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December 20, 2007


In his most recent article, Matt Taibbi is uncharacteristically sunny:

Normally the sight of prospective voters muttering platitudes about "hope" and "change" would make any reporter erupt with derisive laughter, but at Obama events one hears outbursts of optimism so desperate and artless that I can't help but check my cynical instinct. Grown men and women look up at you with puppy-dog eyes and all but beg you not to shit on their dreams. It's odd to say, but it's actually moving.

He winds up with this: that he's got the numbers and the momentum, even the most hardened political cynic has to ask — why not this guy? Would it be such a terrible thing for America to show that it's big enough to elect a black president? Wouldn't that be something all by itself? The very fact that the public, mostly on its own, has lifted Obama past an arrogant establishment consensus adds to his appeal as a symbol of the idea that not everything in our politics is rigged, that not everything that they tell us is impossible really is.

So maybe it's OK to let the grandiose things that an Obama presidency could represent overwhelm the less-stirring reality — i.e., Obama as more or less a typical middle-of-the-road Democrat with a lot of money and a well-run campaign. Maybe it's OK because it's not always about the candidates; sometimes it's about us, what we want and what we want to believe. And if Barack Obama can carry that burden for us, why not let him? Seriously, why not? The happy ending doesn't always have to ring false.

Perhaps I'm blinded by my loathing for the Clintons, but I agree. America probably can't do better than Obama at this point in time, and we certainly could do far, far, far worse. Just having a non-100% white person nominally in charge would change the country's mental weather considerably. And when politicians organize the energy of millions of people, as Obama has done, it sometimes heads off in useful directions the politicians don't expect.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 20, 2007 09:07 AM

Plus, it will give liberals a chance to cheer on the cluster bombs without feeling like Rethugs!

Posted by: keefer at December 20, 2007 09:58 AM

Thank you, Dennis.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 20, 2007 10:04 AM

Well, if you think vapid hopefulness is what it takes to run the country, yes, Obama is your man. Otherwise...

Posted by: Carol at December 20, 2007 10:07 AM

Been there, done that. He was named JFK. He cut taxes for the rich and ramped up a war. But damn, the country did feel real good about itself for a while. Or at least a part of the country did.

Maybe the better comparison mught be Reagan, another inspirational leader willing & able to work with the opposition. First term, Reagan was likeable to distract us thru hard times.

Maybe history is bunk. I distrust inspirational leaders, even RFK & MLK. Like technocrats.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at December 20, 2007 10:14 AM

Ya know, just thinking about the vapidity and lack of substance of Obama, and his skills as a conciliator and negotiator and compromiser. Have we had many Presidents without strong programs and ideas of their own, who let outside forces push them around. Buchanan?

I think it would be very very good for America to become the world's punk for a while, letting Europe & East Asia tell us what to do on global warming, energy, militarism, fiscal policy, social issues, all sorts of things.

Can I have the EU as President?

Posted by: bob mcmanus at December 20, 2007 10:29 AM

Well, it's a horse race for sure. (with plenty of horse's asses out on the track) I just call Nancy @1-202-225-0100, how about YOU?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 20, 2007 10:56 AM

Mid-dull murka aint gonna 'elect' a very young black guy with a muslim name president....

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at December 20, 2007 11:01 AM

What's this "country'mental weather" you're hoping Obama might "change?"
Miss Grundy and I have found little "mental" in our weather, from reality TV to Goldman Sachs bonuses or Oprah spirituality, the mental ingredient was too small to regitster on the Kulturminister's 2% requirement of list-worthy ingredients.
Even at Obama's entryway to our establishment, Harvard Law School, self-esteem had passed "mental weather" on the index for measuring student capacity for leading the corporatist cause to final victory, or Endsieg, as joker Dershowitz likes to kid.

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 11:25 AM

Lifting Obama past an arrogant establishment just might piss off the establishment, which includes a lot of Democrats, by the way.

I'm now reading an interesting book by Walter Karp about how the Dem establishment brought down the populist Jimmy Carter. Of course Carter was weak, and they took advantage of that. "Nothing he says or does or proposes can stay the bludgeoning hand of the party establishment". Obama might have more moxie, but would it matter?

The anti-Carter cabal was led by Byrd and O'Neill, later joined by Kennedy. It's the Iron Law of Institutions, right?

