Group of 17: Obama – yes, we can?

The April Meeting of the 17 Group on Wednesday the 1st of April at 7pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End will be addressed by Merv Partridge, who is not long back from the United States where he closely observed and recorded on videotape the recent election campaign of Barack Obama.

His talk, illustrated by original video footage, will centre on political dilemmas facing the Obama administration.

Dan O’Neill

Merv’s summary:

Tasting: Obama Koolaid 2008

I made two trips to the United States during 2008 to take care of animals and to observe the primaries and the election.  I had contact with the Obama campaign as well as third party and alternative groups.

Dan has asked me to lead a discussion on the 2008 election and its implications.  Oral (as in video) history is one of my pastimes and I have material that I have just begun processing.

During this session I would like to show some excerpts from Obama’s last speech before the election.  He made the speech at the Fair Grounds in Manassas, Virginia – a site chosen for its historic echoes and because Virginia was considered a litmus test for the election.  A southern slave State in the civil war Virginia has been Republican for decades.  It has been moving Democrat in the last few years and it was widely said that if Obama could carry Virginia he was likely to win the country. His campaign did both.  The recording is of good quality from a prime location and gives a fair sense of the quantum step the Obama campaign has taken in attention to the audience experience.   The CSPAN camera man next to me said it was one of the best events of the campaign.  Estimates of numbers ranged from 80 to 100,000 and it was more like a rock concert than traditional politics.   In spite of incredibly tight security the mood of the audience was ecstatic (almost literally).

If there is time I may show some interview material – e.g. audience members and an Arab journalist on election day and post election stuff (with democrats, third party and non-party people).

There are several themes I would like to raise and open for discussion.  Principally I am interested in trying to get a sense of Obama’s preferred priorities versus what he believes can be achieved politically while accumulating rather than depleting political capital.  The truly interesting Obama would be a second term President with increased popularity and surrounded by a team weighted towards experienced ”Obama people” rather than the experienced “mainstream credibles” he has favoured for the rehearsal.  There is no shortage of critics to the left who say America is business as usual; Obama is nothing more than a new marketing face already completely captured by establishment power (a leftish Bob Roberts).

If you think they are right you might call them the critical realists.  If you think they are wrong or if, as I do, you think there is enough evidence to say the question is at least open then this position might be described as left cynicism.

I think one of the key political variables over the next decade will be how the left critique of Obama politics plays out.  It is one of the few major variables over which non-mainstream politics can exercise influential discretion.     To take one example, Obama claims an ambition to fundamentally alter the political economy of energy.  If he is deadly serious about this, his long term policy moves will threaten to erode the near monopoly of one of the world’s dominant aggregates of power.   It can be expected that he will face a vast (if often disguised) reaction.  He is likely to accommodate some of that reaction by backing off, at least temporarily.

A left cynic may interpret this as evidence of cowardice or insincerity (it was never more than empty talk) and use it to attack Obama’s credibility and so tend to erode the political capital he is able to bring to bear in future (more strategic?) moments.  If this sort of left cynical position gains traction there is a prospect of Obama being stranded with diminishing influence between a cynical public and a delighted establishment.  If he is in fact from the start insincere about his declared intentions then Obama may deserve such isolation.  The argument sometimes runs that the path is thus cleared more quickly for public attention to refocus on a REAL alternative (Our The Real Good Guys Party).   If, however Obama is genuine and attacks on his tactical retreats sell him short and contribute to his failure a rare opportunity may be lost.

I think now is the time to consider what might follow a failed Obama administration in the US.  In my view, a new more overtly progressive administration is far less likely than an authoritarian administration of the right.  Given the instability of the Middle East, economic malaise and potential environmental threats, that administration could be more radical and aggressive than that of Bush-Cheney.

While expectations should be restrained I think it is important that Obama be extended a considerable benefit of the doubt.  I am certainly not arguing there should be no critique when policy is inadequate; rather that critiques should be carefully targeted at the credibility and influence of groups whose interests are advanced by status quo policies.   Examination of how the Obama campaign was structured early on and how it is evolving post-election warrants this benefit of the doubt.


Trotsky’s excuse this time is that it may be an April Fool’s day trick, and after his experience in Mexico he is erring on the side of caution, even though his combative instincts tell him that he would find much in this talk with which he would most enjoyably disagree.   Don’t take his example.  Trust us that this will be a good one, and totally ridgydidge.  See you and your mum next to the cheese and biscuits.


6 thoughts on “Group of 17: Obama – yes, we can?

  1. Merv states above: “A left cynic may interpret Obama’s (accommodation of conservatives like Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton)”.

    So criticism of Obama’s cult-of-personality politics is to be equated with ‘Left Cynicism‘.

    How can printing money and giving it to Wall Street bankers be seen merely as ‘an accommodation’?

    Are workers to surrender a socialist critique of the market in the interests of strategic ‘left realism’?

    Why must we make such an Orwellian ‘accommodation’???

