Presidential candidate Barack Obama won the Democratic primary last time around largely on the strength of his extremely limited and inconsistent opposition to the war on Iraq. Then he chose as his running mate Senator Joe Biden, a man who had led efforts in the U.S. Senate to support the invasion. Obama’s staff told reporters that he would be inclined to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of War (or “Defense”) — exactly the same plan proposed by Senator John McCain’s campaign. Obama said he’d like Colin Powell to be a part of his administration, and repeatedly announced that his cabinet would include Republicans. Obama had approached leading warmonger Congressman Rahm Emanuel about becoming his chief of staff.
Obama’s commitment to de-escalation in Iraq was questionable, and his commitment to complete withdrawal nonexistent. He supported the idea of launching attacks on Pakistan and Syria. He said he wanted more troops in Afghanistan and wanted them there for a long, long time. Three times in three debates McCain proposed cutting military spending and Obama avoided the topic. Obama proposed significantly enlarging the largest military the world had ever seen. Obama refused to forswear the use of aggressive war or even first-strike nuclear attacks. He claimed that Bush and Cheney had not committed any crimes that he was aware of.
Yet, Obama gave speech after speech promising that ending the war in Iraq would be his first act in office: “I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.” What candidate Obama explained in corporate media interviews was a little different. He said repeatedly that he would begin a withdrawal his first month in office, pull out one to two brigades per month and be done in 16 months. That did not happen.
On Afghanistan, Obama’s withdrawal promises have been made and broken during his presidency.
Plenty of pre-election promises have been discarded as well. Candidate Obama swore he would not rewrite laws with signing statements. He promised huge advances in transparency and openness. He promised support for whistleblowers. He would fix NAFTA, not duplicate it in more countries. The Bush tax cuts would end. A President Obama would not launch a war without Congress. Obama Version .08 was a horrible, horrible candidate, and yet he made dozens of promises that have been tossed aside, making him now even worse — unless one chooses to accept as credible the same promises again.
None of this is to suggest that the Republicans can’t nominate someone even worse than the actual Obama. Of course, they can and will. The point is to recognize that focusing activist energy on elections should not come at the expense of the real work of building a movement to change this country. Making the rational lesser-evil choice every four years and failing to focus on real work for nonviolent radical change consistently presents us four years later with two choices who are both worse than last time. And those choices are, each time, candidates for a more powerful, more tyrannical office.
Obama has not just failed to “close Guantanamo,” whether one means by that the symbolism of moving one of our smaller lawless prisons to Illinois or actually ending the practice of imprisoning people without trail worldwide. Obama has formalized, codified, and normalized, the presidential power to imprison, rendition, torture, murder, bomb, and invade at will. Obama Version .12 will compete with the “racist candidate” for those powers. I put “racist” in quotes, not because the Republicans aren’t racists (although even Romney’s racism could be phony), but because were it not for racism our nation would not be doing the things it is currently doing to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc., etc. Obama is about to promise us more government activism. I can think of several countries that could do with a bit less of his style of government activism. And one of them is ours. Campaign promises don’t touch every detail, but when Obama’s Department of Agriculture recently approved Monsanto GE corn with Agent-Orange herbicide after receiving 45,000 negative comments and 23 positive, was that the change you could believe it? Obama is working night and day to protect mega-banks from responsibility for mortgage fraud. He will speak in his State of the Union about equality before the law.
Obamapologists will tell you about good intentions and Republican resistance in Congress, and yet Obama came in with a large Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, and a Democratic leadership in the Senate willing to circumvent the filibuster-everything-60-vote-requirement when and only when it chose to, and chose to do what Obama instructed. Obama met in secret with the health insurance big whigs and insisted that the health care bill not include even a token pretense of a movement away from their control. Now who’s getting “taken to the bank”?
By September 2009 it was clear enough, even pre-Peace Prize, where President Obama was heading. I then wrote an article called “Bush’s Third Term.” It still accurately describes the state of the promise of Obama and of Obama’s forgotten promises.