The meanings of victory

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

george-w-laura-bush-michelle-barack-obama-111108-by-afp-300x206, The meanings of victory, Abolition Now! The count has been called and Barack Hussein Obama Jr. has become the 44th president of the United States of America. But, in truth, history will record him as No. 1: the first African-American president.

It is undeniable that this is a singular political achievement, a work of impressive political skill, and, we must admit, a gift of the political gods.

Among friends, in the privacy of a prison visiting room, I’ve often made the following half-joke. Obama wins handsomely, and in his acceptance speech, flush with victory, loaded with “political capital,” he would open by saying, “My fellow Americans, first and foremost, I want to thank the one person who made my election possible, if not inevitable: George W. Bush!”

I always got a laugh for, like all good jokes, the truth makes it happen.

And the truth is, without the blunders of Bush, Obama would’ve been an also-ran. His fundamental issue, which set him apart from the rest of the Democratic pack, was his early opposition to the Iraq War. That gave him a wind that carried him far and long beyond his competitors, who were, for the most part, half-hearted war supporters – or worse, people who supported the war only because to not do so would’ve harmed their political careers – or so they thought.

That wind carried him to the Oval Office, the grandest prize in U.S. politics. But what does it mean?

We cannot deny its symbolic value. In millions of Black homes, his picture will be placed on walls, beside Martin, John F. Kennedy and a pale painting of Jesus. I’d bet that quite a few African homes – especially in Kenya – will also boast his smiling visage.

But beyond symbol is substance and, substantively, some scholars have defined Obama as little different from his predecessors. Political scientist Clarence Lusane, writing in a recent issue of The Black Scholar, pointed to the money men behind both Obama and the Democratic Party and noted the following:

“The promotion of U.S. hegemony, expansion of markets for U.S. corporations, security-based multilateral relations, protectionist trade policies and a focus on terrorism will likely be key priorities demanded by the major political and financial backers of the Democratic Party. In other words, in a number of key areas, an Obama administration would echo the policies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”*

Yet symbols are powerful things. Sometimes they have a life all their own. They may come to mean something more than first intended.

History has been made. We shall see exactly what kind of history it will be.

Source: Lusane, C., “‘We Must Lead the World’: The Obama Doctrine and the Rebranding of U.S. Hegemony,” The Black Scholar, v.38: n.1, Spring ‘08, p.3.

© Copyright 2008 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party,” winner of the 2005 People’s Choice Award, available from South End Press, or (800) 533-8478. Keep updated by reading Action Alerts at and To download mp3s of Mumia’s commentaries, visit or For recent interviews with Mumia, visit Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews to inspire progressive movement and help call attention to his case. Send our brotha some love and light at: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Greene, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg PA 15370.