United States

Barack, Hillary, and the Sinister Nothingness of ‘Change’

By BAR executive editor Glen Ford

“Although ‘change’ may come, it will be at the direction of the rich.”

The scam of this still-new century enthralls and envelopes the nation, a narrowly-packaged farce in which political twins Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pretend they are not joined at the hip on every public policy issue that has been allowed to enter the corporate media-vetted discourse: health care, Iraq, trade. Even these points of (non)contention disappear in the din of purely commercial marketing mantras with infinitely malleable meanings: “Change,” “Hope,” “Reform.”

When no real change is offered—when both frontrunners are wedded to a lingering presence in Iraq and to reestablishing U.S. hegemony in the world; when insurance and drug companies are left virtually untouched by the duos’ tepid forays into broadening health-care coverage; and when neither offers a whisper of an idea on halting the corporate-engineered global Race to the Bottom, then it is certain that, although “change” may come, it will be at the direction of the rich who have brought the nation and planet to the very brink of catastrophe.

‘The biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen’

Ironically, it was Bill Clinton who, on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, exposed the bogus nature of the stage-set battle between his wife and Barack Obama:

“It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time—not once, ‘Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn’t know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war. And you took that speech you’re now running on off your Web site in 2004. And there’s no difference in your voting record and Hillary’s ever since. Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

When the Great Triangulator and Supreme Snake Oil Salesman tells you a scam is going on, take it from an expert, and believe.

The real story on Obama

Actually, Clinton got one of the dates wrong. We at Black Agenda Report know—because we have been closely scrutinizing Obama since his Illinois state senate days, and engaged him in a month-long interchange in June of 2003. Obama’s October 2002 antiwar speech first disappeared from his U.S. Senate campaign site, not in 2004, but in 2003, when public perception of the war and occupation—with the exception of Black opinion—had dramatically shifted towards war. At the time, Bruce Dixon and the core Black Agenda Report crew, including myself, were housed at

Dixon, a native Chicagoan who had worked with Obama in a massive Illinois voter registration drive in 1992, noted on June 5, 2003 that “...a few weeks ago, Barack Obama’s heartfelt statement of principled opposition to lawless militarism and the rule of fear was stricken without explanation from his campaign web site, and replaced with mild expressions of ‘anxiety.’” In place of the speech that Obama’s handlers would five years later wave as proof of his resolute opposition to the war, Obama stammered and stuttered:

“But I think [people are] all astonished, I think, in many quarters, about, for example, the recent Bush budget and the prospect that, for example, veterans benefits might be cut. And so there’s discussion about that, I think, among both supporters and those who are opposed to the war. What kind of world are we building?

“And I think that’s—the anxiety is about the international prospects and how we potentially reconstruct Iraq. And the costs there, then, tie in very directly with concerns about how we’re handling our problems at home.”

What a difference a shift in public opinion on war makes. Bruce Dixon put it well: “His passion evaporated, a leading Black candidate for the U.S. Senate mouths bland generalities on war, peace and the U.S. role in the world.”

“Obama’s name turned up in one of our periodic searches of the Democratic Leadership Council.”

Obama put The Speech back on the site. But there was another shock in store. During the same week, Obama’s name turned up in one of our periodic searches of the Democratic Leadership Council’s membership list. Could a man widely perceived as a rising star in the progressive Black firmament have signed on to the DLC, the corporate bagman and center of all things Republican-Lite in the Democratic Party? We challenged Obama again, directly, as reported on a Black Agenda Report, June 19, 2003 in an article titled, “Not Corrupted by DLC, Says Obama?:

“Illinois State Senator Barack Obama rejects any ‘suggestion’ that ‘inclusion of my name’ on a Democratic Leadership Council/New Democrats membership list amounts to ‘an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.’

“In a June 13 letter to The Black Commentator, the Black candidate for U.S. Senate defended his civil liberties, antiwar, and social welfare legislative record, and requested ‘that folks take the time to find out what my views are before they start questioning my passion for justice or the integrity of my campaign effort.’

“Specifically, State Senator Obama maintains that an October 2002 anti-war speech was removed from his campaign web site because ‘the speech was dated once the formal phase of the war was over, and my staff’s desire to continually provide fresh news clips.’”

Testing Obama

Naturally, we didn’t believe a word about either The Speech or Obama’s supposed lack of knowledge about the DLC’s claim to his person, despite his lengthy, written protestations of innocence and ignorance.

We decided it was pointless to go back and forth with Obama on whether he was technically a member of the DLC or just sympathetic to their pro-corporate policies. Instead, we challenged Obama to take a test. If he answered three questions in the affirmative, he should not be in the DLC. Otherwise, he is a bird-of-a-feather, and should continue in their corporate company. The “bright line” questions put to Obama on Black Agenda Report on June 26 were:

1. Do you favor the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?

2. Do you favor the adoption of a single-payer system of universal health care to extend the availability of quality health care to all persons in this country? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?

3. Would you have voted against the October 10 congressional resolution allowing the president to use unilateral force against Iraq?

In the summer of 2003, Obama was ranked third of four in the field of contenders for the Illinois Democratic senate nomination. He didn’t want to alienate any constituency, and so agreed to take our test. He also agreed to ask the DLC to take his name off their list of New Democrats, albeit reluctantly.

Obama’s response to our “bright line” questions was as follows:

“My views on universal health care, the unilateral use of force in Iraq, and NAFTA are in fact what you might expect given my previous history and voting record.

“I favor universal health care for all Americans, and intend to introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end in the U.S. Senate, just as I have at the state level....

“I would have voted against the October 10th congressional resolution authorizing the President to use unilateral force against Iraq....

“And although I believe that free trade—when also fair—can benefit workers in both rich and poor nations, I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority.”

Clearly, Obama failed the test on repeal of NAFTA and “slicked” his way through the universal health care question. But we fudged his grades, and passed him, anyway—and have regretted doing so, ever since. A year later, Obama’s name was briefly back on the DLC list; their site manager said he assumed that Obama belonged there. Also in 2004, as Bill Clinton angrily recounted, Obama told the New York Times he doesn’t know how he would have voted on the 2002 War Powers Act if he had been in the U.S. Senate at the time. Later, the winds of war opinion changed, and Obama’s handlers celebrated the 5th anniversary of his 2002 anti-war speech as if it ranked with the Magna Carta in historical significance.

“Slick Willy” knows a scammer when he sees one, either in the mirror or opposing his wife. After more than four years of documenting Obama’s machinations, so do we.

Back to the Present

And now we are left only with the politics of “Change”—which is anything the various audiences want it to be. Through relentless pandering to white desires for an end to Black agitation and reminders of enduring institutional racism, Obama has proven his ability to amass huge white support. As a result, much of Black America may become convinced the last hurdle to putting a Black Face in the Highest Place has been overcome, and shift overwhelmingly to Hillary’s estranged Black political twin. Corporate America, never threatened by either candidate, has long been comfortable with the outcome of this race, whichever way it goes—that’s why they put their money on both Barack and Hillary.

After Obama thanked his supporters for making him a close second in New Hampshire, the sound system blared a Stevie Wonder song with the hook, “Here I am, baby, signed sealed, delivered, I’m yours.”

For whom were those lyrics meant?

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at,

Black Agenda Report, January 9, 2008