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Many Americans believe Barack Obama represents a hopeful future for America. But does he also reflect the American politics of the past? This book offers the broadest and best-informed understanding on the meaning of the “Obama phenomenon” to date.Paul Street was on the ground throughout the Iowa campaign, and his stories of the rising Obama phenomenon are poignant. Yet th Many Americans believe Barack Obama represents a hopeful future for America. But does he also reflect the American politics of the past? This book offers the broadest and best-informed understanding on the meaning of the “Obama phenomenon” to date.Paul Street was on the ground throughout the Iowa campaign, and his stories of the rising Obama phenomenon are poignant. Yet the author’s background in American political history allows him to explore the deeper meanings of Obama’s remarkable political career. He looks at Obama in relation to contemporary issues of class, race, war, and empire. He considers Obama in the context of our nation’s political history, with comparisons to FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton, and other leaders. Street finds that the Obama persona, crafted by campaign consultants and filtered through dominant media trends, masks the “change” candidate’s adherence to long-prevailing power structures and party doctrines. He shows how American political culture has produced misperceptions by the electorate of Obama’s positions and values. Obama is no magical exception to the narrow-spectrum electoral system and ideological culture that have done so much to define and limit the American political tradition. Yet the author suggests key ways in which Obama potentially advances democratic transformation. Street makes recommendations on how citizens can productively respond to and act upon Obama’s influence and the broader historical and social forces that have produced his celebrity and relevance. He also lays out a real agenda for change for the new presidential administration, one that addresses the recent failures of democratic politics.This study differs from previous books on Obama in at least three ways: (1) Street’s determination to offer a balanced but critical assessment of the “Obama phenomenon” from a perspective shaped by years of engagement with Left theory and activism; (2) Street’s effort to understand the phenomenon in a deeply researched historical, societal, and institutional context, consistently relating Obama’s career and candidacy to the ongoing historical development and dilemmas of U.S. political culture; (3) Street’s ability to deepen his account by drawing on his considerable direct experience with the phenomenon over years as a civil rights researcher and advocate on the south side of Chicago (2000-2005) and as a campaign activist in Iowa during the long and critical Iowa primary (caucus) season of 2007-2008.Read the Huffington Post interview with Paul Street: Huffington Post interviewRead the ZNet interview with Paul Street: ZNet Interview Read the Firedoglake Book Salon feature of this book: Firedoglake Review


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Many Americans believe Barack Obama represents a hopeful future for America. But does he also reflect the American politics of the past? This book offers the broadest and best-informed understanding on the meaning of the “Obama phenomenon” to date.Paul Street was on the ground throughout the Iowa campaign, and his stories of the rising Obama phenomenon are poignant. Yet th Many Americans believe Barack Obama represents a hopeful future for America. But does he also reflect the American politics of the past? This book offers the broadest and best-informed understanding on the meaning of the “Obama phenomenon” to date.Paul Street was on the ground throughout the Iowa campaign, and his stories of the rising Obama phenomenon are poignant. Yet the author’s background in American political history allows him to explore the deeper meanings of Obama’s remarkable political career. He looks at Obama in relation to contemporary issues of class, race, war, and empire. He considers Obama in the context of our nation’s political history, with comparisons to FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton, and other leaders. Street finds that the Obama persona, crafted by campaign consultants and filtered through dominant media trends, masks the “change” candidate’s adherence to long-prevailing power structures and party doctrines. He shows how American political culture has produced misperceptions by the electorate of Obama’s positions and values. Obama is no magical exception to the narrow-spectrum electoral system and ideological culture that have done so much to define and limit the American political tradition. Yet the author suggests key ways in which Obama potentially advances democratic transformation. Street makes recommendations on how citizens can productively respond to and act upon Obama’s influence and the broader historical and social forces that have produced his celebrity and relevance. He also lays out a real agenda for change for the new presidential administration, one that addresses the recent failures of democratic politics.This study differs from previous books on Obama in at least three ways: (1) Street’s determination to offer a balanced but critical assessment of the “Obama phenomenon” from a perspective shaped by years of engagement with Left theory and activism; (2) Street’s effort to understand the phenomenon in a deeply researched historical, societal, and institutional context, consistently relating Obama’s career and candidacy to the ongoing historical development and dilemmas of U.S. political culture; (3) Street’s ability to deepen his account by drawing on his considerable direct experience with the phenomenon over years as a civil rights researcher and advocate on the south side of Chicago (2000-2005) and as a campaign activist in Iowa during the long and critical Iowa primary (caucus) season of 2007-2008.Read the Huffington Post interview with Paul Street: Huffington Post interviewRead the ZNet interview with Paul Street: ZNet Interview Read the Firedoglake Book Salon feature of this book: Firedoglake Review

