The Cult of Change

imagesPresident Obama recently visited his fathers home country of Kenya, a welcome home for Obama, who Kenyans consider a long lost son. The homecoming however was somewhat spoiled by Obama’s gentle reminder of their need to alter positions on human rights and same sex marriage. This has been the general theme of African Tour. Obama’s speech writes itself as he begins the end of his presidency, a farewell world tour jaunt from the soon to be former ‘Leader of the Free World.’ Basking in adulation, praise for the strides made by a continent whilst instilling a reminder that they have some way to go. The problem is that the same speech could very well be the eulogy of his presidency.

With 18 months left of a presidency that offered so much, an opposition House and Senate the chances of any ground breaking new initiatives by a 2nd term president are unlikely. Obama will always be remembered as the first African American President of the United States, a symbol of the progress the U.S. has made in racial equality. Yet there is so much work left to do.

In Obama’s America income inequality has continued to rise more than doubling from 1980 levels. The top 1% now account for almost 20% of the national income. With gun related homicides set to overtake auto mobile deaths, with a seemingly never ending stream of national tragedies based on racism, homophobia and untreated mental illness, all of whom pass current criteria for gun ownership.

Obama, came to power under a groundswell, that change was not only possible but realistically achievable. ‘Yes we can’ was the mantra that engaged a generation of disaffected. When he leaves office in January 2017 it will be these same people who will be less optimistic, and less likely to believe in change.

For any president the first term is where the real session of potential change takes place. With a majority in government, Obama could have pushed through his legislative agenda. Instead he sought consensus particularly on Obamacare, resulting in half measures which did not tackle the gross inequalities or corporate greed of medical insurance. It is in this issue that highlights the difference between those who the media would portray to be left wing politicians and the right.

After 9/11 George Bush, with Republican majority parliaments easily pushed through legislation amid mass public and democratic protest. The Patriot Act was not to be discussed and consensus delivered, you either agreed or were unpatriotic. Obama on the other hand seemed his ultimate goal was to ensure a second term, reneging on his promise to dismantle the Guantanamo Bay torture camp , or to withdraw troops from failed foreign wars. Recently, following another tragic mass shooting, Obama announced that eventually America would have to deal with the issue of gun control. Is this not why you are in power? What is the purpose of his presidency if he is already passing the load onto the next one?

As much as you can be opposed to and despise their policies the Conservative Government today has instilled their ideological beliefs tearing apart the fabric of our society. Does the right have a stronger ideological strength than the left in implementing their course of action?

To agree with this we must fall for the notion that Obama wanted to offer real change. The truth is that Obama, like others before him who promise so much, was just as much a part of the establishment as George Bush was. Similarly the New Labour Government promised real change but inevitably offered little in the way of substantial transformation. We will not for some time at least see the SNP vision of change they promised in the referendum but what is for sure is that a pro NATO, pro Monarchy, pro big business and neo liberalist party would have a hard time making the metamorphosis often promised.

Dictators like Mao and Stalin used a cult of personality to widen their appeal, today it seems that establishment parties are using the cult of change to convince voters that they will be different. But without real action these will only just be words and voters will quickly tire of another false dawn, allowing the current crop of corrupt political drones to maintain the stranglehold on power both domestically and throughout the world.

It is up to the voters to begin to realise false prophets and it is up to political parties who would genuinely offer that change to show the way and become a realistic alternative. Until that happens the change we seek will never amount to much more than minor shift, than the permanent revolutionary change we are beginning to see so much support for.

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  1. Derek Louden says:

    Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to deliver something akin to Obamacare and failed. Obama succeeded. If he achieved nothing else for people without cover he deserves to be remembered and will be remembered positively for this. The measure has cleared the Supreme Court and will survive his presidency. He also seems to be approaching a normalization of relations with Iran which no-one saw coming. These achievements have been made despite the most hostile, divided and fractious Senate and House faced by any president in recent times. History will judge him kindly for what he has achieved and may yet achieve. We should too.

  2. Monty says:

    I can’t accept that New Labour did not bring real change to Britain. Moves towards real equality for women and homosexuals, making overseas aid, the minimum wage, increased funding for the NHS almost untouchable parts of government policy. Yes mistakes were made such as increasing flexibility of employment without increasing protection but all mainstream parties now offer a variation on New Labour perhaps with a blue Tory tinge or a nationalist spin. The real problem for Scotland is they have been no new ideas since New Labour and certainly none coming from Holyrood where the order of the day is magpie or pick and mix politics. Sturgeon is in danger of becoming the Scottish Obama with similar inspirational rhetoric and becoming the focus for the hopes of a nation but with little sign that she knows what to do or has the policy to make it into a reality.

