You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

April 16, 2009

What A President With Genuine Courage Looks Like

By: John Caruso

Evo Morales just finished a 5-day hunger strike in support of a package of electoral reforms:

Bolivian President Evo Morales ended a five-day hunger strike today after Congress approved a new electoral law that will boost the voting power of his core constituency.

Morales had canceled a diplomatic visit to Cuba to maintain a vigil inside the presidential palace, where for almost a week he consumed only water and coca leaves, the raw ingredient in cocaine and a folk remedy used in Bolivia to suppress hunger. He slept on a bare mattress on the palace floor, surrounded by fasting union leaders who form part of his coalition party.

"The Bolivian people will never forget this revolutionary process," Morales, 49, said today in the presidential palace, moments after concluding the strike. In remarks on state television, Morales said he hoped the fast would strengthen Bolivians’ support for "profound economic, social and cultural changes."

(This was nothing new for Morales, who once fasted for 18 days when he was a union leader to protest coca eradication.)

The superficial similarities between Morales and Obama only serve to highlight the critical differences: Bolivia's president is a former union leader who draws directly on his experience to fight for his principles, whereas our erstwhile community-organizer president trades on his past to gain votes while actively betraying the principles he formerly espoused.  To put it another way, Morales uses his power to further the goals of the popular movement that made him president, while Obama co-opts the power of the popular movement that made him president to undercut its goals.

Just for a moment, imagine what it would be like to have a president who actually possessed (positive) core, non-negotiable convictions, and for whom going on a hunger strike was well within the range of sacrifices they were willing to make to fight for those convictions.  While you're at it, imagine what it would be like to have a populace that demanded this level of conviction in exchange for their support—and refused to settle for less.  And finally, imagine how far short of those goals we could fall and still be light years beyond where we are today.

It's no surprise that we're constantly told the most we have a right to expect is tiny incremental steps toward positive change, but what's tragic is that so many people have not only accepted that but have internalized it as though it's some sort of immutable law of nature.  They never seem to notice that those same restrictions don't apply to negative changes—like (say) massive restructuring of the entire system of world trade, radical financial deregulation, or the repurposing of a "defensive" military organization as a weapon of U.S. foreign policy, to name just a few.  They end up excusing and rationalizing the most craven compromises (and even outright betrayals) with carefully-inculcated arguments about pragmatism and political feasibility and the need to lower their expectations.

As a great philosopher once said: you get what you settle for.

— John Caruso

Posted at April 16, 2009 02:42 PM

Dang, John.

Just Dang!

Good job...Have the Obamistas stopped trying to foment Civil War in Bilivia, the way the Busheviks were doing, encouraging the plutocrats to secede?

I'd almost settle for that...

Posted by: Woody at April 16, 2009 03:44 PM

Good question. I doubt there's been much change in policy, but we'll have to wait and see if Bolivia expels any more U.S. officials or organizations.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 16, 2009 04:18 PM

Philosopher: Russell? Or someone else?

Posted by: catherine at April 16, 2009 05:20 PM

To catherine: Louise Sawyer, "You get what you settle for." From the 1991 film "Thelma & Louise," screenplay by Callie Khouri [courtesy Google/IMDB]. Perhaps after Thorstein Veblen?

Posted by: LotF at April 16, 2009 06:53 PM

Noam Chomsky has been saying recently that, in his opinion, Bolivia is the most democratic country in the world at the present time, based mostly on what you briefly refer to above: that the populace offers up and elects representatives that reflect their serious positions on serious issues, and they will settle for no less.

Posted by: deang at April 16, 2009 09:36 PM

Thanks, John. This is wonderfully concise and incisive:

Morales uses his power to further the goals of the popular movement that made him president, while Obama co-opts the power of the popular movement that made him president to undercut its goals.
Posted by: Nell at April 16, 2009 10:11 PM


Posted by: Mark Nuckols at April 17, 2009 04:46 AM

If one looks at the true power structure of American power you wouldn't bother to compare Obama with Morales. You might as well discuss the political morality of their gardeners.

Obama, like Bush or Clinton, is no more than a frontman. He doesn't really have power to stop wars or steer foreign policy or prosecute torturers or stop the spying on citizens or any of the things liberals would like. In a sense, he has less power than Morales.

If you want to compare Obama to someone, try Ed Sullivan.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at April 17, 2009 09:34 AM

B.O. is displaying the "values" of the organizations that have promoted him to his present position. That would be loyalty to the organization first and foremost, "my country right or wrong" and that sort of thinking. He is not about to betray the real impetus behind his ascension to the throne, the special interests, Democratic party, big money, etc., not the people who actually elected him. Don't get me wrong, at least he's got a brain something that will take a lot of getting used to for people who have enjoyed the last eight years.

