Obama's State of the Union
Striving to Preserve the State
President Obama in his last State of the Union speech delivered on January 12, said the "most important thing" he wanted to address was the need to "work together" to "fix our politics."
"The future — opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together [...] It will only happen if we fix our politics," Obama said. Addressing the serious problem the ruling class faces to maintain the legitimacy of its rule, Obama lamented that "democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn't matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now."
Obama is making the comments in the context of the significant changes that have occurred in governance, which he himself has consolidated. This includes the concentration of power in the executive and executive actions with no regard for the rule of law, including completely illegal drone warfare, torture, broad spying, indefinite detention, militarization of the police and their increasing racist killings, and the discrediting of elected governance as dysfunctional and a block to "opportunity and security."
U.S. rulers have always prided themselves on their ability to maintain a system that is rigged in favor of the rich, by providing the opportunity for a "fair shot," as Obama put it. Now, the barbarity of the system — with its war economy that can no longer provide even the semblance of opportunity, with social conditions deteriorating, with a political set up so blatantly favoring the billionaires that it welcomes the candidacy of Donald Trump — Obama laments that "too many Americans" have serious doubts about U.S.-style democracy.
The many new jobs Obama mentions provide poverty-level wages. The number does not come close to providing the right to a livelihood for the millions of young people striving to enter the workforce or the millions contending with long-term unemployment, largely from the destruction of manufacturing. While the official unemployment rate may be down, this is mainly because the labor participation rate, which includes these two factors, is down — not because the economy is meeting the needs of the people. A new direction is needed for that, something Obama and the rulers refuse to address.
Further, the social conditions of increasing poverty and inequality are enforced using racist mass incarceration and continued police killings and impunity and the detention and deportation of men, women, children and refugees. Under Obama's watch, two million immigrants, mainly workers guilty of no crime, have been deported. This is one of the indications which reveal that the government of laws no longer prevails.
Only Police Powers Remain
Obama represents the U.S. state whose mission it is to ensure the rigged system keeps the rich in power. When we speak of the U.S. state, we speak of governance and police powers, including military might. Both exist as a single unitary power keeping the rich in power and the people out. This is clearly evident abroad where Obama talks of the 10,000 bombings against Syria and Iraq, which have mainly impacted civilians. His administration has used drones more than any other. Obama reiterated that laws such as those protecting sovereignty have no role to play and the U.S. will act as judge, jury and executioner. "When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit...America will always act, alone if necessary," Obama said in his State of the Union.
Increasingly what we see now both at home and abroad is all that is left of the public authority: its police powers exercised by the executive as well as all branches of the armed forces, police forces and covert agencies. It is propped up by private for profit and non-profit agencies and charities, so-called think tanks, academics and disseminators of disinformation calling themselves news agencies and media organizations. Obama's concern that too many Americans have no trust in government and that politics need "fixing" shows a sinister agenda to further cover up that U.S.-style democracy lies in tatters because the government of laws that is required to legitimize rule no longer exists. It is beyond repair and must be re-established on a new basis, which empowers the people, not the rich — but this is precisely what the ruling class Obama represents will not permit.
Police powers do not legitimize rule. These police powers, as evident in police killings at home and drone warfare abroad, are outside the government of laws. Police powers are used to decide who to punish and on what basis to do so. They have a main role in maintaining the state, which is done by ensuring compliance. When police powers are all that is left, the legitimacy of the rule is rightly questioned, as is occurring in the many demonstrations and other actions against police brutality and attacks on the rights of immigrants, refugees, teachers and many others.
Obama represents that section of the ruling class that believes it can use elections to legitimize government even if it is not a government of laws. It is necessary to change our political process "in not just who gets elected but how they get elected," Obama said in his State of the Union. Such change will only occur "when the American people demand it," he said. His list of potential changes include that Congressional districts need to be drawn differently and the worn-out mantra to "reduce the influence of money in our politics."
