Saturday, 5 July 2014

After Obama, What Next? - Part 2

At the time of his election, I wrote that it was reason to celebrate the fact that a black man had won the Presidency, when not many years ago, such an event would have seemed impossible. But, I was not alone in warning against being too optimistic about what his Presidency would bring – including for black Americans.

In that respect, Obama has not failed to disappoint. The financial meltdown of 2008 blew up the financial bubble that has been repeatedly inflated since 1987, and thereby exposed the underlying weakness of the US economy, that had been created by the conservative policies of the Reagan/Bush years.

Despite a policy of Keynesian fiscal stimulus, that stands in stark contrast to the conservative, austerian policy adopted in the UK, the US economy, whilst performing better than others, has not performed outstandingly. The same kind of welfarist policies have continually extended the periods of entitlement for unemployment benefits, and brought more workers into the scope of entitlement to food stamps. But, it is hardly then a measure of success that millions continue to need extended unemployment benefits, or that 46 million people, or a fifth of the population, are in receipt of food stamps. And, of course, as before Obama became President, a disproportionate number of those unemployed, those in receipt of food stamps, and of those homeless people, who turned up to Central Park recently, to receive alms from a publicity seeking Chinese billionaire, are black.

Obama had the advantage that the policy of Keynesian intervention, to save the banks and big corporations, like Ford and GM, had been started under Bush. But, the bifurcation of the US economy, referred to earlier, was reflected in a growing bifurcation in US society, which was in turn manifest in a growing divide between its political parties.

On the one hand, the division between the Democrats and Republicans, like the split between Labour and Tories, in Britain, is only a division between two bourgeois parties. For most of the last century, certainly after WWII, both camps, in both countries, stood essentially on the same social-democratic terrain. It was only when the economic conditions, that underpinned that, collapsed, in the 1980's, that the social-democratic wing of the conservative parties lost their sway, and the electoral arithmetic swung the pendulum to the Right.

In both countries, a sizeable constituency of small capitalists, and those who share their narrow, petit-bourgeois outlook, exists to provide a bedrock of electoral support for conservative parties. In more affluent times, this constituency shrinks, but, in times such as those experienced since the 1980's, it grows and becomes more vocal. After the shock of 2008, it became more vocal again, and the failure of social-democracy, at an international level, to adequately address the aftermath of the crisis, has only added to that.

It is manifest in the growth of ultra-right, nationalist and populist forces in Europe, in UKIP and the Tory right in Britain, and with the Tea Party in the US. In the US, the Tea Party, that seemed to be on the wane until recently, showed it was still alive by unseating the Republican Senate Leader, Eric Cantor, though some of that could also be due to his failing to give sufficient attention to looking after his constituency.

What can be said is that Obama has not compromised with the Republicans in the way Clinton did. In particular, Obama pushed through with Obamacare. In part, that could be down to the fact that US big capital needed some form of general socialised healthcare, more than it had ever done – New York Times.

For more than a decade, big US companies complained that they were being made uncompetitive, because of the huge costs they incurred, providing private health insurance for their employees; a cost their European and Japanese counterparts did not face. In recent years, those costs have soared even more. Pushing through healthcare reform is then something important for big industrial capital, and the Democrats, as its social-democratic political representatives.

But, in the US, in particular, it is anathema to conservatives. For the small capitalists, on whom the conservatives are based, socialised healthcare is an extravagance, and an unnecessary cost imposed on them. Of course, the reality is that its only a cost imposed on them to the extent, that unlike big capital, they do not already provide health insurance for their largely un-unionised workforces, preferring instead to throw that cost on their workers, and on to other workers taxes, via Medicare.

For the middle class supporters of conservative parties, it is equally anathema, because their small minded approach believes that if they can provide for themselves, everyone else should do likewise. They would, of course, be the first to object at the idea then that all workers should be paid a minimum wage sufficient to make that self-reliance possible! Its not surprising then that the bifurcation of US society, and its political reflection has found its sharpest expression in the virulent opposition by the Tea Party against Obamacare.

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