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November 07, 2008

New Tomdispatch


A Great Day, Nine Years, Three or Four Centuries
The Jubilant Birth of the Obama Era

By Rebecca Solnit

Citizenship is a passionate joy at times, and this is one of those times. You can feel it. Tuesday the world changed. It was a great day. Monday it rained hard for the first time this season and on Election Day, everything in San Francisco was washed clean. I went on a long run past several polling places up in the hills around my home and saw lines of working people waiting to vote and contented-looking citizens walking around with their "I Voted" stickers in the sun and mud.

People have again found one of their -- our -- most buried and powerful desires: to make a better world together. I ran across an online collection of photographs of people crying in public, so moved by what is happening in this country, and I cried a little myself last weekend and choked up again when my local paper ran a story on a woman who'd crossed the country 40 years ago for Martin Luther King's funeral and left her polling place Tuesday singing hallelujah, amazed like so many older people that she'd lived to see the day.

You can argue against Barack Obama. I would myself, on the grounds that electoral politics are inherently flawed, corrosive, disempowering. My leftist friends, already cranky about him, warn me that I will be disappointed, but I'm not sure I will, because my expectations are realistic. I love his style, but he's not my messiah.

Who he is is so much better than we had any right to expect in a country left to the jackals for so long, even if he's just a pretty gifted liberal Democrat with an uncanny ability to see beyond the binaries and describe what might lie there.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 7, 2008 09:24 AM

What these people don't see, I think, is that for all these tears of joy they must be grateful to Bush, not to Obama.

It's a bit like taking off your ski boots after a day of skiing - yes, tears of joy, but it's not because your regular shoes are great.

Posted by: abb1 at November 7, 2008 10:36 AM

Solnit's writing generally strikes me pretentious and vaguely annoying and I find her exalted status among leftist intellectuals a bit baffling.

So I appreciate this article which provides a substantive basis for this impression.

Most notably this nugget:

"I am against heroes generally, and I grieved to see how deferentially people invested their hopes in Howard Dean nationally in 2004, and in Matt Gonzalez in my local mayor's race the year before. The movements that invoked them were, in both cases, so much better than the men."

A honest, principled leader of an true insurgent campaign coming within two percentage points of succeeding is equated with neo-liberal Democrats, explicitly in favor of expanded military budgets, banking deregulation, welfare reform, the drug war, the Patriot Act, balanced budget amendments, pre-emptive strikes on Pakistan and Syria etc.

In other words: All political "heros" are inherently flawed and this becomes the justification for accepting, nay, actively mobilizing around and enthusiastically supporting the least worst dismissing with contempt those who dare to utter any discouraging word and attempt to organize alternatives.

Solnit typifies the attitudes among the intellectual class which has made the tragedy of contemporary politics, for which Obama is the standard bearer, inevitable and which we will have to transcend if any subsequent progress is going to be made.

Posted by: John Halle at November 7, 2008 10:57 AM

obama is against gay marriage and voted for both the bailout and fisa amendment this year. this is the change we're getting?

Posted by: bamboozlde at November 7, 2008 12:04 PM

Jon, do you have to post everything that Tomdispatch publishes? Christ. I just read the snippet you put up and had trouble suppressing my gag reflex. Who the fuck is this woman fooling, beside herself? Alan Smithee is going to be over in a few minutes calling you a "demotard," and in the context of this post he's going to be pretty hard to argue with.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at November 7, 2008 12:22 PM

I love his style, but he's not my messiah.

Who he is is so much better than we had any right to expect in a country left to the jackals for so long, even if he's just a pretty gifted liberal Democrat with an uncanny ability to see beyond the binaries and describe what might lie there.

Ugh. What does this even mean? "What might lie there?" How about continued war in Iraq, escalating war in Afghanistan, support for the systematic looting of the poor by the wealthy via massive bailouts for insolvent companies, political crony appointments, casual denigration of black families and culture, torture, black ops, etc? Obama is nothing more than a continuation of our murderous status quo with a more palatable face. If Solnit was really opposed to the excesses of the "jackals" in Bush's administration, then she ought to oppose 99% of Obama's stated policy positions. And yet, here we find a supposed progressive indulging in squishy pomo metaphors about binaries and over-the-top praising of his "uncanny" visionary abilities.

Scratch a hippie, find a fascist?

