Abergavenny Left

“Mountains, Markets and Marxists…”

Orbiting Planet Obama – Ted North

The widespread rejoicing at the election of Barrack Obama, including by some on the left, can now be put into context as his incoming administration takes shape. Soon to be key figures are emerging from the competing mass of careerists, lobbyists, and various other undesirable kinds of ‘ists’ who constitute the American political establishment.

What sort of project does Obama envisage? In the extended platitude which constitutes his second book, The audacity of hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American dream, he makes his method clear. By a mature balance of “idealism and realism” he aims to assemble “Democrats, Republicans and independents of goodwill – who are re-engaged in the project of national renewal”.1

Obama’s America is a land where contradictions dissolve in the universal solvent of the American dream. If only “union representatives”, for instance, would “understand the competitive pressures their employers may be under”.2 After all, on planet Obama “most rich people want the poor to succeed”.3

Such perspectives are rooted in Obama’s fetishisation of the founding fathers – men who would have seen him as a potential slave, a ‘talking tool’ – and the American constitution. Obama’s adoration for the documents of early independent America knows no bounds: apparently it is “easy to believe they are the result of natural law, if not divine inspiration”!4

What of the people Obama has appointed to his White House staff?

Rahm Israel Emanuel, who will be chief of staff, has quickly emerged as the most controversial. ‘Rahmbo’ has made no secret of his strongly pro-Zionist stance. Little chance of a fundamental change in America’s sponsorship of Israel as a kind of super-armed Trojan horse in the Middle East, then. And there is the continuing threat of an attack on Iran.

Emanuel played an influential fundraising role in the Bill Clinton campaign. After this he earned $16.2 million in a two-and-a-half-year stint as an investment banker.5 It is no surprise then that he was a vocal proponent of ‘economic liberalisation’ (before the economic crisis and subsequent return to Keynesianism, that is).

Things get no better when we come to the deputy chiefs of staff. The first, Jim Messina, has long worked for senator Max Baucus, who has been described as “one of corporate America’s favourite Democrats”.6 The other, Mona Sutphen, co-author of ‘The next American century: how the US can thrive as other powers rise’ (2008), is the managing director of business consultation firm Stonebridge.

The chief strategist of Obama’s election campaign, David Axelrod, has been appointed as senior advisor to the president. His background is in the greasy world of political consultation, through his AKP&D Message and Media company, as well as ASK Public Strategies, which focuses on work for corporations.

The appointment of Lawrence Summers as director of the White House national economic council makes clear the kind of economic strategy we can expect to see. Summers, who currently works at Harvard University, of which he was previously president, is a controversial figure.

Traditionally a strong proponent of ‘free trade’ and globalisation, he has been quick to come on message, as the necessity of Keynesian-type fiscal policies becomes clear, and over recent weeks has repeatedly argued for increased government intervention.

Summers is well known for incidents such as the leaking of an internal memo he wrote in 1991, arguing for the export of pollution to ‘developing countries’; the memo claimed that “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable”.7 No stranger to controversy in more recent years, his comments at a 2005 conference were understandably seen by many as being deeply sexist.8

Valerie Jarrett, who will fill the role of assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison, is from an equally unprogressive background. On the board of the Chicago stock exchange between 2000 and 2007, she is currently a director of USG Corporation and CEO of real estate and management company Habitat, which owns tens of thousands of properties.

Patrick Gaspard will be the director of the office of political affairs. Gaspard was previously executive vice-president for politics and legislation in the United Healthcare Workers, a large east coast trade union. In other words, he is an important figure in the labour aristocracy. Amongst all the figures from the political establishment, big business and finance, he is a nod in the direction of Obama’s left support (Gaspard is also one of several black members of Obama’s team).

Perhaps we will find some better news in Obama’s cabinet appointments? Whilst these appointments may change, pending vetting and Senate approval, a sketch of the incoming cabinet is becoming increasingly clear.

Obama has selected Tim Geithner as the next secretary of the treasury. He is currently president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well as vice-chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee. He previously worked for the International Monetary Fund. Geithner has played an important role in the Bush administration’s handling of the ongoing financial crisis, as well as previous crises. He is one of the main advocates of substantially increasing treasury powers.9

Much media attention has focused on Hillary Clinton, who looks likely to become secretary of state. She long ago described herself as “a mind conservative and a heart liberal”.10 This is arguably an apt description for the whole incoming administration.

Clinton voted for, and was generally supportive of, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and has visited American troops in both countries. She has argued against calls for troop withdrawals. Surely problematic for a new secretary of state, a role which is centred on foreign affairs, in a government supposedly about ‘change’?

The position of attorney general, head of the department of justice, has been offered to Eric Holder. If he accepts he would be the first black attorney general. He has a background in important positions in the judiciary and in the Washington DC political scene, and was a key figure in the Clinton administration.

Holder was widely criticised for his role in the pardoning of fugitive March Rich on Clinton’s final day in office, for which Holder has since apologised. The appropriately named Rich fled the USA in 1983 after being indicted for tax evasion and illegal dealings with Khomeini’s Iran.

Pending his acceptance, Bill Richardson will become secretary of commerce. In his younger days, Richardson worked for Republican politicians, including the infamously reactionary Henry Kissinger. Later switching his allegiances, Richardson ultimately stood as the first Hispanic Democratic presidential nomination in this year’s selection process, before quickly dropping out. Whilst positively distinguished amongst Democrats by his call for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, his views on immigration are deeply reactionary: ie, he calls for more armed men along the Mexican border, which his own parents crossed many years ago.

Andrew Daschle, according to what, as I write, are unconfirmed reports,11 has accepted Obama’s invitation to the position of secretary of health and human services. His long political experience in the corridors of governmental power are expected to stand him in good stead.

In 1999 and 2003 Daschle voted to ban the rarely used ‘intact dilation and extraction’ abortion technique, in what was widely seen as a victory for the anti-abortion movement. This is not the only example of his rightwing views. For example, in 2006 he was one of only two Democrats to support the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic surveillance of ‘terrorist suspects’.12

Janet Napolitano is widely expected to become secretary of homeland security. With a background in law before she moved into politics, Napolitano is considered to be knowledgeable on illegal immigration, which is an important element of the job remit. As governor of Arizona she has said that reducing the porosity of the border is one of the most important challenges. She has publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

Obama has suggested he will appoint some Republicans to his administration. Many sources are mentioning the retaining of Robert Gates as defence secretary. This former CIA director seems to have fairly widespread cross-party support. Of course, it is not impossible that Colin Powell will also be rewarded with his support for Obama with an important position.

George Galloway, in a Morning Star article headlined “Negativity will get us nowhere”, says that countering the widespread illusions in Obama “leads to its own form of elitism”. This, he says, is the attitude of “the most out of touch and esoteric parts of the organised left” (I wonder who he means?). By contrast, the “social left” – ie, unorganised ‘progressives’- have grasped the “truly radical message” of Obama. Which is? “Things can change.”13 Hmm. In actual fact, the kind of people Obama is appointing clearly indicates that his administration is committed to business as usual.

Galloway is keen to point out that Obama won a higher percentage of the vote from working class Americans than from the middle class. But he conveniently ignores the fact that Obama also won a majority in the highest income category. Why? Surely it is because they see Obama as a faithful representative for capital?

This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker which can be read at http://www.cpgb.org.uk

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment