Bob Gould, 2008

Debate on Barack Obama’s speech

Source: Ozleft, March 29, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Barack Obama’s March 18 speech, A More Perfect Union has set off a wave of discussion, including on Marxmail. I don’t often agree with Joaquin Bustelo, but on the basis of my own experience I think there’s quite a lot of truth in what he says about the Obama campaign.

I reject Bustelo’s long-term dismissal of the working class and the labour movement in the US, and even more in Australia, but nevertheless the Obama campaign seems to be very important.

If I lived in the US, like Louis Proyect I’d be reluctant to vote for the Democrats, but luckily I don’t have to make that decision.

Here in Australia we have a tidy preferential system that allows one to vote in sequence for the candidates you want without wasting your vote, and we also have compulsory voting, which is good from a working class point of view.

Despite my reservations about the Democrats, I hope Obama wins the primaries and I hope he wins the election.

I base this preference on the coverage of the campaign in the bourgeois media, and particularly the dignified way in which Obama refused to unload the preacher at his church because of the preacher’s views. As well, I’m repelled by the dog-whistle racism coming out of the Clinton camp.

Another factor in my thinking is my experience with US exchange students in my bookshop, which is located in a partly student area close to Sydney University, and opens from 9am to midnight seven days a week. There’s a constant stream of exchange students through the shop from every country in the world, including many from the US.

For many years I’ve driven my associates and employees mad with my habit of engaging in a certain amount of agitprop with likely looking young people from the counter in my shop, where I spend a lot of time.

I inquire about their country and discuss politics with them in a friendly way. For a long time the young US students have been mainly rather passively anti-Bush, with a minority of Republican Bible-bashers from the mid-west.

This time around, it’s rather different. The passive anti-Bushite majority are less passive and almost all of them, particularly the women, emphatically support Obama. The diehard Bushites seem to be a much-reduced group, and quite a few who appear to be evangelical Christians seem disillusioned with Bush and are leaning towards Obama.

The most fascinating couple, to me, I kid you not, were young Mormons who I spoke to the other night, both white, one from Seattle and one from Washington DC. It emerged that they were both more-or-less religious Mormons who knew quite a lot about Joseph Smith and the history of the Mormon church, but they were both flat-out for Obama and didn’t seem inclined at all to vote for the Mormon Republican Mitt Romney. As well, they were both firmly against the Iraq war.

My over-the-counter agitprop activities over the past few months suggest to me that after a very long period of passivity something new is again happening among the middle-class youth of the US and it seems to focus on the Obama campaign.

I don’t have any particular theory about the origins of this mood, as my knowledge of US politics is very limited, but I’m heartened by the phenomenon. Obama is certainly a bourgeois politician but his campaign is unleashing something new and healthy, it seems to me from afar.