Comments: No, You Should Start Blaming Yourselves

Did Obama just prove that the Democrats are the greater of the two evils?

(for those who can count to two from a party of one at any rate)

Posted by DavidByron at August 2, 2011 02:30 PM

Y'know, since Godwin's Law is funny, but bogus, really, the same damn thing was said about Hitler. If you fall for a smooth talker, you fall for a smooth talker. End of story.

Does no one remember that Adolph Reed Jr. nailed Obama in 1996?

Posted by Will Shetterly at August 2, 2011 02:43 PM

The best discussion of Obama that I've seen (linked to, surprisingly enough, by the same guy at Hullabaloo who was comparing Obama to Gandhi yesterday).

link

On the Norman Matthews article, most of it is pretty good except for the parts cited here. He might just be trying to soften the blow and get some Obamaphiles to face reality a little bit at a time.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 2, 2011 03:31 PM

"There is nothing in life but only misery...
Misfortune has come upon us all together
The poor, the rich, the weak and the strong
The great lord by whom hundreds were main-
tained...
Until the strong men come back across the sea
There is no help for us but bitter crying,
Screams, and beating of hands, and calling out..." -- A Poem Written in Time of Trouble by an Irish Priest Who Had Taken Orders in France

Posted by LT at August 2, 2011 03:36 PM

I like William River Pitt's column:

http://www.truth-out.org/president-reverse/1312300026

"Obama has taken to the habit of abject retreat with such gusto that he should be outfitted with one of those beeping devices they put on trucks to alert people when they go in reverse."

"I want a clean debt bill. Beep-beep-beep..."

"I want, no, I demand revenue enhancements - not from new taxes, but from closing loopholes - and I will reject any bill that does not include them. Beep-beep-beep..."

"We must protect Social Security and Medicare. Beep-beep-beep.."

And so on. Pitt gave me a great idea. Progressives should show up at Obama campaign rallies, and every time he takes a stand on an issue, everyone just chant in a high pitch, "beep-beep-beep-beep-beep."


Posted by Paul Avery at August 2, 2011 04:09 PM

Obama has taken to the habit of abject retreat...

This statement of Pitt's is completely wrong, and it's wrong in just the way Obamaphiles prefer to be wrong: by pretending he lacks backbone, is a bad negotiator, is a helpless victim of forces beyond his control, is stymied by nefarious Republicans, etc etc etc. Anything, anything but admitting--even just to themselves, if not anyone else--that what Obama is actually doing is what he actually wants to do.

Posted by John Caruso at August 2, 2011 04:27 PM

I reiterate, The Blind shoving the Blind.(But apparently not so blind as to not see he's black)

I blame OUR schools&culture.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 2, 2011 04:37 PM

I agree with John Caruso. Obama is doing this because he can and NO ONE to stop him.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 2, 2011 04:49 PM
Posted by: DavidByron at August 2, 2011 02:30 PM


Did Obama just prove that the Democrats are the greater of the two evils?

Yes. Given that Obama's rightwing priorities are not substantially less rightwing or less destructive than, say, McCains rightwing priorities, and given that Obama was more successful in achieving his priorities, given his ability to capture "the left," Obama did what his supporters swore, with the sincerity of a thuggee strangling a victim, could not ever be so: Obama was objectively worse than McCain.

I'd add the caveat that this is situational. Sometimes the dems are the greater evil, sometimes not. But that isn't actually important for the following reasons:

• Choosing between the "lesser" of two evils is still choosing evil and deserves as much condemnation and punishment as choosing evil instead of good.
• Obama's voters who weren't tricked or deluded* did not vote for the "lesser evil," though. They voted for SOMEONE ELSE'S EVIL. They knew Obama was going to fuck someone. They were convinced that it would be someone else. It would be teh geys. It would be the blacks. It would be the Iraqis. It would be someone -- but not themselves. And as so long as the evil hits someone who isn't them, indulging in it is a "failure," or "weakness." Simply put, they're assholes with antiliberal, selfish priorities that are cleverly using doublespeak or deepities (if you think the latter term is valid) to cover a serious moral failing.

So while "Obama is worse" than a given Republican or the "dems are worse" than the Republicans in a specific context is cute, it really isn't that profound. It simply feels that way after listening to NP-fucking-R for an hour.

(*I really, really, really, really need to make it clear that only people who were not honestly mistaken go into the second category, even if that stupidity was huge or they should have known better.)

(On a slightly unrelated topic, the notion that someone is "to the right" or "to the left" of someone or something needs to be taken to a river and held under until its struggles cease and the deep, quick, cold of the current takes the damnable thing down and down, never to be seen again.)

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 2, 2011 04:51 PM

What liberals fail to appreciate is how much Obama despises them. He seems to enjoy kicking them in the teeth, knowing full well they'll play battered wife and redouble their support anyway.

The irony is, the people whom Obama admires and whose respect he seeks, the Goldman Boyz, hold the same feelings toward him he holds towards his supporters: they despise him.

The funny thing is, both sentiments are entirely justified.

Posted by bobs at August 2, 2011 05:36 PM

Blame them for what, exactly? Not voting for a third party in 2008? Suppose they did...then we'd be blaming them for throwing the election to McCain. Is the implication here that the "Yes we can" chanters somehow enabled Obama to further erode civil liberties, start two new wars, and slash government spending? If anything, it seems they've made it harder for Obama to govern as he wants to without looking like a massive hypocrite.

I really don't see how all the people who enthusiastically supported Obama caused much more harm than the people who unenthusiastically supported him. Sure, the rhetoric about bipartisanship was pretty obvious bullshit, but it's not like there was anyone else we could vote for.

Not to mention, organizing and voting for Obama gave Americans a chance to repudiate 8 years of republican misrule, express solidarity with the liberal values Obama was espousing at the time, and elect our first non-white president (thereby giving our country's aging population of white supremacists a massive panic attack). If, in addition, some people thought things might actually get better under an Obama administration, I'm not going to begrudge them that.

Posted by Ryan at August 2, 2011 06:11 PM
I really don't see how all the people who enthusiastically supported Obama caused much more harm than the people who unenthusiastically supported him.

What on Earth does enthusiasm have to do with anything? What are you talking about?

it's not like there was anyone else we could vote for.

Primary.

organizing and voting for Obama gave Americans a chance to repudiate 8 years of republican misrule,

This is not true. However, the extent of its wrongness is difficult to explain because the sentence is tremendously ambiguous.
a) If "repudiate" means "political theater," this is nonsensical because not all Americans wanted political theater and not everyone wanted to merely screw the republicans. There are a metric crapton of assumptions wrapped up in "repudiate," none of which are true.
b) If "repudiate" means "reject and replace with substantive different policies" then the general election did no such thing. That was the point. We kinda covered that in the last three years -- more if one was paying attention.

express solidarity with the liberal values Obama was espousing at the time

Like what? I didn't hear any rhetoric from him that was worth repeating. In fact, his position was so noxious and dangerous that I actively supported the notion of not agreeing with the media and declaring him a "rock star." Bush has said some factually true things, some of which are actually "good." This does not mean Bush deserves any political capital, and sure as hell doesn't mean he deserves a vote.

elect our first non-white president (thereby giving our country's aging population of white supremacists a massive panic attack

a) Fuck white supremacists. I am completely uninterested in fucking over my finances, my family, my home, my neighbors just so I can troll unpleasant people. What you're describing is literally an episode of South Park, complete with RickRolling. Obama's race is a marketing point, not a substantively useful thing to anyone, given his behavior and views.
b) Plenty of white supremacists are young and vibrant. The notion that only old people are racists is wrong. I'm surprised the notion would even come up given that the Norwegian massacre is less than a week old.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 2, 2011 06:55 PM

Ryan: Blame them for what, exactly?

The pronoun is "themselves", not "them" (which may just reflect a misunderstanding on your part, since much of the rest of your comment misreads what I wrote as well). And the answer to the corrected question is right there in the original posting:

..."blindly supporting" any politician—or indeed any authority figure—is an act for which people most certainly should blame themselves, if for no other reason than to demonstrate a sincere intention not to do it again.

This posting is a companion of sorts to this posting of mine from July (which I didn't crosspost at ATR).

Posted by John Caruso at August 2, 2011 07:55 PM

@No One of Consequence: you still aren't answering, what's the harm? Why all the rage at Obama supporters? Are you saying that given Hillary Clinton's history she would have been much better? I just don't see (1) how it could have been much better; (2) how you KNOW it could have been much better; and, (3) even conceding the point that it could have been much better (2) how you could have known at the time how bad it would be under Obama, and how much better it would be under Clinton. Really, liberals got a bad hand. Some of us played it one way (going all in), some of us played it another (skeptically and unenthusiastically). There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but I really don't see how enthusiasm about Obama or lack thereof could have changed much of anything--it seems like hippie punching to me.