  3. deewal says:

    SNP Bad. They’re a Cult. A very big bad Cult. All Hail The Surgeon. We are all awaiting our Yellow and Black Uniforms with our Thistle and Crossbones Armbands and Caps and Alex boots. (TM)

    1. Clive Scott says:

      It is brilliant that the SNP have got rid of the craven utterly corrupt Westminster toady Labour Party from Scotland. Alex did a brilliant job to bring Independence to the mainstream and Nicola looks to be the leader we need to make Independence happen. It is only silly Britnats that speak of cults, uniforms and such, possibly because Britnats like nothing better than flag waving at parades of troops returning from the latest military farce killing women, children and the odd deluded teenager in a hot, poor and corrupt countries far away.

  4. douglas clark says:

    Obama is/was the best orator I have ever heard.

    Given the continuity of US foreign policy, I am no longer sure that oratory cuts the mustard.

    Sturgeon is in danger of becoming the Scottish Obama with similar inspirational rhetoric and becoming the focus for the hopes of a nation but with little sign that she knows what to do or has the policy to make it into a reality.

    I am not convinced by Monty’s view. But my cynicism meter is not notched up to 11.

    I do not think she is beholden to a status quo, which Obama became. I do not think that she really, really doesn’t mean it, when she say’s that she wants Scottish Independence. I believe – see that word ‘believe’ – that she means what she says. Westminster politics is moving to a Democrat / Republican model where there is little to chose between them. The SNP are on the outside of that. If and when they voted against their principles, then Monty might have a point. Until hell feezes over, he doesn’t.

    Different strokes for different folks I’d imagine. But it seems remarkable that a politician can be elected on a mandate calling for Scottish Independence and then be accused of, having in her heart, a desire to renege on it. Are our heads supposed to button up the back?

    This, it seems to me, is wish fullfillment on the part of the Monty. Not particularily evidence based, if I may say so?

  5. douglas clark says:

    Alan Grogan,

    Similarly the New Labour Government promised real change but inevitably offered little in the way of substantial transformation. We will not for some time at least see the SNP vision of change they promised in the referendum but what is for sure is that a pro NATO, pro Monarchy, pro big business and neo liberalist party would have a hard time making the metamorphosis often promised.

    But you do want independence, right?

    After that we, the people, will decide what we want to do about any of the issues you raise. That is the point of Independence.

    So, taking your points aboard:

    It is hardly neo-liberalist to argue for a Keynsian view of economics, is it?

    On your other points, I somewhat agree.

    The Queen – become a republic asap. But that is not a prerequisite of independence. It is something for discussion thereafter.

    Pro-big business – make them pay taxes and and a realistic living wage. make them responsible to us, so no fracking without our approval, and I don’t have an issue. It is just a buzz for the real issue, which is tax avoidance,and evasion of the rules you and I are obliged to obey.

    Pro NATO does not imply Pro Nuclear. I am open to persuasion why an alliance of democratic states is, necessarily, a bad thing

    I take it you meant ‘any’ rather than ‘and’ in your final sentence?

    Why aren’t you standing for leader of the Labour Party in Scotland?

    My objections, outlined above, are more to do with the status quo in the Labour Party, which certainly supports every questionable ideal you outline, rather than a damning critique of the SNP.

    You could add Trident renewal to the list, but that would just be rubbing salt into the wound.

  6. Justin Kenrick says:

    thanks Allan – very good food for thought.

    I’m just back from Kenya and witnessed the extraordinary impact Obama had as people I know well who previously found the idea of gay rights unthinkable were persuaded by his easy friendly frank oratory that discriminating against people on the basis of who they love is just like discriminating against people on the basis of colour. His push for gender equality was equally persuasive, saying would any football coach field only half the number of players they are allowed?

    People in cafes, on matatus/ buses, in taxis were shifting their attitudes rapidly.

    And the best part was when he came out from a meeting with the opposition and made everyone laugh by telling how one opposition leader, whose name he wouldn’t disclose, had insisted he must intervene more; and the same person, when in power, had insisted he must never interfere in Kenya’s sovereignty!

    So, given that I had pretty much given up on Obama for all the reasons we know well, I was pretty shocked at the positive impact.

    It reminded me of Blair and all the similarly good changes that happened, even if – as I remember hearing Peter McColl say – Blair was on the side of the rich, and you could be black and rich, you could be gay and rich, you could be a woman and rich. The one thing you couldn’t be was poor and rich.

    And that was one half of how Labour became unstuck: concealing rising inequality and low pay behind tax credits and the like, rather than tackling the financial elite whose schemes have made them so wealthy and destroyed so much, whether our own economy, whether Iraq, whether individuals lives in Africa smashed by the systematic appropriation of communities lands.

