What Obama Omitted

What Obama Omitted

Dissent is a magazine for people who worry. So here is something to worry about, highlighted by Barack Obama’s inaugural address. I am certainly glad that it was his inauguration, but what he said or, better, didn’t say, illustrates one of the central problems of left politics today. We are committed to the struggle for economic equality and to the role of unions in that struggle, and right now that commitment is not a source of political strength, as we once thought it would be.

The high point of Obama’s speech was the “Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall” moment. He was widely praised for his commitment to gender, racial, and sexual equality. But there was, from our standpoint, a startling omission: where was Flint, Michigan, on the list or any other place marking the struggles of the labor movement? I am sure the omission was deliberate, as was Obama’s failure in the State of the Union address to condemn the lavishly funded campaign against public unions, especially the teachers’ union, or to praise the union members who worked so hard for him in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Not a word.

Of course, we are committed to the politics represented by Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. Socialists and social democrats have been deeply involved in the movements for gender, racial, and sexual equality, and there is still much to do. But what Obama signaled is that those movements are going to win (though only in a certain sense of ...

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