Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It does make a difference

Tribune Column
Ian Williams

Almost three decades ago, many traditional Labour supporters were so disenchanted with James Callaghan that they decided that there was not enough difference to support the Labour Party. They got Margaret Thatcher, who proved them wrong, in a big way.

In the USA, many on the left felt the same way about Gore and then Kerry, and voted for Nader. George W Bush proved twice over that, yes, indeed it did make a difference. A couple of hundred thousand dead Iraqis will bear eloquent testimony to that abroad, while at home the effective abrogation of significant portions of the constitution should also suggest some differences.

As George Orwell said about wars, there are few elections in which one side is not more progressive – or as the case may be, reactionary – than the other.

Needless to say, there are the usual suspects on the American left who see Obama as reactionary running under false colours, and they will, if they vote at all, vote for Ralph Nader.

It will make a difference, even if exercising their vote scars their tender ideological consciences. One does not have to join those so enthralled by Obama that they have hopelessly optimistic expectations to see why it is important for him to win.

For a start, consider Obama’s opponent. McCain’s positions on almost every issue are bad and getting worse as he heads rightwards to pander to the palaeoconservatives and the conservative Christian evangelicals. Much has been made of McCain being a maverick – but since that includes singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”, to a Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann, maverickhood should not be that reassuring. Being a victim of Bush’s dirty tricks is not enough to canonize McCain, not least since he has kissed and made up.

Just the prospect of another Republican president tightening the reactionary grip on the Supreme Court should worry any American who does not want a police state. It should even give some pause to the embittered so-called feminist supporters of Hillary Clinton who have declared that they would vote for McCain rather than Obama.

Pundits discuss how Obama is moving towards the centre (which is of course to the right) in order to be electable. And it certainly helps to get funding. Obama and his aides see his gross pandering to the Israel Lobby after he had secured the nomination as part of the price for election.

Obama will be far from perfection – but for almost anyone in the world, a halt, let alone a reversal, of the Republican project to make the planet safe for billionaires at the expense of everybody else is worth working for. Pundits discuss how he is moving towards the centre (which is of course to the right) in order to be electable. And it certainly helps to get funding.

Despite some last minute triangulations on Obama’s part, anyone prepared to talk to the Cubans, Iranians and others instead of boycotting and bombing the imaginary Axis of Evil, has got to be a major advance for humanity.

So any American voters mentally present on the planet’s surface should be supporting Obama, who is so far doing well in the polls, despite slimy racist attacks from Fox and the like. Indeed, one would like to think that it is in reaction to such tasteless smears that Fox News’ viewership is slipping compared with CNN’s and other more subtle channels.

Despite Murdoch, for a country steeped in the ghosts of slavery, Obama’s ratings are little short of miraculous. In fact, insofar as they represent revulsion with Bush and Republicans, they may be one of the few positive achievements of this presidency.

So what are Obama’s chances? First the good news. Barack Obama has raised so much money that he is dispensing with the public funding that would have set limits to his spending. Second, the bad news. Obama has so much money – and he is getting much of it from people who have lots of it and, shall we say, may not have the best interests of working people at heart. On the other hand, cleared of their residual obligations to corporate lawyer and ex-Walmart director Hillary Clinton, the unions have rushed to offer their considerable financial and organizational support to Obama.

Which brings us back to Clintons. Bill is unrepentantly hostile to the winner, and Hillary herself is much more reconciled in public than in private. She has to show support to maintain any standing in the Democratic Party, whose leaders were getting increasingly restive at the damage she was causing.

But sources from inside the campaign suggest that she has not given up hope of a miracle that would remove Obama with a leap and a bound and leave her as the anointed candidate. Her comment on the assassination of front-runner Robert Kennedy was a revealing hint at her thought processes. Without going so far as to accuse her of planning an assassination, some of her team do not discount the probability that one of the crazed racist gunlovers who abound in the USA may open up possibilities.

Tasteless jokes about the “White” House being renamed and the Rose Garden becoming a watermelon patch are the revealing tips of an ugly resentment from a significant minority who see Obama’s election as the end of civilization as they know it. That alone should prove that there is indeed a difference.

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