Saturday, September 6, 2008

Naomi Klein on the Relation Movements Should Have to Obama

By Ben Trott

Naomi Klein (author of The Shock Doctrine and No Logo) has a comment piece in today’s Guardian. She sets out the reasons why she believes Obama was unable to more aggressively attack the Republicans over their response to Hurricane Katrina as Gustav threatened New Orleans during their Convention last week. On the one hand, she argues, Obama’s pitching towards the middle class (rather than those worst hit by Katrina and most threatened by Gustav) reduced the incentive to address what she calls ‘the most dramatic domestic outrage in modern US history.’ On the other, she argues that whilst Gustav showed, ‘by reality, not rhetoric’, one of the primary reasons environmentalists oppose off-shore drilling (during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 743,400 gallons of oil were spilled in 100 accidents, according to the statistics quoted in the article), Obama was not able to capitalise on this (McCain recently ‘flip-flopped’ and came out in support of drilling, and his new running mate, Sarah Palin, is a well known advocate), because he had already compromised on the issue himself.

The article touches on a theme which has been present throughout Klein’s commentaries on the Obama candidacy and the election campaign so far: that potential Obama supporters and/or Democratic voters should not simply fall in behind ‘their’ candidate, but use the space opened first by the primaries and now by the election campaign in order to apply pressure. The example of off-shore drilling, addressed in this article, shows, she argues, that the Republican base have been much more effective in steering their candidate than Democrats and the (liberal-)left ‘theirs’.

Back in March, for example, amidst the primary battles between Clinton and Obama, she argued – in an article co-authored with Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater - The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Private Army – against the anti-war movement endorsing either candidate (realistically: Obama). Instead, they argued, pressure should be applied to push both candidates towards trying to out-do one another in competing to become ‘the anti-war candidate’. She cites, as an example of the victories that can be won by this strategy, the case of Clinton’s sudden support for a ban on Blackwater and other private security firms’ deployment in Iraq after The Nation criticised both candidates for failing to have done so thus far.

More recently (see the video clip below), Klein made a similar argument in a speech delivered to the National Conference for Media Reform on the day in June when Clinton conceded she was pulling out of the race to become the Democratic Party candidate. In her speech, Klein appeals to her audience to build pressure on Obama and push him towards pledging (for example) a fuller withdrawal from Iraq, dealing more seriously with the challenges posed by climate change, and closing the income gap. She talks about FDR’s New Deal reform package of the 1930s resulting not from his being ‘a great guy’, but from pressure from below. He sold it to the elite, she argues, as the only alternative to revolution. Her audience’s job, she suggests, is to build a similar movement, allowing Obama to argue with those on his right that he has no choice: that he needs to end the war, end foreclosure, and create a ‘Green New Deal’ because ‘the credibility of the whole system is on the line’.

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