Obama’s Support for Wall Street Bailout & Other Attacks on Workers

[by Andy Pollack]

The AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and virtually every individual union in the country is supporting Barack Obama for President. Yet as we’ll show below, he’s just another pro-corporate, pro-ruling class politician.

First, a word about McCain’s economic platform, whose pro-corporate, pro-ruling class planks are so obvious that they need little exposure (it’s the job of the Democratic Party, after all, to do the heavy lifting in trying to fool workers into staying within the two-party charade).

Until the ruling class and its politicians and media forged a consensus around the Wall Street Bailout, McCain adamantly opposed any and all forms of regulation.

He supports privatization of Social Security, tax breaks for corporations, and granting even more tax breaks to the wealthy than Bush.

In recent months in its daily email alerts to members, the AFL-CIO has proudly announced that it has taken action around jobs, or inflation, or healthcare or housing costs – and inevitably what that means is that they’ve held a rally or gone door-knocking for Obama.

So let’s look at the credentials of this supposed working class hero.

Obama’s true colors were shown in his rush to endorse the Paulson Plan to bail out Wall Street (see accompanying article). The Washington Post reported that “Obama’s decision to join his rival at the White House in a show of bipartisanship appeared to set the stage for a final deal.” Obama had even called McCain to propose a joint statement supporting the bailout.

The Post added that “McCain and Obama have laid out conditions [for their support] that are largely in sync: more transparency, more oversight, a taxpayer stake so that a successful turnaround would recoup federal money, and limits on compensation for executives whose firms get help.” None of which change the basic function of the bill: to transfer hundreds of billions to Wall Street crooks.

In addition, “Obama dropped his insistence that the plan include a stimulus package for the broader economy.” And he even contradicted members of his own party by saying the package should not allow judges to restructure mortgages for people facing foreclosure.

Furthermore, the cost of the bailout, said Obama, would likely mean that his plans to spend more on needed services would be delayed and/or cut back (and as we’ll see below those plans never amounted to much anyway).

An article by David Leonhardt in the August 20th New York Times Magazine describes the ideology behind Obama’s economic stances, and paints Obama as above all a pragmatist. He describes an incident this summer “after Obama named Jason Furman, a protégé of Robert Rubin, as lead economic adviser. AFL-CIO head John Sweeney worried aloud about ‘corporate influence on the Democratic Party.’”

Says Leonhardt, “The campaign has come out with a series of small-bore, populist energy plans,” with predictably minimal impact, compared especially to the outrage over his comment this spring about bitter rural voters clinging to guns and religion. It was an admission that his own message about the economy hadn’t yet broken through.”

Obama had said: “You go into these small towns, the jobs have been gone for 25 years. It’s not surprising they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” Later Obama added that poor white small town Americans “don’t vote on economic issues.”

Of course workers ARE bitter – not just about our economic woes, but also about rich politicians like Obama who think we’re too stupid to know when a politician is currying favor with the ruling class by insulting our intelligence.

Leonhardt reports that Obama spent 12 years teaching at the University of Chicago, home of free market fetishist Milton Friedman and his followers. While there Obama became friendly with liberals who had been won over to many of Friedman’s ideas.

In his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama wrote: “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democrats more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than growing it — contained a good deal of truth.”

A typical example of the “incremental, market-based solutions” Obama prefers is his plan to require companies to automatically set aside a portion of their workers’ salary in a 401k plan, forcing workers to opt out of the plan if they want a traditional pension. His healthcare plan also depends on market solutions, as does his support for the cap-and-trade “solution” to global warming.

“The market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production,” Obama told Leonhardt. “There is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally.”

Andrew Leonard noted in Salon that while Obama’s tax cuts would give $700 more a year to those in the bottom 80% of the population, because the wealthy have done so well over the past few decades, this “would leave the gap between the rich and everyone else far wider than it was 15 or 30 years ago.”

