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December 31, 2008

The Long Dark Primary Race Of The Soul

From a New Yorker profile of Obama in 2007:

A potential crisis in the Social Security system is a long way off. Why, then, would a new President spend political capital on yet another tax hike when he will almost certainly seek to undo the Bush tax cuts for more immediate demands, like universal health care? When I asked Obama about this, he smiled and leaned forward, as if eager to explain that my premise was precisely the politically calibrated approach that he wanted to challenge. "What I think you’re asserting is that it makes sense for us to continue hiding the ball," Obama said, "and not tell the American people the truth—"

I interrupted: "Politically it makes sense—"

He finished the sentence: "—to not tell people what we really think?"

And this is Ali Abunimah, also writing in 2007:

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker....

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

How completely predictable that Obama is eager to say what he "really thinks" when (1) what he "really thinks" is inaccurate and (2) it serves political power, but is not eager to do so when (3) what he "really thinks" is accurate and (4) it requires confronting political power. (Of course, god only knows what Obama truly believes about Israel/Palestine at this point.)

PREVIOUSLY: "Power was taking her son."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 31, 2008 10:08 AM

worth noting that "israel" didn't wait to find out what friendship the new year would bring them.

Posted by: hapa at December 31, 2008 11:08 AM

Who are you and what have you done with my former supporter Jonathan Schwarz

Posted by: B.H. Obama at December 31, 2008 11:11 AM

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson."
FDR to Colonel Edward House, October 21, 1933

Nobody in power ever told or tells the people this "real truth" that those ("you and I") in the establishment know. Not in 1933, not now.
But then, what would the people do if told?
Watch Leno and Letterman and the NFL.

"The shepherds change, the sheep remain."

Happy 2009 and best wishes for really real change.

Posted by: donescobar at December 31, 2008 11:14 AM

But then, what would the people do if told?
Watch Leno and Letterman and the NFL.

I like how the Leno-watchers are the all-purpose stand-in for The American People.

This, on a blog where more than a few Americans regularly engage in a somewhat-serious critique of our government.

But I guess we're not just invisible to the New York Times, we're invisible to ourselves, as well.

Posted by: SteveB at December 31, 2008 12:52 PM


So, whom do you want to pay attention to the "somewhat-serious critique of our government" as carried on here? The NYT? The guys in a South Boston pizza joint? The careerists at the Harvard Business School?
And where do you go to find "really serious" critiques of our government? Mother Jones? Counterpunch? The NYRB? Who pays attention to them?
You want the Deputy Director at State or the CIA to tell his co-workers they should look at the wonderfully scathing critique of our policy in the ME he found on ATR or Dennis Perrin or Chris Floyd?
And yeah, at the water cooler in the office they do talk of the joke on Leno or Letterman heard last night? Critiques of our government? Why, not even in the dining halls of the Ivy League, where once I heard the SDS types 40 years ago.
But those are nice dreams.

Posted by: donescobar at December 31, 2008 02:24 PM

maybe the article from which the first quote was taken gives it a certain context of which i am unaware, but i imagine that the tax raises being spoken of here refer to those obama has claimed all throughout his campaign that he would like to levy against the RICH.

as far as i can tell from his rhetoric today, this is one of the few promises of the early campaign (promises which might have caused the unwary or the gullible much excitement) that have seemingly survived. why attack, then, the final straws we have left to grasp?

Posted by: raincoat at December 31, 2008 03:39 PM

Jon, I always refer back to your term "sane evil people" to describe a Dem administration as opposed to Bush et all ("Insane evil people"). So I have very limited hope of change except that I hope things will be slightly less bad, yet I hope that the pollyannas among us are right and I would like nothing better than to be very very wrong.

Posted by: Anna in PDX at December 31, 2008 06:17 PM

I said they were nice dreams, and I would love to see some come true. I don't urge giving up on them, but would love to see some 1960s-like fervor and action to galvanize segments of our population. But that's where I get pessimistic. The best and brightest are the most selfish and those most in need of better and compassionate leadership aren't getting it or voices to seeking it.
Small may be beautiful, but it's not good at gaining political power.
And by the way, whom do you want to listen so it matters? Why are they not listening now? How can you get them to listen? Is it even in their interest to listen? If not, and they don't, wadda ya gonna do then?
I think these are legit questions. I don't have any good or practical answers now. Do you?

