When I Was "Proud of My Country" Obama Wasn't Part of the Reason
By Paul Street at May 19, 2008
Obama is warning the GOP against quoting his wife in out-of-context "snippets: "
"But I do want to say this to the GOP. If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful. Because that I find unacceptable."
Obama recently praised his wife's "patriotism" and said that for Republicans "to try to distort or to play snippets of her remarks in ways that are unflattering to her I think is just low class ... and especially for people who purport to be promoters of family values, who claim that they are protectors of the values and ideals and the decency of the American people to start attacking my wife in a political campaign I think is detestable."
Well, it is low down (must bourgeois Barack really say "low class?") for the GOP to harp on his wife's supposed "anti-Americanism" but good God, what does Obama think the GOP and the right wing Republican noise machine are all about? Senator Obambi needs to step down from his supposed mountain of moral purity. All his childish calls for bipartisan harmony tend to blind him to the fact that these people are proto-fascist messianic-militarist attack-dogs of the lowest order. He better man-up for the coming bloody assaults and be ready to shoot back with murderous intent. You can't reason with Repubicans; you have to beat them over the head again and again and again.
But let''s look at what Obama's First Lady in waiting so notoriously said one day earlier this year:
"For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."
Later the same day: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."
I have a problem with these comments, both of which constitute reasonably complete thoughts that deserve to be considered on their own merits.
No, it's not that they suggest a lack of proper patriotism. I've been a left internationalist since at least age 16 and do not view the nation state as a very meaningful reference group. . My allegiance is to the global community and in fact, silly as this may sound, to the world revolution.
If it doesn't bother me when Reverend Wright says "God Damn America," it sure isn't going to bother me when Michelle Obama expresses some frankly less-than-patriotic sentiments about the U.S.
I have a different sort of issue with Michelle Obama's comment. .
I'm not that far in age from the Obamas and Michelle's reflections got me thinking: when in my adult life have I been "proud of my country"....well, proud of the behavior of large numbers of U.S. citizens?
I've got to be honest: there aren't a lot of examples that come to mind...not in my adult life. From childhood, to be sure, I have some very strong prideful memories of national developments relating to Civil Rights, Vietnam, and more during the 1960s (that marvelous decade I wish Barack Obama would please stop trashing).
A while back (can't recall the exact year), the UPS delivery workers went on strike and polls showed that most Americans sided with labor against management. That's one. I liked that.
I've seen some polling data since that shows that Americans generally tend to side with labor over management labor-capital disputes and that a good U.S. majority supports unions. More broadly, I just did a ZNet Sustainer commentary on how the majority of Americans hold (and have long held) very progressive issue positions ---- well to the Left of Obama, I might add---- relating to both domestic and foreign policy. Looking at that data helps me feel "proud[er] of my country.
I guess the main time I felt "pride in my country" (or whatever we want to call it) was mid-February of 2003, when hundreds of thousands of Americans (was it millions?) marched against the occupation of Iraq in advance of its actual launching. That was pretty damn cool.
I was also proud to join tens of thousands in the streets in Chicago on the nights of March 19 and March 20th of 2003, as the terrible and criminal invasion was being launched. That was a great experience.
I'm disgusted that most of those people went home and never hit the streets or joined the peace movement in comparable numbers once it was clear that Washington's World Imperialist War Criminals would proceed anyway, but the fact remains that I was proud of many of my fellow Americans on February 15th and March 19th-20th 2003. .
And here's the thing. Mr. Hope was nowhere to be seen protesting or speaking against the War by early 2003, when it mattered. He has built a campaign largely around his October 2002 speech against the Iraq War and his claim to have been a consistent opponent of the War.
But by the time the war was actually launched, Obama was angling to become a member of the U.S. ruling class (the U.S. Senate, more specifically) and that meant backing off his somewhat promising (but not all that progressive) antiwar behavior of October 2002
The question of Obama and Iraq is a case where Bill Clinton (of whom I am no fan) got something right. Obama's claim to have been a strong and consistent enemy of the Iraq War from the beginning is (as Clinton said) "a fairly tale."