His "remedies" not only reveal a total lack of imagination since they repeat the same-old same-old, but they in fact reveal the reforms which the ruling class are pushing to put in place — a political process that eliminates any role for political parties in favor of private armies of "citizen-style soldiers." Far from enfranchising the U.S. citizen, it will further destroy any remnants of political cohesion by putting in place a system without the need for political organizations of the people. Individual candidates with their own machinery, like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, are already running for the presidency, where the police powers reside.
The changes Obama proposes are not likely to be enacted by Congress or the courts so he addresses this as well. "If our existing approach to campaign finance can't pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. We've got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it now," he said.
He made it clear once again that he intends to carry on this campaign after he leaves office. As he has in recent speeches, he repeated, "I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I'll be right there with you as a citizen."
The precedent for what Obama is promoting is what he himself put in place when he ran for the presidency in both 2008 and 2012. He put in place a complex machinery in every state which continues to exist, in part in the form of his group "Organizing for Action." This is the machinery he plans to put in motion to change the electoral process so that citizens are led directly by an authority that is beyond the civil power. The people will play no role whatsoever in taking decisions which set the course of events, but be given the impression that they have a direct link to "the leader" through Twitter and social media while they are organized to take direct action on "the leader's" agenda.
Advance the Fight for People's Empowerment
Obama's State of the Union addressed the greatest need of the U.S. ruling class — to provide the appearance of legitimacy, which remains vital to quell the revolt brewing against it. Obama's speech is to establish the basis for criminalizing the drive of the people for a democracy that favors them. By emphasizing that democracy can be maintained not with the kind of rhetoric used by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others of like kind, but by appealing to people to "stay active in our public life," his speech is intended to reflect the "goodness and decency and optimism" of Americans. He added, "Public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” and that democracy "requires basic bonds of trust between its citizens." This is also a role Bernie Sanders is playing with a following which stands for precisely this “goodness and optimism.”
Obama specifically targets those among the rulers who are dividing the people as their solution to the same problem of maintaining the rule of the rich in the absence of legitimacy: "As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don't look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background," he said. The reference to tribalism is to establish his way as the progressive way. It seeks to cover up the deadly competition for power which is going on between vying factions of the ruling class that have risen to a civil war scenario as federal and state authorities compete for power, using their own police forces, National Guards and paid mercenaries.
The role of the president is both to preserve the Union and block the people from power. Obama is cautioning that "as frustration grows" both among the contending factions and among the people, answers lie not in the openly racist police-state rule by a CEO and unleashing more divisions, but rather by maintaining a "public life," and fostering the chauvinism of the rulers of the "common creed" of U.S.-style democracy as the best and only option. As he put it, we are to "See ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed."
This is an effort to open space for changing the existing electoral process in a manner that further eliminates politics and political parties, and legitimizes individuals running for the presidency, as well as a "public life" centered on supporting the presidency. In the absence of functioning institutions, which comprise a government of laws which are supposed to uphold the common good, not just the well-being of the monopolies, and keep the police powers in check, this is what Obama is offering.
Among the issues President Obama addressed in his State of the Union speech on January 12 was "How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?" As is common with U.S. presidents, it was a rhetorical question used to present the U.S. as world gendarme to which people must succumb, or else!
"The United States is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It's not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined," he said. These eight are Russia, China, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and India.
"When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit."
He raised this in the context of targeting ISIL and al Qaeda, but given the 10,000 recent bombings against Syria and Iraq that he also mentions, and the invasion of Afghanistan in the name of stopping al Qaeda, it is clearly meant for the world to take note: There is no limit to U.S. aggression and crimes. This reality is further underlined by the Obama doctrine of drone warfare and use of Special Forces, both of which inflict the crimes of collective punishment and targeting of civilians and their infrastructure.