Obama’s pro-ruling class beliefs and proposals are making it hard for him to win working class votes in an economy which normally would lead to a landslide for the party out of power. (It appears he’s getting a boost in the polls from hostility to the Paulson Plan despite his support for it, simply because in the absence of a genuine alternative, voters in such situations usually swing to the party out of power regardless of its stated positions.) He’s compounded this weakness by avoiding the issue of race – despite the fact that Black and Latin@ workers are suffering disproportionately from the economic crisis. But this pandering hasn’t won him any more support among white workers.

In August the New York Times sent a reporter to the once-solidly pro-Democrat Western Pennsylvania Rust Belt, who claimed to find much hostility or at least ambivalence about Obama among white workers there.

A typical comment was that of one retiree: “McCain keeps talking about being a prisoner of war. Great. The economy stinks; tell me his plan.” But this same man was “uncertain who Obama is.”

“People around here want practical language,” said the daughter of a steel-mill worker. “They don’t want high-flown talk,” like she hears from Obama.

And it’s not that voters in this area prefer guns over butter: Only 2 of 38 people interviewed favored remaining in Iraq.

One retired steelworker, whose pension had been eliminated, said “Obama got one thing right. We are bitter here.”

Another worker said she likes Obama but doesn’t talk about it, because “People are split between their politics and their prejudice.”

A United Steelworkers organizer tried to counter such statements by telling members: “Obama stands for national health care, strong unions and preserving Social Security. “Some of you won’t vote for him because he’s Black. Well, he’s a Democrat. Get over it.”

And AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka wrote: “There are a thousand good reasons for any worker to vote for him. There is only one very bad reason not to and that is because he is not white.”

Radical author Michael Yates notes that despite the prevalent racism in the region, from which he hails, “Even a nod to working-class sentiments would have made a difference. A lot of white workers would have eaten this up.”

The Washington Post described his troubles winning over “Wal-Mart Moms” who it categorized as “slightly older than soccer moms and without college degrees, and are struggling to pay for their children’s college, to take care of their parents, and face high energy prices, rising unemployment, soaring health care costs and housing foreclosures.”

It’s not surprising that Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, is a flack for the corporations who dominate his native state, Delaware, which, thanks to tax and regulation breaks, is a corporate haven second only to Bermuda.

In 1996, Black political scientist Adolph Reed described the then-new state senator as representing “the new breed of foundation-hatched black voices: a smooth Harvard lawyer with neoliberal politics, and a base in the liberal foundation and development worlds.”

Obama promises to give tax breaks to companies “that create good jobs right here.” Yet time after time companies receiving tax breaks have taken the money and run, closing plants and moving production elsewhere.

Other promises include:

“A windfall tax on excessive oil company profits to give families an immediate $1,000 emergency energy rebate.” But workers have lost far more than $1,000 to the oil companies.

“Provide $25 billion to prevent state and local cuts.”

$25 billion is a tiny percentage of the funds needed by state and local governments.

“A new tax credit of up to $500 per person.”

Again, this will do little to help families facing foreclosure, or bankruptcy due to huge medical bills, much less recoup the wages lost over decades.

“Obama will fight to open up foreign markets to support good American jobs. Obama will pressure the World Trade Organization to enforce trade agreements and stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and nontariff barriers on US exports.”

This is the rhetoric of US-based multinationals who want to continue to get subsidies from Washington and force open, by force if need be, other countries’ markets.

“Create an Advanced Manufacturing Fund, double funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and make the Research and Development tax credit permanent.”

Again, more giveaways to auto and high-tech companies.

“Invest $150 billion” in biofuels and other alternative energy technologies.

Yet again, ax breaks for private developers of such technologies. And note the support for biofuels, which is worsening the climate crisis and driving up prices for starving Third World workers.

“Put $60 billion over 10 years in a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank.”

The Congressional Budget Office says $20 billion are needed right now just to maintain current levels of road and railway service and safety. And this doesn’t say anything about the hundreds of billions needed to rebuild the Gulf Coast or devastated inner cities.

Obama has said: “The free market has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world, a standard of living unmatched in history. We are all in this together. From CEOs to shareholders, from financiers to factory workers, we all have a stake in each other’s success.”

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