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Barack Obama is not Jesus Christ

By John Passant - posted Thursday, 22 January 2009

Obama’s election is historic. It marks the political end of neo-liberalism as an ideology, one that has collapsed in the face of the global economic crisis and the failure of the market. It is also about generational change - a changing of the guard from the old to the new. And of course the election of the first African-American as President is earth shattering.

Obama’s presidency comes at a time of great economic crisis, what Obama himself describes as the worst since the Great Depression. His election has created a sense of euphoria among his supporters and commentators about dealing with this and other major issues. Even some Republicans have joined the partying. Obama is clearly the President of change, yet his promises have been surprisingly few and most had wriggle room attached to them.

These heightened expectations open up real possibilities for the Left because Obama will not be able to meet them. This Obama gap between reality and hope will become clearer over time.


Obama is not Jesus Christ, although you wouldn’t know it from listening to many people and reading most commentators. Even the women in my aquarobics class in Canberra here in far away Australia were talking about getting up at 3.30am to watch the inauguration.

This euphoria is understandable. Bush leaves a legacy of world wide economic crisis (slipping perhaps from recession into depression in the next year), vast wealth discrepancies in the US, simmering racial tension, two unwinnable wars, global warming devastating the planet and Gaza in ruins thanks to Israel’s ongoing war crimes, (before we even talk about North Korea, Iran or Pakistan).

The similarities with Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Australia are stark. Rudd’s election was marked by hope for a new and better society. But our PM continues, not confronts, the legacy of Australia’s reactionary former PM, John Howard.

Obama starts about a year behind Rudd in disillusioning his supporters but will quickly catch and surpass the HowRuddista Government. I give it about six months, given the level of expectations raised, before some of his supporters and left Democrats begin to understand what they have helped create - a competent George Bush.

How so? The sense of hope about Obama is built around the idea that individuals can substantially change history. This is true to some extent, but it is the social forces they represent and can garner and put into action that make great men (and occasionally great women) great.

And there is another factor. As Marx said:


Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.

So what forces does Obama represent? A superficial analysis would respond that he is unleashing the forces of change. Certainly he has lit the spark for change across America and the globe with his rhetoric. He has captured many in presenting an almost Harry Potter-like vision for all Americans. The difference is that Voldemort might win.

Obama’s cabinet team includes recycled Clinton appointees and Bush Republicans. Hardly a team of, or for, change. In fact it looks like a Cabinet of reaction.

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This is an updated version of an article first published in En Passant on January 21, 2009.

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About the Author

John Passant is a Canberra writer ( and member of Socialist Alternative.

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