Posted by Ryan at August 2, 2011 08:04 PM

@John Caruso I agree with Glenn Greenwald (who you link in the other post) that blindly supporting and making excuses for Obama after he became president is inexcusable. Where I don't see your point is we really didn't have much choice but to support Obama, blindly or no, before he was elected. In fact, I would argue that anyone who did vote for Obama was voting for him blindly--and certainly without the foreknowledge you seem to claim here, of Obama's noxious choices regarding civil liberties, new wars, and dramatic spending cuts. It's the nature of the media, of politics, etc., that we're not going to get much of a choice who's president, and even the people we get to choose between we're not going to know much about. Any smart politician is going to make sure you don't know much about them. And even if we know a lot about them they're going to be corrupted by the system anyway. It's good to be cynical about politicians, and hopefully a lot of the people who blindly supported Obama actually are at this point, and will direct their energy into supporting better people (as opposed to dropping out). Maybe your post will even turn them around on that front. But to believe that anything would honestly be very different or that these people deserve the hellfire you're raining down on them is misguided and its own kind of optimism.

Posted by Ryan at August 2, 2011 08:28 PM

I'm not "answering" because your question is nonsensical. It's logically incoherent bullshit. If I asked you, "Hey, how tall is seven?" and you instead pointed out that the question made no sense, would it be cool if I claimed "you aren't answering?"

Here it is again:

Why all the rage at Obama supporters?

Which Obama supporters? You aren't answering me. What does "enthusiasm" have to do with anything? I made a very sharp distinction between Obama supporters on moral grounds. You're talking about enthusiasm, which, as far as I can tell, is ridiculously irrelevant. I don't even know why you brought it up. And since my position on the Obama supporters who supported him for distinctly immoral reasons are alreadly listed upthread and consistent with other viewpoints in this and other posts on this site, I literally can't tell if you're asking me to simply reprint my post or are asking me about some new batch of Obama supporters. Worse, I already implied that distinctions between Obama supporters are (morally) important, so the ambiguity you're introducing makes even less sense.

Are you saying that given Hillary Clinton's history she would have been much better?

No. Are you saying that's what I'm saying? 'Cause if you are, that's a strawman.

Okay, the ambiguity here is at record levels. I don't know what Clinton has to do with anything either. I'm not going to conjecture, anymore, about what you're talking about. This seems like something coherent, though:

how you could have known at the time how bad it would be under Obama, and how much better it would be under Clinton.

Quoted at length for context, but again, this discussion has fuck-all to do with Clinton -- that seems to be your bugaboo, not that of anyone here. But as far as Obama's policies go, he a) told the world in speeches about rightwing things he was going to do, b) did rightwing things while in office, c) had rightwing friends who he praised for doing rightwing things, d) admired rightwingers for things that were either i) rightwing or ii) bullshit memes that rightwingers loved, e) had the support of really powerful antipopulist interests* and f) said things or maintained policies that were obviously deceptive or lies that only made sense if he was planning on doing something terrible instead.

One could conclude from this that he was a rightwinger.

*(e) is really obvious. Obama's health care plan stank on ice before the primary vote -- and that was when he was still lying about single-payer. It was objectively worse than Edwards and Clintons, and it was obviously only produced to counter Edwards' plan (as was Clinton's). Krugman thought the plan terrible, the worst of the three mentioned here, and I'd have to agree, though there wasn't much daylight between Clinton's and Obama's in the first place. Obama had the most Wall Street money in the campaign and insurance companies favored him above all candidates. And oh, since Obama's plan was so sweet to insurance companies it was obvious, even back then, that he was going to make it an even bigger giveaway once in office. I know I was saying it back then; iirc, there's a post or two on this site of me saying the same. Far more importantly, many others who weren't concerned with Obama's image noticed the same.

The notion that Obama's behavior over the last three years couldn't have been predicted is -- well, it's a fucking lie. I can't even call it a mistake. It's an untrue statement meant to deceive. It occupies the same rhetorical space as "No one could have predicted anyone flying airplanes into buildings" and "No one could have known that Saddam didn't have WMDs." Indeed, in the latter case, it's a lie leveled against the same political class. Therefore, the implication that it took special effort to know his views or perspectives before his election is also absurd. What is true is that knowing that sort of thing requires a lot more political knowledge than the average American has and more than said persons can reasonably be expected to obtain, which is why supporting Obama wasn't a significant moral choice for millions of people, as I said above.

seems like hippie punching to me.

Wait, I thought criticizing Obama made you "too left" and therefore a hippie -- so now hippies are further right than Obama critics? Or -- eh, I yield. I have no understanding how these bullshit slurs are supposed to work.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 2, 2011 08:55 PM

Will Shetterly:

Adolph Reed Jr.? Elaborate?

Hm. The dude pwns Obama here in 2008:

http://www.progressive.org/mag_reed0508

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 2, 2011 09:01 PM

Reed's 1996 take on Obama is here (and Will, I've mentioned it there and also in the comments on this thread at ATR). The original link at thenation.com appears to be dead now, BTW.

Posted by John Caruso at August 2, 2011 09:17 PM

...the hellfire you're raining down on them...

Is in your mind, not in the posting, as is most of what you're saying.

...the foreknowledge you seem to claim here...

Required only paying attention to what Obama had actually done and said. Look, I spent my time before the 2008 election warning people about Obama, both here and on my own site: see this and this and this and this and this and this and this for just a few examples. It didn't take ESP on my part, any more than it did for Reed or any of the many other people who were sounding warnings about Obama well before the election--just a willingness to look at the facts, and to apply the kind of informed skepticism that people should bring to any politician.

Posted by John Caruso at August 2, 2011 09:49 PM

Stupidity is an underrated survival skill.

Posted by N E at August 2, 2011 09:51 PM

@Ryan - A lot of supporters were just caught up by the image of Obama, without looking at his record and history. People that looked at his history weren't very surprised. Admittedly, there wasn't a whole lot of history to go on, but that should have been more reason to question the candidate, not more reason to support him.

I'm reminded of talking with Edwards voters in 2004, who were so excited about the candidate, but when I asked why they kept listing positions that other candidates also shared. I pointed that out each time they listed a new position, and eventually they ran out of them and came back to..."well, I think it's mostly, when you talk with him you just feel really inspired."

The thing is, most people, even (I would argue especially) the ones that follow politics intensely, have a very superficial notion of what's going on. That's the reason why groups who are focused and have a targeted agenda keep winning, while the disjointed masses keep having problems.

One thing that people should be doing, at least, is not giving any more money to the Democrats. Money should be donated to PAC's and interest groups that do things you like. Donating to the Democrats is throwing away your money. As is donating to very general groups like MoveOn whose unfocused nature makes them rather worthless (in my mind).

Posted by Chatham at August 2, 2011 09:58 PM

"But as far as Obama's policies go, he a) told the world in speeches about rightwing things he was going to do, b) did rightwing things while in office, c) had rightwing friends who he praised for doing rightwing things, d) admired rightwingers for things that were either i) rightwing or ii) bullshit memes that rightwingers loved, e) had the support of really powerful antipopulist interests* and f) said things or maintained policies that were obviously deceptive or lies that only made sense if he was planning on doing something terrible instead.

One could conclude from this that he was a rightwinger."

Lest this just be seen as an attempt to re-start our flame-war, I'll say I'm largely in agreement with you, through this thread. But I do have to add this "g)" to your list and come to another conclusion: g) and after all of these obvious things, the most powerful and influential institutions of American liberalism, either supported and made excuses for all of the above, then one could conclude, the the INSTITUTIONS of American liberalism have degraded and become significantly more "right-wing" (although I would argue pro-corporate, anti-populist, and pro-militarist are less distracting descriptors).

And, of course, one could say essentially the same thing about European social democracy.

This was an attempt to tamp down the flame-war by providing a more accurate description of my original point, because obviously by just saying "liberals" instead of the "INSTITUTIONS of American liberalism," I obviously offended some who still think of themselves as liberals, but if No One of Consequence or anyone else responds but just calling me an asshole liar, they will be ignored.

Posted by Rojo at August 2, 2011 11:48 PM

"by just calling" not "but just calling."

I beg apologies for any other grammatical mistakes I may have made.

Posted by Rojo at August 2, 2011 11:49 PM

As usual: too much emphasis on personalities, if you ask me.

If you applied for, and are hired as a salesman at a used car dealership, then selling lemons is what you do, whether you grieve for the suckers who buy them, or you gloat. Whether you 'want' to sell lemons, or 'forced by the circumstances' to sell lemons is impossible to ascertain, and completely irrelevant. You got the job, you do your job.

Posted by abb1 at August 3, 2011 02:12 AM

RickRolling is mentioned above. I'd like to say a few words in favor of Mr. Astley. The wholesome devotion that his most famous song promises, a lifetime of love, represents one of the deepest longings of the human heart.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at August 3, 2011 06:37 AM

@Chatham

I didn't like anybody at first, because I'm kind of a commie, but Edwards advanced the closest to what I believe in, and so it shouldn't be surprising his affair was used to keep him out of the office, much like Clinton's sexuality was used to tarnish the Democratic Party's image (so that nobody looks at issues).

Posted by LT the commie at August 3, 2011 07:11 AM

"Whether you 'want' to sell lemons, or 'forced by the circumstances' to sell lemons is impossible to ascertain, and completely irrelevant. You got the job, you do your job."

