No Better Off with the Democrats

How much better off are we because Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain for the presidency? What do Americans have to look forward to this year that they did not last year? The departure of a Republican administration and the arrival of a Democratic one ought to mean that sweeping changes in domestic and foreign policy have come to the United States.

The occupation of Iraq ought to be ending. Instead, Obama’s so-called end to war means keeping 50,000 soldiers in Iraq and boosting the Bush Defense Department budget by an additional $20 billion. Of course, the Obama administration Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, was also the Bush administration Defense Secretary. That fact alone doesn’t augur well for any improvement in foreign and defense policy.

If Obama’s recent meetings with foreign leaders were any improvement over Bush efforts, it is only because people all over the world breathed a collective sigh of relief when Marine One carried Bush out of Washington. The press may have supported Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, but her husband came away pretty much empty-handed.

That is because he went carrying the same discredited baggage that Bush used to bring. European leaders may make statements saying that al-Qaeda is run by wicked people, but they won’t commit to sending more troops into America’s quagmire or risking their own economic security with American style stimulus plans that are not needed in countries that actually have safety nets for their citizens.

The lack of improvement in this administration is not confined to foreign policy. The economic collapse that began under Bush is ongoing. The new administration’s policy consists of the same discredited moves that began in the waning days of Republican rule. Billions of dollars have been poured down an endless black hole of welfare to the financial services industry, a policy blessed by then candidate Obama.

Policy changes that might truly help working people, such as single payer health care, are off the table. Legislation that would permit bankruptcy judges to “cram down,” or reduce mortgage loan balances has also not made it onto the Obama agenda.

Obama and congressional Democrats could pave the way for true change with one significant piece of legislation. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as “card check,” would give workers the right to simply indicate with a check mark their wish to form a union. The simplified process would allow union organizers easy access to workers who would then be able to organize without the threat of employer intimidation and threats of job loss. Increased union representation in the work force would create the benefits and incomes that would prevent Americans from falling victim to the modern day debtor prisons and work place insecurity that are all too common in this country.

Yet the passage of EFCA is certain only in the House, where it won approval last year. Democratic control of the Senate is not sufficient to prevent a Republican veto, and Democratic senators like Dianne Feinstein and Blanche Lincoln have already stated they will not vote for EFCA in its current form. That is to say, it must be watered down and rendered useless by corporate approval before they are willing to support it.

Obama has not given any indication that he will fight for EFCA either. He would have to use his bully pulpit to bring all Democrats along with him and he doesn’t appear to be predisposed to ever fight against corporate interests. If a Democratic president and a Democratically controlled congress can’t assure passage of EFCA, why would it have been so terrible for John McCain to have won? If economic policy consists only of Democratic banksters instead of Republican banksters calling the shots in favor of more failed policy, why is there any cause for celebration?

Democratic victories in 2006 were followed by two years of caving into an extremely unpopular president. Now a Democratic president still refuses to stand up for the interests of working people and for true change in America’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Barack Obama is clearly a very smart, charismatic man. He is smoother and smarter than Bush or McCain, but at the end of the day that matters little if the economy continues failing or if the United States increases its body count in Afghanistan and Pakistan. No one should apologize any longer for pointing out the lack of difference between Democrats and Republicans. This country and the world are in as much trouble in 2009 with Obama as in 2008 with Bush. Our only hope is for citizens to acknowledge these painful facts and seek ways to bring about change themselves. Change certainly won’t come from a president, even of the Democratic Party.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached at: Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.Com. Read other articles by Margaret, or visit Margaret's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. rg the lg said on April 15th, 2009 at 11:07am #

    My question remains …

    Are we really surprised?

    Did you really think there would be a more substantive change than a ‘return’ to the long-standing myth that we are the good guys, that the empire should (of right) be paramount, that the oligarchs should continue to be protected, that corporations should be held exempt from culpability, that capitalism would continue as the religion?

    If so, how sad.

