How much change can we really expect?

Barack Obama’s historic election to the presidency represents what a majority of Americans hope is a pivotal moment enabling the country to escape the national nightmare of the past eight years, and move into a new era of egalitarian and progressive change. 

But how much change can we realistically expect? While John McCain and his backers tried to paint Obama as a socialist on par with Karl Marx, the fact is that no candidate from either major party can be nominated without strong support from what author John Perkins calls “the Corpratocracy” (in his startling memoirs Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire.)  

It’s times like this I wonder what late, great, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would say if he were still with us. His Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 coverage of that year’s election was widely hailed by both the press and the public as a breakthrough in political journalism, mainly for how he savaged candidates from both parties without regard for the tenets of so-called objective journalism. 

I suspect Hunter would giddily praise the American electorate for kicking out the fear-mongering “greedheads,” but that he would quickly follow by warning of Obama’s own potentially troubling ties to the financial powers that be. This raises the big question for Obama — how far can he go in his historic attempt to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk? 

In an editorial last week titled “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss,” Austin-based journalist Alex Jones and partner Paul Joseph Watson cynically declared, “Mark our words — the causes that the liberal left has been fighting for over the last eight years will simply be forgotten just like conservatives were put to sleep when Bush came to power. Obama is the pacifier that the establishment needs to quiet the simmering anger amongst Americans that has been threatening to boil over. It will no longer be ‘fashionable’ to fight the police state amongst the political left.” 

They raise a valid concern. The American people must remain vigilant as ever on civil-rights issues. The Big Brother apparatus emboldened by the Bush regime remains in place until something is done to reel it in. The institutional powers devoted to preventing Obama or anyone else from truly changing the world are immense. The financial interest of the military-industrial complex in particular is a major obstacle to ending any war, and it’s here that Obama must tread most carefully. 

“Obama may eventually withdraw a portion of troops from Iraq but mark our words, they won’t be home long before they are sent off to bomb another broken-backed third world country, this time in the name of a United Nations-backed ‘humanitarian’ war, just as Bill Clinton presided over in Somalia and Serbia with the full support of the establishment political left … Obama is Coca-Cola and McCain is Pepsi — at the end of the day you’re still drinking the same beverage,” say Jones and Watson. Their words bring to mind another warning from history. 

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” warned President Eisenhower in his outgoing address to the nation in 1961. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”  

Like so many classic rock songs from the ’60s, Eisenhower’s words remain timelessly relevant. Any president who dares go too far against these interests risks a coup d’etat. Texas journalist Jim Marrs’ Crossfire — the book Oliver Stone’s JFK film was based on — provides compelling evidence suggesting that JFK’s assassination was spearheaded by the military-industrial complex due to his intention to splinter the CIA, withdraw from Vietnam, and slash military spending. This is the fine line that Obama must find a new way to navigate. 

The other primary obstacle to real change is the two-party duopoly’s hegemonic stranglehold on America. Political pariah Ralph Nader may be widely reviled on the Left as a self-serving narcissist, but his was the only voice heard in the past week that dared to question the duopoly’s anti-democratic control over American politics. “Obama has repeatedly aligned himself with the corporate supremacists,” asserted Nader. Obama’s presidency, particularly with a Democratic majority in Congress, represents the last chance for the Democratic Party to prove Nader and Jones wrong and show that it’s not just the flip side of “the Corporatocracy.” 

Obama has done a great job so far of energizing his progressive base while also pacifying the status-quo powers that would seek to sink any true change agent. The challenge ahead is to keep it up. There are signs that he can. Unlike any President since Kennedy, Obama has a spiritual aura — clearly on display during the victory speeches in Denver and Chicago — suggesting that maybe, just maybe, he’s the one with both the moxy and the mojo to catalyze a pathway from the current paradigm of greed and fear to a new age of peace and harmony. His victory provides a fresh dose of genuine hope. But the dark forces of the world will be working overtime to corrupt and/or blackmail Obama. New hope must therefore be tempered with utmost watchdog vigilance.

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