This is true, but some Obamaphiles defend what he does as the actions of a progressive who is doing exactly what he should be doing for progressive positions given the circumstances. They say we need to do grassroots organizing, but we have to stay unified and never say anything bad about him. Being the smart 11 dimensional chess player and community organizer that he is, he knows exactly what he can do and what he can't. He's the grownup who only cares about achievement and his leftwing critics are babies who engage in "poutrage" and only care about striking poses and don't know how to do anything else. Obama only takes rightwing positions (not that they use those words) as a way of exposing the radicalism of the Republicans--by offering them 95 percent of what they want, only to see them reject it, he is cleverly exposing them to the public for what they are.

Professed radicals really do say these things, so unfortunately it's hard to avoid talking about Obama the person and what his motives are. Or one could avoid that and painstakingly point out example by example why Obama's positions are counterproductive for progressive goals, why it's really not good if you believe in Keynesian stimulus policies to have a President endorsing austerity in a recession no matter how good a community organizer he supposedly was (and is, if you believe these people). But you won't get very far.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 3, 2011 08:18 AM

The building boom should assuage our concerns?

Posted by Dredd at August 3, 2011 10:17 AM

This continuing focus on the person of the President, regardless of who it is, misses the point badly. It is not the President that is the problem, it is the Presidency.
It is the fundamental institutional framework of the government and the two parties that should be the focus of our attention, not this endless characterization of whoever holds the office.
Structurally what we have (until now) is a functioning two party coalition government ~ let me repeat ~ a coalition government who job it is, like every government, to protect the means of wealth production, populism be damned.
That is why we hear the unending cries for 'bipartisanship' and 'compromise', without which a coalition government cannot function. It is the defense of the status-quo. As long as that status-quo provides obscene wealth for a few and cheap gas and TV for the rest, it works.
But what is different now is the addition of a set of legislators who do not hold to that paradym. They hold to a fundamentalist religious view of impending apocalypse and their holy mission is to guide the world toward the fulfillment of that view.
Let us put this into perspective: President Obama is doing what the President ~must do~, protect the integrity of the union so that the businessmen, who are licensed to do business in the various States, can best go about their business. That's what the job description is. The Presidency has nothing, nothing to do with the general welfare of the citizenry, except to stave off insurrections. You can cry all you want to about betrayals and such, but it's like crying about the tooth fairy. The political machinery is structured, and has been since the founding, for the purpose of accumulating and concentrating capital in the hands of a few. The "popular" opposition to the status-quo is an ultra-right-wing fundamentalist religious orthodoxy.
These are the political operatives at work today. The socialists were purged from the Democratic Party and the Unions decades ago.
Refocus.

Posted by Stephen Malagodi at August 3, 2011 10:49 AM

> "The Presidency has nothing, nothing to do with the general welfare of the citizenry"

This presidency has nothing to do with it, I think we all agree, but I assume your point was normative not descriptive, in which case you're simply wrong. The promotion of the general welfare of the citizenry is explicitly stated in the US Constitution as one of its goals, hence of its government structure (and I say this as someone who's no big fan of that antiquated document).

Posted by bobs at August 3, 2011 11:41 AM

We are long past the expiration date for denying that the Obama we now know— through his actions rather than his words —is anything other than the real Obama. We must come to grips with the fact that much of the rhetoric we heard during the campaign was fraudulent—or more charitably, that we heard only what we wanted to hear. How many ominous signals did we ignore during the campaign?

Right, so wheretf does the follow-up paragraph about misplaced blame come from? This does not a consistent argument make. Egos believing themselves qualified to write for the public should first have to experience the displeasure of sitting under the teachings of some version of a Dr. Lester Pollard.

Posted by Amandasaurus at August 3, 2011 11:44 AM

No one here is complaining about betrayal, Stephen. If you want that, head on over to Kos.

I'm more than a little tired of people making the facile claim that "it's the institutions, not the person," mostly because the first thing they do is incorporate a false dichotomy between institutions and individuals. False dichotomies are the favored tool of an aristocracy ("Serve me or the Boogeyman will get you!") of religious power grabs ("Worship me as I say or the Devil will get you!") and, it seems, ridiculous political science.

The false dichotomy here is that for the institution to be a serious problem, the president cannot be. This is inane. There is nothing to suggest that the presidency and the institutions surrounding him are inversely proportional in power. Nothing. This is made-up bullshit. I admit it's appealing. It's appealing for the same reason the "controlled explosion" meme is appealing to Truthers. It's appealing for the same reason that black helicopters* are appealing to rightwing U.N. haters. It's more on-its-face reasonable-feeling than those positions, but it's still the result of a longing to fit the world into an asthetically-pleasing structure more than something that's remotely fact-based.

If the institutions were in complete control of every federal public office-holder, even the farce of the elections would be dispensed with. Right now much of the conflict between parties and pundits is political theater, but it occurs precisely because there's enough factionalization to create the squabbling. Indeed, our aristocracy is faced with the same dilemma all organized crime groups (and the vast majority of human governments -- nearly the same circle on a Venn diagram) are faced with: once you have a stable system of interfaction relations, how do you secure power such that the extortion racket is perpetual and no one in your outfit need fear a rival gang again?

Voters can still elect the "wrong" candidate for precisely this reason (among others, but this is good enough to counter this silly notion). Aristocracies share common interests, but they don't have the exact same interests, so they can't consolidate power -- and the only way to strip even the vestiges of democracy from the U.S. would require such extreme unification. The presidency is captured insofar as the parties are captured, and the parties are captured insofar as the constituency is captured. And while the Republican constituency will be the bitch of the aristocracy forever -- there's always a group like that in every human population -- the Dems are a different critter. And within the Dems is a group of people that, given the contrast between their rhetoric and their actions, deserves the title "traitor" far more than any President ever has. And while I think discussin that group in terms of betrayal is pointless or foolish, talking about the nature of that entity and how to thwart it is very important indeed, because if it were inoperable, it would crack Dem stranglehold over its own constituency. And if one didn't think that was important, I would advise such a person to take their notions of phantom institutional dominance versus empty limp-dicked offices and throw in ancient astronauts** and the Reptoids, because you literally won't get any stupider and EVERYTHING is better with scaled alien humanoids.

Everything.

*Black helicopters have the advantage of being extremely cool, though. Seriously. If I find out that the U.S. is increasing its fascist practices BUT is using black helicopters to do it, I'd actually call that morally a wash.

**A deep-set part of me is still holding out on ancient astronauts. Who wouldn't want to find the Goa'uld? Okay, probably people who don't want to be enslaved, but still. . .

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 3, 2011 12:22 PM

Anyone who thinks this posting is focused on a single person is missing the point. As I've said many times, Bush catalyzed dissent but Obama euthanizes it. This is true not just of Obama but any Democratic president--if this were 2000 I'd be saying it about Clinton. And this function of the Democrats, in their role as the
boundary-setting liberal mainstream party, is critical to maintaining elite (meaning mainly corporate) control over society; as many people have pointed out, what Obama and the Democrats are doing right now to dismantle years of social progress wouldn't have been possible under a Republican president.

As long as the US left treats the Democrats as an ally rather than an enemy, it will continue to be irrelevant. That doesn't necessarily mean not voting for Democrats, by the way, but it does mean voting for them at most tactically and not allowing that to take away for one millisecond from the hard work of building alternatives and pushing for meaningful change. But as I've also said before, the main danger of leftists aligning themselves with the Democrats even tactically is that human beings are wired to rationalize the failings of my team, no matter who my team may be or the reasons why they're my team at this moment.

And that's why Obama matters: because he's convinced millions on the left (and I mean the actual left, not just mainstream liberals) that he's on their side and deserves the benefit of the doubt from them. Every person who adopted a wait-and-see rather than guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude made it just that much easier for him to do what he's done. The irony of this criticism is that it's Obama's legions of fans who are not only focused on an individual, but so exquisitely focused on him that they've rendered themselves politically irrelevant.

Posted by John Caruso at August 3, 2011 12:37 PM

Great comment, NOoC (it snuck by while I was posting mine).

Posted by John Caruso at August 3, 2011 12:41 PM

For three years, I've been pounding my fist. There is no two party system. Any person believing that is a moron.

It has become one giant mongrel dog party, the ruling class. Fighting the nuances of the ruling class is insane. Comparing Bush to Obama is insane. They are the same enemy. They don't care about public service. They don't care about this country. They don't care about Main St. All they care about is enriching themselves, and grabbing power. We haven't had a true selfless public servant since Reagan and I could make a case that he wasn't much of one either. But at least he had integrity where the last 20 years worth of ruling class- has none. A snip...

I really don't see how all the people who enthusiastically supported Obama caused much more harm than the people who unenthusiastically supported him.

I was one of 500k that voted Libertarian and for Bob Barr. I am damn proud of that. I didn't vote for either member of the ruling class. I vote the party of principle. If you can't "waste" your vote on the things that matter- then by all means go waste your vote in 2012 on another member of the ruling class...

DO THE SAME THING. GUARANTEE THE SAME RESULT.

Posted by Frankenstein Government at August 3, 2011 01:10 PM

Institutions may not be in complete control of the office-holders, but anyone who can possibly become an office-holder has to be already conditioned to conform to institution's goals. There is (usually) no need to control, it's achieved by self-control. Read Manufacturing Consent.

