The Second Election of Barack Obama: A Balance Sheet for the Laboring Class and their Allies
by Michael Rectenwald, www.legitgov.org and Jonathan Munis 14 Nov 2012
Barack Obama remains President of the United States of America, the office that accords the greatest power to a single individual in known human history. Although Obama's re-election represents a victory over the vulture capitalist, Mitt Romney, who likes to fire people, the historical outcome nevertheless bodes ill for the laboring class and its allies in their ongoing struggle against the buyers of labor, the capitalist class. Barack Obama, who was heralded as the champion of "hope and change" in 2008, and subsequently and without much fanfare continued and extended the legacy of the maligned George W. Bush in nearly every respect, presented himself, along with a vast array of media outlets and celebrities from ABC to Jay-Z, as the candidate for "forward" progress in 2012. In this series, special analyst Jonathan Munis and I will examine the prospects for the vast majority, the workers and their allies, under this "forward" motion promised by a second Obama administration.
The working class entered the last electoral period with its welfare in immediate jeopardy, as seemingly no official in government or expert in economics had predicted the onset of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, or prescribed a remedy in terms viable for the vast majority. Foreshadowing the policies of his presidency, candidate Obama vigorously lobbied and obligingly voted for the bailout crafted by Bush's Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, as a matter of course. As a CLG editorial declaimed at the time, Obama supported the world's largest transfer of public wealth into private coffers in history -- as a matter of absolute necessity to "rescue" the public from imminent financial catastrophe. However, no relief, emergency or otherwise, was in the offing for working people, the poor, all those underwater on their mortgages, and those many millions who lost their jobs. This act, clearly demonstrating his capitalist class allegiance and preceding his actual presidency, was to set the tone for the four years to come, and as will be shown, the remaining years of his presidency.
But what is the relationship between the working class and Barack Obama and the Democratic Party? The full story involves recounting a long historical journey, but in short, there is no necessary or immediate relationship between the working-class and the Democratic Party and Barack Obama – other than antagonism and purported support. In the United States, unlike the case in most of the so-called developed world, the bourgeoisie has never found it necessary to compromise to the extent of erecting a false version of working-class representation: never has a so-called "labor" or "social democratic" party been necessary to contain working-class struggles, nor have the reforms and comprehensive national redistribution or concession appropriate to such a form been employed. Rather, division within the working class has sufficed. The New Deal, it should be recalled, was a social democracy for urban white workers only, and specifically excluded casualized, black, and farm labor, in principle. This reality has hung menacingly over the political, economic and social prospects of the working class ever since.
From its outset in the 19th century, the American working-class movement has been sharply divided along racial and ethnic lines, and consequently the showdown has rarely taken the form of exploited labor as such, against the exploiters. The pattern continues today. Although vulgar leftists routinely portray the Democratic Party as a kind of bastard party of the workers, the truth is that the immediate producers have always been divided across the two-party system, and thus disunited and rendered virtually inert.
The Obama coalition, as official media dubs it, has successfully maintained a vice-like grip on ethnic minority workers, as well as organized white workers. Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to disorient unorganized white workers and rural populations more generally, on "cultural" and purported "privilege" grounds.
The Obama coalition has placed an ever more reactionary spin on the prevailing liberal form of identity politics. As the Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford has noted, Obama is not the lesser evil, he is the "more effective evil." Although he has managed to identify his administration with opposition to Republican privatization and austerity, his own regime of austerity will hardly represent gains for workers or the preservation of the civil and social gains of racial minorities and other culturally disfavored groups (women, sexual minorities). Quite the contrary, his policies will usher in the austerity that his supporters voted to oppose.
Already, the President's ethnicity has allowed him to oversee an utter collapse in black household wealth and wages, as well as a significant rise in unemployment. Such an erosion of black living standards would hardly have been met with silence by the black community leadership and its petty bourgeoisie had it been overseen by a Republican like George W. Bush, or even a white Democrat like Bill Clinton or John Kerry. Obama's continued austerity measures, if met with similar silence, will mean an even greater consolidation of draconian Democratic politics. With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?
Meanwhile, appeals in the opposite direction are made to professional and educated white liberals, who are flattered and ingratiated for their "progressive" identity politics by Obama and the Democrats, and are likewise encouraged to malign their natural class counterparts among the white working-class Republicans. This combination of self-flattery, ingratiation and denigration is precisely aimed at ruling out cross-party politics and results in the cultural and political isolation of white workers currently atomized and co-opted by rightist nostalgic politics. In short, together, the Democrats and Republicans have engineered a remarkable division of the working class along the lines of identity politics, which is a relative evil for precisely this reason.
As it stands, therefore, the re-election of Barack Obama forecloses even a hint of cross-party formation and must be regarded as a significantly negative development for the prospects of the world working class. As the coming weeks will show, the Obama regime, under vulgar left cover and FDR-like-rhetorical wrappings, will extend its austerity agenda, while continuing to divide the working class in order to better exploit it.
In future installments, we will examine the details of the election campaign and final voting patterns, the likely policy agenda for Obama's newly invigorated reactionary regime both domestically and abroad, and the prospects for the class struggle over the next four years.
The Rec Report --Commentary by Michael Rectenwald, CLG Founder and Editorialist