In conferring the Nobel Peace Prize on President Barack Obama, the Nobel committee made a wise and timely decision. Despite fierce right-wing opposition at home during the first nine months of his presidency, President Obama is doing a remarkable job to overcome the national legacy of 30 years of far-right corporate dominance that threatens the world’s peace and security, and humanity’s very existence.
The Nobel committee highlighted Obama’s efforts to curb nuclear weapons proliferation, his accent on international diplomacy and cooperation among nations, and his overtures to the Muslim world.
With characteristic humility, the president said he “accepted this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.”
Most of the nation and world embraced the choice as affirmation that, with President Obama at the helm, America has embarked on a new, far more constructive course.
As expected, the Republican response ran the right-wing gamut, from questioning Obama’s accomplishments and his emphasis on diplomacy to the racist notion that he won through oratory and star power.
But while not totally unexpected, the response from some on the left is nevertheless disappointing. Some said the Nobel committee “should have waited” to see results from the president’s initiatives while others said awarding the prize to a “war” president “cheapens” it.
In my view, these critics are not seeing the forest for the trees.
After 30 years of dominance by sections of the ruling class pursuing a reactionary, militaristic, unilateralist, jingoistic, anti-democratic, anti-working class, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and environmentally disastrous course, Obama’s election and his first nine months in office are the clear skies and rainbow following a prolonged and nightmarishly destructive storm.
On the international plane, the Obama administration is demonstrating in words and deeds a willingness to work with other nations. Among significant initiatives: steps to stem proliferation of nuclear weapons leading to their eventual elimination; a commitment to policies to protect the environment and develop sustainable energy resources; diffusing hotbeds of international conflict more often than not provoked by the previous administration; sitting down for talks with leaders of Iran and other nations previously listed as “terrorist”; serious efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution; pledging to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and relaxing travel to the island nation.
To be sure, these efforts are still in their infancy. When seen in isolation, they may seem to some folks like half-measures at best. But, when understood in the context of the last 30 years and the dangers humanity faces in the near future, they represent a qualitative break with the past and a huge opening for progressive humankind.
Again, it is a question of seeing the forest, not just the trees.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy with all the administration’s international and domestic policies. Like other left and progressive folks, I advocate ending the Afghanistan military venture.
After saying the conflict in Afghanistan “concerns us all,” Nobel committee chair Thorbjorn Jagland remarked, “We do hope that an improvement of the international climate and the emphasis on negotiations could help resolve” that conflict. In awarding Obama the peace prize, the Nobel committee sought to inject itself as a force to encourage the new administration’s emphasis on diplomacy and international cooperation, and to discourage forces outside and inside the administration still clinging to bellicose means to exert U.S. imperialist power throughout the world. A smart move, I’d say.
But, I am mindful of the present balance of forces and the time needed to clean up the reactionary legacy President Obama inherited, mindful of the makeup of Congress, the media and other centers of corporate power where the Republican far right still has major sway. I realize the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress both contain a spectrum from right to left. I am mindful of the relative strength and level of unity of the labor movement and other progressive social forces and movements.
And I am aware of the depression-level economic crisis and its potential to spark far-reaching reforms so long as our nation’s progressive forces are in ascendency.
In short, we are in a period of transition.
To ignore these realities leads to wrong conclusions about the current stage of struggle and what is needed to continue moving in a progressive direction.
The Republicans and the right wing intend to demean the president and his achievements, to block his domestic and international agenda – in short to bring his presidency down. In so doing, they would be attempting to bring down the broad movement that elected him, not to mention undercutting the potential to expand that movement especially at the grassroots.
Our strategic goal must be to consolidate the November 2008 victory against the far right in the 2010 and 2012 election cycle. Every tactical move must be made within this framework. There are no shortcuts.
Going back to the bad old days of the Bush administration is not an option. If the extreme right manages to significantly get its footing back in any significant way during the next election cycles, it will rebound on the nation and the world with a vengeance. This is the stuff of which fascism is made.
History does not move in a straight line or by absolutes. Life is far more complicated and richer. New developments seldom make a “clean” break with the past. The 2008 election result is the closest thing to a “clean” break in many years. But, as we see today, even then the present carries elements of both the reactionary past (i.e. the Republican and corporate far right) and of a radical, even revolutionary future (i.e. the labor and other progressive and left social forces and movements).
Thus it behooves all in the left-center core of the multiclass coalition that elected Obama to work to expand this coalition at all levels but primarily among the progressive social forces and movements.
The coalition’s main challenge is to consolidate the November victory against the far right in the next election cycles.
Related, but secondary is where possible, to replace as many right-of-center Democrats with left-of-center ones in the primary elections while safeguarding the unity of the multiparty and non-partisan camp for the final November push.
All along the core working-class and social forces and movements must build our numbers, strength, energy and unity to emerge as the dominant force in the multiclass coalition that re-elects the president and will make up his future administrations.
This is what’s needed to put the final nails in the coffin of the far right in the 2010 and 2012 elections, and put this Dracula to rest, hopefully forever.
A much expanded, dominant left-center core in the Obama coalition can potentially open the door to more radical reforms and with time, even revolutionary changes.
Contrary to the far right’s nutty mouthpieces, Barack Obama is not a socialist, but an advocate of capitalism. Like all of us, he is a work in progress. In my view, he has demonstrated a potential to embrace more far-reaching reforms as long as a strong enough people’s movement advocates and fights for them, with a chance to win.
In making its decision, the Nobel committee took into account the president’s considerable achievements during his short tenure and the new more constructive era they are ushering in. But I believe they also intended to give impetus to the generally progressive agenda advocated by President Obama and the coalition that elected him.