    Sorry, Dan, I thought that I would never say it, but I am with Trotsky on this one.

  2. June 2009 Meeting of the 17 Group says:

    The June Meeting of the 17 Group will be held on Wednesday the 3rd of June at 7pm in Dan O’Neill’s unit at 6 /20 Drury St, West End. Dan intends to be at this meeting. As usual everyone is invited, friends, partners, poets, neighbours, the curious and combative, the young and the middle aged. There is a rumour Dan met Trotsky in Sardinia and he is bringing him on Wednesday night.

    This will be the third 17 Group meeting based loosely on the book by Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down (2006). As agreed with Dan, John Ransley will introduce the discussion with a talk entitled ‘We’ve Only Got One Planet: The Lesson of Easter Island’. The other book John is using for the talk is Collapse (How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive) by Jared Diamond (2005). Double-sided single sheet summaries for some key ideas in both books will be available at the meeting.

  3. David on Obama's Cairo Speech says:

    Dear Ian

    Thank you for the extremely kind offer to post my comments on the (Workers) Bush Telegraph. I would like to take you up on that.

    Would it be possible for me to post the following comment on Obama’s Cairo Speech?

    While I appreciate the path-breathtakingly courageous stand taken by President Obama on the Israeli settlements and a sovereign state for the Palestinians, I am deeply disappointed by his insinuation that all the violence is on the part of the Palestinians.

    He mentioned rockets and the blowing up of women on a bus but made no reference to the supply by America of lethal weapons – including white phosphorus bombs – to Israel and their use against civilians including children.

    Or the demolitions, confiscation of land and the construction of an apartheid wall and Israelis-only roads and townships – all carried out under American financed and supplied military might. Or the use by America of atomic bombs on Japanese cities, the indiscriminate bombing of Dresden by allied aircraft, and the use of napalm and Agent Orange on the people of Vietnam.

    The President made reference to the Holocaust but not to Al Nakba – the ethnic cleansing leading to the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their ancient lands by Israel in 1948 and repeated in the West Bank in 1967.

    President Obama preached down to Islam on democracy.

    Yet, America and her allies conspired in 1947 to rob the Palestinians of their homeland and their right to self-determination. They support and maintain a regime which denies basic human rights and tortures, imprisons and shoots at will Palestinians within and outside the borders of Israel. America, Britain and Israel do not even recognise the right of the Palestinians to have a government of their choice.


    Reference: President Obama’s Cairo speech text

    1. David: More on Obama's Cairo speech says:

      Obama and other critics of the Palestinians would have them turn the other cheek or use non-violent responses to their dispossession and expulsion from their ancient homeland. Whether any people would respond non-violently to expulsion and re-population is something we will never know because no people, barring the Palestinians, have ever faced such a predicament.

      Ironically, Obama was at Normandy, France, last Saturday along with Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Prince Charles and Stephen Harper, the Canadian premier, to commemorate the biggest maritime invasions of all time on June 6, 1944. The armada that landed on Normandy that day consisted of 7,000 ships and 200,000 seamen. By the end of the day, 133,000 troops and 20,000 tanks, jeeps and lorries had landed on French soil. A further 23,000 men were parachuted in or arrived in gliders. That is how the West liberates its own territory from occupation. Is Obama therefore implying that only Caucasian nations have the right to resist occupation with violence?

      Months later, on 13-14 February 1945, the allies bombed the cultural city of Dresden. According to an internal RAF memo: “Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester, is also far the largest unbombed built-up city the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium. The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front, to prevent the use of the city in the way of further advance, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.” Is it therefore acceptable to target civilians when it comes to liberating Caucasian lands?. It would be labouring the point to mention the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      The lands the Allies sought to liberate were occupied, yes, but never re-populated by the expulsion of the natives and their replacement by settlers in the way Palestine was by Israel. Europeans under Nazi rule at least had the comfort of knowing that the rest of the world sympathised with their lot and that there were armies engaged in fighting for their liberation. Much of the actions by Palestinians – specially that of blowing themselves up – may be in utter despair and frustration at their abandonment by the world. Obama, like his predecessors, obviously wants docile Palestinians so a peace deal can be struck on Israel’s terms.



  4. Solidarity Needed Now says:

    Solidarity Needed Now: Ahmad Sa’adat Enters Second Week of Hunger Strike by the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat

    [Monthly Review June 11, 2009]

    Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has entered the second week of his hunger strike to protest the policy of isolation and solitary confinement practiced by the Israeli prison administration against Palestinian prisoners. Read more at

  5. Red Ragger says:

    Merve seems to justify his support for Obama by expecting him, on gaining a second term, to suddenly become progressive and do those things he promised to do when he was campaigning to be elected in the first case.

    It doesn’t work that way. The masses who voted for him first time will have either given up in disgust or will have followed him in his rightwards trajectory making any second term change of course impossible.

    Social Democrat sellouts do this all the time of course but what may be different this time is that the masses will turn to fascism. RR


Please comment down below