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News :: Politics
Clinton, Obama, and the Deceptive Politics of Change
06 Feb 2008
Q. What real social change can progressives expect from Clinton and Obama, both of whom keep promising abundant change? A. About as much as the center of the political spectrum ever provides — trace to nothing.
By Jack A. Smith

Democrats who supported centrist candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama in the Tuesday (Feb. 5) primaries are happy today. Both did well, with 845 and 765 delegates respectively, and the final winner may not be known for months.

Most progressives who supported drop-outs John Edwards, who ran as a center-populist, or Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who represents the party’s marginalized center-left, accommodated themselves to reality and backed the two frontrunners. Some still voted for their preferences, whose names remained on the ballot in New York, as a symbolic remembrance that a tiny trace of liberalism survives in FDR’s old party.

Fiercely pro-war perennial hopeful Sen. John McCain seems prepared to gallop to victory in the Republican race for the nomination, a tribute to the party’s desperation after two terms of Bush-Cheney lunacy. Mitt Romney — an opportunist of the center-right who metamorphosed overnight into a hard-line right winger and then criticized McCain for not being conservative enough — came in a distant second.

The GOP’s large faction of Christian Right social-conservatives went for Mike Huckabee in the South but they probably will come around in November. Of course, this being America, all the leading candidates in both ruling parties describe themselves as devoutly religious Christians with well-thumbed prayer books always at the ready.

Five years after the start of the bipartisan war against Iraq, and years since it became apparent that a majority of the American people wanted peace, there were only two certified antiwar candidates in all the primary balloting — Kucinich for the Democrats and Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican. Paul did fairly well for a minor candidate in several states, but his extreme conservatism puts him far beyond the progressive pale.

The hard-fought campaign between Democrats Clinton and Obama, and its reflection in the passionate commitment of many of their supporters, is most interesting because it does not appear to be based upon political positions — which are, in theory, the principal criteria for evaluating candidates.

In the past few days in New York’s Hudson Valley we’ve heard from a few local progressives — opponents of war, corporate greed and poverty — now heaping praise upon one or the other of these candidates, as though Clinton or Obama were about to champion their causes.

Both candidates are virtually identical in their domestic and foreign policies, differing a bit here, a bit there. And a victory for the female candidate or the African American candidate will constitute an historic social breakthrough benefiting the struggles of both women and blacks. So there is no real contest in terms of politics or gender/racial considerations. What’s left to account for the enthusiasm of their liberal backers?

Change! Change? Obama and Clinton have positioned themselves first and foremost as the harbingers of significant change in America. As Obama said last night in Chicago with swelling emotion, “Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America.” He frequently appeals to youth to “dare to change the system.” Clinton often inspires her audiences by shouting, “Are you ready for change?” and then suggests she is the true agency for social change in this election.

Obviously, the political pollsters and party strategists have told them that the American people are hugely dissatisfied. They are unhappy about the direction the country is taking; about the war, the economy, the growing gap between the great riches of the few and the declining fortunes of the many, about the paucity of good jobs, about poverty, and so on.

Clinton and Obama rarely specify the changes they seek, and when they do they even more rarely articulate a program to implement such a change.

Both candidates say they will end the war in Iraq, but their real program is a gradual, prolonged and partial withdrawal of U.S. troops that will keep the Pentagon engaged in the country for many more years. They both supported the latest appropriations to continue the war through October this year. They will both support the next Defense Dept. budget. They have talked about mitigating poverty, especially after Edwards departed the campaign, but they have put forward no program to accomplish this objective. They have no program for creating good jobs ($17 an hour with benefits), or for reducing disproportionate poverty among African Americans and Latinos.

That’s just the beginning of what they are not going to change. And the notion that either Clinton or Obama will change the “system” prevailing in America and its fundamental policies — including hegemony and war abroad, and catering to wealth and corporations at home at the expense of the working class, lower middle class and poor — is preposterous.

As we said in our Jan. 24 newsletter article “Lesser Evil or Greater Good,” the two Democratic frontrunners are “better than any of their Republican counterparts.” But this is because rightists McCain, Romney and Huckabee repose at the very bottom of the progressive political barometer, not that centrists Clinton and Obama are anywhere near the top.

The following article appears in the Feb. 6 issue of the Hudson Valley (NY) Activist Newsletter.
Information, jacdon (at) The Jan. 24 issue of the Newsletter noted above is located at

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