West's volte-face on Obama goes to show that it's never too late to learn. Indeed, amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding Barack and Michelle's British tour, now is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of what the Obama administration has really meant for the world and of just how completely left-wing 'progressives' were sucked in by the president's promises of political change.
Indeed, Cornel West is not alone. In 2008, many of the left-liberal academics who had reviled George W. Bush warmly welcomed Bush’s supposedly progressive Democratic successor. Their effusions were echoed in the liberal media. In a 2009 advertisement for the BBC News channel, a handsome young new father held a newborn baby in his arms and watched the election of the new president on the television as a tender smile spread across his face. Here was change that liberals could believe in. A leader article published in The Guardian (5 June 2008) before Obama’s election victory expressed the hope that Obama would ‘use US power more wisely and effectively than Mr Bush for the world’s urgent causes’.
Yet if ‘urgent causes’ have been pursued by the Obama regime, they have been those of the US ruling class. As communists argued all along, the election of Obama in 2008 represented political and ideological continuity with the Bush years, rather than change or a renewal of ‘hope’, the Obama campaign’s watery buzzword. As Vaneigem famously observed, hope is the leash of submission. The Obama administration proved to be an even more deadly enemy of the working class than its forerunner, driving through a so-called healthcare ‘reform’ that required tens of millions of working class Americans to take out private insurance while boosting profits for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries; as even the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore has pointed out, the reform was a ‘victory for capitalism’. Overseas, meanwhile, the Obama administration intensified conflict in the Middle East by bombing Pakistan, enormously increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, invaded Haiti after a devastating earthquake in that country, and vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on ending Israeli settlement expansion – to say nothing of the US involvement in the brutal suppression of the recent uprisings in the Middle East. The Washington Post (5 June 2010) reported a dramatic increase in Special Operations under the Obama administration, while in his 2010 article ‘The Iranian threat’, Noam Chomsky noted that the Obama administration had accelerated its predecessors’ plans to acquire heavy ordnance, citing academic Dan Plesch’s view that the US is ‘gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran’. All of this lends a truly Orwellian quality to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama.
Like the election of the black president David Palmer in Fox’s television drama 24, the election of Obama appealed powerfully to the liberal political imaginary; no doubt the feminist left will hail the election of the first female US president – a scenario anticipated in the television drama Commander in Chief – as an equally ‘historic’ and politically progressive moment. Yet all of this is window dressing: neither the racial identity, nor the personal charisma, nor the gender of a president alters her institutional status or the capitalist nature of her political attachments. Despite the racial gloss, Obama is a capitalist politician whose administration presides over the oppression of workers at home and orchestrates deadly violence abroad in pursuit of imperialist objectives.
With regard to Obama, at least, the scales are finally falling from the eyes of many a leftist - just in time for the next US election, in which left intellectuals can be expected to play their customary role as capitalism's useful idiots, helping to renew the cycle of hype and disillusionment by building support for 'progressive' politicians and the system they serve.