Bursting Washington’s bubble

April 23, 2009

Millions of people looked forward to Barack Obama's presidency with a sense of pride and hope. But Obama's first 100 days have raised critical questions about the limits of what we can expect from a Democrat in the White House--and what it will take to get the change we want.

What do you think of Obama's 100 days? And what does the left need to do now to move the struggle forward? We asked a group of writers and activists for their answers to these questions. This commentary is from Dave Zirin, a columnist for TheNation.com and author of A People's History of Sports in the United States and Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports.

IF WE'VE learned nothing else in the last six months, it is that there are some very powerful people who suffer from what is being called Baracknophobia. This is the irrational fear of right-wing Republicans who suffer from the delusion that Barack Obama is a dangerous radical aiming to overthrow the entire U.S. political system.

Barack Obama--as he would be the first to tell you--is no radical. He has an Iraq withdrawal plan praised by John McCain. He has an Afghanistan war plan praised by William Kristol. He will not investigate or prosecute the torture that occurred under the Bush regime. And he has handed trillions of tax dollars to the banks while leading the charge against nationalization.

And yet Baracknophobia festers. All you have to do is turn on Fox News and watch some very powerful politicians, as Stephen Colbert puts it, "crank up the crazy and twist off the knob."

There's Newt Gingrich, saying, "We are ushering in socialism to America." There's Michael Steele, the man who says he will bring the urban/suburban hip hop vibe into the Republican Party, imploring people to rise up against socialism. There's Jim Cramer, the CNBC broadcaster who Jon Stewart pantsed on the Daily Show, saying, "We've elected a Leninist!"

My goodness.

I will say that as a socialist, it is wonderful to have the most hated politicians on the planet use the word as an insult. It's like being called ugly by a frog. They are, as columnist Matt Taibbi put it, fighting for the Heavyweight Championship of Stupid.

But Baracknophobia also contains an edge of racism and violence. There was the cartoon in the New York Post that had the officers shooting the monkey, with a caption: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

There's the lunatic Glenn Beck on Fox News, who said Obama and Rep. Barney Frank were "bloodsuckers," and the way to stop them is to "drive a stake through the heart." And there's Michele Bachman--she wants residents of her state "armed and dangerous," because Obama will be sending children to "re-education camps." And there are those who held the Fox News-sponsored protests around the country on April 15: the teabaggers.

So how do we explain all the craziness?

On the one hand, it is a howl of their irrelevance. The Republican Party and its election manual of tax cuts for the wealthy, war abroad and bigotry seem about as in step as the flat earth society.

After Obama’s 100 days

What do you think of Obama's first 100 days? And what does the left need to do now to move the struggle forward?

We asked a group of writers and activists for their answers to these questions, and published their contributions to a roundtable discussion on "After Obama’s 100 Days: Where Do We Go from Here?"

Sharon Smith
The real battles lie ahead

Dave Zirin
Bursting Washington's bubble

Mike Davis
Plutocrats 1, Workers 0

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Race and racism under Obama

Bill Fletcher Jr.
New openings to push Obama

Lance Selfa
Change that's still to come

Rose Aguilar
How much has really changed?

Haidar Eid
The complicit silence continues

Lee Sustar
Blank check for the bankers

Brian Jones
The sense of possibility

The right also feels Baracknophobia not because of any position Obama stands for, but because of what we saw in Chicago's Grant Park on November 4, and because of the 2 million people who came out in the bitter D.C. cold on Inauguration Day. There is hope, and nothing scares those who traffic in hate and fear more than hope.

WE HAVE a very real opportunity right now amid the crisis and hope swirling around us to rebuild both the left and radical struggle in this country.

And you see that connection between change in the White House and people's confidence to fight at some of the recent struggles. There are the signs at gay marriage rallies that say, "Yes we can!" There was successful divestment at Hampshire College from corporations to contribute to Israel's war machine.

There was the historic victory of the Smithfield workers organizing a union at a massive pork processing plant in North Carolina. Smithfield worker Aleisha Rascoe told the local paper: "If we can change the White House, we can change the hog house. And we did, we made history all in the same year."

Featured at Socialism

Hear Dave Zirin at Socialism 2009 in Chicago and San Francisco, speaking on "A People's History of Sports." Check out the Socialism 2009 Web site for more details. See you at Socialism!

But while we celebrate the inspiration, we also have to be clear that Obama doesn't support gay marriage or divestment from Israel, and his attitude toward unions, if his lack of initiative around the proposed Employee Free Choice Act is any indication, is half-hearted.

There's only one conclusion to draw for our side: Now is not the time to cheerlead Obama just because those who oppose him on the right are knuckle-dragging lunatics. Now is the time to agitate--to make him hear our voices loud and proud.

Obama speaks about Washington, D.C., being a bubble. The bubble needs to pop, and we need to be heard. If we allow the decisions that affect our lives to be made behind closed doors, we are cutting our own throats.

Now is the time for the left to exercise its political independence. Now is the time for us to revisit the political tradition of radical struggle in this country. Now is the time for us to pose our own solutions for what is clearly a broken system. Now is the time for us to call for an end to the wars abroad, and an end to the drug war at home. And now is the time to animate our struggles with the idea that another world is not only possible, but necessary.

We have to demand more. As the great historian Howard Zinn said in a speech:

Some people might say, "Well, what do you expect?" And the answer is that we expect a lot. People say, "What, are you a dreamer?" And the answer is, yes, we're dreamers. We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don't want war. We don't want capitalism. We want a decent society. Are we dreaming? We better hold on to that dream--because if we don't, we'll sink closer and closer to this reality that we have, and that we don't want."

The road may be long, but the wind is at our back. Obama said in a recent meeting with CEOs, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." We need to say to Obama, "If you don't mind, please get out of the way."

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