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The Black Commentator - Comparison of Obama & Cynthia McKinney: Who is the Real Progressive Candidate?

[This was originally published in The Organizer Newspaper]

Barack Obama is creating a buzz on the political scene such as we have not seen in a long time - particularly among Black voters and youth. He is forging an electoral grassroots movement that is channeling a lot of the discontent by the American people with the powers-that-be.

Speaking in San Antonio, Texas, on the eve of that state's primary election, Obama sharply denounced the “Bush-McCain course, which threatens a century of war in Iraq, a course where we will spend billions of dollars a week that could be used to rebuild our roads and our schools, to take care of our veterans and send our children to college.”

Obama went on to decry “four more years of tax breaks for the rich, with the argument that we should give more to those with the most and let the chips fall where they may ... in a course that further divides Wall Street from Main Street.” He compared Hillary Clinton to John McCain, and said that both are good at “giving speeches but not at providing solutions.”

Responding to Hillary, he said, “There is nothing empty about the call for affordable healthcare, or jobs at a living wage, or secure pensions, or ensuring the birth-right of every child in this country to live a full, healthy and safe life.” And echoing the Rev. Jesse Jackson, he concluded, “Our task is to set the country on a new course, to keep hope alive, to keep promise alive!”

All this sounds fine and good and many people across the country are buying into it. Obama is viewed as an outsider, a new kid on the block, someone who just might be able to shake things up. Working people and the poor are hurting; they are anguished. They are hoping against hope that Obama will make a difference.

What Are Obama's Policy Solutions? Obama's message for change is compelling, but the question people need to be asking is: how does Obama expect to do all these wonderful things when all his actual policy solutions point in the opposite direction?

Take the question of rebuilding our roads and schools, taking care of our veterans and sending our children to college: How can this be done without drastically slashing the war budget and redirecting our priorities toward meeting human needs? It can't. Is Obama proposing cutting the war budget or curbing the militarism and interventionist policies of the U.S. government? Not for a minute.

Obama is a hawk when it comes to Israel, Iran and U.S. policy in the Middle East. His big objection is that Bush did not go after the “real terrorist states.” Obama called for a nuclear attack, if necessary, against Iran and supports U.S. intervention in Pakistan, if necessary, to dislodge Al Qaeda and to prevent “rogue states” from building nuclear weapons. His statements, public and widely distributed, were praised highly by major sectors of the military-industrial complex. Obama simply wants to shift Bush's “endless war” to other hot spots around the world. How about providing jobs for all at a living wage? Can this be done without breaking with all the corporate “free trade” and privatization agreements? It can't. Is Obama proposing to break with these agreements? Not at all.

Obama, like Clinton, is a supporter of NAFTA, CAFTA and “free trade.” Both Clinton and Obama talk about including workers' and environmental rights in these “free trade” agreements - which is nothing more than a sweetener to get working people to swallow the bitter pill of “free trade.” Such clauses do not change the anti-worker and anti-environment character of these treaties. Obama walked out of the room during the U.S.- Peru FTA vote in Congress last summer - so as not to upset his labor constituents - but he praised the bill in the media, just as he praised “free trade” in his private meetings with Canadian political leaders prior to the Ohio primary. On this score, there is no difference between him and Hillary. How about providing healthcare for all? Can this be done without removing the private insurance companies from the healthcare equation and instituting a single-payer healthcare system? It can't. Is Obama proposing to do this? Not at all.

Obama calls for a “free market” solution that keeps the HMOs in the driver's seat, maintaining the exorbitant administrative costs and profits in an industry that is sicker by the day. He does not propose “individual mandates,” as Hillary does, but his “universal message” would barely place a band-aid on a system that needs fundamental reform - through a Canadian-style, single-payer system. And how about the “birth-right of every child in this country” to have a decent future? Should this not also apply to all immigrant children (and to their parents) - whether legal or “illegal”?

Yet both Obama and Hillary voted to extend the Wall of Shame along the U.S. border. They support militarizing the border, employer sanctions and other such repressive measures against undocumented immigrants. They are strongly opposed to full and immediate legalization/amnesty. And how about closing the gap between Wall Street and Main Street? Can this be done without making the rich pay their fair share of taxes (not simply ending the Bush tax cuts) and radically redistributing the wealth in this country? It can't.

