BY JEFF MACKLER
President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address on Jan. 21 represented a verbal departure from the record of corporate subservience that marked his first four years in office. His 2009 inaugural opened with, “I thank George Bush for his service to our nation,” a promise to the corporate elites who run the United States that Obama’s policies would differ little, if at all, from those of the previous Republican administration.
But this time, Obama’s speech writers, for the “historic record” and for those who retain illusions that the first Black president could actually become a champion of the poor and oppressed, portrayed Obama as a man of the people, vitally concerned with human rights, democracy, world peace, and prosperity for all—immigrants and gays included!
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy,” said Obama, who neglected to review his record in signing on once again to the anti-democratic Patriot Act, his personal “kill list,” the mass interrogation and harassment of 700,000 Muslim-Americans since 9-11, racist stop and frisk laws, and the increasing obliteration of voting rights for Blacks across the country. The violations of fundamental democratic rights became the common currency of state and federal policy during his administration, notwithstanding the few words of “concern” that he uttered.
“The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob,” Obama declared. But under his administration the distribution of the nation’s wealth was nothing less than Robin Hood in reverse, with the .001 percent ripping off a greater percentage than anytime in the modern era.
“Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free,” Obama stated, claiming a piece of the Lincoln legacy. Yet today’s increasingly privatized U.S. prison-industrial complex incarcerates the largest number and percentage of the country’s population in the world. The majority of prisoners are Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, who are compelled to perform near slave labor for corporate business and agriculture at an average wage of 50 cents per hour. Deduct the cost of trivial prison commissary items, and slavery has all but been re-introduced into the fabric of American society. The prison population has doubled over the past decade, and more prisons are built than schools.
Obama proclaimed, “Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.” But the Obama team increasingly joins the richest corporate magnates in the nation in campaigns to privatize for profit the nation’s schools, to gut state and federal education budgets, and to preside over massive tuition increases that keep working people out of college. Meanwhile, it subordinates the construction of environmentally sustainable public transportation systems to the fossil-fuel-guzzling auto and trucking industries and the super-highways designed for their use.
“Together [“together with whom?” one might ask the president], we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.” Competition? The norm in the U.S. and world capitalism today is monopoly, not competition. The ever-increasing direction of U.S. law is to advance monopoly control in order to best promote U.S. corporate interests against global competitors. Indeed, giant corporations that drive competitors out of the market have been given preference in the courts in the name of defending the “national security interests” of the U.S. That is, the little guy is driven from the market by monopoly practices to ensure that giant multi-national corporations gain advantage at the expense of international competitors.
“Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” said Obama. Hazards? U.S. corporations employ some 50,000 carcinogenic materials in the course of their daily operations. Under the Obama administration the historic protection of workers afforded by trade unions has been decimated. Today, only 6 percent of the private sector workforce is unionized, as compared to 36 percent in 1955. A near majority of states today operate as open-shop “right to work for less” bastions to serve the profit interests of the elite.
“A decade of war is now ending,” Obama proclaimed. The imperialist wars that the Obama administration pursued in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have reduced those nations to poverty and ruin while U.S. corporations emerged with the lion’s share of the conquered and occupied nations’ resource wealth. The Iraq war killed 1.5 million Iraqis to ensure that U.S. oil monopolies would gain major control of that nation’s oil reserves—the second largest in the world. Afghanistan’s rare earth metals, critical for the manufacture (abroad) of computers and related technology, are valued at $3 trillion. And the profits from Libya’s oil, in the main, will now be in U.S. corporate coffers.
These wars are far from over. Half of the 120,000 military forces in Afghanistan are U.S.-funded mercenary death-squad armies—sometimes politely referred to as “military contractors”—the largest private army in U.S. history. The occupation of Iraq continues with now-off-shored troops poised to re-enter as required to maintain in power the U.S.-puppet Nouri al-Maliki regime.
Today, U.S. forces are on the increase in Africa and Latin America. Seven new U.S. military bases have been constructed in Colombia as the advance contingents for future wars aimed at re-established U.S. hegemony in the region. The U.S.-operated African Command (AFRICOM) last month approved sending 3500 U.S. troops, assisted by Predator drones, to 35 African nations. These are but the advance guard of the tens and hundreds of thousands to come in the course of U.S. efforts at re-colonization of that continent.
The U.S. spends $1 trillion annually on its war machine, exceeding the combined total expended by the rest of the world. In truth, another decade and longer of wars and occupations is in preparation. The U.S. has every intention of remaining the “cop of the world.”
