As an exercise in cult of personality-style mass manipulation, the Obama campaign represented the pinnacle of the corporate media’s love affair with one-sided political swooning and its ability to pull out all the manipulative techniques usually reserved for promoting X-Factor. Personality and sloganeering was everything, and anything resembling a substantial, concrete plan of action through which the promised “Change” would manifest itself became obfuscated in a fog of bombastic graphics, fawning commentary and nebulous rhetoric characterized by empty platitudes. Right-wing arch-reactionary Rupert Murdoch inadvertently summed up the vacuous nature of the Obama craze when he said, “He’s become a rock star. It’s fantastic.”
This spirit of adulation was built upon a faux grassroots movement not unlike those found in the US foundation-orchestrated “colour revolutions” in the former eastern bloc countries – the so-called popular movements which facilitated a shift in power from Russia-aligned political factions to ones supportive of Western expansion eastwards (one obvious consequence being the Georgian sneak attack on South Ossetia, a failed neoconservative/Israeli attempt to draw the Russians into a proxy war). For the 2008 elections in the United States, the watchwords were “All Obama All The Time”, paying lip service to the presence of John McCain and the discredited Republican party, and conveniently forgetting any other candidate who lacked the required corporate backing to secure even-handed air time.
Something can be said both of the power and sophistication of American propaganda and the general public’s superficial understanding of politics with respect to the manner in which this combination of biased media saturation and idealistic yet insubstantial magniloquence and emotional manipulation created a wave of misplaced optimism – the swift rise of Obamamania. For most, particularly after 8 years of Bush, vague promises of “hope” and “change” were in themselves enough, and few bothered to scrutinize what an Obama administration might stand for. Unfortunately for those who did, the only change visible on the horizon was plus ça change.
Once in power, it didn’t take long for the mask to start slipping. The economic meltdown, which many believed to be the fault of the Bush Administration, but which in reality represents a long, deliberate process orchestrated by Wall Street and economic gurus such as Alan Greenspan, has continued to deepen. Those who thought Obama would fix things were ignorant of the telling fact that Obama happened to be the number one candidate of Wall Street, and since entering the White House he’s dutifully satisfied the requirements of his backers by facilitating the continuing shift of wealth from the American taxpayer onto the financial oligarchs he’s beholden to. Corporate fascism has accelerated, with trillions of dollars shifting into the coffers of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase et al, epitomized by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s plan to wipe up to US$1 trillion in bad debt off banks’ balance sheets, a move about which Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz commented,”Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people.” It may or may not be a surprise to hear that Geithner just happens to be a former president of the privately-owned Federal Reserve Bank. As for the American people? An age of austerity and self-sacrifice.
Those who thought he’d live up to his promise to bring the troops home from Iraq and put a stop the reckless militarism which characterized the Bush Administration were also in for a shock. Shortly after Obama’s inauguration in late January 2009 change came, as “withdrawal” from Iraq became “reduction”, with plans to leave a contingent of 50,000 troops in the country, the equivalent of half of the entire British Army. The one promise Obama did manage to keep was to widen the war in Afghanistan, earmarking tens of thousands more troops for the “pacification” of the region (something which no empire in history has been able to achieve). Furthermore, the Obama administration has increased the number of Predator drone bombing raids in Pakistan’s northern territories, a move far more dangerous than sabre-rattling towards Iran, which could threaten a conflagration across the Middle East.
The closure of Guantanamo Bay was one of Obama’s election promises which, on the surface at least, appeared to have been kept, but on closer inspection once again turned out to be change for the worse. Detainees residing in Gitmo – most still awaiting charges – would not be released from incarceration for lack of evidence; instead, they would be sent one of the many other black sites scattered around the globe, many of which are reportedly far worse. For instance, Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where inmates were murdered in the infamous “salt pits” and, according to Amnesty International, “even children have not been spared.” Change indeed. The expansion of Bagram has been accompanied by a continuation of the practice of extraordinary rendition – in layman’s terms, the program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials in countries renowned for torturing prisoners. In Obama’s inauguration speech, he opined that “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” One has to wonder what ideals Obama values. Perhaps the most revealing statement regarding the nature of US national security matters came from Obama’s National Security Adviser James L Jones, who made the following statement at the Munich Security Conference in February 2009: “As the most recent National Security Adviser of the United States, I take my daily orders from Dr. Kissinger, filtered down through General Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger, who is also here. We have a chain of command in the National Security Council that exists today.” It is worth noting that the policy of bombing Afghanistan’s neighbour, Pakistan, bears a striking resemblance to Kissinger’s illegal bombardment of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the outcome of which ushered in the reign of the genocidal Pol Pot regime, the Khmer Rouge.
On the home front, where the collapsing economy will force asceticism upon the American people, inevitably leading to civil unrest, increased destitution and a level of social stratification more profound than ever, Obama set about expanding the already extensive police state infrastructure. But in this case, the “change” turned out not to mean “more of the same”, but something far more sinister. Not only have more American troops been lined up for domestic duties (in itself a fundamental characteristic of martial law), Obama has also created the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, legislating mandatory national service for citizens all ages. Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said: “We’re going to have universal civil defense training, somewhere between the ages of 18 to 25 you will do three months of training …but there can be nothing wrong with all Americans having a joint similar experience of what we call civil defense training or civil service in service of the country, in preparation, which will give people a sense of what it means to be an American.”
There are ominous parallels in all of this which should be considered. “Cult-like” mass rallies backed with mock Greco-Roman architecture; emotionally-laden, visceral speeches and the mindless fervour and adoration of Obama’s followers; clarion calls for “national unity”; the establishment of grassroots, youth-based “volunteer” organisations promoting collectivism; expansionist imperialism, conducted under the guise of a largely fabricated, perceived threat; the increasingly blurred distinction between political and corporate interests. The historical antecedents are apparent. But while conjecture of this kind may veer towards hyperbole, at the very least it poses serious questions about the true nature of American democracy.
(images by Andy Mold)