For my money. the worst example of Team Obama's taste for truly audacious deception is their effort to appropriate the spirit and support for the antiwar movement.
That effort violates some basic facts of history. In late July of 2004, for example, Obama admitted to the New York Times that he did not know how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote. Here is the relevant Times passage: "In a recent interview [Obama' declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.' But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Mr. Obama said. 'WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? I DON'T KNOW.' What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made'" (New York Times, 26 July, 2004).
Around the same time Obama told the Chicago Tribune that he had no real differences with George W. Bush on U.S. Iraq policy. The main issue he said, was who was in the White House to execute the policy.
By the time of the convention and perhaps well before, Obama had taken his 2002 antiwar speech down from his Web site. The speech didn't fit his desire to seem sufficiently imperial and miltiarist to pass muster with the U.S. foreign policy and Wall Street/K-Street power brokers - the corporate imperial masters who determine who is and who isn't safe and viable for higher office.
For what it's worth, which may not be much in our Orwellian and American Exceptionalist political culture, Obama has never opposed the "war" (naked and one-sided U.S. imperial aggression) on the same terms as the actual antiwar movement. His much-ballyhooed "antiwar speech" in Chicago during the fall of 2002 followed much conventional wisdom in the foreign policy establishment by criticizing "dumb wars." It said absolutely nothing about the obviously criminal and imperial, oil-motivated nature of the great international and human rights transgression Cheney and Bush were preparing for Iraq and the world community.
In the part of his famous 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address (generally credited with producing his national celebrity) that came closest to directly criticizing the Iraq invasion, Obama suggested that the Bush administration had "fudged the numbers" and "shad[ed] the truth" about why "our young men and women" were "sent into harm's way." He added that the U.S. must "care for [soldiers'] families while they're gone, tend to the soldiers upon their return, and never go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world."
Morally cognizant and reasonably informed listeners were left to wonder about the considerably larger quantity (well into the tens of thousands) of Iraqis who had been killed and maimed and who lost income as a result of the criminal U.S. invasion of their country by the summer of 2004. What about the massive harm U.S. forces were ordered to inflict on Iraqis, considerably greater than the damage they experienced?
"Securing the peace" was a morally impoverished and nationally arrogant, self-serving way for Obama to describe the real White House objective in Iraq by the summer of 2004: to pacify, by force when (quite) necessary, the outraged populace of a nation that understandably resented a brazenly imperial invasion it saw (with good reason) as driven (as even Alan Greenspan admits) by the United States' desire to deepen its control of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil.
And "shade the truth" didn't come close to doing justice to the high-state deception - the savage, sinister, and sophisticated lying - that the Bush administration used and is still using to cover their real agenda, understood with no small accuracy by the people of Iraq.
It is hardly a "war," moreover, when the most powerful military state in history attacks and colonially occupies a weak nation it has already devastated over decades of military assault and even deadlier "economic sanctions."
Obama has repeatedly voted to spend billions on the illegal invasion since his arrival in the U.S. Senate. He inveighs against the "Tom Hayden wing of the Democratic Party" and has told congressional Democrats they would be "playing chicken with the troops" if they dared to actually (imagine) de-fund the Cheney-Bush "war."
He voted to confirm as Secretary of State (of all things) the mendacious war criminal Condoleezza Rice, who played a critical role in advancing the preposterous Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims Bush used to invade Iraq.
He distanced himself from fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin when Durbin faced vicious right-wing attacks after daring to tell some basic truths about U.S. torture practices in Iraq.
Obama used his considerable political and campaign finance muscle to back centrist Democrats against antiwar progressives in numerous Congressional primaries in 2006 (he even supported the neoconservative Joe Lieberman - his self-chosen Senate mentor - against the antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont in Connecticut). After their attainment of a majority in the Congress in November of 2006, Obama warned Democrats against being seen as working against the remarkably unpopular and arch-criminal Cheney-Bush administration.