    ‘Change’ is the big rallying cry of social movements, and of the system these social movements arise to rally against. I’d suggest it’s the wrong place to start from because it is so easily a way of distracting people from taking care of where they live and of other people’s lives (near and far) right now. It distracts us from facing the forces we are up against. It persuades us to accept compromises with forces that should never be compromised with.

    In the end it’s not change we’re seeking. We’re seeking to stop those changes that demean and destroy people’s lives.

  7. Teddy Henfrey says:

    “Does the right have a stronger ideological strength than the left in implementing their course of action?”

    Not necessarily. However the difficulty for ‘the Left’ is that the various forms of Centrist state regulated capitalism (including that currently operated by the UK Government, and that proposed by your SNP**) have consistently delivered a higher standard of living and better quality of life for a majority of citizens than any of the versions of Socialism have. Socialism has consistently delivered a poorer standard of living and lower quality of life, and in some instances has been a complete disaster, killing millions.

    As (I think this ‘quote’ is variously attributed) someone said about New Labour; ‘it proves we won the argument’.

    **The SNP are not offering Socialism, or anything like it, they are offering another centrist variant on state regulated capitalism, badged ‘social democracy’. I know numerous fantasists including readers and writers on this site believe that a Socialist Revolution will take place following Scottish Independence, but they are just that; fantasists.

    Social democracy is what we have in the UK now of course; regulation of the economy by the state, with the provision of free at the point of delivery health, education and welfare. (Anyone who thinks we have a ‘far right Government’ wants to read a bit of history and maybe travel a little).

    As soon as there is a Socialist country that offers a better standard of living and quality of life for the majority of its citizens, I will quite happily concede that perhaps there is ‘another way’. I think I’ll be waiting a long time though.

    “The Conservative Government … tearing apart the fabric of our society”.

    I’m 41. I look around, and as when i was in my teens, my twenties, my thirties and now my forties, “the fabric of our society” is still there, and in much the same shape more or less as it always was.

    (I’m too young to properly remember the ’70s, but those a little older than me assure me they were terrible. There were more Socialist ideas around then).

    “Dictators like Mao and Stalin used a cult of personality to widen their appeal”

    Nothing like Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, who are entirely innocent in using this kind of approach.

    “It is up to the voters to begin to realise false prophets”

    and Great Leaders.

    “We will not for some time at least see the SNP vision of change they promised in the referendum but what is for sure is that a pro NATO, pro Monarchy, pro big business and neo liberalist party would have a hard time …”

    On NATO: The last time I looked the SNP want to retain NATO membership (though I know they keep changing their minds, feel free to correct me on the current position)

    On the Monarchy: In the SNP White Paper SCOTLAND’S FUTURE, it stated that “Our Head of State will be Her Majesty the Queen’.

    On “big business”: The SNP’s largest donor is Brian Souter of Stagecoach, an international transport group that is part of the FTSE 250 index

    On “Neo-liberalism”: The SNP has overseen the sell-off of public services to private concerns including ferries (Serco) and NHS services (various).

    So it sounds like NATO, the Monarchy, big business and neo-liberalism are going to be pretty popular in an “Independent Scotland”.

    1. JBS says:

      I wonder what the weather is like in Manchester.

      Could you do me a favour? Look out the window and let me know?

  8. Stevie Anderson says:

    Douglas Clark made the point:
    “It is hardly neo-liberalist to argue for a Keynesian view of economics, is it?”

    The SNP don’t have Keynesian view of economics though, it’s nicer neo-liberalism than Labour et al, but neo-liberalism it is. The central tenet of neo-liberal approaches is to have growth in the economy which trickles down through society’s strata and benefits all. I think it is very fair to say that’s the SNP position and that a Keynesian approach seeking to intervene in the economy to balance and mitigate against capitalism’s tendency towards failure and crisis, particularly through government spending, redistribution etc, is not at all part of any SNP proposed approach.


    1. Muscleguy says:

      Except the whole of the SNP’s criticism of austerity was done from a Keynesian point of view. Their criticisms of Tory policy at Westminster has similarly been thus.

      You are confusing SNP policy as a devolved institution without their hands on the necessary economic levers who are thus required by the environment to operate in a neo-liberal environment with how they would operate post independence.

      Do you expect them to behave like the Red Liverpool councils under Thatcher? Do you want to live under such a regime? I don’t and I doubt many outside the less realistic parts of SWP do either. Yet that is pretty much what you are criticising the SNP for not doing as a devolved administration.

    2. douglas clark says:

      Thanks for your response.

      As I understand it, Keynsianist policy is for governments to approve capital expenditure projects during times of crisis. The Hoover dam being a prime example of the policy.

