The Election of Barack Obama


12-19-08, 8:41 am

The election of Barack Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will stand as one of the most important turning points in the history of the US. It could shape US politics for decades to come and open an era of progressive politics that will have profound implications for our nation and whole world.

This election says a lot about were the American people are at politically. All the polls showed that the American people were fed up with the last eight years of Bush and nearly 30 consecutive years of right-wing domination. On November 4, 2008 US voters came out in record numbers and voted against the Republicans and the ultra right in general. It was a decisive victory with an Electoral College landslide and a nine million-plus majority. John McCain and Sarah Palin were defeated fairly, squarely and decisively.

The mandate is clear. The country wants a withdrawal from Iraq and a foreign policy where negotiations and diplomacy are the first options. The people voted for access to affordable health care for all. They want an end to racial intolerance, racial scapegoating and for the unity of all races and nationalities. They want equality for women including the right to choose. They want jobs and economic justice for working people and an end to union bashing. This vote signaled a desire to end to torture and false imprisonment, government lying to and spying on the people. It sent the message that the people want an end to immigrant bashing and the Bush slashing of our public education. They want an active program to clean up the environment and a serious well financed long-term effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels and create jobs and build our future based on clean, safe, green energy.

And with the severe economic crisis that has gripped the country and currently overshadows every thing, rather then a bailout of Wall Street the majority of the voters want the bailout of Main Street to be the government’s priority. They want a stimulus package that creates jobs and brings relief to those who are losing their livelihood, their homes and pensions. They want a more democratic society were the rights of working people are no longer routinely trampled on.

People may have different takes on these issues and there are differences among the Obama voters, but they were united on November 4th and determined to move our country in a better direction. This was a vote for change. For the ultra right to have lost the presidency, Congress, its domination of our main legislative and administrative bodies means they have lost momentum and control of the nation’s political agenda. This is a huge set back for them. For the Obama platform to have taken center stage is a major set back for the neo-cons, the right wing and the most reactionary sections of the capitalist class which they represent.

It is overall an advance for the working people, organized labor, the racially oppressed, women’s equality, the rights of the youth and seniors. All social groups that have been left out and abused by the former administration's policies are in a stronger position today. Even though there were some negative results like prop 8 in California and on affirmative action in Nebraska, overall as a result of this election our country is in a better position to make a better life for tens of millions who have been neglected, oppressed, and exploited.

A Worldwide Celebration

People all around the world are celebrating Obama’s victory, because they believe that US foreign policy will become less war like and aggressive, more humane and constructive. Obama’s approaches to relations with the rest of the world is already restoring US standing in the world. He is one of the few recent American presidents to literally excite people all over world.

This says a lot about where most people in the world are at politically. I think it is historic how so many people all over the world understand the issues and support the election of Barack Obama. Many of all races and nationalities around the world are celebrating the election of the first African American president of the United States because they see it as a step towards defeating racism. They know how US imperialism has used racism in pursuit of it profits and power around the world.

Optimism and Activism

Along with all the euphoria, there is also a great deal of optimism, which is a very good thing. Hope is a powerful impulse, especially if it leads to action. People both in the US and abroad are feeling like the elimination of most of our nation's ills are now within reach. With a high level of optimism, people are more inclined to turn to activism and struggle. That is important for the future.

We are not on the eve of a socialist US. Far from it. Obama has not broken with capitalism or imperialism, and he favors no such break. But he is for a break from the cutthroat capitalist policies, military aggression, lawless international and domestic policies practiced by the Bush administration and the ultra right.

While he unfortunately supports an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, he does see economic development and ultimately a negotiated settlement there. He is for an end to perpetual war and empire building around the world. He supports steps towards normalization of relation with Cuba. He wants to end torture and close the prison at Guantanamo. He does not see the war on terrorism in the same way as Bush. He sees national security as more then guns and war but also jobs and justice. He has redefined in more democratic terms what it means to be an American. He defines patriotism in more democratic terms of racial unity and opportunity for all. His overall outlook is hard to define in right, left and center terms. What is clear is that it will create more recognition of and give more room to the people’s movements.

The election of Barack Obama is a great thing but in itself it will not eliminate structural racism. The continued struggle of the movements for civil and human rights is necessary to do that.

Give the Brother a Chance

To start, it is premature and pessimistic to be so negative towards Obama before he has even taken office, as so many on the left have become. And why would we assume that Obama, who has the power to hire and fire, would be controlled by his appointees rather then the other way around? Some of his appointments to his economic team do raise question because of past behavior in other administrations, but this is a different time and a different administration. And besides in almost every vital area, the stated policy, i.e. what Obama says he will implement, moves in a good direction.