Posted by: Alaya at November 7, 2008 12:49 PM

I'm generally in favor of you linking to everything Tomdispatch puts out, but perhaps this is an exception. Maybe Obama will be better than we have any right to expect, and the FDR analogies turn out to be true (the ones that say FDR was pushed by circumstances to the left). We'll see. But it's just not interesting to read any more vague gushy Obama lovenotes, even when the person writing them claims to be realistic about it. It's like listening to a Richard Rodriguez essay on the Lehrer Newshour--it's oh so sensitive and yet devoid of substance and after about thirty seconds you want to hammer nails into your eardrums to take away the pain.

Or what abb1 said--we're all relieved McCain lost and I'll add that it's good that racism has receded to the point where some mainstream centrist black politician is acceptable to many whites, but I think we knew that already back in the day when people used to suggest Colin Powell should run.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 7, 2008 12:58 PM

i like Solnit's writing generally, but this is pretty bad. that sounds like something a surprisingly articulate Kos frontpager would say.

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 7, 2008 01:16 PM

We'll be back to our regularly-scheduled griping quite soon.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 7, 2008 02:43 PM


(Wouldn't want to disappoint our resident pwoggie pseudo-pundit.)

Posted by: AlanSmithee at November 7, 2008 03:00 PM

1.Are you sure this isn't an errant Salon piece? And why the hell is he "better than I have any right to expect?" What the hell did I do?

2."an uncanny ability to see beyond the binaries and describe what might lie there."

I could interpret what I think that means, but I remember you admonishment from a few days ago regarding foul language.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at November 7, 2008 04:14 PM

sorry, I meant your admonishment, not "you admonishment."

(and heck, not hell...)

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at November 7, 2008 04:43 PM

Previously I was unfamiliar with this author. Now that I am, I don't appreciate the hackneyed quality of Solnit wit.

Posted by: grimmy at November 7, 2008 05:18 PM

The only uncanny ability Obama possesses is leveraging his oratory to draw attention away from his actual policy positions.

Will his obfuscations become more difficult once President Obama starts signing his name on the Raytheon bombs used to defend brave Americans from actual (and prospective) wedding guests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran and our sentimental favorite whipping boy, Iraq?

I'm starting to think not.

What a sucker I was to believe Rebecca Solnit was a cut above the usual progfare. I wonder how many atrocities it'll take for her to recover her senses.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at November 7, 2008 05:21 PM

Does Solnit write romance novels or soap operas under another name?
"Tuesday the world changed." He came into our lives. He awakened in us that old, profound but buried desire to make the world a better place.
With Rahm as Chief of Staff and (maybe) Summers Secretary of the Treasury I can already feel our world emerging from the rule of the jackals, to whom we abandoned it.
As Barbara Walters said to POTUS elect Jimmy Carter, "be kind to us, be gentle with us, Governor."
Well, what we need is men and women with backbone, not on their backs, willing to say "no" to leaders and the establishment. One Berrigan for every Solnit.

Posted by: donescobar at November 7, 2008 05:21 PM

i think rebecca is trying to hand out parachutes to people walking on clouds.

Posted by: hapa at November 7, 2008 08:51 PM

"The only uncanny ability Obama possesses is leveraging his oratory to draw attention away from his actual policy positions."

Well, that's the one hope there is, isn't there? We don't know what his actual policy positions are yet.

To be the sunny eyed optimist here, it'll be nice to drag Rahm out of congress and - if this Obama character is half the intellectual snob they say he is - render him into dumb muscle for policy he's rarely if ever represented in his own political career. Ostensibly the Chief of Staff doesn't make policy unless the position is written by Aaron Sorkin.

I mean, if ever there was a top ranking Democrat you'd want to remove from the Ways and Means Committee and the Subcommittee on Health this dude would be it.

And speaking of reshaping congress by appointment, how about Kerry lobbying for Feingold to be Foreign Relations Committee Chairman? When and if that gets announced I'll finally say something nice about the president elect.

A new day may by some remote rose-tinted possibility be upon us, my friends.

Also, what hapa said.

Posted by: buermann at November 7, 2008 11:30 PM

Bravo, HV.

I'm not surprised to find Sam Smith sounding such sobering alarms.

But, as Suicyco Mike-O of Suicidal Tendencies once lamented in song, Nobody hears.

Well, that's the one hope there is, isn't there? We don't know what his actual policy positions are yet.

Except for the ones he articulated during the campaign.