    It will take more than electing an Uncle Tom to change this country … and more than just hand-wringing.

    But then, hand-wringing is the progressives only action …

    … in the US at least.

    RG the LG

  2. Deadbeat said on April 15th, 2009 at 12:16pm #

    I agree with RG the LG essentially point. Spending time bashing Obama is really a waste of time unless you hit Obama on some deep seated issue that can create a wedge in his base. For example I agree with Ford’s critique with Obama pandering to Zionist to avoid the global conference on racism. This goes to deep seated feeling in the African American community who have been harmed by Zionist support for neo-liberal policies that have harm communities of color.

    Generally I find the constant critiques as avoidance of the real problem — the disorganization of the Left and its failure to build solidarity among the working class.

  3. lichen said on April 15th, 2009 at 1:13pm #

    Yes, Obama is an excuse-less war criminal, and criminally out of touch with majoritarian stances in this country – for single payer healthcare, for an end to war, for economic justice. He is culpable and prosecutable for this, and he should be prosecuted, no matter what his ardent defenders say.

  4. Brian said on April 15th, 2009 at 3:55pm #

    Superb analysis.

    You didn’t mention education but you can add that to the list.

    Arne Duncan, Obama’s Michael Brown nominee for the Department of Education has the possibility of becoming the worst Ed. Sec. ever.

  5. opeluboy said on April 15th, 2009 at 5:31pm #

    I am hardly a full-on Obama supporter, and agree with the majority of the author’s criticisms, but I think Europe’s excited reaction to his election is more than a sigh of relief. I can’t imagine hundreds of thousands of people showing up to hear John Kerry speak, or Hillary for that matter.

    For all Obama’s many disappointing flaws, early failings and god-awful staff selections (I oppose almost all the people surrounding him, including Clinton), he is changing the way we are viewed by the rest of the world.

    That was the one reason I voted for him. I expected no more than that. If he fucks that up, I’ll join the rest of you.

  6. Hue Longer said on April 15th, 2009 at 7:05pm #


    “The rest of the world” shouldn’t change the way they see the US just as the the people in the US shouldn’t change the way they see the US. Any duped US or World citizen is far better off with their eyes open


  7. jorzo said on April 15th, 2009 at 9:24pm #

    How about the environmental record or the record on open government. Same as republican?

  8. Max Shields said on April 16th, 2009 at 5:51am #

    Deadbeat, what are you doing to organize the “left”?

    Just once will you answer that? Otherwise you have nothing more to offer this than the so-called “hand-wringing left (aka progressives, liberals, PDA, Huffpost, daily kos, golly gee witikers crowd).

    What we’ve got is a very selfish nation. Pictures of people worried about their ‘children’s future debt’. Assholes don’t know that that horse left the barn ages ago.

    But what revolting (and I don’t give a fuck if you want to call them snoop dogs or grass-hoppers) is that AMERICA is KILLING – MURDERING CHILDREN IN IRAQ, supporting KILLING OF CHILDREN IN GAZA, KILLING CHIDREN in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere.

    Any you Deadbeat are worried about the LEFT. Fuck the left. Are these CHILDREN we are killing LEFTIST or RIGHTIST? WHO CARES!!!!

    I ASK YOU WHO CARES? And who is NOW the commander in chief ordering these murders?

    So, if you think it’s frivelous or inconsequental to be railing against Barack Obama, THINK AGAIN. The problem is not enough fuck’n care about anything but their own little consumerist selves.

  9. mcoyote said on April 16th, 2009 at 6:22am #

    Supporting Democrats is a serious political disorder

    Aren’t the Dems The Lesser Evil?

    The Democrats are not the “lesser evil;” they are an auxiliary subdivision of the same evil. To understand the political system, one must step back and regard its operation as an integrated whole. The system can’t be properly understood if one’s study of it begins with an uncritical acceptance of the 2-party system, and the conventional characterizations of the two parties. (Indeed, the fact that society encourages one to view it in this latter way, is perhaps a warning that this perspective should not be trusted.)

