By Andrew Nilsen
The pundits are saying the collapse of American finance capitalism may be decisive in electing Barack Obama president. But that underestimates the risks that lie ahead this final week - as well as the qualities of Obama's campaign that enable him to take advantage of this crisis.
Despite the biggest crash since 1929, the closeness of the polling numbers already suggests that a masked American racism is alive and well. The hidden racial factor is immeasurable, and the threats to Obama will increase as he nears the victory line.
Still, he has the edge. He continues to break all fundraising records, a bottom-?up trend that began with Internet-?driven solicitations for MoveOn.org, while an army of volunteers is preparing a historic get-?out-?the-?vote campaign.
Their effort is qualitatively different from past operations, which consisted mostly of out-?of-?state staffers pouring into a handful of battlegrounds, ignoring local groups and packing their bags the moment the election was over.
While the Obama campaign deploys paid staff, too, the difference is that they are judged by community-?organizing standards, which means empowering neighborhood teams and leaving a vast new resource in place after the election. But voter turnout will swamp the polling places and it will be a brutal and contested Election Day.
While Obama is bettering John Kerry in close states, it's instructive to look at the 2004 margins: Democrat John Kerry won Wisconsin by 0.38 per cent, New Hampshire by 1.37, Pennsylvania by 2.5; he lost Iowa by 0.67, New Mexico by 0.79, Ohio by 2.11 and Nevada by 2.59. This race could easily boil down to third-?party voters.
If there is an Obama victory, countless tears will flow among people carrying the deep post-?traumatic stress disorder of our generation. But his triumph will also mean that work begins anew the day after. That's because the current debate over the Wall Street bailout contains a populist streak but little progressive content. The initial $750 billion package - now climbing toward $2 trillion - was a gift to those responsible for the crisis, with only modest regulatory conditions attached.
We are very far from the green New Deal some dream of. Congress has not even suggested transferring funds from the Iraq War to energy conservation and renewables.
The stark fact is that the current bailout will so strain the federal budget as to threaten healthcare and green jobs agendas. The good news, perversely, is that wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other fronts will become increasingly difficult to fund as well.
The New Deal in the 1930s began gradually. The most famous programs - the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security, the Works Progress Administration - were formulated in the heat of subsequent struggle. When America turned leftward in a time of factory occupations and liberal congressional majorities, Franklin Roosevelt devised pragmatic yet radical measures to restore stability.
Obama has Roosevelt's gifts of oratory and pragmatism, but as yet the social movements aren't strong and there is no threat on the streets, only a predictable sense of personal shock. Obama needs a public storm.
Unlike the creator of the New Deal, the current Dem leader can't implement traditional Keynesian public works without environmental underpinnings - a green jobs program. And again unlike Roosevelt in the late 30s, he can't prime the pump with more expenditures on preparation for war. Iraq alone costs $11 billion a month.
The contradiction is that Obama has generated a new historical force from below while relying on a small coterie of inside advisers at the top, individuals trained to believe in military intervention and market-?based economics. His method is about mobilizing voters, not about generating policy input from the bottom up.
While his 300 national security advisers include critics of the Iraq debacle, none would describe themselves as anti-?interventionist, not to mention anti-?imperialist.
Nor are any of his economic advisers proposing to scrap or fundamentally revise the corporate-?based protocols of the World Trade Organization or the North American Free Trade Agreement. They cautiously avoid attacking Sarah Palin on global warming while dropping their own opposition to offshore drilling and nuclear power as too much "baggage."
Obama showed he could dissent from this Democratic orthodoxy when he stood against the Iraq War. He may prove willing to reconsider his position on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to question whether they are winnable wars in any moral or strategic sense. And he may be forced, like Roosevelt, toward Keynesian economics, with green amendments written by Al Gore.
But to revise his course, he will need a movement, clear and passionate, on the inside and the outside. Only this can save his presidency from military, economic and political stalemate and deliver on the promise of real change.
Tom Hayden is a former California legislator, professor and author of more than 15 books.