Barack Obama’s historic and clear-cut victory in yesterday’s US presidential election is the result of a mass mobilisation of people and energy by his campaign that will prove all but impossible to contain within the narrow confines of the American political system.
Obama has articulated and unleashed a popular fury against a degenerate system of government based on back-room deals done in Washington with lobbyists representing powerful corporations. His appeal for change united classes and races against the corrupt, undemocratic status quo, winning overwhelming majorities of young voters, new voters, women, blacks and Latinos. It enabled Obama to overcome the country’s racial divides and become the first Afro-American president.
He built an extensive grass-roots movement, using the Internet in new ways to reach people across the country. This movement in turn galvanised voters to turn out in record numbers on election day. Obama created a formidable machine that the Republican Party could not hope to match.
Yet the principal issue cited by voters - the economy - is one that Obama and the Democratic Party will almost certainly be overwhelmed by. Before the collapse of the US financial system in September, which led to the $700 billion bail-out for the banks, Republican candidate John McCain was edging ahead in the polls.
Then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other institutions. After that American people who are losing their jobs, pensions, homes and healthcare, turned to Obama to put things right.
Several things stand in Obama’s way. The US economy is in meltdown as a global slump on a far greater scale than the one that followed the 1929 Wall Street crash takes on a momentum of its own. This will be exacerbated by further earthquakes in the financial system as the era of fantasy finance comes to a crashing end.
Finally, the Democratic Party is a capitalist party. Half of Obama’s $630 million in campaign funds came from corporate sources. Challenging the ultimate status quo – capitalism itself – is not considered an option, even though the profit system is demonstrably showing itself as unsustainable in every conceivable way. Fixing American capitalism is what Obama aims to do, bring workers and capitalists together; it is a doomed project.
Obama’s other project – to renew people’s faith in a political system and constitution that has fallen into deep disrepute – will be thwarted if Obama is unable to deliver. People’s expectations and aspirations are clearly sky high, leaving them with a long way to fall.
A period of history has to come a shattering end with the ousting of the Republicans from the White House. The Bush-Cheney regime personified the greed and the lust for power that was corporate-driven globalisation. Their Project for a New American Century (PNAC) led to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the “war on terror”, which only encouraged would-be Jihadis everywhere and authoritarian rule at home. The crash of 2008 it what finally destroyed the ideological underpinning of this most reactionary of projects and propelled Obama to the White House.
A popular movement against the status quo is now on the march in America and it will encourage others around the world. What Obama has demonstrated is that it is possible to mobilise hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people if they feel they have a leadership to trust and be inspired by. In his acceptance speech, Obama invoked Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, where he talked of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Fulfilling that aspiration means going beyond the US Constitution’s current framework. Obama has started something that others will have to finish. The failed PNAC will have to be followed by the Project for a New American Revolution.