Posted by: donescobar at December 31, 2008 07:01 PM

donescobar, i think those questions are probably the most important questions going into the do we make it in their interest to listen to such a small segment of people looking to take away some of their power. happy and a healthy new years to all!

Posted by: sloweducation at December 31, 2008 07:17 PM

donescobar: A Blackman IS going to be OUR president, and TWO women ran in competition against him. RADICAL CHANGE, especially in the promised land of the Ku Klux Klan. (a BLACKMAN will take his seat in the senate) Progressives ARE on a killer roll on those points alone. OBAMA IS beholden to THE NET. Like ALL politicians, he realizes that the NET IS WHERE THE MONEY IS. From NOW on no-one will win UNLESS able to pull money from the NET. FROM NOW ON neither the Horsesasses nor the Buggy parties can financially compete using pre-net style funding. ALL RADICAL CHANGE.


Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 31, 2008 08:03 PM

I don't care what Obama thinks about the mid-east.

I think he will be pragmatic and intelligent. That will be a 2,000% improvement on anything that has preceded him these last eight years.

Posted by: Mylegacy at December 31, 2008 10:41 PM

Mylegacy: EXACTLY!!!

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 31, 2008 11:11 PM

An excellent compare and contrast. I’ve noticed the same things about Obama -- that he seems to repeat things that are not accurate (there’s another word for it but that wouldn’t be charitable). It remains to be seen if a pragmatic and intelligent president will be better than Bush. The trouble with pragmatic and intelligence is that it can be easily trumped by indoctrination. As for what Obama thinks about Palestine I would say that it is rather important especially to the Palestinians who have been living under the jackboot of Israel and suffering in ways we can’t begin to imagine. So yeah, I actually do care what Obama thinks about the Palestinians.

Posted by: Rob Payne at January 1, 2009 03:25 AM

We are CHANGING politics as we know it with our HOPE for CHANGE. OBAMA now OWES me CHANGE for the FIFTY DOLLARS I sent to his campaign for CHANGE in the MOST IMPORTANT election ever in the HISTORY of elections EVER. The $884,907 he got from GOLDMAN SACHS is as nothing, NOTHING I TELL YOU, in comparison! THAT is how we are CHANGING the face of politics as we KNOW it with our HOPE for CHANGE and MASSIVE campaign contriBUTIONS.


Posted by: Widdle Mikey at January 1, 2009 10:07 AM

We are CHANGING politics as we know it with our HOPE for CHANGE...etc., etc.

This is fine work, Alan, although not quite as good as the "I Will Always Love You" video.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 1, 2009 10:44 AM

Widdle Mikey: THANK YOU, cause winter, spring, summer, or fall ALL YOU gotta do is call. (tell Nan whatever U like=power of the net)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 1, 2009 10:54 AM

It's just that I think asking what "the people" will do is not a useful question. When real social change happens, the vast majority of people are spectators, and nothing more than that. What percentage of Americans took part in the civil rights movement, or even cared about the civil rights movement? For that matter, what percentage of Russians took part in the revolution?

I'm not claiming we're in the middle of a new civil rights movement (or a new revolution), but I do think we have a fairly healthy dissident culture going, with many good local and national peace and environmental groups, good alternative media like Democracy Now!, excellent commentary on blogs like this one, good books being published, etc.

And that dissident culture is having some success in changing the attitudes held by those folks standing around the watercooler talking about Leno. Next time, ask them what they think about the war, or whether climate change is real.

Posted by: SteveB at January 1, 2009 10:57 AM

Yes, there is a dissident culture. And yes, some of its perceptions and aims have gained traces of acceptance in the declining middle class and anmong languishing blue collar workers.
So, work to broaden this foothold does matter. What I question is what it would take to rattle faith in the system as such--that's why I put in that FDR quote. How do we get away from that "as you and I know." I still think, old central European pessimist that I am, that the vast majority doesn't want to get there or is scared shitless of what getting there might mean.
If progressives can't get the "rattling" started, I suspect we'll continue our rollercoaster ride.
Deep inside of me lives a quote from Cioran: "To hope is to deny the future."
Maybe American exceptionalism, a new kind thereof, could prove him wrong. I'd be happy with "at least in part."

