As the contests for the presidential nominations of the Democratic and Republican parties head into the potentially decisive primary voting on February 5, there has been a pronounced shift in favor of the campaign of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, reflected in a surge in opinion polls, large turnouts at campaign rallies, a flood of campaign contributions, and a series of high-profile political and media endorsements.
The past week has seen a significant intervention by the ruling elite to promote the Obama campaign, acting through its political representatives—particularly Senator Edward Kennedy, longtime leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party—and through the corporate-controlled mass media.
If Obama wins California and gains a majority of delegates chosen in the “Super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses, he would become the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination and face the presumptive Republican candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain.
The Obama surge is undoubtedly a significant political event, but like any phenomenon in American politics, it has to be analyzed from two standpoints—what it reveals about changes in mass consciousness, and what it reveals about the ongoing policy discussions and political struggles taking place within the ruling elite.
For millions of voters, and particularly for young people, the response to Obama’s campaign reflects both a deep-going desire for significant social and political change, as well as widespread illusions—fostered assiduously by the media—that the election of the first black president would represent a fundamental break with an old and discredited political order in the United States.
Obama is not, however, the product of the civil rights struggles against racial oppression, nor is he associated with any popular movement from below. His career has far more in common with those of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, individuals selected and groomed by the American ruling class to carry out its policies. Like them, he is being used to put a new face on fundamentally reactionary policies and institutions.
In policy terms, there is little to distinguish Obama from Clinton, although her 2002 vote in the US Senate to authorize the war in Iraq has served as a lead weight around her neck throughout the campaign. The war is overwhelmingly unpopular among the American people as a whole, and among young people and Democratic primary voters in particular.