Beware of Obama’s Groundhog Day

One of the cleverest films I have seen is Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who finds himself stuck in time. At first he deludes himself that the same day and the same people and the same circumstances offer new opportunities. Finally, his naivety and false hope desert him and he realizes the truth of his predicament and escapes. Is this a parable for the age of Obama?

Having campaigned with “Change you can believe in,” President-elect Barack Obama has named his A-team. They include Hillary Clinton, who voted to attack Iraq without reading the intelligence assessment and has since threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran on behalf of a foreign power, Israel. During his primary campaign, Obama referred repeatedly to Clinton’s lies about her political record. When he appointed her secretary of state, he called her “my dear friend.”

Obama’s slogan is now “continuity”. His secretary of defense will be Robert Gates, who serves the lawless, blood-soaked Bush regime as secretary of defense, which means secretary of war (America last had to defend itself when the British invaded in 1812). Gates wants no date set for an Iraq withdrawal and “well north of 20,000” troops to be sent to Afghanistan. He also wants America to build a completely new nuclear arsenal, including “tactical” nuclear weapons that blur the distinction with conventional weapons.

Another product of “continuity” is Obama’s first choice for CIA chief, John Brennan, who shares responsibility for the systematic kidnapping and torturing of people, known as “extraordinary rendition.” Obama has assigned Madeleine Albright to report on how to “strengthen US leadership in responding to genocide.” Albright, as secretary of state, was largely responsible for the siege of Iraq in the 1990s, described by the UN’s Denis Halliday as genocide.

There is more continuity in Obama’s appointment of officials who will deal with the economic piracy that brought down Wall Street and impoverished millions. As in Bill Murray’s nightmare, they are the same officials who caused it. For example, Lawrence Summers will run the National Economic Council. As treasury secretary, according to the New York Times, he “championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the . . . instruments — aka toxic assets — that have spread financial losses [and] refused to heed critics who warned of dangers to come.”

There is logic here. Contrary to myth, Obama’s campaign was funded largely by rapacious capital, such as Citigroup and others responsible for the sub-prime mortgage scandal, whose victims were mostly African Americans and other poor people.

Is this a grand betrayal? Obama has never hidden his record as a man of a system described by Martin Luther King as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Obama’s dalliance as a soft critic of the disaster in Iraq was in line with most Establishment opinion that it was “dumb”. His fans include the war criminals Tony Blair, who has “hailed” his appointments, and Henry Kissinger, who describes the appointment of Hillary Clinton as “outstanding.” One of John McCain’s principal advisers, Max Boot, who is on the Republican Party’s far right, said: “I am “gobsmacked by these appointments. [They] could just as easily have come from a President McCain.”

Obama’s victory is historic, not only because he will be the first black president, but because he tapped in to a great popular movement among America’s minorities and the young outside the Democratic Party. In 2006 Latinos, the country’s largest minority, took America by surprise when they poured into the cities to protest against George W Bush’s draconian immigration laws. They chanted: “Si, se puede!” (“Yes we can!”), a slogan Obama later claimed as his own. His secretary for homeland security is Janet Napolitano who, as governor of Arizona, made her name by stoking hostility against Latino immigrants. She has militarized her state’s border with Mexico and supported the building of a hideous wall, similar to the one dividing occupied Palestine.

On election eve, reported Gallup, most Obama supporters were “engaged” but “deeply pessimistic about the country’s future direction.” My guess is that many people knew what was coming, but hoped for the best. In exploiting this hope, Obama has all but neutered the anti-war movement that is historically allied to the Democrats. After all, who can argue with the symbol of the first black president in this country of slavery, regardless of whether he is a warmonger? As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, Obama is a “brand” like none other, having won the highest advertising campaign accolade and attracted unprecedented sums of money. The brand will sell for a while. He will close Guantanamo Bay, whose inmates represent less than one percent of America’s 27,000 “ghost prisoners.” He will continue to make stirring, platitudinous speeches, but the tears will dry as people understand that President Obama is the latest manager of an ideological machine that transcends electoral power. Asked what his supporters would do when reality intruded, Stephen Walt, an Obama adviser, said: “They have nowhere else to go.”