      I recall Nichola Sturgeon asking the UK government for advancement of similar schemes within the last month or so.

      So, I am not entirely sure we are on the same page?

      If you have evidence please advance it.

  9. arthur thomson says:

    In all honesty I don’t know a lot about what Obama has or hasn’t achieved. Like many others I found it positive that a black President had been elected and I have no doubt that it was a great confidence booster for black people everywhere. If, as commented above, he has had a positive influence through his trip to Africa then that is an achievement in itself.

    Realistically, what can one person achieve? Obviously Obama had a whole team of people working with him but I am not aware of the emergence from his team of others of the necessary calibre to support him in achieving major change. Maybe he has a great team and I am just not aware of who they are. Unless you are a dictator you are only as good as the team you have supporting you.

    As to comparisons with Blair and what New Labour achieved I have a bit more local knowledge. Blair was a confidence trickster ably supported by a collection of unscrupulous self-seeking individuals (together with a minority of genuine people who were there to give an illusion of respectability)- evidenced by the Iraq war, the deliberate creation of a low wage economy, the lack of governance of the Banks, the lack of provision to accommodate the huge influx of people into the UK, the development of spin to deceive the electorate etc. Certainly they brought about fundamental change- the key players all got rich for a start – but radical change is not an end in itself. The effect of the change has to be positive and New Labour achieved nothing that wasn’t grossly outweighed by their disastrous failures. Attributing important improvements to equal rights for women, overseas aid and the acceptance of homosexuality to the ideology of New Labour is no more than an attempt at deceit. Any contributions that New Labour made in these respects came about as a result of the efforts of people in the party who were a thorn in the side of the New Labour regime.

    Will the SNP bring about radical change? The SNP exists to achieve the end of Scottish independence. To that end it has to encompass and reflect the diversity of the Scottish electorate. Yes it can promote radical change where there is widespread agreement in Scotland on any issue and where it has the necessary powers. But it cannot be a party of the radical left or the right. It has to reflect a degree of consensus on most issues. There is one area, however, in which it can be radical and which I believe is the most important issue of all to bring about sustained improvement in Scotland. That is in building the self-confidence and self-belief of the Scots. The SNP, in parallel with the wider movement for independence, has been doing that with increasing success. The outcome of the GE evidences that.

    Obama may not have been able to bring about radical change in the US but perhaps black people across the world have a bit more self-belief and self-confidence as a result of his efforts. That can only be good.

  10. Darby O'Gill says:

    Why do people refer to Obama as a black President or Afro-American President? His mother is whiter than me, so he can equally be a white President. The casual racism of whites regularly refers to anyone less than 100% white as belonging to the other part of their genetic heritage. Obama is a mixed-race President not a black President.

  11. Blair paterson says:

    This is the same Afro American president who told the Scottish people they were to remain slaves than to seek freedom ?

    1. C Rober says:

      Touche, maybe it was justice for the Scots sugar barons , whom made their money through slavery , then again why hasnt he done the 4 acres and a mule when in power that no president has done since the civil war proclamation of freedom.

      I do reckon there is something sinister going on with Kenya , wouldnt surprise me if he moves there and runs for president , with of course some good old USA advisors , aka military. From millionaire to billionaire overnight , boy done good.

      Unlike America I dont think Kenya prevents foreigners from running for office , or if it does would happily open up the rulebook for change – in return for some armaments.

      Decent sized oil reserves , sweatshop for clothes sold in America , and a news and media structure ripe for the pickings. Ideally placed to usurp China’s dominance on Africa for exports and imports , minerals , oil exploration and expansion in to the Indian Ocean , cheap labour and investment infrastructure… ensuring the dollar being the currency of choice for big business , at least in the short term.

      Firs black man as American president , or first American President to be President of two different countries?

  12. mike cassidy says:

    Obama gambled twice.

    His first – which he won – was standing for president in the first place. Everybody knew the Democratic Nominee would walk in. He took the chance that he could beat Hilary Clinton to it.

    His second – which he lost – was thinking that he could run his country in a “team of rivals” way – almost in a bipartisan cooperative. He completely underestimated not just the deeprooted racism of the Right in the USA, but also its deeprooted loathing of much of the ‘liberal’ agenda. More likely to get Celtic and Rangers sharing a stadium.

    Ironically, that lost gamble may have given his party their best chance of holding on to the presidency, because the antiobamaripples are still encouraging the oddballs like Trump to come to the Republican fore.

    Eight years of Obama followed by eight years of Clinton! The Republican nightmare made flesh!

    And as a Kenyan told Stephen Fry. Obama might be America’s first black president – but if he was elected in Kenya, he would be their first white one!

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