When President Obama campaigned in 2008 in Portland, Oregon over 70,000 people came to hear his speech. And although I missed the event, I was intrigued by the raw emotion that the candidate's words inspired in my community. Obama re-visited Oregon during his 2012 campaign, but the inspiration had faded from his voice, and the audience had drastically changed. The Oregonian explains:
"The Obama campaign said about 950 tickets, costing $500 to $1,000 were sold for the main fundraiser at the Oregon Convention Center. The president also spoke, out of view of the press, to about 25 donors who bought $30,000 tickets."
The late President Chavez, on the other hand, steadily increased the crowds of people who came to hear him speak, year after year, election after election, rally after rally. The secret? Whereas President Obama could only speak about “hope” and “change,” President Chavez actually delivered.
It was this delivery that earned Chavez the hatred of both Bush Jr. and Obama. Chavez humiliated Bush Jr. by surviving the U.S.-sponsored military coup against him and humiliated the entire U.S. media by winning election after election by large margins, elections that former President Jimmy Carter said were the fairest in the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. media tied itself into knots trying to explain how a "would be dictator" easily won elections that nobody disputed.
Chavez won elections because he was loved by the working and poor people of Venezuela. Chavez was loved by his people because he was a politician like none they had ever experienced. He was "their" politician, and he loved them.
And one doesn't become the official politician of working people, the poor and downtrodden in an extremely poor country by using fancy words. Chavez backed up his big talk time after time, consistently overcoming barriers erected by the wealthy by taking bold action that benefited the majority of Venezuelans. Their hope in him was repeatedly renewed by action.
Inequality shrank under Chavez, poverty was dramatically reduced, education and health care improved, and illiteracy was eliminated. When the economy reeled from the 2008 global crisis, Chavez didn't bail out the banks and pander to the wealthy, but increased social spending for the most vulnerable. When cataclysmic landslides threw hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans into homelessness, Chavez housed them all.
President Obama has nearly the exact opposite track record. The big banks remain the big winners in the Obama Administration, having been bailed out and then given an endless supply of cheap money via the Federal Reserve that has boosted their profits. All of this takes place while the job crisis grinds on for working people, creating an endless supply of austerity budgets on the city, state, and national level. When new jobs become available they are below a living wage.
Although Obama's speeches are masterful renditions of a watered-down Chavez speech, the action component of the English version was always left un-translated.
Whereas Chavez confronted the wealthy and corporations, Obama succumbed to them. Ultimately, these are their respective legacies. Obama, via action, has chosen a path in support of his corporate sponsors, whereas Chavez's path went in the opposite direction — a much rockier, conflict-laden path, made all the more difficult by U.S. foreign policy in support of Venezuela's anti-Chavez top 1%. Above all, Chavez insured that the oil wealth of his country did not stay in the hands of Venezuela’s oligarchy, which had previously kept a tight grip on it. Chavez used it to raise millions of Venezuelans out of poverty.
Chavez's legacy will live and breathe in those who will continue his fight for a better world, still inspired by his words and actions. Obama's legacy, however, was stillborn after the 2008 elections, with “hope” never delivered alongside “change” never attempted.
Obama's 2008 campaign slogans now only inspire feelings of betrayal to those who believed in him, while the corporations and wealthy will celebrate Obama's legacy, a tribute to his pro-corporate policies. In the final analysis, Chavez will be remembered for boldly taking action against the same inhuman inequality that is growing in most countries in the world. In so doing, Chavez earned the hatred of the elite who benefit from this system-wide inequality, while the rest of us on the bottom of the inequality-spectrum owe him our appreciation, since Chavez's fight was our fight too.