Secondly, we have been living under conservative, right-wing administrations for most of the last 30 years. Obama has stated over and over again that he is committed to reversing the damage they did. It too early to determine what the Obama administration as a whole will be like.

Obama has numerous times called a movement from the bottom up to fight for change. Frankly I think it is the broad coalition of Labor and peoples forces that elected him that what will determine what is possible. That is the stronger pressure needed from the left. And if the left does its job the people’s movement will be a decisive factor in what happens in the future.

Uniting the Country

The political reality demands a high level of tactics in order to make lasting change after years of right-wing dominance. Fifty-seven million people voted against Obama. At this time of severe economic crisis, it is necessary to win over and/or neutralize a large number of supporters of the old order in order for the new administration to be able to govern. To pick pragmatic, as opposed to dogmatic, ideological Republicans to be a part of his cabinet shows the Obama camp is concerned about the support the right still has and the damage it could do.

At this point it is almost impossible to avoid some traces of the old order in the new order. But the important thing is to go forward with the program of change and the President Elect is doing exactly that.

We are not at a stage to change the economic system, though after the collapse there is renewed interest in what that would mean. At this point we are able to substantially change the situation in favor of the working class and oppressed.

Having said that, there are some important changes underway. We are moving away from a time where, for example, the civil rights division of the Justice Department and a Congress used to be controlled by those opposed to civil rights and affirmative action to one under the leadership of a liberal who is the first African American Attorney General. We're going from Karl Rove as Bush's top domestic adviser to Melody Barnes, the Black woman who will be the new Domestic Policy Adviser. From a labor department that’s opposed to the trade union movement, we will have one that won’t oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.

A younger liberal minority on the Supreme Court could out last the aging right-wing majority. Susan Rice, an African American women as US ambassador to the United Nations who actually supports the UN, will replace Ambassador Richard Bolton who is openly for destroying the world body. There is plenty of criticism of Hillary Clinton for supporting the Iraq war etc., but Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in a Barack Obama administration is a real change for the better compared to Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administration.

I think an objective analysis of the real situation we face will show that this election probably saved the country from total collapse. As a nation, we are much better positioned to solve the huge multiple crises we face with Obama/Biden in the White House and a Democratically controlled Congress then if the situation were reversed.

Just imagine what life would be like if we faced four more years of an administration that, in the face of the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, believed the “solutions” are to bail out the bankers, provide more tax cuts for the rich, block public works stimulus package for the working class, impose new cuts in working class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and used the crisis to destroy the labor movement. That’s the agenda that McCain and Palin campaigned on. Their administration would feel free to keep all US troops in Iraq for years if not for decades because they believed this was a winnable war. How tragic would that have been. The Obama/Biden and larger Democratic majority in the Congress should not be taken lightly. It was a huge victory.

Remember we are moving from Bush/Cheney and neo-con control of our government (all three branches from 2004 to 2006) and right-wing dominance of national political discourse through government policy to the media/ think-tank network they controlled.

I think the Obama camp shows they understand the complexities of the political moment because they are moving with tactic precision. They’re cabinet picks show they understand the kind of post electoral coalition it takes to make the kind of changes they seek.

A Sea Change

There has been a big sea change in the thinking and assessments of most of the US people. Most people are fed up with Bush specifically and the right wing in general. They correctly hold them mainly responsible for the economic crisis and the conduct of the war. The people showed that their desire for change was strong: stronger than anti-communist and racist appeals made by the McCain camp. These same appeals – with some vote stealing – won in 2004. They failed in 2008, however, because the people were in another place in their thinking. Obama understood this; McCain did not. This is the new political reality. And with people in motion, what derailed the movement in the past will spur it on today. For most Americans there is a reason to believe that change is coming. Frankly, most people are, at this point, more than willing to give at least the benefit of the doubt to Obama’s appointees. And that is to be respected, not ridiculed.

The recent broad support for the workers sit-in at the Republic Window Co. in Chicago and the mass reaction to the Republican’s attempt to use the auto bail-out to break the UAW shows a new more militant mood in the post election. That’s what should be given the most consideration.

A Chance to Make the Change

In his victory speech in Chicago Obama made a very important point, “This is not the change we seek” he said, “this is a chance to make the changes we seek.”

Understandably, a lot of questions persist in this pre inaugural period. And we should not be caught up in a lot of guesswork. This election had some very profound lessons for every one. They tell us a lot on where the US people are at politically and where they want to take things. The prize that we need to keep our eyes on is what direction the people want take our country after the election.