But why rehash recent history.

Tomorrow will be here soon enough.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at November 8, 2008 12:56 AM

two cases. basically the feds have all the money right now and they will for a while, so,

(1) obama & co get the ecological fixes rolling; in other areas, worst case, they treat people like crap. that kind of crap, political, we can fix, negotiate, whatever.

(2) obamaco doesn't do the green stuff and the crap is irrelevant.

people who are sure the green stuff won't happen should STFU about obama. you've already written off the 25-year outcome? so your short term observations are meant to, stick the pig? watch it bleed to death?

Posted by: hapa at November 8, 2008 02:46 AM

"the ones he articulated during the campaign."

Oh, I thought they were obfuscations. Pardon.

Posted by: buermann at November 8, 2008 04:11 AM

As observed above, the one thing that drove Obama throughout the campaign was Obama.
True of just about all our political leaders since LBJ, and his political philosophy, a term you can't really apply any longer in the USA, dates from FDR and his brain trust.
At best, our politicos have an agenda, a "to do" list.
Bell was right, so long ago, about the end of ideology in America.
"Being There" captures the barren landscape quite well.
The right-wing Christians could be considered an exception, but Revelations and Doomsday and the Second Coming don't add up to a political philosophy. Our lives are governed by "to do" lists that propel careers, and maintain a hold on power and the flow of money.

Posted by: donescobar at November 8, 2008 09:12 AM
"the ones he articulated during the campaign."

Oh, I thought they were obfuscations. Pardon.

Touché, buermann.

But this is really too simple for a lot semantical fencing.

You and others have chosen to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

I have chosen not to, in large part, because of his expressed support of spying on Americans, the unconditional "bailout" for his Wall Street friends, his refusal to hold Bush-Cheney, Inc., accountable for eight years of lawless, reckless rule, his commitment to expanding the war in Afghanistan, and his shameful saber-rattling performance before AIPAC.

We all have our limits. I'm not adjusting mine to accommodate the Democratic Party's machinations.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at November 8, 2008 10:36 AM

Since the coup of 1963 every President has served at the pleasure or displeasure of the makers of that coup. All Republican Presidents have had connections to the intelligence wing of the coup plotters. I'm not sure if Carter's military background initially put him in good stead with the actual rulers, but his energy policies were enough to annoy the oil wing and lead to his removal. Clinton seems to have given them everything that they wanted. I suspect Bill's history with the intel people goes back to his college years (like Bush I), and I think that their candidate for this year was Hillary (for reasons I won't go into here, but, please, Larry Johnson?).

Where does Obama fit in? Was he, for ex, cowed by the mechanical problems on his campaign plane three days before the FISA vote or was he always going to vote for it? Don't know. Were the lapses in Secret Service security in Dallas a "howdy-do" from the powers that be? Maybe, maybe not.

America's economic problems are really bad right now (understatement), and it's quite possible that a portion of them decided that after three generations (Prescott, George H.W., and George W.) of boodle boys it's time to get things righted. You know, time to save capitalism again. I mean, there's greed and then there's GREED.

I haven't yet plumbed Obama's heart and don't know what is political jive and what is a heartfelt belief in whatever. I am hoping that his Secretary of Treasury hasn't left any fingerprints on this last heist though. That'll be a clue.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 8, 2008 10:46 AM

Arvin Hill: So who else U got besides Obama, to get the country out of the "Bush Hole" its in?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 8, 2008 01:27 PM

Wow. my reaction to her article was the complete opposite of the comments here. I think her whole point was that we shouldn't vest our faith in leaders - rather, we should look to social movements like the one that gave us the Seattle protests in '99 for our hope.

The hard-core Obama-maniac and the hard-core Obama-basher have one thing in common: they think it's all about Obama, and who he is or isn't. There's just no room in their calculations for anyone else. "Will he get us out of Iraq?" they ask, and one says "No!", while the other says "Yes!", but neither can understand that whether we get out of Iraq has more to do with what the American and Iraqi people do to resist the occupation than with what Obama wants or doesn't want, or said, or doesn't say.

Posted by: SteveB at November 8, 2008 01:46 PM

"You and others have chosen to give Obama the benefit of the doubt."

Well, I haven't really. I merely observed that there are doubts, with downsides and upsides.

Also, what Bob and Steve said.

Posted by: buermann at November 8, 2008 02:32 PM