30 review for Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    Black commentator Gary Younge said in the Guardian that Obama represents the “removal of ‘black’ issues from the political arena” as well as “a repudiation of the existence of American racism itself.” Look back in history and the Democratic Party was the “party of the openly racist white South.” Blacks leave the party of Lincoln for the Democratic Party because of the New Deal. The real reason Democrats finally helped the race problem in the 60’s was because they saw to the world, America looked Black commentator Gary Younge said in the Guardian that Obama represents the “removal of ‘black’ issues from the political arena” as well as “a repudiation of the existence of American racism itself.” Look back in history and the Democratic Party was the “party of the openly racist white South.” Blacks leave the party of Lincoln for the Democratic Party because of the New Deal. The real reason Democrats finally helped the race problem in the 60’s was because they saw to the world, America looked boldly two-faced insisting Communism was pure evil, while American Racism sure looked to the world like a pure evil as well. “Black Americans, viewed separately, live at a level of a third world nation, their average net worth at one-eleventh that of whites.” Meanwhile, whites enjoy “a historically accumulated, and racism-generated surplus of wealth”. “Consistent with his 1997 Illinois Senate vote to impose punitive work requirements on welfare recipients, Obama has spent considerable energy joining neoconservatives in blaming poor blacks for their own poverty.” Even neoconservative William Bennett saw how centrist Obama was when he said of him, “He never brings race into it. He never plays the race card.” Black conservative Shelby Steele said, “It’s all about gratitude. White people are just thrilled when a prominent black person comes along and doesn’t rub their noses in racial guilt. White people just go crazy over people like that.” -Groan! - Imagine Obama’s pretend hero MLK never playing the race card! Or never playing the ‘inequality’ card, or the ‘the war is morally wrong’ card! Obama’s message became that racism is in the past, and “that black people are therefore to blame for their own problems.” Black journalist Glen Ford said Obama was “shamelessly taking cover in a kind of populist white patriotism that has always branded black grievances as selfish, even dangerous distraction from the national mission.” Many on the left got chills when Obama claimed to “denounce any statement that disparages our great country”. Apparently, if you recite with feeling just the text alone of MLK’s Riverside Speech, Obama will denounce you. Former civil rights lawyer Obama votes in the Senate to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2005, voting away civil rights for all Americans; this passes without comment from the narcoleptic liberal press. From Obama’s vetting in October 2003 onward, it was apparent to financial backers that Obama would not: 1. Be a racial polarizer (institutional racism will not lessen one iota under his watch) 2. Be anti-Business 3. He won’t be against concentrated wealth, so rich white folk can rest E-Z! Within one month of Obama becoming a Senator, his presidential plans were in motion – he was deep in corporate consultants and public relations experts and “Obama also studiously took up Golf.” His ‘Audacity of Hope’ was about lowering your expectations, to “embrace ‘realistic’ – that is, savagely scaled down – ambitions that are marvelously aligned with the core neoliberal project of shifting government’s main functions from the ‘left’ to the ‘right’ hand of the state.” His book ‘Audacity’ was sugar encased with a creamy neoliberal core: what makes America so great? The message was clear: here is a person more for sale than public service. Obama learns from the Clinton playbook: pretend to have “Jeffersonian promises to the working majority and then proceed to construct a richly Hamiltonian, corporate neoliberal administration that tended to serve the rich and the powerful and punish the poor.” Obama votes as Senator to make it harder for working class people to have their day in court; this vote against the American people and for “big capital” is to send a message to backers about how safe he was.” How thoughtful! If Early Obama appeared left of center, that is because he represented a heavily black district in Chicago which was left of center; there you could be “nominally progressive”. But his ambitions involved him needing to clearly sell out to get power: “That is why he voted ‘present’ instead of ‘no’ on seven bills restricting abortion. It’s also why his subsequently famous October 2002 speech against the planned invasion came down from his Web site in 2003.” Obama’s supporters cloaked his intentions very well; “selling out” and “co-optation” instantly became acts of “pragmatism” and “realism. Anyone can become a hero to the people if they simply have the cowardice to redefine spineless selling out as “realism” or “pragmatism”. Noam was listening to a NPR show gush about Obama and Noam noticed that nothing at all was said about Obama’s actual positions on anything; it was only talk about his image. Noam said, “What are his positions? It just doesn’t matter. He gives hope. He looks you right in the eyes when you talk to him. That’s what’s considered significant. Our electoral system has been driven to such a low level that issues are completely marginalized.” Two random comments from the ex-Charmer-In-Chief: “When you start focusing so much on the historically oppressed we lose sight of what we have in common.” “We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense.” As black activist Michael Hureaux wrote in early 2008, “What better figure to have out there than one to restore faith in the imperial project, but someone with a black face? They managed to live with Powell and Rice, why not Obama? What better gift to the empire than JFK in Sepia?” Obama’s evasion style was finely honed by hours with PR specialists: Bush’s upcoming war was not called “criminal or immoral” by Obama, that would question ethics in an Empire, instead he calls it “dumb”. Obama advances the lie that Iraq had been invaded for noble purposes. At one point Obama makes a very ignorant comment by choosing the wrong city to talk about the Gold Star families, “They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah.” The U.S. committed war crimes in Fallujah using white phosphorus on humans (admitted by the Pentagon) killing many Iraqi civilians caught there, and now Obama has rebranded the true victims of Fallujah as American. The U.S. targeted civilian ambulances and hospitals in Fallujah in 2004; but Obama laments ONLY the loss of the Gold Star families, the parents of the invaders. However, “There is little chance of ultimate success for a candidate who questions the inherent underlying nobility of U.S. global dominance.” And, Alexander Cockburn said, “Presidential elections are mostly about keeping important issues off the table.” Yep…