Posted by: knowdoubt at April 17, 2009 09:54 AM

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, (ie: democrats, pwogwessives, Obamabots) are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others."

~Frederick Douglass, 1857

Posted by: AlanSmithee at April 17, 2009 12:55 PM

Bob: The issue here is character, not power. As a human being, Obama is just as capable as Morales of doing something like going on a hunger strike on a matter of principle, and the fact that the notion is so absurd is a measure of his true character.

AlanSmithee: Exactly. Thanks for that.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 17, 2009 02:04 PM

WE "settled" for George Bush and Dick Cheney. (

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 17, 2009 03:40 PM

I lived off of Budwiser Beer for 2 months, once. (some Bud Lite, some Busch Lite). Ecxept for one back yard bbq with the cops, their bbq, my beer, my backyard, in the middle of it all, that was pretty much ALL I ate or drank. 18 days on coke, I know of WHOLE NEIGHBORHOODS that can do that standing on one foot.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 17, 2009 04:50 PM

Mike Meyer: "18 days on coke...". Ha ha-perfect.

Posted by: Seth at April 17, 2009 06:26 PM

For the most part, you're right. However: There is a lot of concern among the South American moderate leftists I talk to who call it shameful that the president of a country would go on hunger strike to assure the passage of a law allowing his reelection, while not doing the same to assure passage of legislation to directly benefit the poor and weak. In other words, Evo is probably better than Obama, but he's no saint. You need to keep the critical glasses on.

Posted by: heddy hog at April 18, 2009 01:04 AM

The law covers a range of electoral reforms, actually, like giving the (majority) indigenous more seats in parliament and allowing Bolivians living abroad to vote in the elections; it's not just about reelecting Morales, though it's predictably being spun that way by opponents.

Nobody's a saint, but Morales and Obama aren't even in the same moral universe.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 18, 2009 02:03 AM

That's a pretty accurate assessment of obama, our celebrity head pr man for the establishment. Just waiting for the dumbasses in this country to figure him out ...


Posted by: Z at April 18, 2009 02:43 PM

Patience Z, patience please.

Posted by: Coldtype at April 18, 2009 03:34 PM

heddy hog, I have read similar statements from equally fecally stuffed people elsewhere around the internet. please do not be convinced that your comment finding itself in a plurality means you have something valuable to offer. you're essentially saying that Obama is okay because Morales could do better. that's bullshit, and you should know it. keep stuffing yourself with those coprolites, though.


caruso -- great piece

Posted by: micah pyre at April 19, 2009 10:52 AM

Alan Smithee, your suggestion that it is " democrats, pwogwessives, Obamabots" that hypocritically promote freedom while lacking the integrity to uphold "agitation" is so one-sided, it would be hilarious, if it wasn't functionally retarded and scary.

Was it Democrats who saw fit to label as "un-American" all the antiwar protestors? It occurs to any intelligent observer of American history that the kind of person likely to have been active in "agitation" of their government is just as likely to have been Democrat as Republican. In fact I would be inclined to suggest slightly more so.

Posted by: JonathanZ at April 19, 2009 10:00 PM

In my world, hunger strikes are meaningful because they are one of the last weapons of the powerless against the powerful, taking as a battleground moral suasion and popular support. A president who wants to reform the constitution to give himself more power looks like a pathetic clown when he resorts to such antics. The fight in Bolivia is about whether more of the natural gas revenues should be redistributed from richer to poorer departments. It's about centralization versus autonomy, and I can support Morales's side and still think he looks silly hunger-striking for it.

Posted by: homunq at April 20, 2009 11:41 AM

How can it be a HUNGER strike if EATING coca leaves makes U NOT HUNGRY? Pizza makes me not hungry. How big a leaf are WE talking about? How many? Is the water cold or hot? Tea? Soup? Stew? I think WE can ALL agree that cocaine comes from coca leaves.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 20, 2009 12:37 PM

JonathanZ: "Was it Democrats who saw fit to label as 'un-American' all the antiwar protestors?"

Yes. Maybe you've forgotten that the War in Vietnam, for example, was a Democratic War between 1960 and 1968, and faithful Democrats did not take kindly to extremists like Martin Luther King, Jr., who denounced it. And wasn't US involvement in World War I the doing of a Democratic President, who put in jail critics of that involvement? I recall Democrats jeering at critics of Clinton's war in the Balkans, and to this day good Democrats get pissed off at those who criticize that war from the left.

Posted by: Duncan at April 21, 2009 01:05 AM