Not yet. If there is a happy ending to the Groundhog Day of repeated wars and plunder, it may well be found in the very mass movement whose enthusiasts registered voters and knocked on doors and brought Obama to power. Will they now be satisfied as spectators to the cynicism of “continuity”? In less than three months, millions of angry Americans have been politicized by the spectacle of billions of dollars of handouts to Wall Street as they struggle to save their jobs and homes. It as if seeds have begun to sprout beneath the political snow. And history, like Groundhog Day, can repeat itself. Few predicted the epoch-making events of the 1960s and the speed with which they happened. As a beneficiary of that time, Obama should know that when the blinkers are removed, anything is possible.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (Bantam/Random House, 2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Petronius said on December 16th, 2008 at 11:11am #

    One ‘Bama will not a summer make….kreepy Kennedy’s notwithstanding. The madding crowd liked milk chocolate
    and they will have it and drink it too – spiked with koolaid.
    But like Alice in the Looking Glass, reality will dawn and
    hopefully this tea party will end….

  2. Max Shields said on December 16th, 2008 at 11:20am #

    Mr. Pilger,

    Good essay. One exception, check again on the who started the war of 1812 and over what. I don’t think the US has a “war” that can be claimed as true “self-defense” that wasn’t provoked by the USA.

  3. Don Hawkins said on December 16th, 2008 at 11:52am #

    Remember Bill Murray plays those parts very well and at the same time enjoys the very system he seems to see so well or is it the writers who see so well?

  4. bozh said on December 16th, 2008 at 1:09pm #

    pilger, in my opinion had written so much in this piece that is of little relevance.
    mostly he dwells on personalities. as if obama can’t find other people than hillary, gates, et al who will tow US line.
    which by now we all know what it is.
    half a dozen or even dozens of people from the ruling class is not the ruling class but part of it.
    we need to dwell on how to deter or stop US ruling class in perping more carnage.
    and i say, start a party w. a platform to make all wars illegal/immoral; bring on health care; provide higher education for all who want it.
    and perhaps nothing else.
    this platform may unite rightist and leftists. and so long the platform is not expanded for decades, it may sufficiently unite Left and Right to obtain their goals.
    the rest is just a curioso. the meat is in the three goals per above. thnx

  5. john andrews said on December 17th, 2008 at 1:26am #

    Just over two hundred years ago Tom Paine wrote:

    ‘Change of ministers amounts to nothing. One goes out, another comes in, and still the same measures, vices, and extravagance are pursued. It signifies not who is minister. The defect lies in the system. The foundation and superstructure of the government is bad.’

    No need to point out that nothing has really changed: witness the state opening of the UK parliament ; witness the new US Emperor.

    Free Democracy proposes an entirely new system of government; and that, or something very like it, needs to be promoted. Unless there is a really alternative system to offer hope to people, it stands to reason that the existing one must be perpetuated indefinitely.

    Free Democracy is a solution. http://www.freedemocrats.co.uk

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 17th, 2008 at 7:56am #

    Just watched the four rebels explain the state of the World and how it works. Here’s a different take. Remember my three little people who travel around the Universe doing things that dad doesn’t know about? Well a few light years from Earth they were watching the History Channel and the signal took about two day’s to get to them. This time was about the Temple Mount and it’s history. After watching this for an hour they just looked at one another and the older kid said maybe it’s time. They then headed for our moon the backside of the moon. After reaching the moon they pushed this red button and a very powerful beam of light surrounded the Temple Mount and the Temple with the rock began to rise into the air slowly rise into the air. They did this for a reason. In about an hour most human’s on Earth were watching this in disbelief. The Temple kept rising slowly until it was almost out of site. At this point the three little aliens turned up the volume on these rather large speakers that could be heard Worldwide. The older of the three in a deep voice, he took acting lessons, said people of Earth I put this here for all of you knowing you would need it. I am now taking it back as it is time. Use your knowledge and live in peace. Don’t eat to much it’s not good for you and beware of those that tuck in Hawaiian shirts. With that the Temple Mount was off into time and space. The three then had to decide what to do with the Temple so headed to the planet Xenon that was a few thousand years behind the Earth in the evolutionary process and thought it better to put it there than just floating in space and time. The older kid said remember don’t tell dad about any of this. The youngest of the three then said but the wise one that was another name for there dad told us he doesn’t know who or what the creator of all this is and these three were a few million years further advanced than human’s on Earth. No don’t tell him he will ground us. The three rebels were off again at light speed.

  7. Don Hawkins said on December 17th, 2008 at 8:07am #

    I just sent that to one of the financial channels this morning after watching four of the heavy weights from Wall Street explain how the World works.

  8. Don Hawkins said on December 17th, 2008 at 8:23am #

    I just sent that to one of the financial channels this morning after watching four of the heavy weights from Wall Street explain how the World works or more accurately how it doesn’t work.