I really do believe that individuals don't matter; there will always be someone fit to serve as a president, who will be selected president. I would really prefer to talk about 'Obama administration', rather than 'Obama'.

'Obama' is a human being with passions, desires, ambitions, compassion, ego, etc. Human being is a mystery, especially in high pressure situations. 'Obama administration', on the other hand, is an entity that can be analyzed objectively, and independent of 'Obama'.

Posted by abb1 at August 3, 2011 02:08 PM

I really don't see why one can't talk about institutions and individuals at the same time.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." -Karl Marx

I agree with this, aside from the gender exclusive "Men". This is why one can (and should) rail against both the current actions of Obama and the institutions that have created, nurtured, placed, and supported Obama.

Posted by Rojo at August 3, 2011 02:28 PM

I would really prefer to talk about 'Obama administration', rather than 'Obama'.

What you still don't seem to be getting is that the purpose of this posting (and others like it) is exactly what you're saying: to get people to stop focusing on Obama, and instead to look at the policies he's implementing in his institutional role. I talk about the "Obama administration" frequently, but in postings like this I'm specifically addressing the misguided loyalties that turn left activists into self-negating cheerleaders for their ideological enemies.

Posted by John Caruso at August 3, 2011 02:58 PM

I'm not criticizing you, John; you're fine.

Nevertheless, speculations concerning the personality are typical for this kind of discussion, on all sides.

Posted by abb1 at August 3, 2011 04:14 PM
Money should be donated to PAC's and interest groups that do things you like.

I disagree with vehemently. A major problem with our political system is that it is based on bribery. I can't think of any way to change this that involves continued bribery, even if they are "good" bribes.

Posted by saurabh at August 3, 2011 05:00 PM

"I disagree with vehemently. A major problem with our political system is that it is based on bribery. I can't think of any way to change this that involves continued bribery, even if they are "good" bribes."

Yeah count me as an amen on that. Don't bribe, organize!

Not that I'm doing a whole lot of it lately, so I don't want to pull a holier-than-thou, but organizing so as to be disruptive and costly to the ruling class is the only way to achieve even ameliorative measures under the current political system, and, as a two-fer, helps train people for the necessary work that a real change will require.

Posted by Rojo at August 3, 2011 07:25 PM

I don't think giving money to groups whose views and actions you support would be "bribery", but maybe I'm misunderstanding something here. Not that giving money to worthy groups is going to be enough on its own.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 3, 2011 07:38 PM

I think the distinction that I was reading in, Donald, was the difference between sending money into groups that lobby Congress (say the PIRGS) and groups that actually organize.

I've never been one who's ever been able to give any substantial money in anyway. My activism has always been more of the streets kind. Mostly with the IWW, and I of course paraphrased "don't bribe, organize," from IWW troubador Joe Hill's dictum, "don't mourn, organize," attributed to him as he was awaiting the firing squad on politically motivated charges.

All that gets to what I've said again and again on these comment threads. It is necessary to materially threaten the power and/or wealth of the ruling powers in order to wrest any concessions out of them whatsoever. All the better if one can do that through a revolutionary movement that pushes for (much less accomplishes) the over-throw of capitalism completely.

Needless to say, I don't think haggling over whether to send one's money to the Democrats or to some group that already buys into the two party duopoly is particularly productive.

Posted by Rojo at August 3, 2011 09:23 PM

On the other hand, I probably wouldn't look askance on contributing to certain groups that, in the absence of revolution, do do some yeoman's work on some nitty-gritty issues, such as, say, the ACLU, to name just one. But the ACLU are generally putting their money into actual court-room battles, as opposed to buying off politicians with donations, so that would also be a difference between bribes and organizing, even if it's not direct action, revolutionary organizing. Although it may be worth it to point out that the ACLU has its roots in the legal defense committee for the IWW.

Posted by Rojo at August 3, 2011 09:32 PM

Also, an open question to all that comment here: What are the differences, if you see any, between leftism and liberalism?

I ask because the conflation of the two seems to cause much confusion. Here and elsewhere.

Posted by Rojo at August 3, 2011 09:45 PM

NOoC

it's not like there was anyone else we could vote for.

Primary.

organizing and voting for Obama gave Americans a chance to repudiate 8 years of republican misrule,

This is not true. However, the extent of its wrongness is difficult to explain because the sentence is tremendously ambiguous.
a) If "repudiate" means "political theater," this is nonsensical because not all Americans wanted political theater and not everyone wanted to merely screw the republicans. There are a metric crapton of assumptions wrapped up in "repudiate," none of which are true.
b) If "repudiate" means "reject and replace with substantive different policies" then the general election did no such thing. That was the point. We kinda covered that in the last three years -- more if one was paying attention.

(I think you were responding to Ryan.)

In March of '08 I wanted to vote for Kucinich in the Texas primary.(Edwards, who I also had considered, was on the ballot but had already announced he had withdrawn. I think Edwards got around 5% of the Tx dem primary vote, mostly from absentee vote from before his withdrawal.)

However Kucinich was not allowed on the ballot by the Texas state democratic party because they had insisted he needed to pledge to support the eventual nominee, which he didn't. I ended up voting for Ron Paul, not because I liked his social policy or thought he could win the GOP nomination, because I didn't, on either score.

I voted for Paul because the most important thing to me at the time was to vote for a candidate who was unambiguously in favor of withdrawing from Iraq, and Kucinich, Edwards, and Paul passed that test for me. (Even though of course Edwards had voted to authorize in 2002.)

Is it wrong to approach voting that way? I don't know, but Obama and Hillary C. both danced around what they meant to do in Iraq in elegant neoliberal fashion, so they were unacceptable to me.

(Of course Kucinich ended up supporting Obama, so maybe he was just trying to demonstrate his "feistiness" and didn't think anybody in Texas was going to vote for him in the primary, so what the hell. He did pledge his Iowa delegates to BHO, which struck me as bizarre at the time, but maybe it was an expression of fealty.)

I imagine in 2012 I will vote Green or stay home.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at August 3, 2011 11:25 PM

An old comedy line: "Doc, when I eat tomatoes, I shit red, when I eat lettuce I shit green, when I eat cheese I shit yellow, what's wrong with me? Very simple, dear lady, if you want your shit to look like shit, just eat shit."

This is the dems' problem. They want to shit like Republicans while eating arugula.

Posted by bobs at August 4, 2011 12:26 AM

"A major problem with our political system is that it is based on bribery."

This is true, and I would be in favor of campaign finance reform. But until that happens, I don't see any problem with trying to get the most progress out of the current system. If you are able to effectively do that through organizing (and it's true that a lot of the advantages of organizing are often ignored), great. But if their were, say, an effective lobby that was successful in primary-ing people who are against universal healthcare, and getting ones who favor it elected, I wouldn't think twice about donating.

Posted by Chatham at August 4, 2011 12:37 AM
In March of '08 I wanted to vote for Kucinich in the Texas primary.(Edwards, who I also had considered, was on the ballot but had already announced he had withdrawn. I think Edwards got around 5% of the Tx dem primary vote, mostly from absentee vote from before his withdrawal.)

This shit happened to me, too.

Well, actually, it was a national phenomenon, so it happened to all of us, but I take it personally.

But here's the salient point: why do you think the primary fight is so intense? And who do you think sandbags it?

The very serviles the original post criticizes are the reason why counter-establishment candidates get kicked off the primary. That's the point. The primary (and hence the general) wasn't Repug-versus-Dem. That's bullshit. It was rightwing Dems versus everyone else, and you don't win by getting your candidate elected, you win by eliminating any candidate you don't want. (And you'd better pull that off because, as we discussed above Officeholders Are Important.) You were disappointed once Edwards dropped out and Kucinich was toasted. I was disappointed far, far sooner, once I realized that well-off white Dems were going to jump in bed with the media and accept the Clinton versus Obama framework (and I knew Clinton was toast once she did the same).

So the isssue wasn't voting, it was campaigning and framing and ruthless attacking LONG BEFORE the candidates had even gotten warmed up. I called it for Obama and called the Edwards dropout and packed my trash and headed home long before any of those things happened. The moment all those anti-Bush folks who seemed to have a transformative moment since the Clinton era turned out to be the same assholes as before but were, indeed, merely concerned about the flavor of their imperialism, I knew that the game was over.

I'd make an analogy to CCGs and deck creation as opposed to actual play, but there aren't enough geeks here to make that even remotely intelligible.

So it's not wrong to vote against the Establishment by backing some less-preferred counterestablishment character, but that's not the "point of control," to take a page from cell biology and business-speak. The game is won when you're defining your candidates. This is why skilled politicians (e.g., people who are not Hillary Clinton) pick a weak rival and make him the Enemy, such that the media, which is obsessed with The Numer Two, will frame the complex race as "these two guys and some assholes." (She picked Obama. Fucking moron.)

Again, the point of control in a primary is early on, when candidates are identifying themselves and establishing their relationship with the media. Neither Kucinich nor Edwards (nor Dean) did anything to use media hostility to their ends; they could learn a lot from rightwing Republicans on that score.

