[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Paul Street’s new book, The Empire’s New Clothes, closely examines the first year of the Obama administration, critically evaluating it within a context of strong liberal-Democratic support and fierce – even hysterical right-wing opposition. Barack Obama is seen very differently by Americans. Many see him as a symbol of how far America has come since the days of openly-supported racial segregation and the terroristic violence directed against the black community. Others see Obama as a dangerous “socialist/Marxist” who is threatening the American middle class and crippling future generations with “big government” and “unsustainable” debt.
Street rejects the latter portrayal outright, focusing on the corporatist agenda promoted by the increasingly neoliberal Democratic Party. While conceding that Obama’s election represents a major historic victory in the fight for racial equality, Street cautions against a personality politics approach that frames politics as divorced from institutional factors such as the rise of corporate power among both parties today.
The Empire’s New Clothes is quite eclectic in its focus on a variety of issues, across both domestic and foreign policy issues. The first half of Street’s book provides a general overview of the Obama administration as it fits within the larger political economic system, directing specific attention to the economic crisis and Obama-supported bank bailout. Street also analyzes Obama’s role in streamlining American imperialism throughout the globe, “reluctantly” continuing the war in Iraq and pressuring against withdrawal, while supporting a dictatorial military coup in Honduras and masking occupation in Haiti under the banner of “humanitarian relief.” Another early focus is a critical examination of the 2009-2010 health care reform controversy, which Street frames as largely “corporate managed,” although containing some modest benefits for the poor and disadvantaged.
Latter parts of the book address the myth of “post-racial” America in light of Obama’s election. This topic has long been a focus in Street’s work, which emphasizes the continued structural segregation and racism that continue to define American society. Street finishes his book by emphasizing Obama’s continuation of the interrogation, incarceration, and torture tactics of the Bush administration. These same policies have been pursued by an Obama administration that is in many ways just as hawkish as its predecessor.
The Empire’s New Clothes is bound to incite controversy among those who unfairly demonize Obama as “too far to the left,” as well as among those who are staunch supporters of the Democratic Party brand. In a political era when most Americans strongly distrust government as well as the two major political parties, however, Street’s analysis will be well received by many critical thinkers.