  9. Ramsefall said on December 17th, 2008 at 2:20pm #

    Thanks for your input, John, always welcome. The US, and world politics in general, have a strong inclination to repeat themselves, successively more frequent as time passes and as we ascend the exponential curve toward critical mass — which is not only unavoidable, but equally as welcoming as your article.

    In a conversation last night upon my Stateside return from Colombia for the holidays, while discussing Amoeba and the socio-political direction of the US, I heard exactly what I believe summarizes the false hope in the false, half black-half white prophet, Barack Obama. The discussion developed into examining his recent appointees as his A-team cabinet. From Emanuel, Clinton, and Albright, to Summers, Gates and the rest of his war-wrecking crew for change that reflects the most recent Bush II policy upholders back through Clinton and Bush I, projections for his future destiny are not difficult to rationally discern.

    Upon hearing essentially that not having faith in Obama and visualizing the communal desired change would result in depression and apathy otherwise obfuscated by that faith, the immediate analogy which came to mind again was standing on roof amidst funnel cloud, Midwestern skies hoping that both the viewer and underlaying structure would break through unscathed; not a wise action to pursue. In short, accepting the truth for what it was while simultaneously being unaffected on an emotional level is just being realistic and rational, anything else is just a false front which from my observation is nonetheless permeating US society at present.

    It’s interesting to see how distracted the general public continues to be led along by empty promises by yet another corporate candidate who has apparently anchored some form of delusional sense of miracles among at least a portion of the public.

    Best to you.

  10. Don Hawkins said on December 18th, 2008 at 11:54am #

    Well those three little rebels got to Xenon with the Temple Mount and found that they already had one. Different shape same principal. So they put it in time and space about 7 light years outside our Galaxy with a homing signal because they were starting to find out there are infinite possible’s in the Universe. They then headed back to there Planet to see how the wise one that is another name for there dad was doing. Of course they would not tell there dad what they had been doing as against the rules. Little did they know that there dad knew all along what they were doing and did the same thing when he was younger. His nick name for those three little rebels was the best and the brightest but kept that to himself. Oh on there home Planet no such thing as profit way past that system.

  11. Thomas Mc said on December 18th, 2008 at 2:52pm #

    If Americans wanted “continuity,” they would have voted for McCain.

    Obama tricked the voters by promising change, which obivously is never going to come with him in the White House.

  12. Don Hawkins said on December 19th, 2008 at 6:44am #

    There is change a coming.

  13. Don Hawkins said on December 19th, 2008 at 7:21am #

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration is trying to make sure in its final days that federal air pollution regulations will not be used to control the gases blamed for global warming.

    In a memorandum sent Thursday, outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson sets an agency-wide policy prohibiting controls on carbon dioxide emissions from being included in air pollution permits for coal-fired power plants and other facilities.

    The decision could give the agency a legal basis for issuing permits that increase global warming pollution until the incoming Obama administration can change it, a process that would require a lengthy rulemaking process.

    “What you have is a midnight declaration that is designed by edict to rewrite EPA’s regulations to say categorically carbon dioxide can never be considered in permitting a new coal plant,” said Vickie Patton, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund.

    But EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the opinion simply codifies existing agency policy.

    “It had been the unspoken policy of the agency,” Shradar said. “All it does is put into policy what the agency has done for 30 years.”

    Representatives of the electricity generators said Thursday that the EPA once again made the right choice. Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Council, an association of power companies, said if agency determined Clean Air Act could be used to place limits on carbon dioxide, many other sources would have to get permits under the law.

    Segal said that if the EPA had made a different interpretation the results would have been catastrophic for the economy and the environment.

    . “All it does is put into policy what the agency has done for 30 years.” . “All it does is put into policy what the agency has done for 30 years.” . “All it does is put into policy what the agency has done for 30 years.” Pure genius and we thought all the great thinkers were gone.

  14. Don Hawkins said on December 19th, 2008 at 7:48am #

    After watching our President this morning I realized that he is one of the best and the brightest. For the creator to make such men thank you. Most of us can only imagine what it mush be like to have such a mind. Bold thinking and the knowledge and wisdom he has gained over the years. It is absolutely mind boggling to even try and think about sometimes our President and other best and the brightest who stand behind him moving our World and civilization into a new and brighter future. If only we could all be in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.” Maybe someday but for right now it’s still a long distance phone call and so far away.