Behind the votes for Obama & Rodham Clinton
Published Jan 9, 2008 9:20 PM
The surprisingly strong victory for Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses and his
close second to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New Hampshire primary have put
the campaign of the African-American senator from Illinois front and center on
the U.S. political scene and put him neck-and-neck with Clinton. His results
are all the more impressive because they take place in lightly populated states
whose overwhelmingly white voters greatly underrepresent the big-city and
suburban population centers of the country. With these contests showing that a
large number of young white people are enthusiastic supporters of Obama, tens
of millions of people who hadn’t believed it possible that a Black man
might be elected president in the racist U.S. now might think Obama could be
None of this changes the basic truths about U.S. elections. The presidential
contest remains firmly in the hands of the ruling class and their politicians
in the two big capitalist parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Who wins
is closely related to the amount of money raised by the candidates and leaves
him or her beholden to the ruling-class donors. Clinton and Obama have been the
biggest fundraisers, even out-raising the Republican candidates. All the
leading candidates of both parties have been firm defenders of U.S. imperialist
interests and big capital all their political careers, still are, and can be
expected to remain so.
Still, Obama’s strong showing amid the large turnouts already has lessons
about the mood of the population. Since Iowa is at least 92-percent and New
Hampshire 94-percent white, it says little about nonwhite voters, who will be
heard from in large numbers only on Jan. 19 and 26 in South Carolina, Jan. 29
in Florida and then on Feb. 5, the so-called Super Tuesday of primaries in more
than 20 states.
The first lesson comes from the large turnout in Iowa for the Democrats, double
the Republican turnout and almost double the Democrats’ 2004 number. A
high proportion of the participants were youthful voters. The high
participation in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa by people calling themselves
“independents,” that is, not members of either party, reflects
their strong revulsion to the Bush gang.
Many post-caucus analysts—including Obama and candidate John Edwards, who
came in second in Iowa just slightly ahead of Clinton and a distant third in
New Hampshire—said that Iowa showed the people wanted change and they
were the candidates who most represented change. Disgust with the Bush gang on
the one hand and perhaps consciousness of impending economic difficulties on
the other has moved the voting population somewhat to the left.
Those selecting Obama seem to be looking beyond his program. John Edwards has a
program that is more pro-labor, pro-health care and anti-war than Obama.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s domestic program is also more progressive than
Obama’s, although among many anti-war activists she is identified as an
early supporter of the Iraq war who won’t cleanly break with that
position. The voters’ perception of the candidates is not necessarily
connected to the spoken or written promises. If they see Obama as an agent of
change this appears to come from the image he projects.
Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who is running an independent progressive
campaign in the Reconstruction Party and contending for nomination of the Green
Party, was interviewed following the Iowa caucuses. She took a critical view of
Obama’s team and program, and what she believes could be a negative
impact on the struggle for Black rights. McKinney points out that Obama’s
main foreign policy adviser is Zbigniew Brzezinski, the ultimate Democratic
Party cold warrior.
Of course Clinton’s foreign policy advisers, like Madeleine Albright and
Richard Holbrooke, are the people who planned and executed the war against
Yugoslavia. And McKinney doesn’t let her and Edwards off the hook on
this. But in discussing Obama, McKinney also notes that by playing down the
differences in how Black and white are treated in the U.S., Obama does nothing
to help, for example, the people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane
There is little doubt that an Obama campaign that looks successful will draw
the fire of the most virulent racists in the U.S. This will happen even if the
majority of the ruling class is content to have him run and even to win.
Clinton, who has been in the public eye for 15 years, has already drawn the
fire of the worst sexists and male chauvinists. It would be naive to think the
reactionary Republican Party will campaign without trying to manipulate
backward sentiments of racism and/or sexism.
With an Obama candidacy, working-class and revolutionary organizations will
have to stay sensitive to the impact of racism on the electoral campaign, even
as the left differentiates itself from Obama as well as the Republican. The
left will also have to adjust its approach should there be an active
intervention of the population in the electoral process, especially if an
economic or war crisis arises during the election.
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