Just because Obama has not been the answer does not mean he has been the problem.


Shortly after the election I was asked by a liberal magazine to write my predictions for the new administration. The editor was apparently not happy when I responded that Obama had very little chance of making the changes was proposing. Whether or not Obama is a good person wasn’t the issue. I was trying to say that no one can save us who believes in the system that has caused our problems.

Much more knowledgeable people than I were saying the same thing. Noam Chomsky was, I believe, the first to point out that the entire campaign had been a top down media concocted simulation of a grassroots people’s movements. I saw Chomsky’s point played out almost immediately.

We were doing a protest to shut down the T. Don Hutto detention center for immigrant families some years back. Outside organizers showed up to help. They wanted the crowd to do a chant. I believe the chant was something like, “Who can make a change?” The crowd of immigrant rights groups instinctively shouted, “We can!” One organizer put down the bullhorn and corrected us. “No, say ‘Obama can!’” it was exactly like Chomsky had said.

In my own article I said that Bush had betrayed America by appealing to our basest instincts, and that Obama would betray us by appealing to our highest principles and then giving us politics as usual. Looking back I do not believe I was being pessimistic. It was clear that in spite of his good intentions, Obama was a part of the system that had produced the crisis. He trusted the big banks, he trusted Wall Street, he trusted the war machine and he trusted the intelligence community. From the start President Obama loaded his cabinet with industry insiders and with war hawks. His tool belt should have told us everything we needed to know about what he was going to do.

But blaming Obama is missing the point. Just because he wasn’t the answer does not mean that he was the problem. Blaming him and ignoring our own role in the same bad system will only lead to more heartache. How capitalism which is a greed based economy, or nationalism which needs empire as its expression lead anywhere but the very disasters we face now? How long will we blame the failure of this system on the frailties of our leaders? A dog eat dog economic system will eventually produce a nation where only those with fangs can aspire to leadership. Why can we not see this?

Obama failed not because he is evil, but because he believes in the very parts of the system that are producing the problem.  Capitalism is not a meaningful form of governance. We will not save the Republic by shrinking government and letting businesses run wild. What America needs is not less government, but more democracy. But so long as we the people believe in the God of capitalism, and so long as we believe in the American empire, and so long as we refuse to curb our level of consumption: no politician on earth can survive without giving us the poisons we demand.

Instead of looking to replace one failed hero with another, it is time to ask a new question. “How do we need to change to become the kind of citizenship in which good leadership is even possible?”