Obama has repeatedly and absurdly claimed that the illegal invasion was launched with the "best of [democratic] intentions."
He praises U.S. military personnel for their "unquestioning" "service" in Iraq and (despite numerous U.S. atrocities there) for "doing everything we could ever ask of them."
His belated calls for withdrawal are hedged by numerous statements indicating that an Obama White House would maintain a significant military presence in and around Iraq for an indefinite period of time. And Obama has refused to support taking a reckless (possibly even nuclear) U.S. military assault on Iran off the table of acceptable U.S. foreign policy options. Obama couldn't bother to be present on the Senate floor to vote against the Bush's administration's provocative, saber-rattling move to define Iran's Revolutionary Guard as "an international terrorist organization" (3).
Journalist and author Jeremy Scahill's recent close examination of Obama and Hillary Clinton's detailed Iraq plans during the endless primary campaign shows that "both of them intend to keep the Green Zone [the giant American military and diplomatic section of Baghdad] intact. Both of them intend to keep the current US embassy project, which is slated to be the largest embassy in the history of the world...it's 500 CIA operatives alone, a thousand personnel. And they're also going to keep the Baghdad airport indefinitely. And what that means is that even though the rhetoric of withdrawal is everywhere in the Democratic campaign, we're talking about a pretty substantial level of US forces and personnel remaining in Iraq indefinitely."
This isn't a record that inspires a lot of pride or hope in the moral and ideological slave quarters I inhabit, which seem oddly marginalized and demonized in the dominant corporate-crafted political culture despite the fact that most Americans have long opposed the occupation of Iraq.
Last February, when talking to General Motors workers in Janesville, Wisconsin, Obama said the following: "It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together."
Yes, Senator, we are "putting Iraq back together" with a deadly imperial occupation that has killed perhaps as many as 1.3 million Iraqis so far. This after the U.S. States has blown Iraq apart through two deadly military assaults, one ongoing invasion and continuing assault and a decade plus of deadly, mass-murderous "economic sanctions."
But the "putting Iraq together" line is not the worst thing I've heard from Obama on Iraq. Here's the worst. At one terrible and telling point in a speech he gave to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2006, the all but openly declared presidential candidate Obama had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens support "victory" in Iraq: "The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah."
But the "putting Iraq together" line is not the worst thing I've heard from Obama on Iraq.
Here's the worst. At one terrible and telling point in a speech he gave to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2006, the all but openly declared presidential candidate Obama had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens support "victory" in Iraq: "The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah."
Yikes. Fallujah as a site of "resolved" American martyrdom in the criminal and immoral occupation of Iraq? Hello?!
As I am sure many of this blog's five dedicated readers know, Fallujah was the site of two truly vicious and bloody U.S.-imperial assaults in 2004. The city has since become infamous in the Arab and Islamic worlds as a symbol of western racist imperialism.
Of all the cities for Obama to pick for his offensive and stupid sentence, none could have been more provocative and insulting than Falllujah. As a friend of mine said at the time after reading the speech: "what an imperialist shithead that Obama is. What's wrong with all these 'progressive,' so-called 'anti-war' Obamaphiles?'"
Having said all this, I too sense and am glad that the American people are "hungry for change." Obama is riding that hunger wave as much as (if not more than) he is creating it. I think his job is - he has been hired by the corporate-imperial establishment - to safely (for the power elite) contain and channel that hunger in ways that preserve and reproduce dominant oppression structures and doctrines. His mission, as Juan Santos has said, is the "repressive desublimation" (Herbert Marcuse's useful left-Freudian term) of radical energies and popular energies generated by the proto-fascistic arch-plutocratic messianic-miltiarist Bush II regime. The resulting contradictions could be useful for the next Left. And that could produce some actions and events worthy of real pride, national and otherwise.