Had he not been assassinated 40 years ago this week, Robert Kennedy would have been elected president of the United States. I travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. He promised ”change” many times. ”As Bernard Shaw once said,” he would say, ”most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.
Kennedy’s campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised expectations among young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war’s conquest but because it was ”unwinnable”. Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism’s last fling. In the US and much of the West, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality.
A great many people understand this, but many are disÂorientated and eager for ”leadership” and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on wealth and privilege, liberalism in the form of the Democratic Party has played a critical part.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil-rights campaign and the anti-war movement which Martin Luther King had drawn together. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skilfully suppressed as he competed for the party’s nomination.
Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy exploited assiduously the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for a politics that represented them, not the rich. ”These people love you,” I said to him as we left Calexico, California, where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty. I asked him how exactly he would ease their misery: what was his political philosophy? ”Philosophy? Well, it’s based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them.”
The vacuities are familiar. Obama is Kennedy’s echo. Like Kennedy, he will promise faith and hope while ensuring, like all presidents, the best damned democracy money can buy.
As their contest draws closer, watch how Obama and McCain draw closer. They already agree on America’s divine right to control all before it. ”We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good,” said Obama. ”We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of all people.” In pursuing ”terrorists”, Obama would attack Pakistan. McCain wouldn’t quarrel.
Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Israel, for which unquestioning support defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a United Nations Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel’s starvation of the people of Gaza, he was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton.
Pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement in January that ”nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people” to now read: ”Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel.” Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran, which, he says absurdly, ”is a threat to all of us”.
On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants American troops to leave in five years (instead of ”100 years”, his earlier option). Obama has now ”reserved the right” to change his pledge to get troops out next year.
Like McCain, Obama has repeatedly voted in the Senate to support Bush’s demands for limitless funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. Like McCain, Obama has pledged to extend the crippling embargo on Cuba. Amusingly, both have denounced their ”preachers” for speaking out. Whereas McCain’s man of God praised Hitler in the time-honoured lunacy of white holy-rollers, Obama’s man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth.
He said that the attacks of September 11 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of American power across the world.
The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear a loyalty oath to the Bush lie that ”terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms”. So he did.
The American media love both Obama and McCain. Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote, ”There is a sense of dignity, even majesty about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline. Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature’. At the liberal New Republic, Charles Lane confessed: ”I know it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. I’m falling for John McCain.” His colleague, Michael Lewis, went further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like ”the war that must occur in a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls”.
The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America’s true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBSAG, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group. What is Obama’s attraction to big business?
By offering a ”new” young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party — with the bonus of being an elite black person — he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell’s role as Bush’s secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the American anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration with all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.