  2. 5 out of 5

    Florence

    Paul Street finished his penetrating manuscript just as Obama took over the helm of American politics. He argues in extremely sober terms the truth about the four year, carefully monitored process within the corporate-dominated and militaristic US election system, from fund raising to final election. He includes documented notes from Zinn, Chomsky, Pilger and many others to quantify his remarks and provides 43 pages of well documented notes. In the end he can only guess how the Obama phenomenon Paul Street finished his penetrating manuscript just as Obama took over the helm of American politics. He argues in extremely sober terms the truth about the four year, carefully monitored process within the corporate-dominated and militaristic US election system, from fund raising to final election. He includes documented notes from Zinn, Chomsky, Pilger and many others to quantify his remarks and provides 43 pages of well documented notes. In the end he can only guess how the Obama phenomenon will perform. Can there be any radical change when the population is so caught up in American exceptionalism.... propaganda is at work! He recalls Adolph Reed and his dictum....elected officials are only as good or as bad as the forces they feel they must respond to. This book is definitely worth the read, even though it is 5 years since it was written. It will help you understand American Politics at work and how badly it needs political reform.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tara van Beurden

    I am studying a Masters of International Relations as part of a double Masters (at the uni I work for). I decided to do this, partly because I have always wanted to do a Masters, partly because I work at a uni and it seemed like a good idea while I was there, and partly because I am pretty passionate/interested in politics, particularly American politics, and international political relations which I think is endlessly interesting. I randomly picked up this book from the library because I was on I am studying a Masters of International Relations as part of a double Masters (at the uni I work for). I decided to do this, partly because I have always wanted to do a Masters, partly because I work at a uni and it seemed like a good idea while I was there, and partly because I am pretty passionate/interested in politics, particularly American politics, and international political relations which I think is endlessly interesting. I randomly picked up this book from the library because I was on a kick of reading books about Democratic party leaders. This book was not really what I was expecting. It is very left wing, extreme left wing, I would say, and coming from a country that has a political party that is equivalent to the Democrats, and another that is more right way than the Democrats, I read some of Street’s ideas with part-cynicism, part-interest. Firstly, it should be noted that this book was written pre-Obama become President, so there’s that. Basically, Street doesn’t believe that Obama is left wing enough. His view is essentially that Obama is aligning himself with big business, while preaching against big business in order to have his cake and eat it too. It’s an interesting view, and one I don’t necessarily disagree with. However, I personally feel that Street has missed the point that no candidate would ever make it very far if they did not perform such a balancing act, and that said balancing act is in fact performed by every politician in every liberal democracy in the world. The really interesting part is when Street starts suggesting policies he believes Obama should be pushing, policies that he believes will make America more fair, more equal, etc. The irony is that many of these policies already exist in numerous other Western democracies, including the one I live in. And the fact of the matter is they don’t necessarily work in the utopian manner which Street suggests. I personally felt that Street’s views, while valid to a degree, missed the reality that there are numerous countries outside of America that have already begun down the path he suggests and found it too wanting. It is often remarked outside of America that the country itself tends to forget there is a ‘rest of the world’ unless they are fighting a war against them (and I’m not necessarily saying I agree with this), and I found this statement true of Street’s opinion. His book falls flat to a non-American reader, purely because it demonstrates that he really has no idea about how America could learn from our Western democracies, already using some of these policies. Nonetheless, this was an interesting read, if purely from the perspective of broadening my understanding of the many voices in American politics.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aunnalea

