Chomsky on Obama

Noam Chomsky interviewed by John F. Kirch

San Francisco Examiner, November 21, 2008

Examiner.com: As someone who has advocated, written about and worked for progressive causes for many years, what was your reaction to Obama’s victory on Election Day?

Chomsky: I was pleased that he won. A McCain victory could, I think, have been extremely dangerous, and the fact that a Black family will be in the White House is a matter of considerable significance.

Examiner.com: In what ways do you believe an Obama presidency will help and/or hurt progressive causes in the United States?

Chomsky: I presume that some of the harsher edges of recent policies will be smoothed, as has already happened to an extent during the second Bush administration, in the international arena at least.

Examiner.com: In what ways do you believe that Obama represents true change? In what ways does he not represent change?

Chomsky: With the rhetorical flourishes stripped away, Obama presents himself as more or less as a familiar centrist Democrat, roughly on the Clinton model. His early appointments and advisers conform to that judgment.

Examiner.com: There has been a lot of talk in the news media about the historical nature of Obama’s victory, with connections being made between Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and the rise of an African American to the presidency. Do you see Obama’s election as a culmination of King’s “dream”? Why or why not? What does the election of a black president mean for the United States?

Chomsky: The election, along with the fact that the other Democratic candidate was a woman, indicate that the country has become much more civilized since the 1960s, when this would have been unthinkable. The progress is a tribute to the activism of the 60s and its aftermath. But there is a long, long way to go to approach King’s “dream” — which was not limited to the fate of oppressed minorities: the last years of King’s life were devoted to the needs of the poor and suffering generally, here and abroad. He was assassinated as he was seeking to organize a poor people’s movement, and after he had taken a strong stand against US aggression in Indochina.

Examiner.com: In his acceptance speech, Obama said that his election does not by itself bring change — that it only brings the opportunity for change. What can progressives do to ensure that their voice is heard in an Obama administration? What, if anything, are progressives doing now to mobilize in response to an Obama presidency?

Chomsky: Obama energized a great many people, mostly young. If they fade away, or simply take instructions, we can expect little from his administration. If they become organized and active, and undertake to be independent voices in policy formation and implementation, a great deal can be achieved — as in the past, and elsewhere today, notably South America.