Incidentally:

I can't vote for Paul because of his racism, though I think it might morally acceptable that one votes for him because of his imperialism stance (not that his votes in Congress really back that up, but still. . .). End mass-murder abroad versus racism and batshit insanity at home? Eh. (And I've said publicly I'd vote for an out-and-out white supremacist who'd definatively end the drug war because that candidate would, on balance, be better for minorities than an "enlightened" person who was sweet on our present prison system.) So Paul is kinda a moral wash -- by the standards of the Deep, Yog-Sothoth-Level Evil that we usually concern ourselves with here.

* * *

I am deeply disappointed in myself that I couldn't find a way to work the Goa'uld into a post again. I feel I reached some kind of blogosphere high point that I will never again obtain. :-(

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 4, 2011 11:17 AM
But if their were, say, an effective lobby that was successful in primary-ing people who are against universal healthcare, and getting ones who favor it elected, I wouldn't think twice about donating.

Of course you wouldn't, because we've institutionalized a system where our political participation is measured in dollar amounts, and where political victories are won by dollar counts - or, at the very least, you can't play the game if you can't meet the ante. This is not a problem that will disappear easily or idly, thanks to "campaign finance reform" or some other such.

Americans' political disengagement has been a century in the making, and it requires effort to undo. That is, the effort of us getting off our asses and doing some actual work, not just sending off a check to the appropriate bribery committee.

Posted by saurabh at August 4, 2011 02:12 PM

I understand the urge to gripe about those who all too blindly bought into what Obama was selling. But at least they realize that they made an error. Now wtf do we do about all those who still blindly support him?

Posted by willf at August 4, 2011 03:55 PM

@Ryan (2Aug 06:11pm) "[...]but it's not like there was anyone else we could vote for."

Why vote at all? It's hardly like it matters. Besides, it only encourages them.

Posted by RedPhillip at August 4, 2011 04:40 PM
I am deeply disappointed in myself that I couldn't find a way to work the Goa'uld into a post again.

Eh, you get plenty of points for Yog-Sothoth.

Posted by saurabh at August 4, 2011 05:05 PM

"That is, the effort of us getting off our asses and doing some actual work, not just sending off a check to the appropriate bribery committee."

Well, they're not mutually exclusive, and they have their own advantages. If you want to be a national organization, you're going to want to at least have an office somewhere that can coordinate things, and you'd ideally want people at the organization who were working full time handling issues. All of that takes money. Also there are some groups like the ACLU where it's pretty hard to support them by organizing (I'm not even sure where I'd begin), but pretty easy through donations.

Posted by Chatham at August 4, 2011 07:53 PM
If you want to be a national organization, you're going to want to at least have an office somewhere that can coordinate things, and you'd ideally want people at the organization who were working full time handling issues. All of that takes money.

See, say, "Bowling Alone" on the subject of the evolution of political activism from many locally-based groups that involved an actually engaged citizenry to the money-seeking national organizations of the modern era, where "membership" comes only in the form of a monthly check.

I'd argue that these two forms ARE mutually exclusive, since the latter has replaced, rather than augmented, the former. The latter implies centralized authority and hence decision-making. The former implies, you know, democracy. It is not a virtue to send a check to any organization, no matter how noble its mission - not when that is a substitute for concerted action on your own part. And, let's be honest, it is a substitute, isn't it?

Posted by saurabh at August 4, 2011 08:04 PM
Posted by: willf at August 4, 2011 03:55 PM

Now wtf do we do about all those who still blindly support him?

That's the theme of many liberal sites. Here, I think we can say it straight-out: you treat them like political enemies, just as you would any rightwinger, but count them as far more dangerous.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 4, 2011 08:29 PM

"That's the theme of many liberal sites. Here, I think we can say it straight-out: you treat them like political enemies, just as you would any rightwinger, but count them as far more dangerous."

Amen to that!

Why were we fighting again?

Posted by Rojo at August 4, 2011 09:22 PM

I couldn't vote for Ron Paul because of his belief in the Austrian fairy tales of Hayek and Von Mises.

Posted by Jeff65 at August 4, 2011 11:18 PM

What is OUR ultimate political goal? Perhaps central organizing is not necessary to achieve that goal.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 4, 2011 11:42 PM

♥ Jeff65

Posted by Amandasaurus at August 5, 2011 12:15 AM

Caruso's point is that we might have been wrong. I still would have supported Obama over McCain knowing what I know now. However, I thnk I would have supported Clinton, and should have supported Clinton, back in 2007-08. Krugman waved all the proper red flags, but I was to blind to see that a guy who teaches at the University of Chicago might have some pretty neo-liberal economic ideas.

Posted by rickstersherpa at August 5, 2011 09:23 AM

Rick, there wouldn't have been any significant difference between HRC and Obama. They're all neoliberal types. There was some hope (to coin a phrase) that Obama might have been a bit to the left of the Clintons, but I think it was clear before the primaries ended that this was illusory.

On lesser of two evils voting, I flipflop. I can't even remember for sure how I voted in 2008 (seriously). I remember thinking maybe I should vote for Obama since the press never pays attention to non-two party votes and I wanted to add my infinitesimal contribution to the repudiation of Bush,but I also remember feeling a huge sense of disgust at the prospect of pulling the lever for Obama. I can't remember the outcome of this micro-drama. Doesn't matter anyway.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 5, 2011 01:58 PM

I can't remember the outcome of this micro-drama. Doesn't matter anyway.

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way.
But people don't live or die, people just float.
She went with the man in the long black coat.

Bob Dylan - but listen to Joan Osborne's version

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at August 5, 2011 03:16 PM

mistah charley

I went to college with bob dylan's daughter. The old poet was still in his newly christian phase then, and she was a sweet Jewish girl living in the German house and dating a Jewish boy who couldn't quite fathom why she was living in THAT place. I thought it that situation kind of funny. Later, whenever I heard people bragging of famous people they knew, I would dryly remark that I had gone to college with bob dylan's daughter, until one time someone said "you know maria" and I had to cut that shit out.

All that is a much more vivid memory for me than donald johnson's vote in 2008 apparently is for him, perhaps because the game is rigged so playing isn't really such a thrill. Anyway, thinking back on those days of youthful energy reminds me of Rutger Hauer's soliloquey in Bladerunner. Behold the memories we all must sooner or later surrender to oblivion!

By the way, I "resolved" a dispute today consumating in a splendid way some painstaking efforts that quite literally have saved the life of someone a health insurer had tried to kill, (without them meaning any harm, of course) because they didn't quite get the job done. My lovely client told me upon completion of our efforts to undo this wrong, during our joint celebration, that he considered me surely an angel sent by God. That assessment cracks me up while simultaneously thrilling me, because all in all, being angel sent by God isn't so bad, assuming the Big Fella Upstairs exists and isn't as sadistic as he sometimes seems. I myself prefer being an ass-kicker to being an angel, but that's beside the point. What really cracks me up is Caruso reflecting upon this unseemly development.

"The age of Obama"--what a load of crap.

Posted by N E at August 5, 2011 06:33 PM

Obama is just like ALL past presidents, including FDR, SELLIN' U to the rich folks. He IS very hope inspiring and change making in the fact that he is black. Very few seem interested in prosecuting the white guys for much more than a blowjob. He's pretty much "stayed-the-course" that Deadeye and his pet goat, Codpiece set US on. IMHO "More-of-the-same" pretty much describes the situation. I'm throughly surprised WE aren't COMPLETELY used to it as WE are WILLINGLY going along. At least he got Bin Laden. ALL The Goat had was a "Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive" teeshirt.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 5, 2011 08:59 PM

The basic problem of politics is one of conflicting values, and the trick of modern politics is that you can lie about those values with perfect aplomb. What's amazing isn't that you can lie; what's amazing is that the lies are considered "true," by definition. The modern world is nearly totally credible in religion and political philosophy, so anyone expressing a value of X will be either considered to hold that value or X will be deemed to mean nothing. And this continues because everyone who plays that game gets to benefit from it as well; if one claims to have Y as a priority, and, well, you don't, no one will call you on your shit. Worst case scenario, cynics or nihilists will declare Y meaningless.

This is a powerful phenomenon. With it, you can claim, er, "allies" who share your value, even though said value doesn't mean shit to you. You can exclude at will as well, or shove someone into the box of your choosing. Plus, nearly every word that endures this treatment gets tainted, so now people who actually have that value can't even use it without adding qualifiers. It should go without saying that you should not have, as an ally, someone who lies to you and doesn't share your values, but it doesn't go without saying nowadays because the establishment really doesn't like it when certain ideas are called out as lies and their proponents called out as liars. But, if you want to survive and thrive, you'd better do it.

A completely over-the-top example was Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" which -- well, the lie should be pretty obvious. But that's the point. As the takedown I linked to makes clear, the value is the lie itself, not its quality. Lies are enforced as true by social pressure, violence, and obstinancy, not by cleverness.