Obama emphasized the need to pursue this doctrine so as to avoid a "quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure," which he said is the lesson of Viet Nam and Iraq. Like all U.S. rulers Obama has yet to learn the main lesson of Viet Nam, Iraq and elsewhere — a people united in a just cause for their liberation and freedom from occupation, will prevail. It is this reality that haunts the U.S. and adds to its vengeful aggression against the peoples.
To further emphasize the U.S. role as world gendarme (policeman), Obama said that the U.S. will use "every element of our national power," which includes nuclear weapons. "America will always act, alone if necessary," he threatened.
The U.S. will also continue to try and drag countries of the world into its crimes. "We will mobilize the world to work with us and make sure other countries pull their weight," he said.
In other words, the lesson of Viet Nam and Iraq is that it is the "blood and treasure" of other peoples that are to be spilled, not that of the U.S. This then is also a threat to allies, that the U.S. will "make sure" they do more to secure the U.S. empire worldwide.
Had Obama been serious about the U.S. not being the world's policeman, a clear cut position consistent with the anti-war stand of the majority in the U.S. and worldwide would be to Bring All U.S. Troops Home Now! This would contribute to security by removing the U.S. as the main source of insecurity and terrorism worldwide. The huge Pentagon budget could meet the needs of the peoples at home and abroad. It would also assist the environment, not only in terms of eliminating the massive destruction of the peoples and their infrastructure by U.S. aggression, but also because the Pentagon is the single largest polluter worldwide.
Alongside his threats, Obama went out of his way to lament the role the Russians and Chinese are playing in contesting U.S. hegemony. "When it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us," he said. In fact, while governments such as those of Israel and south Korea continue to call on the U.S., the U.S. interests are having trouble in the Middle East and the peoples of the world continue to rely on their own efforts and reject U.S. military might. Demonstrations demanding the removal of U.S. military bases in Japan, the Philippines and Korea, and African, Latin American and Caribbean countries provide ample examples of this.
When it comes to Latin America, Obama had to acknowledge that the peoples look not to the U.S. but to Cuba. "Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America," he said.
Translated, it means the U.S. is isolated, Cuba is respected, and in order to influence Latin America, the U.S. had to end its failed policy. The peoples of the Americas and the world have long demanded an end to the criminal U.S. blockade against Cuba and opposed U.S. interference. This is reflected in repeated UN resolutions to end the blockade, with the most recent vote being 191-2. The U.S. and Israel were the only no votes.
Imperialist System of States Cannot Be Remade
In affirming U.S. readiness to use force without limit, Obama said, "No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that's the path to ruin."
"In today's world, we're threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states," he said making it clear the U.S. will continue its aggressive regime change course.
Obama expressed the main agenda of the U.S. imperialists today to make sure the U.S. continues to be world police despite its failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and all the other countries where it has committed heinous crimes and aggression.
"The international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace," Obama said, "It's up to us to remake that system. And that means we have to set priorities."
If his presidency is any guide, "remake" means that the clandestine use of police powers to undermine and subjugate governments will become more and more overt.
Here he is also referring to the imperialist system of states, led by the U.S., that established NATO, imposed occupations of Korea and Japan, and backed military dictators worldwide. The end of the Cold War was supposed to mean the victory of this system of states, a "peace dividend" and prosperity. Yet twenty-five years later, the U.S. has unleashed widespread anarchy, chaos and increased violence. Indicating this will persist, Obama admitted, "Instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia."
"Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks," he said.
The striving of the peoples, following the victory over fascism in World War II, and today, is to defeat the racist, anti-people Might Makes Right dictate of big military powers. Then and now providing guarantees for rights which belong to all human beings must come first, including the right of the peoples to determine their own affairs without foreign interference.
This striving is what determines the forward march of history. Obama's lament over the U.S. failure to get the entire world to agree to submit to the U.S. dictate and his threat of more violence to come will not resolve the problems the U.S. is encountering at home or abroad. It may work to reassure the U.S. arms providers and warmongers but that is all.