Change is Manifest -- A friend of mine has been telling me emphatically for months that Obama is a fraud, mocking his claim to be an agent of change, and now says that Obama's choices for his appointments are proof that it is true. Obama is appointing ex-Clinton people, even ex-Bush people like Robert Gates, the former head of the Federal Reserve, Wall Street titans, various establishment figures. Obama is just a young, black face on an old establishment. This has some validity. The change Obama offers is very limited. Those who expected Obama to usher in a new age of peace and love and prosperity may be disappointed, though I don't think I've run into anyone who has such extravagant expectations of him. He is not going to create something totally new. He's not going to pull down the international capitalist system. He is not starting with a clean slate. He's starting from the status quo and has to begin by dealing with the massive mechanisms of government as they are.
He's shown himself to be quite sophisticated about how those things work. I'm not trying to second guess him about what he is doing right now. He has to bear the responsibility for a collapsing financial system. I don't. As I see his program unfold, I'm not sure I think the way he is proceeding is such a bad strategy, even though I don't like the idea of someone from the Bush league being retained to head the Department of Defense. Many of Obama's actions have disappointed me. But if he is able to create a strong base, in which he has consolidated people from within the establishment representing a range of opinions within it, he may be more effective than if he brings in a bunch of hip, young dudes with stars in their eyes and tries to rebuild it from scratch.
Effective at what? you may ask. What good is effective if he's just extending the status quo that so badly needs to be changed? I would say effective at dealing with the very broadly based consensual issues, like derailing the utter collapse of the global financial system, and withdrawing from Iraq. This must all be assessed within the framework of how broken down the country is that the Bush-Cheney administration has left us. If Obama is able to achieve some success on some of these major fronts, having brought much of the establishment and opposition into his tent, he will be in a powerful position to move forward. I don't have illusions that he will follow an agenda that's tailored to my wishes. But I do disagree with people who say there is no change. I believe that change is already manifest. I think it's easier to see this point by turning attention away from Obama the individual personality and looking at the cultural and political movement that lifted him to where he is.
Obama is as much a product of change as he is an agent of it. Focusing on the cult of personality can distort things in either a favorable or unfavorable direction. It's easy to focus resentment on Obama because of what he is not. He is a product of the political system and has reached his present position as a result of his deft manuevering within that system. It's unrealistic to expect him to be totally apart from that system.
One could make the case that the global capitalist system is such an utter failure that it should be torn down, or left to die. It never supported vast numbers of people. It allowed a relative few to prosper by institutionalizing predatory actions towards the rest of the population and the natural world. Now it can't even function to support the rich.
In the '80s free market fundamentalism became so extreme that it set up expectations for profit that could often only be met by dismantling companies piece by piece and selling them off. Later when there was little left to dismantle, the big corporations began meeting their growth projections by cooking the books. Now that practice has bled the country dry. The system is bankrupt. It has devoured itself.
But while a part of of me may say, "Good! They got what they deserved! Let capitalism collapse!" we must remember that we are the system. We are its organic structure. If the capitalist system is going to collapse, we need to find a soft landing in some alternative or we may lose our means for survival. We need a transition from the failed capitalism of the present to some workable alternative. Probably the best we can hope for in the near future is something like Franklin Roosevelt enacted: a modified capitalism.
Howard Zinn calls Roosevelt his favorite president because of the sensitivity and effectiveness with which Roosevelt handled the crises of the Depression, but Zinn thinks Roosevelt didn't go far enough. Many will no doubt think Obama is not going far enough in many ways, but right now the stakes are high. Survival and stability are the first orders of business. Assembling heavy hitters from the establishment does not seem like a bad way to proceed right now. Getting caught up in oppositional stasis, and knee-jerk political tussling at a time like this could be fatal.
To make the point that change is already manifest we have to take measure of where we are, and of what we have left behind. It is important for "we the people" to take credit and responsibility for that change. If you think of change in terms of what the politicians and rulers grant to the people, it is easy to be resentful of the political class for having granted so little in terms of fundamental change. But positive change for the people has never been granted, it has always been seized. And if we look at this last wave of change in terms of what the population has done for itself, it is easier to find something to appreciate.
Indicative of the contrast between where we are and where we were -- we now have an elected president for the first time in this century. Flawed as our electoral system may be, he played it and he got more votes than his opponent. Bush, in contrast, did not achieve a majority of the votes and only succeeded in shoving his way into power by crudely manipulating the system through disenfranchising voters and getting help from low members of the high court. The population sat still and let it happen. Once in office he revealed his true character. After campaigning as a "Compassionate Conservative" he launched an aggressive far right agenda. And after squeaking in with a minority of voters behind him, he governed as if he had a huge mandate for an extreme agenda. He claimed dictatorial powers, even joked that "it would be easier if this were a dictatorship." He claimed the power to imprison anyone he wanted without charges, to hold prisoners as long as he wanted and to torture them. He claimed the authority to launch an unprovoked attack on any country his boys deemed a potential threat by virtue of the possession of military power. Again, the population and the political and media classes let him get away with it. In many countries with more vital political cultures, the population would not have stood for it. But Americans did. This was a very bad precedent and as long as it stood, and they remained in power -- committing one outrage after another -- it was a very bad thing for America. It was the responsibility of the American people to stop it. And we finally did.
Bush tore down the country, tore down the economy, broke the treasury, destroyed America's respect and credibility in the world. He claimed the Geneva conventions were not relevant anymore. He launched a war of choice against a defenseless country and killed hundreds of thousands of people. The damage he wrought is incalculable. We don't have to review every outrage again at the moment. What happened now is that the American people redeemed themselves. They finally had had enough. They remembered that democracy and human rights must be fought for and they got up and fought. In 2004, they came out in sufficient numbers to cast a majority of votes against Bush, even though the alternative was uninspiring and too much like Bush to present a clear alternative. But the numbers were not great enough to overcome the voting machine manipulations in Ohio and the public was once again stuck with Bush.
Having not been elected a second time, Bush went into his second term with barely 50 percent approval ratings, and it was all downhill from there. Finally in 2008, enough of the two-thirds of the public who were opposed to Bush and to his war came out and worked to end the tyrannical regime. This is the change that is manifest. We the people succeeded in throwing off the Bush addministration, in spite of its vast and ruthless power and its willingness to use anything as a political weapon. This milestone is not the completion of the cycle of change that is desperately needed now. It is only a start. But it is in itself a huge change. We have created a new atmosphere in which new things are possible.
Collectively the people of America and the rest of the earth have succeeded in pushing off the Bush-Cheney infection, a rogue regime that seized power and ruled through secrecy and fear. We have earned ourselves a new start. Now it is up to us collectively, through each of our actions, to determine the characteristics of this new world.