So if you're picking enemies -- far more important than picking allies -- be prepared to have words actually mean something. If you're dealing with someone who asserts the Nazis were socialist because they were clever enough to stick "socialism" into their party name, you're dealing with, at best, an insulting and mendacious person. (The worst-case scenario is that you're close to associating with someone backing a pogrom as horrendous as any in U.S. history.) Humanity is locked in a tribal conflict, and the first rule of tribalism is "who's in my tribe?" If it is impossible to even define your tribe without an enmy being able to make a lie of that definition, you've lost before you've begun. If anyone is going to have a chance of making life better for most people in this country, simply not trusting blatant, self-serving liars is probably the zeroth step.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 5, 2011 10:28 PM

A note on the notion that offices don't matter:

The proposed "Super Congress" where 12 congressmen get to escape accountability while enacting seriously antipopulist legislation is the most clear example of boring, old-school political science I think I've ever seen. The entire point -- the only point -- of such a council is to allow congresspeople to plunder their constituents without any electoral reprisal. It is a direct attack on the citizens.

Why bother with any of that shit if offices don't matter? Why would the Secret Masters and their Templar Agents need to bother with such constructions? Shouldn't classical political science vis-a-vis democracy be completely irrelevant at this point?

Tell you what, I'll pretend to be as shocked to discover that the Bavarians don't control everything as I was to discover that, in fact, Keynes was right about all that economics stuff.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 5, 2011 10:28 PM

"A note on the notion that offices don't matter:"

I hope that wasn't a response to me--between this thread and the one over at John's blog I've lost track of who said what, but anyway, when I said it didn't matter who I voted for in 2008 I was being very literal. Where I live there was no chance Obama wouldn't win and in my state I don't think the Green Party has any clout that I know of (which I don't mean as Green Party bashing). It does matter who is in the office, but not which lever I finally ended up pulling. (Multiply by ten million and of course it does matter.)

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 5, 2011 11:00 PM


I stumbled on some people acting special in this comment section--

link

I can understand the lesser of two evils argument. I've bought into it myself in some elections. It may not be right but it's not crazy to think that in the short term you should vote for scummy party X because it would cause less harm than scummy party Y, since genuinely good party Z doesn't have a prayer of winning. The drawbacks to this argument have been pointed out here and other places, but a person could vote this way in good faith.

What I don't like is the unwillingness to think about the down side of voting for the lesser evil. Every time a liberal votes for the Democrat no matter what (or worse, pretends the Democrat is a progressive champion) it gives the Democrats room to move further right. (With apologies to no one for using the terms left and right, but I can't think of a good substitute right now.) These folks claim to be the grownup mature types and instead of facing up to the problem, they just use ridicule.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 6, 2011 12:05 AM

Donald: You're right, lesser-evilism enables the lesser evil to become less lesser. We've seen this time and again with every Dem president moving to the right of the previous republicans, with the result of Obama now standing way to the right of Nixon.

But there's another dimension to the issue: Once Obama knows that the editorialists at the Nation and the American Prospect will vote for him no matter what he does "because they have nowhere else to go," he has no rational reason ever to listen to them on any topic whatsoever. I assume the first thing he did upon moving into office was to cancel the White House's subscriptions to these magazines. If the tea party was not willing to inflict punishment on its own side, it would have disappeared a long time ago. What people precommitted to Obama fail to realize is how completely irrelevant they are.

Posted by bobs at August 6, 2011 12:18 PM

geez, EVERYONE knows they are irrelevant

Posted by N E at August 6, 2011 01:13 PM

Funny one, NE! Why don't you ask Al Gore if Naderites are irrelevant?

Posted by bobs at August 6, 2011 02:33 PM

Touche' bobs! His Omnniscient Omnipotencia certainly does mess with us now and again by letting us know now and again that what EVERYONE Knows is sometimes wrong.

That being said, I think it would be great to go through life pretending that every issue hangs in the balance like we're Naderites in Florida in 2000 (though frankly I think the fix was in anyway). The thing is, no one ever knows in advance that he holds the deciding vote, the critical opinion, or the keys to the Kingdom, so I think that argument is flawed. We're all just one of gazillions, doing our own things, either too busy or too bored, and powerless in isolation. From a foresight perspective, as opposed to using the benefit of hindsight, each of us really basically is irrelevant. Almost always, the outcome will be the same no matter what each of us in isolation does. To overcome that, we have to form structures and agreements that let us break that impasse by uniting.

Unity. That's the ticket, and I think that's where all the bitterness has come from at Obama. He claimed to be creating unity to effect real change, but he wasn't, and I'm sure he knew it. That was just politics necessary to do what he could, and he could hardly say "Yes, we'll do our best!" or "Yes, we'll see what we can do!" That just wouldn't have been too inspirational. But among the problems caused by using rousing empty rhetoric without living up to it is the problem of fraud.

Posted by N E at August 7, 2011 06:49 AM

You wanna read some unconscious stuff? Here's Robert Reich's spin on the debt downgrade. You cannot make this shit up. http://robertreich.org/post/8542550924

Back home, I was forced to take him out to the woodshed.

Posted by Frankenstein Government at August 7, 2011 10:52 AM

Thanks Frankie, I think Reich is absolutely right. The Money guys still think they are right about absolutely everything, and failure has only made them more adamant about it.

Posted by N E at August 7, 2011 11:41 AM

Arthur Silber hated this piece by David Westen in the NYT today and while I agree with Arthur that it should have been obvious what Obama is all about back in 2008, and more generally that it's not some weird accident that someone like Obama wins the Democratic nomination rather than someone with a conscience, I'm just happy to see someone in the mainstream writing in a very prominent place in the NYT that Obama is a centrist and as such is helpful to the far right. In my somewhat limited experience you don't reach people who fell for Obama by telling them they were idiots. You try to separate out the people who can be convinced by evidence (even if very belatedly) from those who refuse. Some take longer than others. (I'm not always too swift on the uptake myself.)

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 7, 2011 12:20 PM

That doesn't necessarily mean not voting for Democrats, by the way, but it does mean voting for them at most tactically and not allowing that to take away for one millisecond from the hard work of building alternatives and pushing for meaningful change.

Bingo....

I am always astounded that ideas such as the above just seem to be lost...People can only seem to think of voting for this or that candidate and that's it. The actual hard work of activism and direct action and building true alternatives to the "election trap" is just gone...lost, I guess, with the rest of radical working class culture which at one time was as common as apple pie and baseball to the general population...Until that is recaptured, there isn't much hope for serious positive change that will benefit the vast majority of the worlds population let alone the USA.-Tony

Posted by tony at August 7, 2011 01:42 PM

NE: Somehow I don't feel irrelevant and I feel that neither is ANY citizen irrelevant.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 7, 2011 02:07 PM

Mike Meyer

No one is irrelevant in principle--I'm with you there. I like Tom Paine, Tolstoy, Jesus, John Donne, jon and mike, donald johnson, bobs, John Cleese, and all great humanistic thinkers, especially Caruso.

What I meant is that everyone KNOWS that they don't have much individual impact. And we know it because we don't. Not to say you can't add your light to the sum of all light, or if you're lucky cast the deciding vote, or even win the lottery, but by and large individual decisions and actions don't amount to much.

This makes me think that someone should write an insufferably boring essay on how consumerism and the individualism it breeds, which becomes narcissism, reduces politics to idiocy and inevitably leads to corporate pillaging. People who aren't united get nowhere in our political system, and capitalism prevents social unity by replacing values with products, aka toys for boys. Everyone is so busy playing with their toys that they can't do anything but gripe pathetically about how they have been screwed. Which they have been, but seriously, we're such a bunch of wimps. Our toughness has been outsourced.

Oh well, it will probably come back with a vengeance one day.

Posted by N E at August 7, 2011 07:24 PM

"People can only seem to think of voting for this or that candidate and that's it. The actual hard work of activism and direct action and building true alternatives to the "election trap" is just gone..."

Pretty much. I think a large part of it is that we've been pressed so much into believing that just the act of voting itself is a thing that should be praised (people feel proud if they vote, even if they aren't well informed and do nothing else), part of the reason is that people just don't see much of a viable way of influencing the system. There are other reasons too, of course, like laziness and apathy.

There are enough people out there, though. I mean, look at how much time people spend on political blogs. If these people (including us) even spent a fraction of that time getting organized and focused in a direction, they'd probably be able to get a lot done.

Organizing and focusing such a group is pretty difficult, though, so people tend to fall back to organizations that already exist if they want to get involved.

Posted by Chatham at August 7, 2011 07:56 PM

NE: I don't feel irrelevant because I call the Speaker of The House to explain MY positions on on issues I have strong opinions on.(1-202-225-0600. And I have for several years now.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 7, 2011 09:21 PM

Eh. I feel pretty small, but I like it this way.

Posted by Amandasaurus at August 7, 2011 11:41 PM

Amandasaurus: If YOU were but one of one million people that called each day then YOU could call once a week, VOICE YOUR VIEWS, and still be just one of a million, remaining small.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 8, 2011 12:57 AM

Wha?