    Any given piece of reactionary legislation is invariably supported by a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats. Does this show that the Democrats are “less evil?” If one focuses on the noble efforts of the few outspoken dissenters, it’s easy to feel that the Democrats are somewhat less evil. But in the larger picture, Democrats invariably submit to what Republicans more ardently promulgate, & the entire range of official opinion thereby shifts to the right. Thus the overall function of Democrats is not so much to fight, as to quasi-passively participate in this ever-rightward-moving process. Just as the Harlem Globetrotters need their Washington Generals to make their basketball games properly entertaining, Republicans need the Democrats for effective staging of the political show.

    The Democrats are permitted to exist because their vague hint of eventual progressive change keeps large numbers of people from bolting the political system altogether. Emma Goldman once said, “If voting made a difference, it would be illegal.” Similarly, if the Democrats potentially threatened any sort of serious change, they would be banned. The fact that they are fully accepted by the corporations and political establishment tells us at once that their ultimate function must be wholly in line with the interests of those ruling groups.

    Doesn’t the presence of the Dennis Kuciniches et al “prove” that the Democrats are progressive? No. The “Kuciniches” are indeed significantly different from the Hillary types — but there are compelling reasons not to get too excited about them, either. First, they are used by the party as a “Left decoration,” simply to keep potential left defectors in tow. Secondly, the party power brokers will NEVER in a million years let the Kucinich faction have any real power.

    In other words, the very modestly-sized progressive Dem faction is cynically used as a marketing tool by the national party. They are dangled before your eyes to make you think that the Dems are the “lesser evil” (since the Republicans offer no such Left decorations). The existence of a few decent Dems makes no real difference in the overall alignment of the party, and they will never be internally influential. They are a distraction.

    Can Progressives “Take Over” the Dem Party?

    The argument is often advanced by progressives that they might be able to “take over” the Dem Party just as the Republican Party was supposedly “taken over” by the Religious Right and neoconservatives. This is wishful thinking, and ignores the actual history and character of both parties.

    The Republicans were always the party of Wall Street & Northern manufacturing. The Democrats were the party of the Southern slaveocracy. When the national Democrats defied southern racism by passing the Civil Rights Acts in the mid ’60’s, the southern states bolted, destroying the New Deal coalition. The Republicans profited from this by adapting to southern tastes, values, & religious/cultural conceptions.

    But this was in no way out of character for the Republicans. The far right was able to take over the Republican Party because that kind of alliance was always very much in the nature of the Republican Party anyway. It was compatible with, not contradictory to, the big-business nature of the Republican party. Forming an alliance with fascists, racists & religious zealots ADVANCED the big-business agenda.

    By contrast, for progressives to take over the Democrats would be an unprecedented departure from the party’s character. To understand this, one must first recognize that the sole Dem claim to being progressive is rooted almost entirely in the New Deal, itself a response to a unique crisis in American history. FDR recognized that to avert the very real threat of massive social unrest and instability, significant concessions had to be made to the working class by the ruling class. Government could act to defend the weak, and to some extent to rein in the strong, but this was all in the longterm interests of defending the existing social order.

    Before FDR, the Dem Party had no progressive record whatsoever; and after FDR, though the New Deal coalition survived until the mid-1960’s, it did so with a record of achievement that was restrained compared to the 1930’s. After passing Medicare in 1965 the party reverted to its longterm pattern, and since then, there has again been no progressive record to speak of. The party’s progressive social reform was thus concentrated mostly in the 1930’s, with some residual momentum lasting until the mid 60’s. The party’s “progressive period” was thus 1) an exception to the longer term pattern; 2) a response to a unique crisis; and 3) has in any case been dead for over 40 years.

