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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Obama and the Wary, the Worrying, and the Warriors

During the Presidential campaign incumbent-broadcast media whomped up a completely hysterical and in fact rather damagingly divisive pseudo drama between supporters of Clinton and supporters of Obama that reignited precisely the resentments the facts of their candidacies demonstrated to be in eclipse. After the nominations were sewn up we were treated to the atrocity exhibition of Sarah Palin, precisely the kind of superficial demoralizing spectacle that our "serious" pundits like best in all the world, the kind they are equal to. Now in the aftermath of the election the pundits and panelists are picking over transition team appointments and cabinet nominations, tonguing every gap and cranny for unmasticated morsels, spinning arias of import out of thin-air, finding reassuring signals being sent to the Establishment here, finding scalps being taken by the Netroots there. It really is too much.

What I want and what I expected and what I still believe is that an Obama Administration with Democratic Congressional majorities behind it and a mandate for Change as the wind behind its back is going to end the war in Iraq, is going to begin the irreversible transition to universal health care in the United States, is going to halt torture and harsh treatment of "suspected" terrorists and others, is going to restore habeus corpus and the rule of law, is going to reverse the rightwing takeover of the Supreme Court and lower courts, is going to make it much easier for people to form and maintain unions, is going to repair partisan-politicized administrative offices, and is going to regulate carbon polluters and invest in renewable energy to ameliorate the threat of catastrophic climate change.

Yes, that's what I wanted from an Obama Administration given my sense of the problems at hand and the actually existing resources available in this moment in my estimation. Yes, that is what I expected from an Obama Administration given the things he has written in the books of his I have actually read, in the policy papers he and his staff have made available online, and given the things I have heard him say in speeches and interviews and so on. Yes, I still do believe that an Obama Administration will manage to accomplish all of these things. Yes, that's change I can believe in.

Given the fact that some critics I admire very much are writing about Obama's appointments and public utterances in this period of relative powerlessness before the man is even sworn in or the new Administration gets underway that they demonstrate Obama to be a return to the politics of Bush the Elder I think it is safe to say that even when the Obama Administration accomplishes all of the things I expect him to do, delineated above, that they will be perceived nonetheless as a string of compromises and betrayals (which, not to put too fine a point on it, looks palpable crazy to me) because many will take longer than we like, many will be implemented in compromised forms designed to structurally facilitate the emergence of better forms rather than the direct implementation of ideal forms, many will be presented in muted rhetoric to reassure those with whom progressives disagree but who do actually exist as citizens in this country, and so on.

Since this sort of disappointment and anger will function as an ongoing spur from the left to blunt the overwhelming energies that are sure to impinge upon the Administration from the incomparably moneyed and authoritative incumbent interests of the right I am of course glad of it and surely, soon enough, I'll be participating in some versions of it myself.

But I do think there is a quality of real and pointless foolishness in the quickness and sweep of some of these dismissals of Obama's politics (which seem to me more or less center-left pragmatic with real openness to more truly progressive impulses around the edges) as same as it ever was, as just the same old corporate-militarism, a foolishness that reminds me of the nonsense that lead so many to insist there was no difference between the parties in 2000 with nothing to show for their conviction but years of catastrophe indicating just how wrong they were.

I realize it's always a pretty safe bet to predict disappointment and betrayal from a politician (incumbency is corrupting, plurality demands compromises), and I've been burned more times than I can say in my own long season of political alertness and enthusiasm. But I'm still feeling enormously hopeful and even confident about our historical moment. And this is far from denial or naivete on my part -- although some of you might disagree about that, with good reasons on offer that I'm happy to listen to. As somebody who flings the term "corporate-militarist" around as my preferred Big Bad I'm not exactly insensible to the critical perspective that identifies the ruinous structural continuity between our two parties, but I do think one needs to recognize the practical, institutional, demographic constraints within which one translates the insights available from that perspective into organization and agitation to overcome those constraints.

Even at his greatest I have never expected Obama to advocate democratic world federalism or a universal basic income guarantee like I do myself, and so even at their best I have never expected an Obama administration to be "enough" to satisfy me. But I do expect great things from an Obama administration, a real turning of a long and literally catastrophic tide. I expect the repair of some conspicuous wounds, the redress of some deep grievances, and the enablement of unprecedented expressivities and energies. Nothing Obama has said or done lately shakes my confidence that he will meet my expectations, or that the meeting of those expectations will represent the substance of and occasion for real change and facilitate the emergence of greater change still.

I'm a critic, I criticize. I certainly recognize the crucial importance of this function. But I think we really must struggle not to assume so reflexive or so generalized a critical stance that we fail to attend to differences that make a difference, that we ensure our critical judgments not drive us into orbit above rather than immerse us more deeply into the world itself. Be wary, but be sure your wariness makes you more a warrior than a worrier, if you know what I mean. We are living in the midst of an unexpected outbreak of history, and real change is possible right now. Taking it apart isn't always the same as taking part.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just have found that...
Whatever else Obama might or might not be, surely his career won't end like that:

Excuse me while I gloat. Bush treated as a third-rate dictator wannabe. By the world leaders. On televisison. YES!!! The only thing better would be to see him treated like that and worse by fellow inmates...