Beware the Obama Hype

My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of president John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south, following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where I met Penn Jones Jr., editor of the Midlothian Mirror. Except for his drawl and fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official version of Kennedy’s murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented, before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around those whose “professionalism” and “objectivity” carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth. Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic. Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died the other day, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened views to a majority who believe that “government should care for those who cannot care for themselves” and are prepared to pay higher taxes for universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops out of other people’s countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the history of the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama’s “oratory”. He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to Obama’s election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed for news reporting from America since November 4 (e.g. “liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them”) but for the same reasons that millions of angry emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the “bailout” of Wall Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush to continue his blood fest. For his part, the “anti-war” Obama never said the illegal invasion of Iraq was wrong, merely that it was a “mistake”. Thereafter, he voted in to give Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama’s election is historic, a symbol of great change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite have grown adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin Luther King recognized this when he linked the human rights of black Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by a liberal Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to “investigate” and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush’s secretary of state, Powell was often described as a “liberal” and was considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Condoleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama’s first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud war maker and Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent “neoliberal” devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an “Israel-first” Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians — an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people’s loathing of the United States and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obama-mania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black South Africans was permitted within the “Mandela moment.” This is especially marked in Britain, where America’s divine right to “lead” is important to elite British interests. The once respected Observer newspaper, which supported Bush’s war in Iraq, echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that “America has restored the world’s faith in its ideals.” These “ideals”, which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had it been allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow, supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Prior to Blair’s criminal war-making, ideology was denied by him and his media mystics. “Blair can be a beacon to the world,” declared the Guardian in 1997. “[He is] turning leadership into an art form.”

Today, merely insert “Obama”. As for historic moments, there is another that has gone unreported but is well under way — liberal democracy’s shift towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity, with the media as its clichéd façade. “True democracy,” wrote Penn Jones Jr., the Texas truth-teller, “is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you’re meant to think and keeping your eyes wide open at all times.”

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 (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Rita said on November 12th, 2008 at 11:48am #

    I inadvertently came upon Barack Obama giving a talk on his book “Dreams of my Father”, at an NYC Barnes &Noble, circa 2005. This was on C-SPAN book tv.

    I was intrigued to hear him say, “I do believe in American exceptionalism”. I think this is so very telling. However, i don’t know that any person who becomes a presidential candidate in either major party can believe otherwise. It is like being a Catholic Bishop, I suppose. You must believe in the superiority of your own institution and self identity. Which, in both cases, inevitably translates into forcing your way of life and perspective, on others. Even if it means torturing them for the good of their souls.

    It is all the same.

  2. Diane said on November 12th, 2008 at 1:34pm #

    I went to a talk John Pilger gave, when he was back in Austalia recently, and at the end his advice was “get back to the streets and protest” or something to that effect. Well John as someone who spent 30 years in the rank and file trade union movement, I can tell you that is not much of a solution. An old TU friend of mine said the other day “I think the problem with out generation is that we were too its all about me” and I agree with her. The negativity about Obama from the male left is nothing less than astonishing in its naivity, of course he is going to support the status quo, the only difference is that there is not going to be much of a status quo soon, and then we will see how good a tap dancer he is.
    To me the problem is more about the lack of self reflection on the part of the left. The refusal to go back to the 70’s and 80’s and really analyse what went wrong. To perhaps accept that in the short term the capitalist class outflanked them, afterall they read Marx too, and too accept that the first world working classes, took the money and ran, after all they are only 100 years out of rural peasantry, you can’t expect peasants too really care all that much about the fate of people in lands they can’t even find on a map. Collectively the left has to see what they did wrong and to examine the tools that the capitalist class used to confuse and then perhaps we can start getting somewhere, go read Sheila Rowbotham’s Beyond Fragments for starters

  3. Jason Oberg said on November 12th, 2008 at 1:35pm #

    If that is the case, Rita, then we truly have nothing to hope for. This idiotic notion of American superiority is what has solidified our status as an aggressive imperialist nation for so long now. It must stop, especially in our politicians. America does not lead the world in literacy, equality, freedom, health care, productivity or science. Certainly not in prosperity for its own citizens. In fact, we’re pretty far down the list on all these things. We have the biggest bombs. That’s it. When Obama speaks of American exceptionalism, he really refers to our ability to shove the concept of American greatness down other’s throats. The rest of the world needs to collectively put the United States in its place. Too long has an unrealistic air of superiority pervaded Washington. Not to mention middle America, which eats this garbage up, believing while working two jobs to pay the light bill that they live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth, ever. How horribly deceived we have all become.

  4. Erroll said on November 12th, 2008 at 1:53pm #

    Jason Oberg

    Intelligently and persuasively well stated.

  5. Max Shields said on November 12th, 2008 at 3:07pm #


    There are several “flavors” of so-called “leftist’, and going back to analyze why America is not a left-leaning country may not prove all that fruitful. But let me be clear, the trajectory is much longer than a few decades.

    There is NO monolithic “left”, let’s just be clear. Yes, there are some socialists and then there are some anti-capitalists (who may or may not be socialists) and then there are progressives (call them “leftist” if you must) who are interested in scalability, have found that economics, human scaled, is real only to the extent that is scaled accordingly, and that there is a threshold at which privatization throught massive production of money allows for concentration of resources and hence wealth by a few.

    I would fall in the latter category. I’ve read Marx and Smith and Recardo; and my favorite, Henry George.

