John Pilger on President Obama: Don't believe the hype

Barack Obama is being lauded by liberals but the truth about him is that he represents the worst of the world's power.

My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south, following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where I met Penn Jones Jr, editor of the Midlothian Mirror. Save for his drawl and fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official version of Kennedy's murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented, before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around those whose "professionalism" and "objectivity" carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth. Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died on 31 October, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened views to a majority who believe that "government should care for those who cannot care for themselves" and are prepared to pay higher taxes for universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops out of other people's countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama's "oratory". He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to Obama's election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed for news reporting since 4 November (eg, "liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them"), but for the same reasons that millions of angry emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the "bailout" of Wall Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush to continue his blood-fest. For his part, the "anti-war" Obama voted to give Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama's election is historic, a symbol of great change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite has grown adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin Luther King recognised this when he linked the human rights of black Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by a "liberal" Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to "investigate" and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush's secretary of state, Powell was often described as a "liberal" and was considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Condaleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama's first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent "neoliberal" devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an "Israel-first" Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians - an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people's loathing of the US and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obama mania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black South Africans was permitted within the "Mandela moment". This is especially marked in Britain, where America's divine right to "lead" is important to elite British interests. The Observer, which supported Bush's war in Iraq, echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that "America has restored the world's faith in its ideals". These "ideals", which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had that been allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow, supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Prior to Blair's criminal warmaking, ideology was denied by him and his media mystics. "Blair can be a beacon to the world," declared the Guardian in 1997. "[He is] turning leadership into an art form."

Today, merely insert "Obama". As for historic moments, there is another that has gone unreported but is well under way - liberal democracy's shift towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity, with the media as its clichéd façade. "True democracy," wrote Penn Jones Jr, the Texas truth-teller, "is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you're meant to think, and keeping your eyes wide open at all times."

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 17 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obamania

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A to Z of the 2017 general election

Our strong and stable guide – for the many, not the few.

A is for the Andrews

Although Theresa May spent the election campaign dodging debates (and, consequently, an unhappy junior reporter from the Mirror in a chicken costume) there were a few live interviews for masochistic audiences. The BBC’s Andrews – Neil and Marr – both had a go.

On 30 April, Marr made it harder for the Prime Minister by telling her before they started that she wasn’t allowed to use the phrase “strong and stable” or other soundbites. (She lasted 30 seconds before cracking.) “People can listen to that sort of thing and think it’s a bit robotic,” he told her, foreshadowing later criticism. By the time of Andrew Neil’s BBC1 interview on 22 May the conversation had moved on. “You started this campaign with a huge double-digit lead in the polls. It’s now down to single digits in some polls. What’s gone wrong?” Mrs May’s answer? “Well, Andrew, there’s only one poll that counts . . .”

B is for Brenda

Brenda, a resident of Bristol, spoke for the nation on 18 April when she heard the news that an election had been called. “You’re joking. Not another one?!” she said, her face a cross between overheated aunt at village fete and Edvard Munch’s Scream. “Oh for God’s sake, I can’t, honestly – I can’t stand this,” she told a BBC reporter. “There’s too much politics going on at the moment. Why does she need to do it?” Judging by Brenda’s subsequent internet fame, much of the country was asking the same thing.

C is for clinky

Boris Johnson was mostly kept on the bench during the campaign but he did surface from time to time. He began the campaign by insulting Jeremy Corbyn (see M), and on another occasion he put in an awkward appearance at a Sikh temple. “I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here by saying that when we go to India, we have to bring ‘clinky’ in our luggage,” he told the audience. “We have to bring Johnnie Walker.”

The Foreign Secretary added that, after Brexit, we could reduce the stiff import tax on alcohol. The audience told him that Sikh teachings forbid drinking alcohol. “How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple?” said one. Johnson’s plan to visit a mosque to talk about the pork trade was presumably cancelled.

D is for dementia tax

David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May – all came a cropper because of a tax that isn’t really a tax. While Cameron and Osborne opted for taxes on spare bedrooms and hot pasties, the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto announced a raid on your ailing granny. The principle of the so-called dementia tax was that those with assets of more than £100,000 would have to pay for their social care. (Those with assets of less than £100,000 would escape paying anything.)