    Reminds us that Obama is, above all else, a politician. Gives interesting information that few people are talking about. Street reminds of the irony in Obama rightfully pointing out that "change doesn't happen from the top down. Change happens from the bottom up" while telling us that a vote for him will bring change, from the top down. I love this Howard Zinn quote from the book referring specifically to the war but applicable to so much more. "We who protest the war are not politicians. We are Reminds us that Obama is, above all else, a politician. Gives interesting information that few people are talking about. Street reminds of the irony in Obama rightfully pointing out that "change doesn't happen from the top down. Change happens from the bottom up" while telling us that a vote for him will bring change, from the top down. I love this Howard Zinn quote from the book referring specifically to the war but applicable to so much more. "We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is winnable...Except for the rare few...our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be 'realistic.' We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do." p. 193

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ralph

    Who could hate a book that quotes Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens? The premise is that Obama is much more conservative than most people think and for him to become a real progressive force, we need to push hard from the left. Street sometimes gets repetition, but overall this title is worth a read to get an overview of how at least one critic from the left feels about Obama. I found myself recalling that Obama's father was from Africa, and that Obama simply never experienced s Who could hate a book that quotes Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens? The premise is that Obama is much more conservative than most people think and for him to become a real progressive force, we need to push hard from the left. Street sometimes gets repetition, but overall this title is worth a read to get an overview of how at least one critic from the left feels about Obama. I found myself recalling that Obama's father was from Africa, and that Obama simply never experienced some of what the majority of our nation's African-American population has suffered.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miquixote

    I agreed with virtually everthing this book says. It is pretty much a no-brainer that Obama's soul is a corporate one. And this book very thoroughly proves it. Unfortunately though, it is a hard plough and would seem most have rejected trying to read it...I wonder if those criticizing this book so strongly shouldn't reconsider after seeing Obama's performance?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie Marsh

    Enlightening but far too repetitive. Distracting use of quotes, and content comprised primarily of citations of others' work.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Uroosa

    the references were pretty good but he lacked some analysis of them.also it should have been in detail not abrupt

  9. 4 out of 5

    dane.

    Lefty critique of Obama. Totally worthwhile.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Liberty Abbott-Sylvester

    I can't comment on this as I didn't come close to finishing. I have discovered that political books are not for me. :)

  11. 5 out of 5

    George Brown

  12. 5 out of 5

    Larry Erickson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brent

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rocker English

  15. 4 out of 5

    Vivek Jain

  16. 4 out of 5

    Johnny Williams

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mary Bryant

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sean Mulligan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matthew M. R. Scott

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah (A French Girl)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jlo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh Warner

  26. 4 out of 5

    J a E F A I

  27. 5 out of 5

    Glanvillebrown1

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ross Brummet

  29. 4 out of 5

    Edwin

  30. 5 out of 5

    Domhnall

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