Posted by: donescobar at January 1, 2009 11:15 AM

What I question is what it would take to rattle faith in the system as such...

How much faith in "the system" does the average American have? If you're talking about our political system, I'd say the answer is "not much", since most Americans are deeply cynical about politicians, and understand quite well that elected officials mostly represent wealthy, powerful interests and not them. If we're talking about our economic system, faith in that has definitely taken a beating over the past year.

The problem is not that people have "faith in the system", but that they don't see any viable alternatives to the system. If not capitalism, what? Socialism? If not two-party "democracy", what? Nader, or the Greens, or the Natural Law Party?

If people don't see viable alternatives, they do nothing, but their inaction doesn't mean they're indifferent, or unaware of the problems we face (although some are indifferent and unaware).

For years, many in the peace movement have complained about how difficult it is to get young people engaged in our work. Then Obama comes along, and millions of previously-disengaged young people became active and energetic participants in his campaign. Why? I don't think it's mainly because they're full of starry-eyed illusions about Obama (although that is the case for some). I think it's because Obama was able to present a plan that made sense to them. First, work to win the primaries, then work to win the general election, and then you will receive the change you want. That's a dishonest narrative, but at least it's some narrative (meaning a chain of logically connected events which starts with some action on your part and ends with achieving some aim you desire). And that's more than those of us on the left have been able to offer for a long time.

Posted by: SteveB at January 1, 2009 12:50 PM

It may well come down to the "faith" being an American version of Churchill's saw that democracy stinks, but it's the best we got.
I think you underestimate American hope for capitalism as their economic system. A bunch of scoundrels abused it, but it's the only system under which more people have a shot at getting wealthy than under any other. That piece of the American Dream is under siege, but still alive and strong. Why bother, otherwise?
What else is there? Some form of social democracy? But that wouldn't be "American."
How to get at that? I doubt, right now, that it can be done.
There still is a very powerful fear of and revulsion for anything "socialist," (democratic or not), for thinking in the context of class.
Even cynicism about our politicians and the system can't diminish these attitudes. "Throw the scoundresls out" and things will get better, get "normal."
I can understand why so many Americans hold on to this delusion. Read Joe Bageant, "Deer-Hunting with Jesus." What are you gonna offer them that they might embrace, and deliver on it? I'll join up.

Posted by: donescobar at January 1, 2009 01:57 PM

How is it that tax hikes for rich people serve "political power"? How is it that you can claim, in absolute terms, that such hikes are "inaccurate"? This is a different economic policy than you expressed two months ago.

How is it that supporting terrorists is "accurate"? Just because Israel is guilty, that does not make Hamas innocent.

This web site is traditionally a place to go to distinguish facts from opinions. If it becomes another site for knee-jerk responses, then the reputation for analysis will suffer.

Posted by: Dave at January 2, 2009 08:07 AM

How is it that tax hikes for rich people serve "political power"?

The same way "negotiations" served political power when leading Democrats announced "Everyone knows Saddam Hussein has terrifying weapons of mass destruction that he yearns to use on America's schoolchildren. We must open negotiations with him."

This is a different economic policy than you expressed two months ago.


Just because Israel is guilty, that does not make Hamas innocent.

That's a good point, and in retrospect I regret calling Hamas "as innocent and fluffy as a month-old kitten."

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 2, 2009 08:53 AM

i'd always thought the house needed painting. so last week i locked the man in his basement and yesterday i shot him dead when he attacked me for not feeding him. actually this improved the property value; all three potential buyers cited the noises beneath the floor when declining the sale. but i had been able to secure loans against the equity, so i'm fine, and the police have been surprisingly accommodating, even helping me carry the body off what they acknowledge is my ancestral property, knowing my family's terrible fortunes on the other side of town.

more than one neighbor has called me privately to say how much better the yard looks....

Posted by: hapa at January 2, 2009 10:54 AM