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The Left & the Barack Obama phenomenon: the good, the bad and the empty.

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Message Michael Corcoran
It was somewhat amusing to watch Hillary Clinton as her campaign, once widely thought to be invincible, began to fall apart. Facing the increasing likelihood of losing the nomination to Mr. Hope himself, Clinton took to outright mockery in describing the junior senator from Illinois and his seductive narrative of hope, unity and change.
"I could just stand up here and say 'Let's just get everybody together, let's get unified,'" she told supporters at a rally in Providence, Rhode Island. "The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect."

At this stage of Clinton's flailing campaign, the move comes off as desperate. With polls showing a likely Obama triumph, the Clinton camp has had to pull out all the stops - including accusing Obama of disloyalty to Israel in the latest Newsweek cover story.

Still, we have to admit: she has a point. While Obama's stump speeches speak glowingly of dramatic change, his policies fail to match up; in fact, his policy positions are, in many cases, barely distinguishable from those of Clinton. And on some crucial domestic issues, he is actually outflanking her from the right.

Of course, there are some positives about the Obama phenomenon. He is clearly preferable to Clinton, whose record (in the senate and as first lady) on trade, welfare, gay marriage, the War in Iraq, and media regulation has been horrendous. Obama, a one-term Senator with a background as a community organizer, is far less entrenched in the Washington establishment than Clinton. Further, he opposed the invasion of Iraq and supports some level of diplomacy with Iran, Venezuela and other countries that have typically poor relations with the US.

More important, I think, is the mass outpouring of grassroots support that Obama has received. While I doubt very much that Obama is the vehicle for change his supporters think he is, the fact that millions of Americans have donated time, money and sweat into trying to make this country a little more humane, speaks volumes about the American peoples' desire for change. This shows the very real potential for more significant social movements to succeed in the not-so-distant future.

And, this happens at a time when the conservative movement, once monolithic in its control of all three branches of government, is collapsing due to poor leadership and a sharp disconnect with the American public on foreign and domestic policy.

These are all positive things. But we lose out by romanticizing Obama's platform - which is still well to the right of the majority of the public on virtually all of the crucial issues.

Obama and foreign policy

Since the executive branch has far more influence over foreign affairs than it does over domestic issues, it makes sense to begin there. As I noted, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, But Obama's record since that vote has been pretty dismal.

For starters, Obama has voted repeatedly to fund the war he opposed. As Dennis Kucinich noted last year,

"[Obama's] voted to fund the war at least ten times, each time, it's like reauthorizing it all over again. If they keep voting to fund the war, it's not credible to say they are for peace."

In fact, just when members of the newly-elected 110th congress were beginning to square off against Bush over Iraq legislation lst March, Obama made a point to cave into the president, asserting that he does not want "to play chicken with our troops," by threatening to cut of funding for the war.

And even now that Obama is trying to run as the anti-war candidate, he still refused to say he would have the troops out by 2013. On Feb 29, the Wall Street Journal reported that "significant numbers of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq regardless who wins in November. One of Obama's senior advisors told the Journal that Obama was "comfortable with a long-term U.S. troop presence of around five brigades, which -- depending on the numbers of support troops and other personnel -- would likely leave around 35,000 troops in Iraq."

Obama defended his record to reporters. "I have been very clear even as a candidate that, once we were in (Iraq), that we were going to have some responsibility to make it work as best we could," he said.

On foreign issues other than Iraq, Obama offers even less substantive change. For example, Obama is a proud interventionist. When Obama gave a click here at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs outlining his foreign policy views, Robert Kagan, one of the world's foremost hawks, who along with Bill Kristol co-founded PNAC, wrote glowingly about it.

"America must 'lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.' With those words, Barack Obama put an end to the idea that the alleged overexuberant idealism and America-centric hubris of the past six years is about to give way to a new realism, a more limited and modest view of American interests, capabilities and responsibilities."

One can only imagine Kagen, a staunch unilateralist, also enjoyed Obama's expressed willingness to "attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government." Obama's piece in Foreign Affairs should likewise put to rest any idea that he is seeks to lessen the United States' interventionist ways. In this piece he praises Roosevelt and Kennedy for building strong militaries and asserting US dominance around the world. And Obama, like Clinton, has not even discussed the possibility of cutting the bloated military budget, which is currently larger than that of the next 168 biggest spenders combined.

In terms of the Middle East, it comes as no surprise that Obama has taken a very assertive pro-Israel stance: all Democrats take a pro-Israel stance, especially ones that hope to become president.

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Michael Corcoran is a freelance writer based in Boston who has been published by The Boston Globe, The Nation, Common Dreams, Alternet, CBSNews.com, Campus Progress, Blast Magazine, and Extra!. His work, focusing largely on foreign policy, the (more...)
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