To understand the meaning of the U.S. election results, it is worth looking back to the moment when everything changed for the Obama campaign. It was, without question, the moment when the economic crisis hit Wall Street.
Up to that point, things weren't looking all that good for Barack Obama. The Democratic National Convention barely delivered a bump, while the appointment of Sarah Palin seemed to have shifted the momentum decisively over to John McCain.
Then, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed, followed by insurance giant AIG, then Lehman Brothers. It was in this moment of economic vertigo that Obama found a new language. With tremendous clarity, he turned his campaign into a referendum into the deregulation and trickle down policies that have dominated mainstream economic discourse since Ronald Reagan. He said his opponent represented more of the same while he stood for a new direction, one that would rebuild the economy from the ground up, rather than the top down. Obama stayed on this message for the rest of the campaign and, as we just saw, it worked.
The question is now whether Obama will have the courage to take the ideas that won him this election and turn them into policy. Or, alternately, whether he will use the financial crisis to rationalize a move to what pundits call "the middle" (if there is one thing this election has proved, it is that the real middle is far to the left of its previously advertised address). Predictably, Obama is already coming under enormous pressure to break his election promises, particularly those relating to raising taxes on the wealthy and imposing real environmental regulations on polluters. All day on the business networks, we hear that, in light of the economic crisis, corporations need lower taxes, and fewer regulations - in other words, more of the same.
The new president's only hope of resisting this campaign being waged by the elites is if the remarkable grassroots movement that carried him to victory can somehow stay energized, networked, mobilized - and most of all, critical. Now that the election has been won, this movement's new mission should be clear: loudly holding Obama to his campaign promises, and letting the Democrats know that there will be consequences for betrayal.
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The first order of business - and one that cannot wait until inauguration - must be halting the robbery-in-progress known as the "economic bailout." I have spent the past month examining the loopholes and conflicts of interest embedded in the U.S. Treasury Department's plans. The results of that research can be found in a just published feature article in Rolling Stone, The Bailout Profiteers as well as my most recent Nation column, Bush's Final Pillage.
Both these pieces argue that the $700-billion "rescue plan" should be regarded as the Bush Administration's final heist. Not only does it transfer billions of dollars of public wealth into the hands of politically connected corporations (a Bush specialty), but it passes on such an enormous debt burden to the next administration that it will make real investments in green infrastructure and universal health care close to impossible. If this final looting is not stopped (and yes, there is still time), we can forget about Obama making good on the more progressive aspects of his campaign platform, let alone the hope that he will offer the country some kind of grand Green New Deal.
Readers of The Shock Doctrine know that terrible thefts have a habit of taking place during periods of dramatic political transition. When societies are changing quickly, the media and the people are naturally focused on big "P" politics - who gets the top appointments, what was said in the most recent speech. Meanwhile, safe from public scrutiny, far reaching pro-corporate policies are locked into place, dramatically restricting future possibilities for real change.
It's not too late to halt the robbery in progress, but it cannot wait until inauguration. Several great initiatives to shift the nature of the bailout are already underway, including bailoutmainstreet.com. I added my name to the "Call to Action: Time for a 21st Century Green America" and invite you to do the same.
Stopping the bailout profiteers is about more than money. It is about democracy. Specifically, it is about whether Americans will be able to afford the change they have just voted for so conclusively.