The world quickly turned on its head: the left-wing Momentum group defended the right of the middle classes to large inheritances, and the once-obdurate PM was forced into a hasty U-turn (lamely stating that “nothing has changed”).

E is for Emmanuel Macron

Be still, notre beating coeurs. On 7 May, the pragmatic centrist Emmanuel Macron beat the far-right Marine Le Pen in the run-off of the French presidential election. After Brexit and the success of Donald Trump, it felt like a ray of sunshine to Europe’s weary liberals – proof that Euroscepticism, isolationism and anti-immigrant rhetoric are not the only ways to win.

Since taking office, Macron, 39, has consolidated France’s commitment to the EU and eurozone, naming a minister for “European and foreign affairs”. He has condemned Russian state news outlets as “organs of influence” while standing next to Vladimir Putin, and he shook Trump’s hand (above) for a really, really long time. “My handshake with him – it wasn’t innocent,” Macron said. “It was a moment of truth.”

F is for Fallon

Michael Fallon has many roles: Defence Secretary, “Minister for the Today Programme” and Smearer-in-Chief. An otherwise unremarkable cabinet member, he was happy to be drafted in by CCHQ as an attack dog – unleashed to make personal gibes about the opposition whenever it looked as if the Tory campaign was wobbling.

In 2015, he warned that Ed Miliband had “stabbed his own brother in the back” to become Labour leader and would be “willing to stab the UK in the back” by doing a deal with the SNP to cancel Trident. This time around, Fallon branded Jeremy Corbyn a “security risk” because of his stance on the nuclear weapons. A bit rich, when you consider that the pompous Fallon presided over a failed Trident missile test.

G is for go-karting

“Labour is in pole position to beat the SNP”, proclaimed Scottish Labour’s Twitter account on the day of the party’s manifesto launch. Accompanying this optimistic statement were three pictures showing the regional party’s leader, Kezia Dugdale, as she won a go-kart race against a black-helmeted racer wearing an SNP rosette. If only it were that easy to defeat First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

H is for hairstyles

The Andrew Marr Show is best known for its interviews (and end music) rather than its style tips. Yet during this campaign, two politicians used it to share their grooming tips with a grateful nation. First up, Labour’s Diane Abbott told us that in the 1980s she used to have an afro (and strong opinions about the need for armed struggle in Ireland) but has since “moved on”.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, then responded by saying that she had “changed her hairstyle a few times in 34 years, too” but her opinions on public safety had not shifted. Let us know if you move away from 2017’s shoulder-grazing blonde bob, Amber. We’re waiting for your update.

I is for ivory sales ban

It isn’t every day that Britain’s “powerful antiques industry lobby” – presumably made up of those interchangeable men in tweed jackets on Antiques Roadshow – makes headlines. However, after the Conservative manifesto launched without a pledge to ban the ivory trade in Britain, Theresa May was accused by animal rights campaigners of U-turning on David Cameron’s previous commitment.

Given that Prince William is one of the ban’s most vocal advocates, you would have thought Theresa the Traditionalist might have happily ditched the antiques dealers in favour of the royal seal of approval.

J is for java

Dark, bitter and scalding: coffee has become the latest accessory of class war. While out in his constituency, the Tory candidate for Wakefield, Antony Calvert, caused outrage by tweeting about a mere proletarian’s audacity in entering a branch of that renowned aristocratic haunt, Costa: “Man recognises me at #Wakefield Westgate. ‘These f*ckin Tories, always looking 2 trample on t’working class, like me’. Man walks into Costa.” Working-class people can’t drink competitively priced caffeine products in popular high-street chains, so the guy must have been a faker, right?

And it’s not just Tories who think an espresso is la-di-da. The Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, suggested that only rich people buy coffee from shops when he condemned the government’s proposed “barista visa” as a Tory plan for avoiding “waiting longer in the morning for their posh coffee”. Workers of the world, percolate!

