'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, December 27, 2008

From the Archives: Election Ennui 

[First posted on July 10, 2008. Part 2 of the Obama series. It speaks for itself.]

Nothing is more enervating for people that actually care about the substance of political and social issues than a presidential campaign year. During the primaries, the candidates, like circus magicians, purvey the illusion that the campaign is really about issues of importance, that we face electoral decisions of grave importance, even as they creatively repackage predictable positions.

Once the nominees become apparent, however, the dialogue, such as it was, is even more circumscribed. Recognizing the power of the corporate media in regard to framing the issues and defining the candidates for a credulous public, any pretense of engaging the public about fundamental questions that affect our lives is abandoned. After all, a presidential campaign is primarily a media driven exercise in mythology. It is more important to present oneself to the media as innocuous, as yet another in a line of safe, conformist political figures, so that the media can, paradoxically, present the candidate as larger than life, capable of forging a profound emotional bound with the public so that he can comfortably assumes powers of near omnipotence.

This is what we observe transpiring on a daily basis with Barack Obama. He's getting tougher on Iran, he's signalling a willingness to be flexible about how he will withdraw US troops from Iraq, he's now for the death penalty even in instances without the loss of life and he wasn't willing to fight to prevent Congress from granting immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally wiretapped US citizens at the direction of the White House. It's all about showing how reasonable he is, you see. It's a long way from working as a community organizer in Chicago, but Obama probably draws upon similar skills to effectively disarm his media critics.

Obama closed the deal as they say when he willingly played the game of stigmatizing black men for social dysfunctionality found across the racial spectrum. Whites are allowed to have children out of wedlock without comment, but blacks are not, and Obama displayed his knowledge of this double standard, and the essential role that it plays in justifying racial bias towards African Americans. Tim Russert and his mentor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, would have been proud.

For a brief period, there was an opening that suggested that this stale politics could be shattered, but Obama's defeat in Texas and Ohio, primarily at the hand of working class whites, closed it. It did not deny him the nomination, as I thought it would, but it did force him to abandon any radical notions that he may have had about transforming the US political system. Since then, Obama has scrupulously followed the rules, as he will do when he enters the White House. Obama recognizes that he cannot pursue even a palled progressive agenda of demilitarization, an agenda that is an unavoidable precondition to confronting the declining standard of living for middle income, lower middle income and poor Americans, if it is opposed by the proletarian base of the Democratic Party.

As for the rest of us, it means millions of more American foreclosed out of their houses, driven to the unemployment lines and pushed to the margins of this credit dependent economy, with an increasing likelihood that Obama will be just as willing to attack Iran as McCain to divert attention from this catastrophe. Because, having left the forces within this country dictating these interrelated outcomes unexposed and untouched, Obama will soon discover that he is just as much a prisoner of them as you and I. Like Bush, he will govern symbolically instead of realistically, because the alternative is politically suicidal in the absence of a social movement to support it.

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