Posted by Amandasaurus at August 8, 2011 01:02 AM

Let me add something to this debate that I think goes missing: as many people have observed above, the whole country is responding to Tea party pressure by moving to the right. It's fair to blame individual actors for their choices with respect to this problem, but on the whole it's to be expected that politics will move towards high pressure points.*

Where is the corresponding high-pressure point on the left? There are plenty of smart, wonderful people with good politics in this country. I find it hard to believe that all of them stay out of politics merely due to cynicism, or that they lack the necessary esprit de corps. It is notable that the Tea Party, which by all rights should be a lunatic fringe party, rode to power on the strength of support of several key billionaires and their powerful media and logistical organizations. Unfortunately for the left, there IS no corresponding billionaire elevating their candidates (no surprise). This is a power imbalance that has existed for a long time, decades, since the Powell Memo, at least. Steady erosive forces must win over time; in order to achieve balance, or better yet victory, that force must be counterbalanced.

In generations past the left drew its strength from the labor movement - in other words, the organized working class, which allows a coherent body of political theory to spread to enough people that it can be put into action. Thanks to the calcification of that movement as a political structure, and its decimation at the hands of right-wing politicians and the eroding American industrial base, that force no longer exists (and probably for the best, since it had such a limited vision). But it needs to be replaced by something else, and NOT something that is a purely political movement, like the Greens.

Right movements are fueled by the electrum of raw wealth; left movements need to draw their strength up from the ground: through roots in rich soil, and water beneath that. But we've become disorganized; our soil is parched and alkaline. We hardly know who our friends are any longer, and rarely speak to them.

IF political change has to come, it's at that level that it needs to happen: the level of the soil fungus and the earthworm. When those are dead, is it any wonder that the branches are dessicated and void of leaves?

Deducing the form of this fundament requires a greater feat of imagination. But in its rudest shape it's easy to see: an organization of folks around a body of political theory that serves their desires. Both of those need to be filled in long before it comes time to do battle with the political hydra.

----

* Versus physics.

Posted by saurabh at August 8, 2011 02:27 PM

and remember, IOKIYAR too

Posted by Jamie at August 8, 2011 06:15 PM

I think you meant "God Man"..

Posted by solerso at August 8, 2011 06:49 PM

IN AMERICA THE CHOKE POINT FOR POLITICAL ACTION IS THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE. Not the President nor ANY Senator as everything tables in The House. Reaching the Speaker is the key in any situation, its what WE HIRE representatives for its what wallstreet hires lobbyists for---to reach the Speaker.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 8, 2011 07:57 PM

Donald: Thanks for pointing out Silber's piece. He's a good blogger but, geez, that post dripping with self-indulgence (the second worst sin for a writer). Westen makes several good points, in fact, and I was surprised the Times published it. I think if Obama has lost the Westens of the world, he's toast.

Posted by bobs at August 8, 2011 09:09 PM

"I think if Obama has lost the Westens of the world, he's toast."

The Westens of the world really don't have much real effect on anything. They don't reflect an organized "interest" the way Wall Street and the military do, or even the way unions and cooperatives once did.

It is interests that politicians have to please, and the only really powerful interests of consequence we have left are Wall Street and the Pentagon. Obama can't take them on, and consequently the Westens of the world get disgusted with him, as they should.

But seriously, how long are people going to feign being shocked by this? Abolish the Senate. Make the political system much more democratic. Get rid of money in politics. etc. etc. etc. All that is going to be damn near impossible to do, but all these band-aids in the form of electing Presidents are just the easy way to pretend we're doing something real when we're not. This puts Presidents in the impossible position of trying to do things they can't and making imbelic excuses to people who have chosen to collectively deceive themselves. So they end up talking to us like we talk to our children in preschool. Thus, Richard Nixon said the 'ordinary American' is like the child in the family. Indeed.

How about we all grow up?

Posted by N E at August 8, 2011 10:14 PM

NE: Searching Obama's soul means zilch, its RESULTS the country needs. Sure Obama faces a Congress that wants to just plain get rid of him, (he's black donchano) and sure don't mind PUNISHING the country for electing him. Meanwhile YOU-GET-ROBBED. This whole debt debate basically was meant to rob wallstreet stockholders and is working well. (The Poor have only their TAXES, stockholders gots cash and LOTS of it.) Touching the "third rail" was just a fade, although the Tea Bag True Believers THOUGHT they had it OMHO.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 8, 2011 10:39 PM

saurabh-

I agree with most of what you said, though I would argue that one of the reasons why the labor movement was successful was because it had such a limited vision. I'm all for cross-pollination of movements, but I think when movements decide to incorporate too many different issues, they end up watering themselves down, alienating potential members, losing focus and in general becoming less influential.

But your right, the answer is to organize and find ways to apply pressure on the body politic. I'm still not sure about the best way to go about this, but I do think that those that have an online presence need to start focusing on how to connect that to local organizing.

Posted by Chatham at August 9, 2011 06:23 AM
I agree with most of what you said, though I would argue that one of the reasons why the labor movement was successful was because it had such a limited vision. I'm all for cross-pollination of movements, but I think when movements decide to incorporate too many different issues, they end up watering themselves down, alienating potential members, losing focus and in general becoming less influential.

I think this is flat-out wrong. The labor movement was at its strongest when it was at its most radical - read the founding charter of the CIO, the LEAST radical labor organization of its day. It is an open call for socialism. That kind of radicalism is what drove the labor movement to achieving the results it produced - minimum wage, eight hour day, etc. The eight hour day, now so enshrined that no one remembers it was a thing that had to be fought for, was something originally pressed for by anarchists. That is, it was successful when it was part of a movement seeking to overthrow the class structure and produce a better world - when it became a movement about winning narrow concessions in pay and working conditions for its members, it began to wane in strength.

Similarly, narrowing your vision to single-issues is NOT an effective way to prosecute politics, because it imagines that there is no connection between clean energy standards and regulation of commercial banks, etc. The only way in which this is more effective is from a fundraising perspective.

The problem is, this manner of organizing does not allow you to hold onto any political theory, because it attempts to pretend that the issue exists in a political vacuum. It does not - the world is intimately connected. By assuming that you can focus on a single issue, you are implying that there is no fundamental problem with our political and economic system, and our society only needs to be tweaked. No; we require a systemic change. Any truly successful movement must be based on a theory of that change. Otherwise you're not aiming to win - you're setting yourself up to lose, again and again for decades.

Posted by saurabh at August 9, 2011 02:29 PM

A major problem (one of many) is that too many liberals still buy into the End of History narrative, by which our system, sucky as it may be, is essentially the only one that can work. Politics is dead because not only justice but the concept of a theory of justice is dead. Rawls may have won the argument but he lost the war. Distribution is out; retribution is in.

Posted by bobs at August 9, 2011 04:01 PM

No; we require a systemic change. Any truly successful movement must be based on a theory of that change. Otherwise you're not aiming to win - you're setting yourself up to lose, again and again for decades.

I agree 100% with this have been saying on this blog and others for a few years now what is needed is a revolution...

Reforms are certainly good as far as they go and we should work hard to make them happen, but ultimately the economy has to be become democratic and not in private hands if the world is going to survive...as long as the economy is in private hands and there is a small minority that benefits off of the backs of everyone else, then we can expect things to get worse than they already are...

A big problem with the left-and by left I mean those that reject capitalism-is that it offers no compelling vision of what we want and desire. The left is very good a saying what is bad which, frankly, people can figure out on their own from personal experience, but it says next to nothing about what the alternatives are....and that is a big problem since i cant see how you can expect people to be willing to work for such change if they are not animated by some vision of something better..

Until that path is crossed we will always be fighting for reforms-which again are good since they make the world a better place-but the basic root of the problem-capitalism-will remain in place.-Tony

Posted by tony at August 9, 2011 04:22 PM
Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 5, 2011 11:00 PM

"A note on the notion that offices don't matter:"

I hope that wasn't a response to me

No, most certainly not. I was referring to the peculiar notion that no office, under any circumstances, matters EVER because the "system" is the problem -- and I'm trying really hard not to mock the notion even now.

I mean, seriously, I kinda like the notion if only because it immediately reminds me of David Icke and the Reptoids (the conspiracy theory that all of the world is run by reptilian aliens which both a) therefore absolves humanity of its greatest sins because it's the eeeevil aliens that did it and b) posits a world that is so much more stupidly awesome than actual reality my brain drifts to it whenever a lesser, less-balsy, conspiracy theory gets floated). Basically it shifts all moral failure from the individual office-holder to an ambiguous system and makes it impossible to consider electoral politics intelligibly for a variety of less-immediately-obvious reasons. . . and yet gives us no scaly goodness to compensate for its madness.

So unless your political ideology is approximately two steps removed from claiming the Queen of England nevr blinks EVAH!!!1!!!1!, then, um, nope, talking about something else.

Okay, I mocked the notion anyway; doesn't count, the sun was in my eye.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 6, 2011 12:05 AM


What I don't like is the unwillingness to think about the down side of voting for the lesser evil.

Well, that's your problem right there. You don't "think." You have to screw someone over that isn't you, so you do so and then, to tamp down that cognitive dissonance, you become arrogant and proud about your decision to throw someone else under the bus: that's how it's done.

Posted by: bobs at August 8, 2011 09:09 PM

He's a good blogger but, geez, that post dripping with self-indulgence (the second worst sin for a writer).

"Self-indulgence" is Silber's shtick, whether or not it's honest or intended as ironic (it seems generally ambiguous), the blogging equivalent of an insult comic's aggressive demeanor. As such, I would not say it's an actual unconscious or technical flaw, though I'd happily agree that ymmv.

