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The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Tariq Ali

The Obama Syndromewill be a powerful boost to Obama dissenters on the left. (Bob Hoover -Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Tags: Books, Politics
Author: Tariq Ali
Publisher: Verso
1 review about The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War...

Two years on, a midterm critique from the far-left

  • Oct 23, 2010
Editor of New Left Review, London-based Ali criticizes Barack Obama's obedience to the same corporate and military powers that controlled previous American administrations. What Ali sums up about a previous analysis of Obama speaks for Ali's own agenda: "A useful antidote to the gushing biographies." Ali's progressive stance confronts the illusions sold to voters in 2008 by a compliant media and capitalist firms who provided the vast majority of Obama's $900 million campaign funds. Goldman Sachs contributed nearly a million; who could claim surprise by their bailout?

His leftist presuppositions infuse this short series of what read more like related essays than a seamlessly constructed narrative. Ali admits a rush to print, preferring to provide a "preliminary report on the first 1000 days of the Obama presidency." However, with mention of the Gaza flotilla attack by Israel, the resignation of General McChrystal, and the BP oil spill, this is as current an overview as can be expected.

It begins energetically. The first "mixed-race" president reinvented himself as both white enough and black enough to win. "Little of what Obama actually said in a combination of blandishments, special pleading and specious arguments justified much optimism, but the manner of his speaking, the color of his skin and the constant invocation of the word `change' helped create a new spirit in the country--Obamania--that propelled him to the White House."

Ali cites African American scholars and activists among Obama's critics: "The emblematic significance of Obama's victory should not be underestimated, but did it ever move beyond symbols?" Ali doubts it did. After surveying the superficial gloss of Obama's campaign makeover, he turns to Obama's imperial aspirations, which extend those of his predecessors.

Surveying Iraqi and Afghani wars, Palestinian resistance, and Iranian and Pakistani dangers supposed by an Anglo-American military and multinational hegemony, Ali amasses more information akin to a current affairs journalist's approach than that of a political analyst.

This leftist reaction, in other contexts, typifies Ali's characteristic limitations. His progressive opposition leaves the reader wondering--in a world where no other superpower appears ready to take over America's role as carrier of the big stick--what viable alternatives might be.

As a weak response to such a crisis, Obama's "sonorous banality and armor-plated hypocrisy" earn derision. Ali exposes Obama's habitual lack of will. Rather than true reform for Wall Street, the healthcare system, or the Supreme Court, Obama capitulates to lobbyists and fundraisers who control politicians under a Democratic or Republican administration. Obama pretends that an audacity of hope leading to genuine advance will occur under his watch, but the "implication is always that the Washington system prevents any change that he could believe in."

One might argue that the Obama syndrome, no matter who inherits this affliction, may collapse as the parasite consumes the host. How can capitalism sustain itself in this self-devouring, environmentally threatened, and profit-driven world? Closing this collection, rather than appending an article on the failed Oakland health care system or the situation in Yemen, Ali could have addressed this dire scenario instead. One wonders about his solutions, two decades after the collapse of mass capitalist opposition, from his perspective in a London-based far-left.

Ali might have enriched this study. He could have articulated more often the fears and hopes of communities, grassroots organizations, and everyday folks who are entangled within their historical allegiance to Obama's own maker, the Democratic party machine. It dominates many cities and suburbs. No true radicals will get elected, even there. Few residents bother with whatever New Left Review encourages, when it comes to a disaffected American voter, or a non-voter majority. This lack of electoral choice prevents real change from occurring in a polarized, bipartisan, corporate-funded, unreformed campaigning system. The Democratic party's "leadership" will not support any more than the GOP a truly alternative candidate--no matter what his or her complexion--when it comes to perpetuating its own empire.

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