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Barack Obama's chants and choices of change

By Paul J Balles, Redress, February 13, 2009

Paul J. Balles assesses the substance in Barack Obama’s vision for change and asks whether Obama’s vision will extend to “the desperation and disorder of the powerless” Palestinian children?

What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want. (Mignon McLaughlin).


In the New York Times (2 February 2009), Peter Baker observed, "Every four or eight years a new president arrives in town, declares his determination to cleanse a dirty process and invariably winds up trying to reconcile the clear ideals of electioneering with the muddy business of governing."

Few of Barack Obama's campaign promises have a hollower ring than the constant chanting about change when played against the president's choices for his cabinet and advisors. They're hand-me-downs from either the Clinton administration or the Bush administration.

“Lobbyists won't find a job in my White House,” said Obama. Several people have pointed out that Obama now has around him a number of lobbyists he vowed to “close the revolving door” to and “clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue” with “the most sweeping ethics reform in history”. It looks like change with exceptions.

Looking at foreign policy, Chris Floyd observed, "The Obama administration has decided that blood and iron, not hearts and minds, will be the new focus of the American military adventure in Afghanistan."

What will change? We will take 30,000 American troops from Iraq and send 60,000 to Afghanistan and Pakistan. There will be a reduction in deaths due to American troops' "friendly fire" and an increase in unfriendly fire against the Taliban. That's change?

On the campaign trail, Obama spoke incessantly about Democrats and Republicans getting together in non-partisan efforts to stimulate the failing economy.

Since taking office, the president has gone overboard in his attempts to communicate with and lure the opposition party into cooperative efforts.

When the latest "stimulus package" for the economy went to a vote in the House of Representatives, every Republican voted against Obama's plan. The Senate is expected to follow suit.

Mickey Z. says, about Guantanamo, "...if President Obama were serious about hope and change, he’d close the prison tomorrow, apologize to the detainees, and offer them financial reparations".

Obama has also impressed audiences with his rejection of torture that the Bush administration advocated, used and denied, almost simultaneously. At the same time, the pfresident hasn't closed the door on renditions of detainees to other countries where torture is accepted practice.

Campaign promises are regularly contradicted by acceptable reversals from changes in circumstances. Allowance has to be made for change being delayed due to the financial crisis announced after Obama’s campaign ended.

One encouraging change so far holding up against pressure from the US is Obama's promise to bring American troops home from Iraq in 16 months. According to Gareth Porter, Obama has had to override advice from his defence secretary and top generals who want to stay in Iraq. Obama may be sorry he failed to replace Robert Gates as secretary of defence.

During the election campaign, Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” If he had said that after his election, one might think he meant the only change necessary was electing him president. The world needs many more.

Campaigning, Obama said, “I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago ’s South Side.” Will Obama’s vision for change extend to “the desperation and disorder of the powerless” Palestinian children? That could bring a change worth celebrating. 

Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see





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