Posted by: saurabh at August 9, 2011 02:29 PM

I think this is flat-out wrong. The labor movement was at its strongest when it was at its most radical. . .

Yup. What's needed are umbrella organizations that cover LOTS of issues that can give a bigger and bigger share of citizens a common tribe to hold to. (Chomsky has commented on this notion as well.) The Tea Party is united by mythology and hate; there is no "left" equivalent of that because there is no such thing as a coherent "left." It's no more absurd than dividing the world into two groups: criminals and non-criminals. Is there something that binds non-criminals together as a tribe? Not inherently. As such, we need people to identify with their neighbors for substantive reasons before any positive revolution of any sort has a chance. Alexis de Tocqueville got it exactly right (200 years early wtf!?!) when he predicted the isolation of the American people; non-rightwingers do not see the kind of commonalities that made the Tea Party an easy-to-form constituency (while it is bankrolled, at least). It's easy for people to discuss politics and say "I'm sure as hell not that!" but our intellectual culture is so polluted that there are few times where we say, confidently and publicly, "I'm definitely this!" That energy is diverted into professional sports.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 9, 2011 07:09 PM

I've just recalled something completely relevant to this topic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA-451XMsuY

Posted by Amandasaurus at August 10, 2011 12:57 AM

The tourist in Maine is lost, and asks a local "Which way to Millinocket?" The Mainer thinks for a moment, and then replies, "You cahn't get theah from heah."

And it was Lawrence "Yogi" Berra who said, "If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there."

==========

To be very prosaic about it, I'm agreeing with Tony, supra - we can't get to a better world by tinkering with a system that is rotten to its core/corpse - and we need to articulate where we want to go in order to have a chance of getting there.

Can it be done? Sometimes I'm optimistic, sometimes pessimistic. The optimist exclaims cheerfully, "This is the best of all possible worlds!" The pessimist replies, glumly, "I'm afraid you're right."

May the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside us, and guide us, through the metaphorical Night with the Light from Above - and have mercy on our souls, if any.

Posted by mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at August 10, 2011 06:48 AM

The great Yogi also said, among oh so much more: "Nobody wants to go there because it's so crowded."

mistah charley, it's so good to hear my favorite blessing to brighten my cynical spirit. Grazzi.

Posted by N E at August 10, 2011 08:00 AM
I'm agreeing with Tony, supra - we can't get to a better world by tinkering with a system that is rotten to its core/corpse - and we need to articulate where we want to go in order to have a chance of getting there.

Can it be done?

Yup, and you'll be happy to know it will be done! Yay! It is physically impossible for Western Civilization As We Know It to carry on in this matter, so change is inevitable!

The only issue at hand is whether or not this change will require the deaths of millions upon millions of poor people or not. That is really the only thing we're discussing here.

Your quote on optimism and pessimism is a paraphrase of something I often say. Indeed, I argue that optimism and pessimism are both the same fallacy, though optimism is worse. (Short reason: it encourages pride and apathy and smugness and simultaneously insults anyone who has a serious problem and tries to fix it.) Both foreclose possibilities for the sake of foreclosing them.

But I do think things are improving on one front, though it's difficult -- no, impossible -- to prove empirically. I think the notion of who we are is beginning to merge. The problem is is I don't think it's happening fast enough.

Additional good news are those environmental limits, though. If you get a push from Nature that doesn't kill your civilization, that's a strong motive for change. I think we'll get bigger pushes and they'll help galvanize this nacent pan-tribalism I'm talking about (which, hopefully, isn't itself a stress-induced hallucination).

Amandasaurus: the opening quote of that link incited the first time I ever claimed that Obama was an asshole. And now I can permanently associate the 2004 dem. conv. with a dance number. That's probably an objective improvement.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 10, 2011 01:05 PM

Well, its London that's burning and not New York, so there's something to be thankful for, but then again, the Japanese seem to be falling behind on their LEAKAGE issues. Half empty or half full, ah the question of the day. Out here on The Highway To Hell I see the President just missed the last exit ramp and I think I'm begining to smell smoke from up ahead. (Could just be London. I might be downwind of England, also)
At the RISK of being repetitive, IMHO The Fighting Clowns said it best.

Everyone's a Bozo on this bus
Zips and Beaners sittin' next to us
Are you a hostage
Are you a spy
Or just some berserker
Who's prepared to die
This bus
Is off
To war

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 10, 2011 01:45 PM

>> Indeed, I argue that optimism and pessimism are both the same fallacy

I find this statement confusing. How can a disposition be a fallacy? And why would either foreclose possibilities for the sake of foreclosing them? First you can't really mean foreclose -- but bias against. But they may well bias against possibilities for sound reasons. If you've been healthy all your life it's entirely rational to be optimistic about your health. Your third point: it's a bad thing. Why? Is the optimism of the will just a trite cliche?

Posted by bobs at August 10, 2011 01:50 PM

Well, its London that's burning and not New York,

Yes it is...Interesting the reaction in Europe regarding the austerity programs of the ruling class as compared to the USA...

I highly recommend Richard Estes-I think I have his name correct- over on American Leftist. He is always insightful and his articles always have lots of links for further reading and detail. He is also an anarchist like me so I might be biased to his views!-Tony

http://amleft.blogspot.com/

Posted by tony at August 10, 2011 03:59 PM

I'd say neither optimism nor pessimism are a problem in moderation, and especially if they're well-founded (i.e. based on objective analysis). Neither of which were true in the case of Obama supporters, of course, to bring it back to the point of the posting.

I remember talking with a few people in 2008 and saying it was a mistake to invest hope in Obama, and having them respond with, "So you want people to have no hope?!?" As though they couldn't imagine the idea that hope might come from anywhere but the anointed candidate of the faux-left corporate political party. One of the innumerable odious things about Obama is how he cynically manipulated that genuine, heartfelt need people had to be hopeful about the future for his own political advantage (by no means an innovation, of course, but Obama was particularly shameless about it).

Posted by John Caruso at August 10, 2011 05:20 PM

It's always fun to ask liberals why Romney would be so much worse than Obama: "How can you even suggest such a thing? Don't you know that Romney might fight 3 wars, keep Gitmo open, up renditions and drone attacks, surround himself with Wall Street appointees, focus on deficits over jobs, plan the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare, extend Bush's tax cuts, etc. Don't you realize Romney might even implement the health care program that Obama stole from him?"

"Wow, I am sorry I asked that question. God, that Romney surely sounds like an evil man! "

Posted by bobs at August 10, 2011 07:37 PM
Posted by: bobs at August 10, 2011 01:50 PM

How can a disposition be a fallacy?

All viewpoints are dependent upon underlying facts or assumptions. Optimism and pessimism in this case are referring to optimism and pessimism in human politics in general and with the values being implied by the readers of the blog. In this case, as in some others, both optimism and pessimism are the result of assumptions that are completely untrue, namely that things will improve for the entities one values on their own or that things cannot be improved. The central assumption between them is that there's not much one can or should do.

If things will improve naturally, without drastic action, then costly drastic action is a weak, or even unjustifiably immoral, strategy. As such, if the assumption of optimism is wrong, it unduly condemns demanding strategies. Worse, since many people are thoroughly screwed by the current political regime, it requires you to either ignore, dismiss, or delude onesself about those people who cannot possibly last long enough to get to the hypothetical "good times" that will naturally occur. Pessimism, similarly, ends up condemning strategies by weighing the scale in a different direction: failure instead of irrelevance. The problem there is obvious; if the assumption that any significant change is impossible is false, valid strategies will be dismissed precisely because they would actually be successful.

I'm speaking of a general, constant outlook here. If one is optimistic about a specific outcome, that's actually a different critter than being simply generically optimistic; same word, different usage. In that case one is just expecting a good or bad outcome based on relevant facts. If one is optimistic and pessimistic in turns, that's probably the latter usage. English is kinda annoying for philosophy, apparently.

Posted by: John Caruso at August 10, 2011 05:20 PM

I remember talking with a few people in 2008 and saying it was a mistake to invest hope in Obama, and having them respond with, "So you want people to have no hope?!?"

The word "hope" does not mean what they think it means.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 10, 2011 10:29 PM

THERE CAN NEVER EVER EVER BE A PESSIMISTIC REVOLUTIONARY, only revolting ones.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 10, 2011 10:47 PM

why Romney would be so much worse than Obama

I'm moderately pleased with Kagan and Sotomayor.
I can't say that for Alito and Roberts.

Posted by joel hanes at August 11, 2011 05:56 AM

No one of consequence--You should consider starting your own blog. I don't always agree with you, but don't have to in order to recognize you're one of the most consistently interesting commenters.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 11, 2011 09:09 PM

NoC: If you see optimism as a cause of diminished agency (and the argument you give in favor of that proposition is cogent), then I agree with your conclusion. But I think many will see optimism as a source of increased agency: using an optimistic disposition to trigger a difficult course of action they might not otherwise have found the energy for.

Hanes: Hard to dispute that, but if a president is only judged as a preselection device for scotus appointees, one must wonder how low our democratic expectations have become.

Posted by bobs at August 11, 2011 09:18 PM