    The word “progressive” refers to the commitment of a political party to defend the interests of the working class (aka the overwhelming majority of the population) against the depredations of the ruling elite. Not only is the Democratic Party unable and unwilling to engage in such a fight, it is unwilling even to pronounce the fight’s name — “class warfare.” Marx is understandably reviled by capitalists for his annoyingly accurate perception that the capitalist class and the rest of the population have a fundamental conflict of interest. Capital seeks only to maximize its return; return can certainly be enhanced by using the machinery of state to transfer costs and burdens to the weak and vulnerable; thus rule by capital is intrinsically inimical to the basic interests of the majority of the population. There is no escaping this reality.

    American public discourse attempts to paper over this vexing truth with fatuous happy talk, such as, “By working together, we can make make things better for everyone!” This is a lie. When capital controls government, government is no more than a tool used by elites to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This kind of arrangement cannot possibly “make all boats rise” over the long term. Only the yachts will rise. If there is no political mechanism for opposing plutocratic rule, the strong will continue to squeeze additional wealth out of the weak until a) the weak become desperate and rebel, b) the weak are crushed and become permanently enslaved, or c) the strong begin suffering more from guilty consciences, than reaping enjoyment from additional wealth — and therefore relent. (Very few instances of this last are known in recorded history.)

    For the Democratic Party to even begin to serve as a vehicle for opposing the absolute rule of capital, it would at a minimum have to be capable of acknowledging the conflict that exists between the interests of capital and the rest of the population; and of expressing a principled determination to take the side of the population in this conflict.

    A party whose controlling elements are millionaires, lobbyists, fund-raisers, careerist apparatchiks, consultants, and corporate lawyers; that has stood by prostrate and helpless (when not actively collaborating) in the face of stolen elections, illegal wars, torture, CIA concentration camps, lies as state policy, and one assault on the Bill of Rights after the next, is not likely to take that position.

  10. bozh said on April 16th, 2009 at 7:27am #

    deadbeat/max round 50,
    i too am puzzled over deadbeat’s Left; so much, i’m looking under every dry and wet bed.
    i do not expect DB to document their existence. cld he, by any chance, enumerate 3, 4, 5, 115?

    i don’t know if nader is on left or not but he is for ending serial gefeindschaften [enemyshiphoods] and for healthcare. he’s not even, as far as i know, for free education or against separatist education.
    my ‘god’ {oops, i mean, my devil} the man is almost fascist! tnx

  11. Brian said on April 16th, 2009 at 8:32am #

    You forgot Barry’s wholesale adoption of the worst of Bush’s constitutional abuses. State secrets doctirne, covering up for and refusing to prosecute Bush’s warcrimes, attempting to set up a new Guantanamo at Bagram to name a few.

    We live in a police state.

  12. mary said on April 16th, 2009 at 8:42am #

    ‘For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.’ Mark 4:25

    No worries for the Obamas then.

  13. Dave Silver said on April 16th, 2009 at 12:34pm #

    Kimberly Says what has been and is absolutely true. That there aren’t any meaningful differences between the Donkey and Elephant Parties.
    Even with an African American President. We need to develop an Independent national political movement –Green, Pink or Violet
    to confront our imperialist, racist system that kills for profit.
    That’s shy I voted for Cynthia McKinney.

  14. Dave Silver said on April 16th, 2009 at 12:34pm #

    Kimberly Says what has been and is absolutely true. That there aren’t any meaningful differences between the Donkey and Elephant Parties.
    Even with an African American President. We need to develop an Independent national political movement –Green, Pink or Violet
    to confront our imperialist, racist system that kills for profit.
    That’s shy I voted for Cynthia McKinney.

  15. Hue Longer said on April 16th, 2009 at 4:22pm #


    Very well written…I googled a portion of it and I’ve seen either you under a different handle saying the same thing in a different forum or it’s someone else.

    Submit that if it’s yours…Harlem Globe Trotters/Washington Generals? Brilliant!

  16. Tennessee-Chavizta said on April 18th, 2009 at 9:25am #