Summary of Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics

Summary of Barack Obama and 21st century Politics

In nine chapters, this book seeks to elaborate on the convergence of forces that sharpened the revolutionary moment at the wake of the election of President Barack Obama. It concentrates on the ideas and organizational forms that distinguish this moment from previous moments.
Chapter 1 lays out the conceptual framework of the book and argues that Obama is not a revolutionary, but is caught up in a revolutionary moment in world history. The revolutionary moment in America’s politics is underscored by the convergence of forces that brought the country’s politics to an inflection point at the wake of the election season of 2007-2008. At the revolutionary moment, Obama, as a student of the Black liberation school, tapped into the humanist philosophy of Ubuntu and the optimism embedded in the message of hope. This was the same hope and optimism that had buoyed Blacks on when they were regarded as less than human (by the three-fifth clause) in America, to assert their humanity and win their civil rights. This first chapter interrogates the traditional sense of revolution, which is often the violent overthrow of existing order by self-proclaimed revolutionaries. The analysis relocates revolution within the context of fundamental transformation in the society, sustained by a consciousness of the challenges of the moment bound to a new form of thinking among the rank and file of the society. Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics is an attempt to clarify the revolutionary ideas, (and the harnessing of) the energies of the youth for a fundamental break with old politics, economics, militarism, and racism. 
The Obama election campaign’s quantitative task of mobilizing over 3 million small donors, close to 8 million volunteers, 13 million e–mail addresses and more than 2 million Facebook partners induced a qualitative change in the politics of the USA. This superlative quantitative organizational capacity, which engineered the election victory in November 2008, is the essence of a leap in politics. The ideas relating to a quantum leap and quantum politics alerts us to political and economic philosophies that are more appropriate to the realities of the 21st century, where separation and compartmentalization have no meaning.
It is the combination of the new energy and light that emerged from the inflection point that sparks questions on the need for a new framework for analyzing politics. In South Africa, the term Ubuntu emerged to point to the ways in which we share a common humanity. This chapter links praxis with principles and lays the ideational carpet for the chapters that follow.
Chapter 2 analyses the upbringing of Obama in the backdrop of the history of Hawaii and the genocidal traditions that were unspoken in that islandHis mother, Stanley Ann Dunham imbued in the young Barack Obama the respect for diversity and the importance of hard work. This chapter draws attention to the five women who influenced the training of Obama. The early training from his mother was buttressed by the example of his grandmother. The experiences of Obama as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago in the State of Illinois are analyzed in the context of how the non-profit sector had been used to blunt the enthusiasm of youths who were eager to change the world. Throughout the chapter, the history of the neo-liberal model of ‘grassroots organizing’ is brought out to highlight the ways in which the system manipulates youths.
The journey of Barack Obama to Kenya in 1988 brings together his search for a sense of purpose in his life. Our text surveys the contradictions of a settler society and how Barack Obama attempted to navigate these contradictions. The final section of the chapter brings out the linkages between the personal and the political and elevates the importance of Michelle Obama in the search for a new politics in the United States. The conclusion to this chapter linked the old racist ideas to the new eugenics that is cloaked in the biotech experiments of the 21st century.
Chapter 3 examines the history of racism and sexism in the politics of the United States. Militarism and masculinity have been celebrated as twin virtues of Hollywood and the United Sates. It was a sexist conception of the world that is based on manliness and patriarchal values. Ben ‘Pitchfork Tillman (governor and later Senator representing South Carolina) epitomized the leader who mobilized white working poor on the basis of the persecution and murder of African Americans. The ways in which the ideas of Anglo-Saxonism reproduced whiteness in the United States are brought out in this chapter. One of the core arguments of this book is that the mainstream intelligentsia has been stymied by the investment in whiteness. In the Latino community the ideals of whiteness have created massive confusion about the future of society. The book argues that this confusion is being mitigated by the new revolutionary openings in Latin America and the resolute stand of African descendants and the indigenous peoples. From Bolivia to Ecuador and Paraguay to Venezuela, new forces are calling for profound changes in the entire American region. This new epoch of revolution is a major corrective to the counterrevolutionary era that had been inspired since the era of Ronald Reagan, where an alliance with anti-communist and racist elements from California to El Salvador wreaked death and destruction.
The Obama campaign built on the revolutionary gains of the Civil Rights movement and the continued quest for real equality in American society. This chapter introduces the reader to the revolutionary traditions of Harriet Tubman and her principles of self-organization
Chapter 4 highlights the ways in which the ideas of self-organization were brought to bear to confront the Machinery of the Democratic Party. Since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, the Democratic Party has been organized around ethnic politics, ethnic blocks, and party bosses. These party bosses are then linked to real estate developers and bankers in the urban centers. The history of major party bosses is replete with characters such as Carmine DeSapio of New York and Richard Daley of Chicago. Averell Harriman became Governor of New York out of this form of ethnic patronage politics.
From 1992 through 2008, the Democratic Party machine was dominated by the Clintons. It was absolute control of the machine which gave the Clintons the sense that a Hillary victory was inevitable in the Primary elections. Non-US readers will be introduced to the multi-million dollar business of political consultancy in the United States in this chapter.