Obama says we have to go beyond race and class, but he offers only a general promise for change, in partnership with Corporate America. But can this corporate-dominated economic and political system be “humanized” by pleas from Obama for change? Can racial oppression and class exploitation be overcome in alliance with the bosses, in the framework of the two-party system, and with vague pleas for change? Obviously not.

How Can We Promote Real Change?

Many prominent political activists have gotten behind Barack Obama, arguing that giving “critical support” to Obama is the best way to hold him accountable and push him to the left.

We disagree. The Democratic Party, as history has demonstrated time and again, is the graveyard of all social protest movements. Pointing working people toward the Democratic Party, however “critically,” is to foster dangerous illusions in the institutional framework of U.S. imperialism and to mislead folks as to how progressive change can be brought about.

If the Democrats don't self-destruct at their upcoming Denver convention over the issue of “super-delegates” or what to do about the Michigan and Florida primaries - and if Obama is actually the Democratic nominee and is then elected president - one cannot exclude the possibility that he could be forced to go further than his program or even intentions would suggest in addressing some of the concerns of the American people.

But this pressure won't come from folks caught up in the workings of the Democratic Party. The only possibility of pushing Obama to address some of the people's needs is if - and ONLY if - there is an INDEPENDENT movement built to advance consciously the issues that are on the front-burner for the people of this country - particularly for the Black people and youth, who are Obama's main constituency.

It was the Civil Rights Movement, after all, that won the Civil Rights Act - not LBJ, as Hillary would have us believe. We even won this with a Republican Chief Justice.

If Obama is elected president, this electoral movement, with its heightened expectations and illusions, is bound to come up against, and clash with, the realities of the policies implemented by Obama. Supporters of the Democratic Party will no doubt tell us - as they have done countless times in the past with other Democratic Party presidents - to give Obama more time and a wider political space to act, and not to push him prematurely (so as not to awaken the Republican sharks waiting to attack him).

We will be told - including by many of Obama's “critical supporters” - to be patient, and then more patient, while at that very same time Obama puts into place the corporatist-type structures used so craftily by the ruling parties and institutions in Europe in the recent period (both of the right and of the so-called left) to co-opt, silence, demobilize and ultimately demoralize the working class and social protest movements.

Central Importance of Cynthia McKinney Campaign

This is why Cynthia McKinney's “Power to the People” candidacy so important today? Brother Larry Pinkney, an editorial board member of Black Commentator, explained it this way:

“Sister Cynthia McKinney has both the credibility and the capacity to truly excite the people in a substantive vs. superficial fashion; and can inspire people to see that they themselves / we ourselves are the only viable solution to the Republicrats and their flawed and corrupt electoral system. We must move the people from being excited about meaningless superficialities that do nothing to address systemic change - to being excited about substance that is the catalyst for systemic change.”

McKinney's independent campaign is needed to lay the groundwork for building an independent political movement for real change - a movement that needs a political instrument: a Reconstruction Party.

This sentiment was expressed concisely by Washington, D.C., activist Netfa Freeman on his blog:

“We need to be about the business of thinking and acting outside the box and building political parties that are outside the box, parties that serve the economic, social, and political interests of the masses of people. This is precisely why the candidacy of former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for President and the Power To The People Coalition is of such enormous importance for the present and for the future. This coalition is all about collectively laying the foundation for systemic change - which is the only way that we can enjoy real change.”

On January 26, a meeting of the National Organizing Committee for a Reconstruction Party took place in New Orleans with the participation of delegates from seven states, mainly from the South. The meeting produced a powerful Draft Manifesto for a Reconstruction Party that can be accessed by visiting the website of Sister Cynthia McKinney at

This Draft Manifesto, which is still a work-in progress, puts forward very clear solutions to the front-burner needs and demands of the people in this country - particularly for African Americans and all other oppressed sectors of society.

The time is now. We urge all unionists and political activists to:

    1. read and distribute widely this Draft Manifesto for a Reconstruction Party.
    2. get behind the Cynthia McKinney “Power to the People” presidential campaign.
    3. contact the coordinators of the National Organizing Committee for a Reconstruction Party in New Orleans by writing to - The Editors of The Organizer Newspaper.
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March 20, 2008
Issue 269

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
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