Real Reasons to Celebrate


The Obama victory is a cause for reflection, and there will be plenty of it in the two-month limbo which is the Bush regime’s last gasp. I here draw attention to one curious aspect of the post-election hubbub—some of the comments from left-wing and progressive voices that don’t buy into the “mainstream” political narrative. I count myself as one of those voices, albeit a small one, so what I have to say can be taken in a sense as self-criticism.

More than one writer has referred to Obama’s supporters as “cultists”—brain-dead enthusiasts with no understanding of their candidate’s adherence to establishment views on the economy and foreign policy. When it comes to policy, a critical stance is a very good thing. But when generalizations about the people who supported Obama are made with the language of contempt, I suspect that there’s something wrong going on psychologically.

Alex Jones went so far as to say that Obama would be much worse than Bush because the positive consensus, the perception of a mandate, would give Obama more power to take away our freedoms by consolidating a police state. By that logic, the less popular a President is, the better—which amounts to saying that the worse President is better because he will more effectively galvanize the opposition. This is a fallacy. The more the government is inclined to rightist, neo-fascist ideology, the less chance there is for successful progressive action. I know, I know: Alex Jones is not a good example of “leftist” thinking, but this particular idea is revealing of a certain very specific, and wrong-headed, way of looking at American politics.

One can become so obsessed with the criminal actions of the government, and the corruption of the political system, that one’s energy and motivation become trapped in what I call “enemy mind.” Instead of being fueled by a passionate love for human beings and their rights, we can end up stuck in a place of hatred for enemies. From years and years of being marginalized, progressives can become used to not making a difference—become inured, in other words, to an emotional condition of angry futility.

There were a lot of people who were celebrating after this election. I was one of them. Rather than look dismissively on this as the enthusiasm of “cultists,” couldn’t we just acknowledge the valid reasons for celebration? The media focused on the fact that Obama will be the first black President, and that’s certainly momentous. But I really don’t think that was the main reason people were celebrating. For me, there was a huge sense of relief that the right-wing Republican electoral strategy, personified in recent years by Karl Rove, had been defeated. There was relief that McCain, this year’s personification of rightist mendacity, had been denied, putting an end to the Bush-Cheney nightmare. Instead of an insane bloodthirsty criminal, we elected someone who can actually think, can conceive that there is such as thing as the public good and not just another opportunity for looting.

On the positive side, Obama signals that at least some effort will be made to deal with the tremendous problems that the world is facing. There is the possibility of actually getting out of Iraq. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, or Souter can safely retire without being replaced by another right-wing fanatic. We have a chance to reverse the subversive actions against our Constitution represented by Bush regime torture, rendition, military tribunals, Patriot Act insanity, and Gitmo.

We need to celebrate progress once in awhile. This is part of the energy that keeps us going. Five years ago, I never would have thought that we could have come this far. People at the grassroots made this happen, and are making a lot of other things happen that are not as well known.

The least encouraging aspect of Obama is, of course, his adherence to the idea of empire. Making Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff is not a good sign when it comes to foreign policy. It signals more of the old “support the government of Israel at all costs” approach to the Middle East which is our perennial dead end. But to conclude that there won’t be any difference between Obama and Bush on foreign policy is to overstate the case. The so-called Bush doctrine could drive the world over a precipice—it is a doctrine of unabashed criminal aggression coupled with contempt for diplomacy. The traditional foreign policy establishment is still imperialist, but less dangerous. We’ve got a long way to go before the people of the United States force the state to relinquish empire. At least there’s more of a chance for survival under Obama.

Jim Hightower, speaking in my home town this summer, pointed out that FDR was not a leftist, and that his election was not in itself a transforming event. Instead, it was an opportunity for more progressives to get involved in the government and to influence American policy. The same is true in this case. The answer to the old question from the 1960s of whether one should work within “the system” or outside of it always seemed obvious to me—we should do both, of course. Change isn’t going to happen just because some writer for Counterpunch or The Nation maintained his ideological purity. It will happen gradually, in the messy and imperfect world of grassroots politics.


~ by cdash on November 14, 2008.

6 Responses to “Real Reasons to Celebrate”

  1. I have to award you my highest form of praise: Do you know why you’re such a pain Dashiell? It’s because you’re always right.”

    I reserve that tongue-in-cheek statement for very few people.

