I heard Rev Jesse Jackson talk about the battle for the Democrat Presidential Candidate nomination yesterday, he has publically endorsed Barack Obama but he referred to the fact that having a black male and a woman stand must be good for democracy. On the face of it, this is an easy claim to make and it lends itself well to a soundbite to declare that US democracy must be healthy to have put up 2 high profile candidates from groups formerly ill-represented at the higher levels of political representation.

I have respect for Jackson, he has consistently stuck his head above the parapet when on many occasions it was imprudent even to the point of danger to do so. In spite of this something about this point of ‘good for democracy’ didn’t quite sit right. I got to thinking about why.

Firstly taking the specific example of US democracy my thoughts at present are that Barack Obama is not a great move away from the status quo anyway, he may possibly be slightly less establishment than John Kerry this hardly constitutes any great achievement. However Obama has stated this month that he would carry out attacks on Pakistan if intelligence suggested there were terrorists meeting there, this was in response to accusations levelled by Hilary Clinton that his foreign policy was naive which in turn was in response to his claim that if successful in the presidential race he would pull troops out of Iraq. It is one thing to say that you will withdraw from a deeply unpopular and drawn-out conflict where there is little hope of a measure of success, it is quite another to say that you are anti the reasons for the war and the US’ interventionalist and imperialist foreign policy in the first place. Neither Barack Obama nor Hilary Clinton’s stance give any indication that they anything but another shade of establishment colour, albeit a slightly diluted one.

It is one thing to think that the US might vote for a woman president, and this is by no means a sure thing – but let us not forget that woman is now as embroiled a political establishment figure as the Kennedys, Obama may be a part of the status quo rather than that of the people he seeks to represent but he remains a black man in a country that is fiercely divided and at times out and out rascist and this will, in my opinion, prevent him from being elected. If the Christian right can swing an election for a dangerous war criminal then I am quite certain they can ensure that no black man will become President and I remain as yet unconvinced that they will not prevent Hilary Clinton as well.

This gave rise to thought about a wider debate, hence the title of the piece and it is the dangers that we face as the opposition because we are so sectarian in our outlooks. This is not entirely our faults, it is not generally intentional but it is ruthlessly exploited by the other side. By not working together our impact is restricted and often negligible and any gains achieved will only happen in small areas and this is problematic because those things can be picked off later with minimal fuss in times of “crisis”. One only has to look at the repeal of a great many human rights that were conceeded as part of the war on terror as well as worker’s rights previously ceded in the Reagan/Thatcher era in homage to rampant materialist capitalism under the guise of being part of the 1980’s boom.

The struggle for rights sticks so often to specific pressure groups and stays within the confines of those single issues. This could be seen as being strong and having particular focus. However those that fight actively for women’s rights frequently remain seperate from those fighting for say ethnic minorities or rights for the disabled or children or environmental issues. That is not to say that they disagree with the issues one another fight for, in fact the more reactionary the incumbant regime the more these groups are likely to be in agreement with one another, but in turn they may also be more wary if under any level of repression. Many may simply not get so involved with multiple causes because one cannot spread oneself too thin. Others may feel that involvement at a grass roots level can bring greater changes. The flip side is that if each cause can only look to its ardent followers and activists it may therefore seem to be a much more specialised group than if one were to be able to count those who actually agreed with the issues themselves.

For example let us look at the perception of the political opposition – by which I mean those opposed to the Washington Consensus not those merely arguing over the minutiae of exploitation within it. We were traditionally seen as a bunch of extremists, marginalised and ridiculed like the environmental protesters beforehand. That was until Seattle in 1999 and the huge anti-war demonstrations in 2003 – then it became clear that there was a vast section of disgruntled people prepared to go out and say ‘enough’ and the establishment seemed a little unclear how to handle this coherent force that appeared to be gathering in strength and support and uniting groups who traditionally had kept a distance from one another. Since then as the impetus has faded somewhat and so the drive to continue working together as a movement to force political change has waned. Groups have started to go back to talking about the areas in which they disagree rather than the areas of common ground. A number of things have led to this including certain influential groups going back to the areas they see as of the most paramount importance. Additionally there is the annexation of ideals by the establishment in an effort to suggest that, on what appear to be the most fervent issues, they have taken note.

Thus I am unsurprised at there being an establishment white woman and an establishment black man standing for the democratic nomination – this is perfect political positioning and will split the dissention vote. If there were to be a black woman standing, that might well herald some change for it would unify much of those who traditionally are marginalised and disenfranchised by mainstream politics, especially in the biparteid US. Equally a black female would be too much for much of the current electorate to bear and possibly also galvanise the ultra reactionary Christian right.

I believe this is why Marx called on the need for a party to be representative of these concerns and herein lies our problem, most of us on the political opposition have become utterly dissolutioned with party politics because it is not representative of us, it merely morphes into different guises to garner votes before continuing to represent those in power, those with money and land and influence. I have not as yet been able to think of a solution to this problem, it seems unlikely that another party would be able to form and take on this task, there was a chance in the UK with Respect, and the media furore against it appeared to suggest a genuine fear of it’s potential following the anti-war movement but this has since petered out and Respect has become very much weaker in the political conviction of its position on issues such as religion and secular republicanism in an effort to retain the votes of large sections of its supporters such as the Muslim block vote. I am not opposed to the inclusion of other disaffected groups working for a common cause, after all I am talking about unity etc here but to me secularism is at the heart of any left-wing popular movement, this does not preclude people’s own rights to worship in whatever way they see fit, it merely draws a distinction between that being part of any state apparatus. To my mind the US Christian right illustrates all too well the dangers that this can pose.

Song Of The Day ~ Ben Folds Five – Battle Of Who Could Care Less