Election of Barack Obama: The People's Victory? Or the Elite's?
Election of Barack Obama:
The People's Victory? Or the Elite's?
by Dan La Botz
Barack Obama has won. What happens when what appears to be the people's victory is also the victory of the economic elite? Where is that convergence of interests located? And how long can such a coincidence of interest last? What are the tasks of the left and the social movements in the face of the Obama victory and his coming presidency?
As many others have said, Barack Obama's election is a watershed in the history of race in America. His victory represents another step in the completion of a democratic revolution that began with the Civil War, continued through the civil rights movement, and reached a new stage with voters' choice of a black man to be the next president. While the civil rights revolution remains incomplete, the breaking of the barrier of race at the presidential level is a development of enormous significance.
Obama's victory also demonstrates the powerful rejection by the majority of American voters of the policies of President George W. Bush, John McCain, and the Republican Party. The Bush presidency -- the disastrous Iraq and Afghan Wars, the insidious attack on Constitutional rights to privacy and fair trial, the horrendous practices of extraordinary rendition and torture, the use of signing statements to undermine Congressional legislation, the erosion of workers rights and thwarting of union power, the appointment of rightwing judges, the opposition to choice, and the resistance to GLBT rights -- all of what constitutes the Bush legacy has been rejected by a majority of American voters who wish the country to move in a different direction.
The Obama victory represents in large measure exactly what his slogan said, a desire for change. The American people became fed up with the arrogance and cynicism of Bush and Cheney. We felt a collective revulsion for the mask of stupidity pulled over the face of malevolent political power. We yearned collectively for an alternative to policies that further enriched the wealthy by grinding more out of the working class, while neglecting the growing numbers of the poor. The majority of Americans voted against all of that, voted for change, even if what change would mean remained unclear, or better, undefined.
In all of these -- the dropping of the racial barrier at the level of the highest office in the land, the rejection of the Republican Party, and the desire for change -- the interests of the people and of the economic elite coincided. For America's capitalist class, George Bush and the Republican Party had exhausted their usefulness, their political value undermined by the failure of U.S. imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan and more recently by the financial crisis. The American economic elite could no longer rule through the coalition of economic conservatives and evangelical right-wingers who dominated the Republican Party. The capitalist class recognized as well as the people did that it was time for change. The capitalist class turned to its other party, the Democrats, and has played an important role in their transformation.
The Recasting of the Democratic Party
The convergence of interests of the popular classes and the elite takes place where it must take place in a society with a democratic government, in politics, and in this case in the Democratic Party. Obama's election to the presidency represents a recasting, reconfiguration, of the Democratic Party. Howard Dean as head of the Democratic National Committee had already begun this process, but in the hands of Obama, the rebuilding of the Democratic Party became real full-scale rehab. The Democratic Party's expanding base, especially the younger newcomers to the party, rejected Hilary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton, their political machine, and their policies. Obama's campaign transformed the old, tired, and in many cases weak Democratic Party organization, infusing it with new blood, new money, and new attitudes. Barack Obama -- through the use of the internet, through direct fundraising on the web, through email barrages -- electrified the party both literally and figuratively.
Thousands of young people from privileged families rushed to join the new Democratic Party movement. Many of them worked to mobilize millions of other young people, women, workers, and those from low-income families. Obama attracted millions of new voters. George Stephanopoulos noted that Obama had forged a new coalition with 95 percent of African Americans, over two-thirds of Hispanics, a majority of women, and most young voters casting their votes for America's first black president. The description is interesting since it does not refer to the historic social coalition of labor unions, black civil rights organizations, and women's rights groups, but rather to demographic segments of the population galvanized by the media and by Obama's quiet charisma.
At the same time, Obama has strengthened, broadened, and revitalized the Democratic Party's ties to the banks and corporations whose executives have historically dominated the party's inner councils both organizationally and financially. Corporate executives, youthful financiers, young lawyers, and socially conscious doctors rushed forward with their money, their time, and their talent to support a candidate who shared their educational background and their liberal values. Meanwhile, Obama, like Democrats before him, relied on the labor unions of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, particularly the latter, unions such as SEIU, UFCW, and HERE with a base among low-wage workers, many of them workers of color, to canvass the precincts and get out the vote. Obama's campaign represented the first step of rebuilding the Democratic Party to become an organization that can more effectively bring together the well-heeled with the down-at-the-heels crowd, the corporate elite with the labor unions, that vast mass of working people who prefers to call themselves "the middle class" with Latinos, blacks, and the poor.