One might argue that Obama is not a populist, that he is establishment because he hasn't seriously rocked the boat, but that's a stretch. Obama could easily be Carter-ized by the Blue Dogs and Senate patricians--the old segregationist Byrd is still there.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2007 12:18 PM

Jonathan, I disagree with the idea that Obama is the best we can do at this point (and hat tip to Mistah Charley above). According to several polls Edwards' numbers are still robust. With his myriad faults, Edwards has nevertheless much more substance in terms of health-care plans and confronting the extreme disparity of wealth in our country. Perhaps, as Paul Street has argued (, this is why he of the top three contenders has been so ridiculed in the media. While Edwards is far from ideal as a left-progressive candidate, at this point in time there is still a window of opportunity for his campaign to succeed. However, I would concede that this window is shrinking fast.
For those who eschew voting for any Democratic candidate in November, I think it's clear that at this stage in the game, that argument leaves us nowhere to go. If we want substantive change, some radical grass-roots organizing is in order. That doesn't simply mean understanding what's wrong and why but rolling up ones sleeves and getting to work. Otherwise the kind of radical change that's needed will never spontaneously arise in a national election.

Posted by: bluestate leftist at December 20, 2007 12:19 PM


I'm now reading an interesting book by Walter Karp about how the Dem establishment brought down the populist Jimmy Carter. Of course Carter was weak, and they took advantage of that. "Nothing he says or does or proposes can stay the bludgeoning hand of the party establishment". Obama might have more moxie, but would it matter?

Liberty Under Siege, I'm assuming.

...on the off chance Obama has more moxie (unlikely but possible) whether or not it mattered would be up to us. And political campaigns that draw lots of new people in and politicize them means a larger of base of people to make trouble after an election.

bluestate leftist:

Jonathan, I disagree with the idea that Obama is the best we can do at this point (and hat tip to Mistah Charley above). According to several polls Edwards' numbers are still robust.

I would be very happy if Edwards were to pick up steam. I've found his campaign positions and rhetoric shockingly uninsane, at least on domestic policy. I would certainly vote for him over Obama if I got a chance.

That said, part of what I meant by "the best we can do" is that I suspect if Edwards gains he will be assassinated by the media. More corporate types like Obama may not be.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 20, 2007 12:40 PM

Of course "radical change" isn't going to emerge from national elections, carefully staged performances accompanied by appropiate media music.
How might "radical change" come about? Maybe, touches of it, after a major economic or natural disaster. But these fragments of change could more likely turn out fascist/religious rather than progressive.

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 12:45 PM

"A larger of base of people to make trouble after an election" currently doesn't seem to be working that well against the Dem establishment. The year 2007 has not been a year of achievement for the Dem congress, garnering them a popularity even lower than Bush's.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2007 12:50 PM

I like people who still think primaries matter. It's like finding the last few kids still clapping for Tinkerbell to live.

Posted by: AllenSmithee at December 20, 2007 01:02 PM

Since those hippie kids "made trouble" over that unpleasantness in SE Asia in the late '60s and early '70s, who's "made trouble" in this country?
We have been trained not to do that anymore. Confrontation is not nice.
Cioran nailed it: "It took 2000 years to build the West and 100 years of psychology to destroy it."
So, boys and girls, live up to your potential and Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy.

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 01:06 PM

Sorry, but is that quote arguing that it's OK to choose a candidate not on the basis of what he actually says his policies are, but on the basis of what you would like to imagine his policies might be? Or has the whole question of policy been abandoned completely, in favour of the idea that you should vote for whoever best makes you feel good about yourself?

No wonder American "politics" are fucked up. Didn't Chomsky once say something about having elections, but no politics? Of course, that was about some banana republic...

Posted by: Dunc at December 20, 2007 01:11 PM

Don Escobar - We have seen examples of radical change in our lifetimes such as the significant accomplishments of the civil rights and women's movements of the sixties. When this baby boomer was a child, the APA categorized homosexuality as a mental disorder - today, the vast majority of the citizenry accepts civil unions for same-sex couples. In fact, it's been pointed out correctly that "the electorate is far to the left of either party", a fact that offers remarkable opportunities for activists. What remains to be done is to continue to reach out into our communities and build movements. Lots of people are doing it in a myriad of ways - I'm constantly amazed to discover how many people are involved although we are invisible if one looks at the corporate media.
So, when I say radical I mean it in the true sense of the word: changing society for the better by getting to the root of a problem and eliminating it.

