A painting of Barack Obama by artist David Choe. (Photo: Getty Images)
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States proclaimed itself the world's only super-power and hawked American-style capitalism as the only economic system worth considering. How the mighty have fallen. A needless war in Iraq now calls into question whether the American military can control the oil and natural gas of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, while the current financial chaos has driven the faith-based Bush administration to pray for government ownership in banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions.
No matter who becomes president, Obama or McCain, this double-barreled cock-up will force Washington to redefine the global role of the American military and the economic role of the US government. What should average citizens expect? What should we demand?
Start with the $615 billion in defense spending that Congress just passed. This was on top of $189.3 billion in the latest supplemental appropriations for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever else the Pentagon and its Congressional allies put into the bill. Even in Washington, this is real money, which saps the financial resources and political will to pay for domestic initiatives such as health care, alternative energy and the creation of green jobs.
But beyond all that, what job will our civilian leaders now ask the military to do?
Neo-con ideologues, who are old allies of John McCain, have argued for years that the US military should serve as the world's policeman, largely to maintain control of global oil and natural gas. This would greatly profit American corporations and - more important to the neo-cons - give Washington a political weapon to reward or punish potential rivals, whether Chinese or European.
More of a traditional American nationalist, McCain has moved in the same direction. "In the Middle East," he explained back in 1992, "as long as the world's oil resources come from that area of the world, we have to be vitally involved." In backing the Georgians against Russia this year, he has similarly pointed to the need to keep an important oil pipeline out of Russian hands.
What, then, of the Democrats?
>From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, they have quietly committed themselves to the same control of global oil and the same use of the military to defend that control. In fact, many of the now-Republican neo-cons learned their stance while working as aides to Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and many, if not most, of the foreign policy leaders among the Democrats still think the same way.
Until now, Obama has generally followed suit. But should he become president, he will face greatly reduced resources, his own competing priorities and a growing realization that the presence of American troops fuels enormous popular opposition in the oil-rich Islamic countries, as we've seen in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
No one can know from Obama's speeches or public record what he would decide. But the new realities open the door for aroused citizens - both Democratic and Republican - to force Congress to debate the question in the full glare of public attention. "No blood for oil" seems a good place to start, coupled with wholehearted support for the development of alternative energy resources.
On the government's new role in the economy, we have no idea what, if anything, McCain would do. Neither does he. At best, he would be wobbly and recalcitrant.
Obama, by contrast, has clearly called for smart new regulation of financial markets, which should clearly include a long, hard look at derivatives and other speculative devices.
He has called for a 90-day moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and a new stimulus package to create jobs and rebuild roads, bridges, water and sewage systems, and other parts of our crumbling infrastructure.
And, he has openly declared that medical care should be a right of all Americans. Eat your heart out, Rush Limbaugh.
But all this is only a bare beginning. The crap-shoot capitalists and free-market preachers made their wager and created a disaster. Now, no matter who wins the election, the time has come for the rest of us to take back our government and - in the words of the preamble to our Constitution - "promote the general welfare."
Social Democratic governments in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia have led the way in showing the humane direction we could go in education, social programs and greater tax equality. We should learn from what they've done, while creating our own American solutions to the very real problems Americans face every day.
Republicans and many right-wing Democrats will yell "Socialist," just as McCain and Palin have tried to brand Obama "a terrorist." Such smears have long been the tactic of those standing in the way of social progress, whether against women and African-Americans who wanted the right to vote or workers who wanted the right to organize themselves into unions.
The fight has often been bloody, even deadly. But in the end, we know which side won, and so do those who lost.