may create an electorate so constructively engaged and, yes, pissed off, that it pushes him even beyond his current proposals. Presidents are under an immense amount of pressure, and as any politician climbs the ladder, their world shrinks as access to the average citizen gets replaced by access to the captains of industry. But, if Obama's campaign is successful, it will be because we
are successful, and if that happens, I envision a country in which people are more engaged in their government and society and thus check the power of those who already have unfettered access. I know the power of this inspiration because it has touched me and made me committed to seeing it happen in my small sphere of influence.
If his revolutionary open government and technology plan
and government ethics plan
(for the love of god, read it!) comes to pass, we will have more visibility and input into the (corrupt) workings of our government than ever before, and it will be up to us to act on that new information. (BTW, compare that to this assessment of Hillary's tech/communications plan
. It pales). With the searchable government spending database
he spearheaded (use it!), we may find that the obscenity of our budgetary priorities is so readily available, we have no choice but to protest it.
Obama's platform is not just about his positions. It's about the tools and infrastructure he's offering directly to the citizens of this country
. Forget for a moment who speaks in a most commanding fashion about the particulars of health care legislation. Forget about beautiful language or alleged experience. Look at what President Obama offers all of us: empowerment. Empowerment like we've never seen. Power we forgot we had. Power that a community organizer trained on the streets of Chicago would recognize in a heartbeat. We may not get an opportunity like this for several decades!
Look, I am under no illusions about the forces that wield
the true power in this country, but what has been restored by Obama's campaign is my faith (and go ahead, say it, "hope") and knowledge that true power is still held
by the people, and that we the people can use more of that power under President Obama than under any other. By far.
On Super Tuesday, amid a speech full of language we've heard from him before, Obama spoke words that leapt out at me. He said, "we are the ones we've been waiting for."
Let us remember that, and let's use this campaign, this time in our history, this great opportunity to be
the ones we've been waiting for.