What Obama is thinking is most critical of course, but the possibility for change is ultimately in the hands of the people.

Obama made this point many times when he said that he stood on the shoulders of the great civil rights fighters of the past. He knew that he could not have won the presidency if it were not for the blood, sweat, and tears shed by those who fought for the right to vote which resulted in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Today there are 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 47 African American mayors of cities 50,000 or more and over 10,000 Black elected officials. And their presence continues the fightback started from the fight against slavery until today. We must remember the past struggles laid the basis for today’s victories. Hope and the dignity of a people

When I look at this election I cannot help but think of all the indignities our people and the racially oppressed as a whole have had to endure for hundreds of years.

And I’m thinking about January 20th win the first Black president will be sworn in and he and his family will be escorted into the White House. That image of this beautiful African American family entering the White House a building built by slaves but where Blacks, for most of it’s existence outside of staff, had been barred from entering. This house will now be the home of the Obama family – the first family of the United States will be descendents of slaves. And what a mighty blow against racism it is that Michelle Obama will be our first lady, and Malia and Sasha will be the most recognized and adored children in the country.

The African American people, from the time of our capture, kidnap and involuntary servitude to today, have had to endure indignities and insults too numerous to catalog here.

On the media today most of the images of African Americans remain negative, degrading, distorted and false. The way Obama conducted himself as a candidate gave new pride and dignity to every person of color. While McCain and Palin used racism, anti-communism and slander, Obama stuck to the issues and stayed on the high road. He won a landslide, and he won it with dignity. What a powerful image to put before the American people. The Obama’s presented a proud image for all to see. This is created a new since of pride among the oppressed.

The whole country saw Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin at the Republican Convention, trying to ridicule Obama because of his background as a community organizer. But he wore his community organizer credentials like a badge of honor. Ironically, it was the use of techniques used by community organizer that made his campaign far superior to the McCain campaign. It was the grassroots organization and the use of the Internet that won the day. The election of Obama demands a continuation of the many sided struggle against racism that helped win the election. That alone is a reason to celebrate, but there is so much more. Some lessons

This election debunked many wrong assessments. It showed that the multi-racial US working class can be mobilized against racism. It showed that there is a high level of anti-racist class consciousness among our class and people, and that unity can and must be built if there is to be progress.

Since its founding, the Communist Party has been saying that the unity of all people of all nationalities, races, and ethnicities is a necessity, and it is possible. For 90 years the Communist Party has fought for the understanding that racism could be defeated through unity based on working class interest and an appeal to morality as well.

We have also argued that the movement approach to elections is the only way to defeat the right wing. Election time is not the time to sit on the sidelines and simply observe and criticize candidates and their policies. It’s a time when great gains can be made even when the choices are not that great. Movements of struggle, we argue, need to get involved in elections and find the ways to convince voters to vote on the their issues. They had to get involved and link their issues to the ballot box and get involved in grassroots organizing. The US labor movement has grown to understand and has played a magnificently decisive role really in election after election. And now it has a very good chance to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which will lead to an historic expansion of its ranks. And that will be a real contribution to all movements considering the supportive role labor has been in so many progressive causes.

Finally, I recently heard Bishop Tutu talk about the what the Obama victory means. He spoke eloquently about it’s meaning to people of color all over the world. Every Black child is walking with an extra spring in their step, he said. They are walking with their heads held high with pride. They are thinking, “I too can become President.” “The barriers of racism can be thrown down.”

He went on to say, the election of Obama should mean an end to the Bush “Bully Boy” foreign policy. It should end unilateralism – preemptive war, no respect for other peoples and nations. It should mean an end to opposition to world opinion, international law, and the Kyoto protocols.

He said many Americans must feel like he felt when he cast his first vote in 1994. He said, “It was like the feeling one get when you are falling in love.” He was 63 and Mandela in his 70’s when they voted for the first time. What a wonderful way to put it. When I heard him on WBAI FM (Pacifica in New York) I thought of my parents who were raised in North Carolina where they were disenfranchised. They were well in their twenties and living in Philadelphia before they could vote. They would have truly appreciated and celebrated Barack Obama’s victory.

If you really understand what this election meant you should be feeling similar feelings as the Bishop in 1994. It is not an end but a new beginning. We have to be more confident and optimistic today then we were before Nov. 4th.

--Jarvis Tyner is the Executive Vice Chair of the Communist Party USA. Join the Communist Party here.