Chapter 5 uses the case of South Carolina to highlight the shift in the Democratic Party and how the forms of self-organizing and self-mobilization that were set in motion by the Obama campaign defeated the old entrenched machinery of party bosses. This chapter comprises the heart of the thesis of this book. It spells out how the confluence of ‘fractals’ and Ubuntu will inspire new modes of political organizing. 
Using fractal insights of scaling and self similarity, the chapter examines the forms of organizing by the youths in Iowa and South Carolina to highlight the nuts and bolts for future political campaigns- electoral and non-electoral- across the world, in which each person becomes empowered to believe that he or she can make a difference and which, in classical fractal formation, can be replicated over and over.
It was in the midst of the primary season when the investment house Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008. This chapter explores the linkages between economics and politics and brings out the intellectual impoverishment of a society where the statements of a preacher were deemed more newsworthy than an interrogation of the corrosive powers of bankers. 
There are a number of books on Obama. There are books by journalists, by Democratic Party Operatives, by political consultants and by journalists. The dominant narrative from these books has been provided by journalists who have been preoccupied by immediatism and the strategic markers laid out by foundations and think tanks. Many of these texts are geared towards the current power struggles within the ruling elements and the reproduction of conscious and unconscious biases that hinders our sense of a shared humanity . The limitations of the mainstream press were so pronounced during the election season that many journalists were not paying attention when they were in the midst of the transition from the old to the new. The slow death of the newspaper the Rocky Mountain News was one reminder that the heyday of old conception of the celebration of the conquest of the West was coming to an end. This reality struck me during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I had travelled to the mile high city of Denver to be a witness to the historical moment and where one grasped the burdens of the past with respect to the tasks of the future. It was in Denver where one saw the full force of the youths. From all over the country, and indeed from all over the world, youths had converged on Denver, Colorado, to witness history. These youths were very involved in the discussions on a green future. Chapter 6 will delve into the mindsets and zeal of the youth that provided the energy for the Obama movement. Hitherto, it was the belief of the party and political class that young people would not vote. But, Obama, in his campaign, generated a level of enthusiasm that became a new index of the political temperature in the country by political pundits. 
Because Obama’s thinking of including all became the guiding philosophy, the management of diversity within the campaign was one of the hallmarks of convention. The full impact of these efforts to include all was on display at the caucuses of those who hitherto had been termed, ‘minorities.’ It was in the Hispanic /Latino Caucus where this author observed the effectiveness of Michelle Obama as a campaigner. The chapter seeks to bring out the synergy between Michelle Obama and Hilda Solis as one sign of the future of US politics.
Chapter 7 brings out how the elections were confronted with the planning and machinations of big capital. The election campaign was overshadowed by the moment of September, especially, September 15, 2008, when it was announced to the world that Lehman Brothers, one of the top five investment banks in the United States, collapsed. Weaving the challenges of the management of the collapse in the midst of an election campaign is the thrust of this chapter. Our task here is to draw out how the economic terrorism of capitalism was being leveraged to slow down the campaign of Barack Obama.
This chapter brings to the reader the ground operation which placed millions of workers/volunteers into play and unfolded in a manner that made victory inevitable. It lays out the vivid imagery of the wall of youth that was to be found in the campaign offices all over the country. Respect, Empower, Include – were the words repeated by campaign workers as they navigated the spaces of a new politics. It is out of the experience of the new politics that organizing itself was revolutionized through the nested loop of network of networks. The strength of these networks withstood the rabid and racist provocations of the Right during the campaign.
Chapter 8 emphasizes the need for people at the grassroots to use the bottom-up, self-mobilization model of the Obama campaign to support and hold him accountable, since “the task of restructuring US society is huge.” As the lessons from past counterrevolution have shown, the problems cannot be solved overnight. This chapter draws on the message of “fractal optimism,” which is the idea that the “networks of networks” created by the bottom-up, self-mobilization of the grassroots forms the “kernel of the new move towards the revolutionary form of organizing.” This optimism is further hinged on the knowledge that “the election of Obama opened the space for new grassroots leadership… that is emerging at new sites of politics in relation to differing issues such as homelessness, need for health care, employment, pension, environmental repair, anti-racism and the peace movement…, (which has) the potential to shake the complacency of the consensus that maintained the capitalist system.”
How could a progressive movement intervene in this situation where the contradictions were being heightened at a pace where the spark for a massive confrontation could break out at any time? What would be the outcome of a new rupture in the society? This was the question that I posed from the beginning when I started to follow the implications of the Obama presidency in 2006. From the outset, I saw many parallels between the challenges for the abolitionist movement at the time of the Civil War in 1860.
Barack Obama inherited two wars and a rising conflagration in Pakistan. On top of this commitment to continuing wars founded on disinformation and lies, the moment of September 2008 brought to the fore the perilous situation when banks were more dangerous than standing armies. Without clear leadership and explanation about the direction of the society, the demobilized peace forces were left to follow the heightened conservative representation of the nature of the economic crisis.
