Now in 2008, the population certainly chose the candidate who represented the greatest range of change among those who were offered. America rejected those who had gone along with the Iraq war in favor of one who clearly opposed it from the beginning. The population clearly voted for a change of direction practically from the bottom up. And the evidence is strong that Obama actually won by a much greater margin than the official totals show. Now the question is how much change are we really going to see.
The country is so crippled by the actions and inactions of the current government that options are now extremely limited. Bush and the compliant Congress have brought us to a point of disaster, of having to struggle just for survival. But apart from that, the actions and inactions of Obama since the election seem to indicate increasingly that he is bent on representing the forces resisting change more than the forces supporting it. One after another the appointments that have come in seem to show Obama wooing almost every constituency other than those who want a clear break from the past.
What is still good is that the people pushed off the old in favor of the clearest statement of change in the political spectrum. It is the people who drove this election, who rejected Bush, McCain and the other establishment figures presented to them in favor of the one who represented the largest break from the past. It is the people -- us -- who must now lead the change from here. No one can say for sure what Obama's plans or intentions are, but if he plans to cozy up to the corporate establishment and assist its efforts to hold back the change demanded by the population, we have to see that he does not succeed in that.
The latest in Obama's list of disturbing appointments is former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack is a strong supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn (see gene.ch and organicconsumers.org). He was also the founder and the former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership. He's a favorite of agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. According to the Organic Consumers Association, "While Vilsack has promoted respectable policies with respect to restraining livestock monopolies, his overall record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or factory farms and promoting genetically engineered crops and animal cloning. Equally troubling is Vilsack's support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production, which has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world." The association has posted a petition to block Vilsack's confirmation as the next Secretary of Agriculture.
Vilsack is only the latest appointment from Obama that strikes an off-key tone. My sense has been that he wants to build a strong base, bring opposition into the tent, focus on the big issues and succeed in them, then move forward from there. That may well be what he has in mind, but at the same time, the powers that he is cozying up to are entrenched corporate and big money interests, and we the people have to make sure that he gives us as much attention as he gives them.
In terms of his appointments I have tended to withhold judgment because, as he says, he will still be providing the overall leadership and setting the tone of the administration. He has not yet made any policies. He's not the president yet. The most disappointing thing to me so far has been his unwillingness to speak out against the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, the aggression against the people there, weakly justified by some pathetic aggressive acts by the Hamas group. Killing hundreds of innocent people seems to be okay as long as they are certain people, people with no political power and no one to come to their defense. Of course Hamas' launching missiles into Israel is also unacceptable, but it does not justify this heavy-handed response, including the killing of so many defenseless people.
Even though he is not yet in office, it should not be that hard for Obama to speak as an individual citizen in defense of helpless people, to speak against mass destruction and murder no matter who commits it. Obviously Obama is not Martin Luther King, but it would be nice if he adopted some more of the basic decency and humanitarian values of King instead of adopting the calloused acceptance of murder of the political class.
Meanwhile, after a week of air strikes on a people who have no defense, Israel is launching a ground invasion into Gaza. (New York Times) The U.S. stands aside, watching, providing weapons and support, not even protesting against the carnage.
This is the beginning of a new era. We the people have forced a change. It is a biological phenomenon. The Bush era is over, that is one sure thing. The next era is yet to be defined. Obama is as different from Bush as the political spectrum offers. He is a brilliant young man, with broad experience as an African American living in the U.S. and Asia. He was a professor of constitutional law. He worked his way up from the bottom. He wrote an excellent memoir (Dreams from My Father) that shows a man of depth and sensitivity practically unheard of in the political sphere in America. He dedicated years of his life to community organizing, turning away from opportunities to make big money in favor of working for the improvement of the lives of poor people. He is not Bush. He is not typical. But what he is, or what kind of presidency he will have, we don't yet know. We the people just have to make as much noise and exert as much pressure on him as he is already getting from the corporatocracy.
With the election of Obama we are really thrust into existential politics. We have collectively taken an existential leap, that is, an action the results of which cannot be reliably foretold. We are making this moment in history.
Anything, no matter how disastrous, brings some good. What good the Bush administration brought is way down at the bottom of a barrel of body parts, but it has the potential to give birth to a great legacy, and that is that Bush got enough people pissed off that it forced people to rediscover the value of participatory democracy, and to realize the fact that it is ultimately the only deterrent to tyranny. We are in place. We have earned ourselves a renaissance, the right to move into more creative realms of human existence. But we have to continue this democratic action and evolve it to new heights. We have to create a vibrant new culture for a free society in the 21st century. It's a job we cannot abdicate.