by Barry Grey
7 November 2008
A historical milestone?
It is striking that the American media, beginning on election night and continuing in the aftermath of the vote, has been virtually unanimous in interpreting the victory of Barack Obama entirely in racial terms. This trend is epitomized in the treatment of the Democratic sweep by the New York Times, the most prominent organ of the American liberal establishment, which ran a banner headline on Wednesday declaring, “Obama: Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory.”
Even by elementary journalistic standards, this headline is remarkable for its lack of any pretense at objective reporting. This is not a news headline. It is not how a mainstream newspaper normally presents the outcome of a national election.
The Times, by contrast, chose to present Tuesday’s election entirely as a referendum on race—not a popular repudiation of the Bush administration and the right-wing politics of the Republican Party, not a repudiation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor of three decades of social policy single-mindedly devoted to the further enrichment of the financial elite. This interpretation ignores the indisputable fact that the most decisive issue in the election was the economic crisis, which prompted tens of millions of working people and youth, of all races, to vote for Obama in the hope that his election would signal a reversal of previous economic policies.
This constant invocation of Obama’s skin color and personal background underscores the pervasive manner in which conventional political analysis in America operates within racial categories. But it also serves definite political aims. It facilitates an attempt to obscure the political issues that drove the election, including popular opposition to war. The fact that Obama initially established his credibility by running as the candidate who had opposed the war in Iraq is virtually ignored.
This, in turn, clears the way for a continuation of the right-wing economic and foreign policies that were repudiated by the electorate. That the president-elect is preparing just such a course is already clear from his decision to name as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel, an early supporter of the Iraq war and key ally of Chicago real estate and financial interests, and reports that Obama will appoint at least two Republicans to his cabinet.
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