Posted by: bluestate leftist at December 20, 2007 01:51 PM

Someone above has pointed to a Paul Street article, so it saves me the trouble. To the extent that you see something positive in Obama, it seems to be based on the idea that his election would unleash a lot of progressive energy in his supporters. Maybe, but that won't be Obama's doing.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at December 20, 2007 01:59 PM

Well, hell, if you're after a non-100% white person and aren't overly concerned with his/her policies, Alan Keyes is just the ticket. Except, of course, that he's a batshit-insane wingnut.

Posted by: LA Confidential Pantload at December 20, 2007 02:03 PM

True enough, bluestate leftist, but the middle class (and upper middle class) people working for the civil rights and women's movements felt economically secure. Since the Reagan and through the Bush and Clinton admins, they feel so less and less. Getting the share of the pie and feeling good about yourself no longer leave much room for engaging in social change. Also, the big money boys are meaner than ever; threaten their bottom lines or bonuses, and forget about them letting a few more crumbs falling off the table.
Still, the progressives need to learn to talk to the electorate...if it is to the left of the parties, who's touching those aspirations?

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 02:10 PM

Is this the part where Dennis Perrin ruefully chuckles and makes some incredibly condescending asshole remark about his doe-eyed, soft-in-the-head friend Jon before launching into an interminably boring story about someone he knew way back when and blah blah blah?

Posted by: curtis interruptus at December 20, 2007 02:14 PM

Jon "Bambi" Schwarz is at it again. Not content to weep over the bunnies in "Watership Down," he now attempts to soften us up on behalf of that imperialist agent Obama, who doubtless prefers his human blood on ice with a twist of lime.

It reminds me of the time I was trading quips with an aging Izzy Stone, who was trying to trip me up over who "really" started the Korean War, when Noam Chomsky burst through the door, saying that Chevy Chase and Michael O'Donoghue were pelting a very drunk Christopher Hitchens with rotting apples they stole from Crispin Glover, who was distracted by Allen Ginsberg's latest attempt to cajole Kurt Vonnegut into singing a Tibetan hymn in memory of Norman Mailer, who had yet to die. Alex Cockburn phoned in to say that we were all liberal assholes who didn't have the guts to join a militia, then claimed that Gore Vidal was sucking his dick on a bet. Well, that was one afternoon I'll never forget!

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at December 20, 2007 03:21 PM

1. I'm always taken aback by people that go, "Well, it's only a month before the primary, but I'm still undecided." It sounds staged, but I'm thinking Edwards supporters aren't in that bunch. Do Hillary and Obama demographics vacillate (TV watching black matrons)? Yes. Do Populists? Not so much. Made up their minds just from watching the current crazytalk on SS, health care, and financial deregulation.

2. Donescobar says:

But these fragments of change could more likely turn out fascist/religious rather than progressive.

In the end it comes to Armageddon between Progressives vs. Populists. Watching the Progressives is full time amusement, because it's so chock-full-o' elitists that would like to care for the stupid masses. For real yuks, try following the science/academic community in its fight to be "taken seriously" vs the stupid rabble that elects. Except that their fight isn't against the rabble but against political economists that have massively disproportionate influence. The great peni$ envy of the science and PhDs on their influence on public policy is palpable. Dumbasses don't seem to understand that the rabble isn't what's keeping them from a place at the table.

3. Someone on another thread indicated that uninformed rabble makes poor and parochial decisions based on emotions.

Ha! If anything, I think that the population is over informed and that information leads to self-selected, self-segmented whipping up, foaming at the mouth frenzy. Oh, how I love the 2004 presidential election, and Bush's re-mandate. What fun we have.

Dammit -- but I feel like calling Pelosi! :-) Mike, are you with me?

Posted by: Ted at December 20, 2007 03:28 PM

"The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge."
Chairman Mao Tsetung, Selected Works, Vol.III, P.12.

As the old Bill Mauldin cartoon asks, "Hey, Clancy, what's a mass?"

What indeed?

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 03:40 PM

hmmm. Perhaps I'm not in the Holiday mood, or am feeling especially moribund. But I have to say it. If Obama wins the Preznitcy the VP will vitally important. I doubt he would last the term.

I know it sounds nasty, and such a thing could be no further from my own wishes. But there is a tension building in 'Merica. And it ain't pretty.

Posted by: ww at December 20, 2007 04:05 PM

(ww you got me beat; I had prepared this follow-up earlier but thought it was too shrill -- )

Oh yeah, I remember now what originally caught my eye in this thread...