K is for Katie Hopkins

For the past few years, it seems, no news event has escaped the attention of the former LBC shock jock and Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, formerly a candidate on The Apprentice. After expressing her hatred of tattoos, the obese, mobility scooters, maternity leave, the McCanns and redheads, and her admiration for ebola (“Malthusian”), she finally lost her LBC gig after tweeting, then deleting, a call for a “final solution” to Muslim terrorism in Britain after the Manchester bomb.

L is for Lynton Crosby

Nicknamed the Wizard (or Lizard) of Oz by unimaginative Westminster insiders, Lynton Crosby is the Australian election campaign guru who delivered David Cameron’s surprise general election victory in 2015. He is known for his colourful metaphors: the need to “get the barnacles off the boat” (ditch any baggage that might impede a campaign); “you can’t fatten a pig on market day” (voters’ preconceptions are hard to overturn); and, of course, the “dead cat”, which is irrelevant to the argument but nonetheless changes the conversation (often thrown by Michael Fallon; see F).

M is for mugwump

On 27 April, an attention-starved Boris Johnson momentarily forgot that everyone stopped finding his sub-Wodehouse shtick amusing some time ago. Writing in the Sun, he claimed that Labour voters didn’t realise what a grave danger Jeremy Corbyn posed to Britain. “They say to themselves: he may be a mutton-headed old mugwump, but he is probably harmless.” Cue a day of people googling “mugwump”, which turns out to mean: a) someone who left the US Republicans in the 19th century because they found the Democrat Grover Cleveland more appealing; b) the supreme wizard in Harry Potter; c) a predatory species from William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch that “have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets”.

In its response, Labour went both high (“It is the sort of look-at-me name-calling that you would expect in an Eton playground,” said the shadow housing secretary, John Healey) and low: “Boris Johnson is a caggie-handed cheese-headed fopdoodle with a talent for slummocking about,” said the deputy leader, Tom Watson.

N is for Natalie

“I’m not Natalie,” said Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, after Ukip’s Paul Nuttall twice got her name wrong in the second-tier leaders’ debate on 18 May. Later, Natalie (Bennett of the Greens) tweeted: “The only time I can recall being in the same room as Paul Nuttall was #BBCAQ in 2014. He clearly hasn’t recovered.” No wonder Ukip wants to ban face coverings (see V). Nuttall already has difficulty telling women apart.

O is for The One Show

After the rigours of the set-piece political interview, Theresa May (with her husband, Philip, above) and, later, a solo Jeremy Corbyn had a chance to show their softer side on BBC’s teatime chatfest The One Show. Revelations from the Mays included that their household has “boy jobs and girl jobs” (ie, Philip puts the bins out), that it was “love at first sight” and that “the Red Box has never made an appearance in the bedroom”.

Poignantly, May recounted how when she was a young Conservative candidate she received a phone call from her shocked mother-in-law, after a local newspaper mistakenly printed that she had a new baby. For his appearance, Corbyn was in full-on affable uncle mode, talking about his allotment and his love of decorative drain covers and presenting the show’s hosts with a jar of his home-made jam.

P is for polling

In the final days of the 2015 campaign, the pollsters were accused of “herding”: massaging their raw figures with turnout filters and other wizardry to produce what they thought was the most plausible election result, and therefore missing the possibility of a Tory majority. No such problem this time: there were double-digit differences between pollsters’ estimations of the Conservative lead over Labour, indicating that they were prepared to go out on a limb and take some risks.

Q is for the Queen

“I had a very nice chat with the Queen,” said Jeremy to Jeremy on 29 May. Paxman had been trying to press Corbyn on why his republican leanings hadn’t led to Labour calling for the abolition of the monarchy. “You don’t like her, though – you don’t like what she represents,” Paxman said. But Monsieur Zen was untroubled. “We got along absolutely fine.” Are you thinking what we were thinking? What a pair of replacements they would make for Paul and Mary on Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off . . .

R is for regressive alliance

In the early stages of the campaign, left-wing idealists and disillusioned tribal politicians alike turned to the prospect of a “progressive alliance” as the only hope of challenging the Tories. (And Theresa May invoked it herself with her line about a “coalition of chaos” propping up Labour.) However, commentators largely ignored the emergence of the Regressive Alliance: that is, a Conservative Party boosted by Ukip’s decision not to run in nearly half of the 650 seats. Forget a progressive realignment – this is the big shift in British politics.