“An economic recovery has begun,” asserted the president, although a week later, the fourth-quarter figures affirmed a GDP decline, along with a continued fall in manufacturing investments. To the extent that there is an economic recovery it is limed to the ruling rich and their stock market manipulators, who engage in vast speculative machinations with capital that cannot be put to profitable use in the real economy. There has been no recovery for working people, unless the vast increase of minimum wage below subsistence and largely part-time work in the food and other service industries is considered a “recovery.”
“For we, the people,” says Obama, “understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” This super-rich “shrinking few” multi-billionaire and perhaps soon to be trillionaire ruling class in the U.S. and worldwide—based on the exploitation of the earth’s billions of workers—has no alternative but to inflict ever-increasing measures to keep their system going. But Obama’s recent and temporary “fiscal cliff” solution to the manufactured deficit crisis granted additional billions to the ruling rich while extracting billions from workers by ending the Bush-era payroll tax cuts. The average working American will now pay $1000 more in taxes in the coming year.
Obama’s deal with his Republican associates included some $80 billion more to the “few” he appears to chastise, with the graphic example of the fine-print wording that gave the Amgen pharmaceutical corporation $500 million by delaying for two years a government-mandated reduction in the cost of Amgen pills used in the kidney dialysis process. The $500 billion, of course, will be paid to Amgen by Medicare funds, further increasing the deficit.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”—a pitifully grandiose remark, if ever there was one. Obama campaigned for the presidency under the banner of being a bigger friend of the oil industry than Romney or Bush. During his final presidential debate, he publicly championed Big Oil as few candidates before him had ever done.
The president’s first term, Obama bragged, saw increased domestic fossil fuel production, not counting the billions of barrels spilled into the Gulf Coast during the British Petroleum super-spill. His administration has promoted the water-table poisoning and environmentally catastrophic fracking and tar sands processes. The stated policy of Obama and virtually all candidates and parties of the ruling rich is to dramatically increase fossil fuel production and use by 25 to 40 percent over the next 10 years, a deadly scenario for the continuance of life on earth.
“We, the people,” Obama insisted, “declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
However, no such truths have been put into practice by Obama or his predecessors. The state of Black America—last hired, first fired—has dramatically worsened under his administration, with every conceivable reactionary law put into place to increase the incarceration rate and numbers of the oppressed in prison (e.g., “three strikes,” “stop and frisk,” etc.) The income gap between Black/Latino and white is ever widening, while all workers are living or barely living through hard times imposed by the inherent inequalities that come with capitalist racist exploitation and oppression. Schools are increasingly re-segregated and failing, teachers are fired, affirmative action gutted, and social programs eliminated. Dr. King would be horrified!
Obama’s tip of the hat to LGBT America has been token at best. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he stated. Yet his “equality” exists in word only, while thousands of laws remain on the books that discriminate against LGBT people in myriad ways.
The nation’s 12 million “illegal” immigrants were also given an inaugural nod: “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity—until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.” Under Obama, 400,000 immigrants were deported in each of the past two years. His new proposals for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” amount to nothing less than continued oppression and use of immigrants as low-wage “guest” workers employed in the least desirable jobs—essentially denied the right to organize collectively.
For those necessary low-wage workers, Obama offers little or nothing. His “path to citizenship” includes requirements that are near impossible to meet, including payment of back taxes, mandatory facility in English, interminable waiting periods of perhaps 10 years, rejection of amnesty for all, forced military service (Dream Act), not to mention the massive militarization of the border.
For those potential immigrants with great skills—“engineers,” said Obama—capitalism makes its exceptions, maintaining its “brain drain” policies to encourage a privileged few to desert their own countries in search of a way out of a poverty that is greatly exacerbated, if not caused, by imperialist pressure and control over underdeveloped nations.
“With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.” With these concluding words, President Obama, the chief executive officer of the U.S. ruling class, concluded his oration, fully satisfying the liberal elite, who need to refurbish their tarnished party’s image every four years. At the same time, the speech infuriated the Republican diehards, who serve capitalism best by pushing the country’s overall agenda to the right—with Obama’s compliance.
Despite Obama’s rhetoric on this special occasion, there will be no real freedom in the U.S. or anywhere on earth until this corrupt assemblage of America’s super-rich and their twin parties of hate and plunder—including its titular leaders like Obama—are removed by a mass mobilization and replaced by a government of working people.
Photo: Tony Savino / Socialist Action