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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/13/11

Once again: Why Obama won't--and can't--be Roosevelt

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In attempting to explain why Obama made the decisions he did, however, Westen reduces great historical questions to the small change of personality and temperament, citing "lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history."

He writes: "Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography""

These aspects of Obama's biography are significant, but only in demonstrating that his elevation to the presidency was not the result of his personal achievements, but rather a decision by powerful sections of the ruling elite that a change in image and personnel was needed, along with some adjustments in foreign policy after the disasters of the Bush years, and a young African-American Democrat with conservative and solidly pro-capitalist loyalties would fit the bill.

While Westen faults Obama for his failure to indict the Wall Street criminals for causing the 2008 crash, it was precisely his behavior during those critical weeks that reassured the ruling elite that he could be entrusted with the presidency. While Republican John McCain improvised wildly -- suspending his campaign, attempting to cancel the first debate, then reversing himself -- and congressional Republicans precipitated a stock market collapse by initially voting down the bailout bill, Obama lined up 100 percent behind the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve in mobilizing every possible federal resource to save the banks and speculators.

September 2008 was Obama's final audition for the White House, and he passed with flying colors. Why should anyone expect anything different from his presidency?

Westen ends his lament with a litany of complaints about the growing economic inequality in America, where "400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans...the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically...we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates."

Obama's failure to challenge this social reality is not a personal one, or the result of individual policy choices. It rather is an objectively determined expression of very different circumstances from those that prevailed when Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House. The major difference is the long-term historical decline of American capitalism.

When Roosevelt took office, the economic conditions were even more dire than those confronting Obama in January 2009, but even in the depths of the Great Depression the United States was still the most powerful capitalist nation, with enormous economic reserves and industrial might. Today, however, the United States is a declining power, with a national debt approaching $17 trillion, an enormous negative balance of trade, and a shrinking industrial base.

Obama's failure to offer a New Deal or echo the reformist rhetoric of FDR is not merely the product of his failure of imagination. It is an expression of the un-viability of such a policy today and the lack of support for it in the American ruling elite.

In the 1930s, fearful of the recent example of the Russian Revolution, facing immense upheavals from the American working class, the US capitalist class could afford to part with a relatively small portion of its vast wealth to stave off social and political disaster. Today it can neither afford nor envision such a policy. That makes a revolutionary settling of accounts by the American working class all the more necessary and historically inevitable.

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Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (, a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).
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