S is for strong and stable

It was Lynton Crosby’s New Coke moment: out with the lame old Conservative brand, in with unfussy Theresa May and her “strong and stable leadership”. The campaign began with May and the cabinet – fresh from unlearning the phrase “long-term economic plan” – dutifully parroting their new line. Destination: landslide? Not quite. “Strong and stable” lost much of its rhetorical power when it turned out that the equivocating May was, in the words of Channel 4’s Michael Crick, more “weak and wobbly”. Soon afterwards, Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the polls began to improve.

T is for terror

The horrifying terror attacks on Manchester and London led to temporary suspensions of the national election campaign. Theresa May and her Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, faced questions about cuts to police numbers and the ability of the security services to monitor known extremists.

The Manchester bomb prompted an outpouring of solidarity and fellow feeling, with thousands of people gathering in the city’s Albert Square for a vigil on 23 May. There they listened to Tony Walsh’s moving performance of his poem “This Is the Place”: “And there’s hard times again in these streets of our city/But we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity/Because this is a place where we stand strong together/With a smile on our face, Mancunians for ever.”

U is for Ulster

“Can we ever have too much democracy?” ask the people of Northern Ireland. Having stoically endured decades of tumult and violence, this was their fourth national election in 13 months (after two assembly elections and the EU referendum).

V is for Vitamin D

Ukip’s election manifestos have often been very odd (anyone remember their 2010 pledge to reintroduce “proper dress for major hotels, restaurants and theatres”?) but their 2017 offering surpassed all expectations. Under its “show your face in a public place” policy, Paul Nuttall’s party suggested that the UK should implement a ban on the burqa and niqab: partly because they are a “barrier to integration”, but also because these face coverings “prevent intake of essential Vitamin D from sunlight”. Unsurprisingly, the science was a bit whiffy. Sunlight causes the body to make Vitamin D; we don’t “intake” it from sunrays.

W is for worker bees

The Manchester attack led to a quirky fundraising attempt for the victims’ families as tattooists donated their time to create a permanent symbol of Manchester’s resilience and unity. Among those who got a worker bee tattoo – taken from the city’s coat of arms – was Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds, who was first elected the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde in 2010.

His only worry, he wrote on Facebook, was how his mum would react. Less than quarter of an hour later, we found out. Luckily, although Judith Reynolds expressed shock, she thought her son’s action was for a good cause. “OMG this is your mother!!! I hate tattoos but under the circumstances totally support you.” By early June, the appeal had raised more than £300,000.

X is for xeroxed

As the Labour Party was preparing to launch its general election manifesto, the entire draft was leaked in the Daily Mirror and the Telegraph. This allowed the Daily Mail and other right wing newspapers the opportunity to run pearl-clutching “Back to the 1970s” headlines a few days earlier than they would otherwise have done.

Although the usual accusations of incompetence were levelled at Jeremy Corbyn’s office, the leak might have been deliberate – it gave Labour two days of coverage rather than one for its policies, most of which polled well with the public.

Y is for Yotam Ottolenghi 

When the celebrated restaurateur appeared on the Today programme to discuss the Conservatives’ plan to scrap free school lunches, it was hard to tell what shocked Middle England more: that Theresa May’s favourite chef strongly disagreed with her proposals, or the revelation that he sometimes sends his children to school with ham-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch, rather than a fancy fattoush salad topped with pomegranate and baba ganoush.

Yotam Ottolenghi argued that a hot school lunch was an important social, as well as nutritional, experience for children. Friends and relatives of the Prime Minister should be on high alert for regifted copies of his cookbook Jerusalem this Christmas.

Z is for Zac Goldsmith

It’s just traditional now, innit? Yes, Z for Zac is standing again, mere months after he lost his Richmond Park seat to the Liberal Democrats’ Sarah Olney in a by-election he had called over the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport. No, he didn’t get the concession he wanted from the Conservatives. Yes, people still remember his dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty, which was run by the “strategic mastermind” Lynton Crosby (see L).

We are caught between admiring Goldsmith’s commitment to public service and wondering whether he should just find a hobby. 

This article first appeared in the 08 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special

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