Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Shortly after Obama's election, Fidel Castro is said to have commented: "He's a good guy, but the system is stronger than he is."

Nine month's into Obama's presidency, that judgment is validated. The bigger question remains: is the system stronger than the will of the majority of Americans who voted for Obama and delivered a historic mandate for progressive change.

So far, every initiative for significant reform has been blocked, delayed, diverted or watered down. There are things that Obama may have done or should do differently, and some criticism is justified and necessary. But the heart of the problem is not "Obama". In fact, his qualities of intelligence, energy, accessibility and eagerness to communicate surpass those of any president since FDR. The problem is indeed "the system".

The essence of reform is curbing the power of big financial and corporate oligarchies. Measures that advance human rights to health care, employment, education and housing are all resisted as threats to the profits of various staked-out corporate domains. So protection of the heath insurance industry trumps affordable health care for everyone. Securing coal and oil profits trumps progress toward alternate energy and coping with climate change. The solidarity of the financial and corporate world against government "intrusion" in the public interest brings enormous wealth and power to bear against social progress. That power dominates the media. It taps into fear of insecurity in this crisis-ridden economy and feeds on legitimate distrust of politicians, many being beholden to corporate patronage. It befuddles issues, propagates lies, and blinds millions to their self-interest and to a shared concern for fellow beings. An ultra right minority, rallied by racist demogogues from talk radio and Fox TV, has fashioned a vigilante strategy to demonize Obama, shout down his supporters and frighten politicians away from any liberal or progressive position.

Progress can come only by wresting it from the system. That requires firming up the popular majority that embraced Obama's bold call for change. That in turn demands that a broad array of voices within the Obama majority serve as an effective political left, taking deliberate aim at the system and its controlling economic royalists. The terms of the universal health care battle need to be reset, putting an elementary human right above corporate greed.

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