President Obama, “Where’s your base?”

President Obama, “Where’s your base?”

Randy Shaw casts Obama as the social activist turned savvy politician, waiting for grass-roots pressure to help him do the right thing, and chides activists for railing against Obama’s failure to institute reforms, without generating the necessary public pressure. (“Community Organizer Obama Asks Activists: “Where’s Your Base”? (BeyondChron, May 19, 2009)

At first glance, this might seem like stating the obvious, but I personally would maintain that this very outlook holds back the formation of a movement that could force meaningful change for the working class.

Let’s turn the question around and ask, “President Obama, “Where’s your base?”  “What power do you have behind you?”  I don’t think anyone would seriously say it’s his background as a community organizer. Obama’s power base is the banks, investment houses, and the financial sector in general.

That was clear last summer, even before his nomination, by his choices as top advisers: Jason Furman, a close associate of Citibank’s Robert Rubin; Lawrence Summers, who succeeded Rubin as Treasury Secretary; Austan Goolsbee, Democratic Leadership Council Senior Economist, and Paul Volker, Federal Reserve Chair who deliberately threw the country into severe recession in the early 1980s to stop a decade of successful workers’ strikes.

If Randy Shaw is saying we need a movement strong enough to force Obama to meet our needs and aspirations, as workers and organizers forced FDR to make the New Deal, I think he’s stating the obvious. Shaw seems to characterize activists as kids throwing temper tantrums because Daddy won’t do what they want, but it’s a much bigger issue than that.  I believe that for a movement to get strong enough to force a president into pro-working class action, it would have to have a clear understanding that anyone elected to high office is a tool of the rulers, and that what is needed to force a president to do what we need is our demonstrated ability to bring the economy and government functioning to a halt.

Let’s remember that as the world changes, the needs of the ruling class change also.  Bush didn’t work out, so they gave us Obama.  Obama may look refreshing after Bush, but I think it’s a fantasy to think of Obama as the community organizer waiting for us to push him to do the right thing.  Sure, there were those in the 1930s who said “Roosevelt needs our help,” but I don’t think that outlook could have sustained the sit-down strikes, the General Strikes, and the Unemployment Councils of the 1930s.  They had to have had their eyes on bigger horizons.

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