    Add to that the scalability of E.F. Schumacher to George with a dash of the urbanist, Jane Jacobs, and you have a good sense of what a 21st Century independent progressive movement can be. It stands on its head the empire paradigm.

    It’s not about left-right. It’s about power, and real change. The people who understand power the best are the people who have it and hold on to it. Most others (99%) just don’t get it and are left to squabble amongst themselves, calling one another names, deriding “leftists” for this and that like children lost in the woods.

    Read some Neitzche for christ’s sakes. The problem with Marx is that his battle is with capitalism as it relates to one major dimension – workers. He does a superb job in dissecting it. He was an outstanding analyst of what was going on in the 19th Century and has gems of valuable info. Einstein had the best take on it. He understood energy. It is the balance between the amount of energy it takes to get energy that is the very foundation of Western civilization, of empires and is totally and completely non-negotiable. We built a civilization, a way of life, on fossil. It is unique in ways we don’t consider. Alternative energy can only work when we are ready to face the fact that growth is uneconomic. Production cannot exclude land/resources as non-capital, and consumption must be scaled to meet renewability at every level.

    Until our lives meet these un-negotiable demands of nature, there is really nothing to talk about.

    So, I would submit that there is a “left/progressive” who understand this and who are acting on it. It is not about old Socialism Vs Old Capitalism.

    It is about the very premise upon which this ediface was built – a week without electricity in Canada in winter – now there’s a real lesson in fragility of our reality.

  6. Ramsefall said on November 12th, 2008 at 7:35pm #


    a great production you did with The War on Democracy, always refreshing to hear information that tells the other side of the story. Your acquiescent cynicism with some of the wealthy semi-humans you interviewed was appropriately done without them even realizing, especially the ex-CIA pig. While Chavez may not be perfect, he’s done a hell of a lot more than any other Venezuelan leader in the past 50+ years, the poor finally have access and some level of recognition.

    ANY TIME you’re in the region and need assistance with another documentary, you have a glove in Colombia.

    I concur with your warning on the Obama hype, it was actually more tolerable watching the drawn-out, farcical performance from abroad. His Senate voting record speaks for itself, as do most of his previous comments. Rita’s comment sums things up nicely. I do what I can to maintain a perspective of positive realism while not giving into pessimism before Obama takes office. We’ll see how he performs out of the gates, but so far it’s not looking good by the company the man keeps.

    Thanks again for the realistic perspective, John.

    Best to you.

  7. Brian said on November 12th, 2008 at 9:16pm #

    Excellent analysis and thanks for the accurate portrayal of the Kennedy Assassination research of Penn Jones. He was one of the early critics of the official theory, which has since been completely discredited by scholarly researchers and professional historians.

  8. Rita said on November 12th, 2008 at 10:03pm #


    Yes, i agree with you. I think that the need to feel superior is based, actually in a deep feeling of inadequacy. If someone is secure within oneself, one needn’t convince others and indeed force their own ways on them.

    It really is like organized Christianity in so many ways. If they honestly believed in their own mythology, then the fact that there are those who don’t hold the same belief systems, would not be threatening to them. It is not unlike the reports that Dick Cheney insisted that all television sets in any hotel he stayed in, had to be tuned to fox news. That way he need not confront any sort of dissonance. It is the height of insecurity.

  9. UH2L said on November 15th, 2008 at 10:35am #

    It’s never good to be overconfident or feel superior but after eight years of nothing going right in this country, we need a leader that can make us feel confident and Obama has already done that before he even becomes president. We can be confident without being arrogant. Helping others is a sign of confidence gone good just as initiating unjustified military actions is a sign of confidence gone bad.

    There is perhaps too much hype and extremely high expectations for Obama, but his election has restored my faith in our country for generally turning a blind eye to his ethnicity and for voting for the most intelligent and strategic of the two major candidates. No candidate is perfect, just as none of us are perfect. We all have skeletons in our closet, deficiencies in our character and opinions that not everyone else agrees with.I at least have confidence in this leader and that confidence is infectious. He won’t be perfect, but can you think of a better viable alternative?


  10. P. Collins said on December 13th, 2008 at 5:05am #

    Columbian drug lords claim, the U.S. is their largest consumer of drugs, “if the U.S. citizens didn’t want it, we wouldn’t grow it.”
    We need to de-criminalize non violent drug users and stop building more, for profit, prisons. History has been repeated from the alcohol prohabition years. When alcohol prohabition law ended, everyone didn’t become alcoholics. Why aren’t we opening our eyes to history. There will always be blood shed from illegal sales and profit of illegal
    drugs. Alcoholics don’t serve a year in a 6’x 8′ prison cell for consuming too much alcohol. The drug addict doesn’t want the addiction. They want help. The U.S. government should grow it, legalize it, and monitor it. Administer it through a medical clinics with pshycologist and medical physicians. Ex. If a patient needs 2 marajuana cigarettes a day, charge them $14. for the week. If they want an ounce a week, charge them $300 for a bag. This would take it off the black market. We would save billions of dollars a year, not monitoring borders and the seas for drug importation. There would be no more profits from foreign and domestic drug lords. Follow the procedure from the alcohol repeal procedure.
    Drug addiction should be a family problem treated through medical help. 1 in 135 people are incarcerated for illegal drugs, classified as felons which reduces any chance of gaining employment. Result, welfare paid out to their families or dealing drugs to support their families at tax payers expense. The bloody mafia is still alive but not from the sales of alcohol, it’s profit is selling drugs. Is our new administration brave enough to step up to the plate, make history again, and change this law. This would domino the deficit and bloodshed from every direction.