That said, part of what I meant by "the best we can do" is that I suspect if Edwards gains he will be assassinated by the media

Media huh? Probably (the enquirer already has a love child piece), but how about we get a pool going here -- I think you've referenced Orcinus shtik before. What's the chance that the "winner" of the current lefty, lefty, lefty crop of candidates gets offed? It's been a long time since the days of Lynnette Fromme.

Plausible? Nil? I mean, have you seen some of the comments around O'Reilly snippets on youtube? I've got to go with plausible -- what with the current war mania, patriotism and all.

Posted by: Ted at December 20, 2007 04:18 PM

Every once in a while I get in my inbox a link to a new short film from Robert Greenwald. Yesterday I watched one for the first time, at Tom Tomorrow's site. It was about why Edwards and Obama were unwilling to come on Fox News, and it consisted mostly of a string of clips from Fox belittling the candidates. One of them included a commentator saying something like "Obama just has a following because he's black."

I instinctively recoiled from the consideration of such a loathsome statement, because hey, it came from Fox. But reading Taibbi and the "mental weather" thing, it occurs to me they could be right.

The consideration that the best we could do may be Obama is profoundly depressing, and the existence of worse people in the running doesn't make me feel better. All of a sudden I find myself agreeing with Alan Smithee (did he change the spelling?), wondering how lesser-evilism has found a place even here.

But I guess if Obama's the best we can do we needn't apologize to the Iranian public when our government tactically nukes them.

Posted by: StO at December 20, 2007 04:29 PM

Then again, stop whining when we have so rich a tapestry of presidential candidates:
-a woman and her husband, an impeached ex-presi-
-a somewhat black man
-a war hero named McCain, endorsed by an unctuous
Jewish man named Lieberman
-a rich Mormon
-a philandering former mayor of New York
-a guy claimed as a pal by Neo-Nazis

Vow! Not even the best soaps could come up with this cast of characters.
What about social and economic change?
Enjoy the show.

Posted by: donescobar at December 20, 2007 05:16 PM

You can never know who'll be a great president -- an inexperienced hick lawyer freed the slaves, a New York aristocrat gave us the New Deal (his cousin broke up monopolies), a Texas bully signed the Civil Rights Act. And none of them accomplish anything if there aren't enough unelected "regular" people pushing for change.

So you hope for someone who will let good things happen once elected, or give support to the right parts of the movement when he/she can. Edwards spent his career neck-deep in details about corporate wrong-doing. Obama was a community organizer with connections to the Gamaliel Foundation ( Either might be worth electing, but it means nothing if the right-wing stays as organized, pissed-off and well-funded as they've been the past 30 years.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at December 20, 2007 05:24 PM

It shouldn't matter that much who is president in a democracy, right? because the people, through their representatives, are the deciders. Okay, we're not quite there yet, but with the power of the netroots we will be. That's our goal. There are a lot of good people working on it. In the meantime, looking at the records of the last half-dozen presidents, we shouldn't expect much.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2007 06:17 PM

A couple of points in reply to the "dennis perrin" comment at 3:20 pm:

1)This incident, if indeed it did actually occur, had to have been prior to I.F. Stone's death in June of 1989.

2)Speaking of I.F. Stone, he was born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia on December 24, 1907, so his centennial anniversary is mere days away. Quotes from him (via Wikipedia):

"You may just think I am a red Jew son-of-a-bitch, but I'm keeping Thomas Jefferson alive." [on journalistic marginalization of him]

"All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."

3)And speaking of John Edwards, the three favorite books listed at his presidential campaign website are:

Trial of Socrates
— I.F. Stone

Into Thin Air
— Jon Krakauer

The Working Poor
— David Shipler

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 20, 2007 06:41 PM

Jon S.: part of what I meant by "the best we can do" is that I suspect if Edwards gains he will be assassinated by the media.

That's not enough to sink him this time out, when a stuffed animal could be elected on the Democratic ticket. Still holding out hope, at least until after Iowa.

Posted by: Nell at December 20, 2007 07:07 PM

Doesn't this argument apply just as equally to the egregious Hilary, or is a woman president not considered that big a deal any more?

It shouldn't matter that much who is president in a democracy, right?

It strikes me that if the extent to which a system of government works depends on the personal character of the people running it, then that system of government is already broken.