Free market myths had been so ingrained in the society that real social questions of health, education and cleaning up the environment could not be properly addressed because of the hostility by sections of the Republican Political leadership to social programs for the benefit of society at large. For two centuries these elements had used the resources of the state at will, privatizing gains and socializing losses to the point where these barons of finance and industry were trapped by their old instincts and ideas.
This debate on the intrusive government took on added significance during the long deliberations on Health Care Reform during 2009 to 2010. After a very sharp debate in the society, the US Congress passed a partial reform of the Health Care system in March 2010. The Bill was entitled Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act HR 3590. This historic bill for the first time extended mandatory medical care to 94 per cent of US citizens, adding another 32 million people to the healthcare system. Under this law, insurance companies could no longer deny people healthcare on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Young people were allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. It extended coverage for senior citizens and strengthened Medicare. Still, the bill did not include a single payer system where the government would be able to provide health insurance for all. In reality, what was called health care reform in the US was a victory for the health insurance industry, biotech corporations, big pharma and health maintenance organisations. Despite the weakness of the reforms, the conservative forces branded the Health care reform, ‘a government take over.’ From the summer of 2009, a relatively new political formation named, the ‘Tea Party Nation’ took the forefront in the opposition to the Obama administration. The mainstream media provided this fringe group with enough media spotlight for many to believe that these were speaking for the majority of the population, especially white citizens. Emboldened by the permissive climate of racism and open hostility to black leaders, they heaped invectives at elected black leaders and spewed out the most brutal homophobic statements.
It is precisely in this political climate where intense insecurity is being generated that this chapter stresses the importance of revolutionary non-violence to inspire new networks of peace and justice to intervene in politics.
In the last chapter, we return to the concept of healing and Ubuntu. It introduces a unified emancipatory approach: liberating humanity from the mechanical, competitive, and individualistic constraints of Enlightenment philosophy, and re-unifying humans with each other, the Earth, and spirituality. In tandem with much of the current discourse on fractal wisdom, this intervention calls for a revolutionary paradigmatic transformation- but one that is intrinsic to human knowledge and human capacity to intervene to stop the destruction of the planet.
Obama drew on the ideas of Ubuntu and in turn inspired a new force of youth energy into the campaign. This soul and energy force was manifest in the tremendous outpouring of the collectivities of different races, classes, genders, sexual orientation and ages coming forward to give meaning to the campaign of ‘Yes we Can’.
American feminist Alice Walker called on the President to govern with happiness. Reflecting on the positive mood inspired by Obama on the night of the election and the mood of happiness of the multi racial and multinational gathering, Walker wrote, “A primary responsibility that you do have is to cultivate happiness in your own life.”
This is a book about Ubuntu and our shared humanity. It seeks to build on the call for happiness in order to inspire an understanding of ubuntu as the core theory of the politics of inclusion for the 21st century. It came out of a deep desire to communicate the optimism and hope of a new generation who want to break with the old ideas of racial hierarchy and militarism.
The author draws upon his training and experience as an intellectual and an activist to this project of healing and peace.
Many of those from the networks for social justice and environmental justice had supported the campaign of Obama. This was only one of the many networks of networks that had acted autonomously to support the candidacy while building a movement to educate society that there had to be a break. The concept of the break is central to recursion in fractals, just as the geometry of nature provides an analytical framework for understanding some of the ways forward. Old concepts of rationality and domination over nature and over other humans had influenced Western thinking and this thinking held back human capabilities.
In all societies, citizens are seeking creative ways to rethink the priorities for humanity. Obama’s election took place in the middle of the push forward to the era when new forms of energy could engender new thinking.
After a vibrant election campaign, the Obama grassroots campaign folded and those who had been mobilized and inspired by the promise of hope and change were left without clarity on the ways forward. The popular movement of workers, anti racist elements, peace activists, environmentalists and women groups are now searching for a way to regain the momentum that was the highlight of the ‘Yes We Can’ movement in 2007-2008.
From all corners of the globe there are demands for a fundamental restructuring of society in order to repair the human spirit and save planet Earth. It is the escape from spiritual death and the repair of the human spirit which is driving the youth of today. This repair and healing of humans will inspire the reordering of the spaces they inhabit so that bridges are built to connect humans.
Another form of reparation will involve an all-out drive for cleaning up the toxic dumps and reverse global warming. The failure of the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change in December 2009 stands out as an example of the inability of those who resist change to fully grasp the need for conversion from the thinking in politics and economics that brought us the mode of economic organization that is destroying the planet. Everywhere there are signs of the ‘tipping point’, but those in business of polluting the planet, especially the coal, oil and gas industries have been so powerful that they have placed short term profits before the future of the planet Earth.
Intentional actions by humans to live in harmony with nature and with each other opened revolutionary possibilities for wealth creation and for global eradication of exploitation, racism and gender discrimination. Yet, trapped by the ideas and conventions of liberalism and militarism, the US government remains torn between the past forms of economic organization and the multiple challenges of breaking from old forms of destruction, war and greed. The momentum of the ‘Yes We Can’ grassroots movement must be re-fired up.