    The scientific method works well, I think. When I saw the racial splits in the 2006 vote for PA Governor (White Democrat Ed Rendell vs Black Republican Lynn Swann) and MD JR US Senator (White Democrat Benjamin Cardin vs Black Republican Michael Steele), I was convinced that “voting for (Democrat) Barack Obama ‘just’ because he’s Black” is not a bad heuristic device at all for the decision. African-American voters made the wise choices two years earlier in large proportions in voting Rendell and Cardin.

    Combine cynicism with ideological purity and you get very bizarre results as in the bizarre changes in Alex Jones’s and Christopher Hitchens’s thinking. Thay both have indeed passed over from being valuable contrarians to cranks.

    Jones, like Larry Johnson, is merely a crank. Hitchens became a political arsonist for the same reason and lost all connection with his actual physical humanity. His fury that Bill Clinton was not a socialist was so great that he was led to RAT OUT A BUDDY to the point that the friend faced years of federal time for no reason!

    I’ve been a very strong on and off critic of Obama but it’s always on policy, especially economic policy, grounds. Had I been eligible I would have voted for him without hesitation.

    I don’t expect President Obama to run the USA like a Humanist kibbutz! I do expect him to demonstrate a little more interest in the nuts and bolts of fiscal and monetary policy, the intersection of such with militarism or lack thereof, bank law, accounting rules, corporate finance law and custom, and social justice.

    He may get there. He may not. He’s certainly a wonderful breath of fresh air from the stagnation of the last eight years and the promise of worse from McCain.

    I’m a pacificst and an economic small “c” conservative, so Rahm Emanuel would hardly have been my first choice. From all indications, however, Obama has found a way to rechannel Emanuel’s aggression and affectlessness towards the Republican Party and towards helping Obama achieve Obama’s own Democratic goals. May it stay that way.

    What you write about FDR is correct. He did act to preserve the union and to carve in a capitalist system of macro-economic policy in the US. He did it to prevent exactly the kind of civil war which has bedeviled Colombia for the last 45 years: militant fascism versus militant communism. Sometimes a plain-vanilla utilitarian solution is best.

    Until there is a ruling superceding Buckley v Valeo, American politics will always be about “themes” and “personalities” instead of about Party and issues.

    We’ll see, but I’m optimistic.

  2. great post dash
    sorry i havent been around to read and contribute
    this economic mess has become my economic mess…..all of our economic mess

    you write:
    Five years ago, I never would have thought that we could have come this far. People at the grassroots made this happen, and are making a lot of other things happen that are not as well known.

    how sad this country has sunk SO low that we actually thought the bush-rove way could be permanent, how sad we even let it happen to begin with.

    the one thing obama brings that NO republican could ever bring is hope — sure he will disappoint, make mistakes, do things the old way — anyone would, but there is the chance some of the wrongs of the past 8 yrs can be changed – and that is a start

    and hope

  3. DASH:


  4. Excellent as usual, sir. I think every American president is going to adhere to empire until we are ready for empire to end, or it ends because of another Bush-sized clusterfuck. At least for the foreseeable future, it’ll be, theoretically, a kinder, gentler one.

  5. Dashiell, another superb post, full of common sense and suffused with a realistic sense of what may or may not happen over the course of the next few months and beyond.

    And you wrote: “We need to celebrate progress once in awhile.”

    Absolutely. Why not? There will be plenty of time for second-guessing motives, second guessing promises, second guessing just about everything, and doing it all inside and out and up down and then over, and over, again.

    Bill Maher does a good job summing up how, for the time in a long, long time, we can all suddenly be proud to call ourselves Americans … it’s at the end of his final set of “New Rules” for this season and it’s pretty funny:

  6. Alex Jones went so far as to say that Obama would be much worse than Bush because the positive consensus, the perception of a mandate, would give Obama more power to take away our freedoms by consolidating a police state.

    Is Alex Jones still around?

    He should’ve stopped when his excellent coverage of the Mt. Carmel invasion or his infiltration of clandestine Bohemian Grove. Those efforts were splendid examples of genuine citizen guerrilla journalism.

    But Alex Jones lost his way and jumped the shark when he started pushing his medically discredited paranoia about MMR vaccine and the autism epidemic.

    Now Alex Jones travels further down the rabbit hole by stating Obama will be worse than George W. Bush? Get some help, Alex.

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