Election USA 2012: The death of hope and change?

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Did you see the U.S. presidential debate last week? For anyone looking to be uplifted and inspired by the Obama the world fell in love with in 2008 it was hard not to be dismayed by what we saw.

This is the same guy who got the Nobel Peace Prize just for his campaign speeches. I think we Canadians actually said we would vote for Obama over any Canadian candidates running for prime minister in one poll that was done. But in the first debate Obama was anything but inspirational. At his best he just seemed annoyed with Romney and the whole thing, but then he appeared to let Romney get away insulting the progressive values he once championed. 

What happened? 

 "Change we can believe in," "hope" and "yes we can" were perhaps the most inspiring and memorable campaign slogans in modern history. I wonder if the breadth and depth of their inspirational tone was a response to the seriousness of the economic crisis and Americans' desire for substantial change. Can you even remember any other political slogans with the same epic sense of importance and possibility?

Of course many of us have been utterly disappointed by the Obama administration not living up to the change we had believed in. Right from the first months in office, when the exact same people were left to run the economy and the military, it was hard to see any meaningful change taking place. Weren't the war and Wall Street what most Americans and so many more people from all around the world were hoping would be changed? 

Still, given the high rhetoric of the last campaign, the new Obama campaign slogan almost feels like a slap in the face. Do you know what the slogan is? I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't noticed. It's "Forward" ... that's it, just "forward."  

On Twitter the slogan is used as the hashtag #Forward2012. It's almost as if the only change they were talking about in 2008 was a change of political party and not really a change in the lives of the American people or a change of course for the "world's greatest superpower."  

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, politics has always been ugly, but as the old cliche goes there is a lot at stake in this election. Whoever gets elected will be right in the middle of what needs to be a major turning point moment in human history if we have any hope of addressing an already destabilizing global climate.

I suppose they are now simply contrasting Obama with the backward policies of Romney and his 1 per cent friends. I guess if you can't sell folks on believing you will bring change you can still always bash the other guys and show that you are "less bad." 

Was that really the only change Obama had in mind a change from team red to team blue? Perhaps we should just call them the Coke Party and Pepsi Party and get it over with? 

Or maybe that's too simplistic? Maybe we need a deeper analysis of the true nature of power. 

The way i see it (Thanks to Sual Alinsky) there are two kinds of power in this world -- money and people. We, the people, didn't do enough to force Obama to act. What he wanted was really less important than what we demanded. As FDR said when presented with the New Deal: "it's a good idea, now go make me do it." 

Obama's former green jobs czar, Van Jones, did a masterful job of spelling out the need for this kind of an effective inside/outside strategy in his new book Reclaim the Dream.  As he sees it there is a lot of blame to go around in terms of Obama's failures. Yes, Obama failed but we should have kept the momentum going that we all felt in his campaign for change. Many activists simply celebrated when Obama was elected and then stopped mobilizing, basically leaving it up to him. In the last four years we didn't continue to create the broad base of support for these campaigns at the grassroots.

Of course many activists will never trust any candidate from either party and fought hard for their issues but by and large not nearly enough pressure was put on the Obama administration.

One notable exception was the campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Many didn't support the action before it went down. Big Oil was too big and attacking Obama was a bad idea because if not him then who, right? The Republicans?  

It's a fair question. But then again what good are political allies on the left, or 'progressives', if they won't or can't act in the interest of the people? Activists stopping the Keystone XL proved that yes, we can make change happen if we don't just hope a noble leader will do it for us. 

We probably still have a better chance of getting the change that's needed with Obama going "forward" into another term in the White House, but this time the progressive movement should be there with him, pushing him, inspiring him and holding him accountable.

Let's put the "we" back in "yes, we can”. And by we I mean the whole global community. There's a lot more to the "we" Obama is talking about than just folks living in the United States. Canada is not the only country sleeping next to an elephant. The U.S. has has the biggest military in the world and when the U.S. economy is squeezed it has impacts all around the globe. 

The next debate is next week. People in Canada and elsewhere on planet earth will be hoping that Barack Obama stands up to that billionaire this time. Obama needs to be the voice of a people powered movement, and we need to make his words a reality.  


Ben West is an environmental activist based in Vancouver. Unless stated otherwise Ben's contributions to rabble.ca are his personal perspective and are not intended to represent the views of any organization or coalition of groups that he is associated with. 


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