Posted by: RobW at December 20, 2007 07:39 PM

Ted: Yeah, Call Her(1-202-225-0100 DC business hours) I do most every day. Yes, Ted, I am one of those rabble you speak of, a working class stiff and best of all( very very true) My middle name is Theodore but growing up, folks called me Teddy Bear.

Posted by: at December 20, 2007 07:47 PM

Dude, that's an awesome approximation of Dennis.

I used to like his stuff, but I find him such a one-note condescending asshole these days (well, for the past year or so) that I'd like to just put him and Hitchens in a boat and sink it.

You know what the guy never writes about? Anything he's ever accomplished or anything he suggests we can do.

Posted by: David Grenier at December 21, 2007 09:48 AM

And pray, what accomplishments would you care to hear about?

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at December 21, 2007 11:45 AM

Let's hear more about how you troll liberal blogs under fake names. That sounds awesome. And not at all weird.

Posted by: curtis interruptus at December 21, 2007 04:14 PM

Is "interruptus" your maiden or married name?

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at December 21, 2007 05:32 PM

Dennis Perrin: I get interruptus all the time. (usually because I'm boring or the phone rings and someone wants to sell me a mortgage) So it could be just a lifestyle description.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 21, 2007 08:24 PM

Difference being, I'm nobody in real life. And I'm not trolling here. I take it by Jon's comment above that "keefer" is one of your alter egos?

Posted by: curtis interruptus at December 22, 2007 08:51 AM

I've been wondering lately if we got into the mess we are currently in because we spend too much time worrying about presidents.

Should we expect that by changing the capstone on the pyramid the rest of its eroding foundation and crumbling mortar will be once again encased in shining marble?

I'm not suggesting that presidential elections are unimportant. I am suggesting that they've become a red-herring. If everyone who is as mentally involved in this presidential election cycle was as mentally involved in elections at the local and state levels, might we not have such a mess that we hope and pray will be cleaned up by a possible president? And is it realistic to expect the president to clean up this mess?

If this country is governed of, for, and by the people, then our overriding fascination with presidential politics is, in fact, a shirking of our responsibilities. That is, we have come to believe that our duty is something to be performed once every four years; the rest of the time we are free to bitch and moan...especially if we didn't vote for whoever is in office.

Posted by: jackpine savage at December 22, 2007 10:56 AM

curtis: EVERYBODY IS SOMEBODY in real life.

jackpine: EXACTLY.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 22, 2007 12:25 PM

Is it just me, or is Matt Taibbi going nuts?

Posted by: Dan Coyle at December 22, 2007 02:23 PM

What I meant, Mike, was that my real name doesn't mean shit here or anywhere else online, whereas Dennis is a fairly well-known writer, so his attempt to imply that me using a goofy name to comment is the same thing as him using fake names to troll liberal blogs is bullshit.

Nevertheless, I'm glad people like Dennis have identified the real core of our problems, the dark heart of our political system, and devoted all their time to kibitzing about it - the liberal bloggers. If only this menace could be brought to heel and taught to write about the correct subjects in the correct way, well, could earthly paradise be far behind? You go, Dennis (or keefer, or who knows what other names you use)! Fight the power, my man!

Posted by: curtis interruptus at December 22, 2007 06:13 PM

I appreciate your projection, "curtis," and consider it a holiday gift; but clearly, you've completely missed my point.

I won't test Jon's patience and ramble, but the idea that I think libloggers are the central threat is ridiculous, as any casual stroll through both of my archives will readily show. You obviously hate it when I go after the libs, and that's super. But they're not my main target, however much I think they're helping to perpetuate this system. They are one of many actors.

Before my blogging days, I used my real name when commenting elsewhere. But once people knew my tag, that clouded a lot of conversation, so I donned several masks in order to see how liberals would deal with the issues, and not the personality. I try to engage them, but critically so, testing their assumptions and political knowledge (hard to do inside an echo chamber). I do this since they claim to be in "opposition" to the ruling order, and thus ostensibly my allies. I don't consider this "trolling," but we all have our own definitions.

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at December 22, 2007 06:54 PM

Curtis: I choose to see you as a TAXPAYER concerned about how YOUR TAXES are being used to drag down YOUR country. I feel YOU must be concerned or YOU would be over on some chat line or another. I see YOU as a person who may well be in favor of IMPEACHENT of Bush and Cheney, and that YOU may well be willing to call Pelosi (1-202-225-0100) and express to her an opinion in that direction. SOMEBODY WHO SAY SOMETHING.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 22, 2007 10:32 PM