The River

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obama is our only choice

Even though John Kerry barely distinguished himself from the neocon positions in 2004, I wanted him to win. The slogan was “anybody but Bush,” and that captures the country’s desperation to get out from under the shallow fratboy’s shadow and to dislodge his disgusting criminal friends and handlers.

John Kerry did win, just as Al Gore did in 2000. But the election was awarded to Bush again, and this time we knew what we were in for – four more years of terror warmongering, constitution shredding, economy screwing, and general empowerment of ignorance across the land.

Like many, I wasn’t so much for Kerry as I was against Bush. So when Kerry windsurfed his way through the campaign, failing to defend himself from attacks or to assert liberal values, and then topped that off by ignoring the scandalous discrepancy between exit polls and vote counts in Ohio, I was incensed. Like Gore, he never really stood for anything. He was a cipher, a cardboard cutout for the Republicans to run over with the smug assurance that the country was theirs.

And yet, we had to have him in the White House. Bush had to be repudiated. Even though Kerry is no champion of the people, and is in fact far from it, his defeat felt like a cold slap of triumph for all things small, ugly and pig ignorant. It was a dark day when the votes were finalized.

Four years later, we’re at the same precipice, coming to understand that empires fall in a series of stomach-turning drops, not all at once after an election. And yet once again, there is the feeling that we can’t survive another four years of right-wing braying and wallowing in the gutter. Although we made it through the last four, that’s small consolation to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And there’s the rub, because a Kerry presidency would have featured the same pain of occupation. But as much as we’d like a president to implement full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by reparations and diplomacy, it’s not going to happen. Our political and general culture can’t support that kind of drastic redirection. There’s no general will, or at least it is not apparent in the populace.

When I step back and look at this situation, I see two contradictory courses of action open to us. One is to abandon the Democratic party, support the third party of your choice and other independents, and make the Democrats pay for their collusion with the drift to the right and the emasculation of the left. They are too comfortable with the system the way it is – corporate control of government and media leading to poor government, gutted regulations, and a vicious dumbing down and coarsening of our country. Their strategy seems to be to pretend to represent the people hurt by this while also pretending that there’s nothing they can do, because, after all they have to get elected in this deplorable environment. And who else is going to do anything about it?

With that kind of strategy, they have a perpetual lock on voters who just want to make the pain go away. There’s no need to actually work to enact changes that can accomplish that, and in any case, that is a risky course, because it requires action and leadership, while the faux fighter pose only requires acting ability and the machinery to rake in corporate campaign loot. After all, even if many see through the charade, where are they going to go? It’s a two-party system, us or them.

The other course is the one so ridiculed by progressives, myself included, and that is to get Democrats elected and hope they can begin to move the country back to socially conscious government regulation and, it is dreamed, a just foreign policy.

In the Ralph Nader candidacy, I see both strategies at work. Nader is trying to keep the idea of independent and alternative views alive, and he is running for President not as a spoiler or because his ego demands such ultimate gratification, but as a figurehead for grassroots organizing. And if Democrats are ever going to abandon rope-a-dope and start swinging, he is both pressuring them to do so and building a structural and cultural foundation for its manifestation.

In some ways, Obama is also building such a foundation, with his impressive organizing across all 50 states. And in his rhetoric, he is a liberal spokesman. Nader calls him the best liberal evangelist we’ve had in 50 years. But Nader also points out he has done little to back up the vision he paints. Perhaps he wants to and this is his way forward. Marc Lord pens an essay that makes a solid case for the Obama approach, pointing out that he is already setting a new, less batshit course for our foreign policy, although still characterized by oil lust and Israel appeasement.

But at present I support Nader, as it is a way to show there are those in this country that will back a representative that articulates and fights for a type of society that respects and supports people of all economic levels and beliefs. And yet I will also relish an Obama victory in November. I know that is contradictory, but an Obama victory will be regarded as a defeat for right wing extremists, and they must lose. Rightly or wrongly, Obama is a liberal standard bearer. So I will cast my vote for him.

(On a Diebold machine that is easily compromised, and there again is the conundrum, because what Democrat has done anything about it?)

As soon as I leave the polling place, I’ll continue to try to find a way to make my efforts on the ground lead to a better world, with the hope that it makes it that much more likely that at some point in a future I can’t see, a leader of a party, any party, takes steps to bring this country at least a little closer to its enormous promise.


A letter to Joe Bageant mines the same vein.

Wow. What a knowing, well-expressed analysis. I wish I had written it. And thanks for listening and linking to my angle.

Much of my learning about political change in America came later in life, although the intensive study of military history provided a good basis for that process. Anyhow one of the books which added most to my understanding of the vortex was The Gathering Storm by Rick Perlstein, a liberal writer who does a great job examining the Goldwater Roots of the later Republican "success" at privatization. As they say in Afghanistan, "Al-Qaeda started out as a good thing." Goldwater's movement tapped into something very deep in the collective psyche, what Robert Reich calls the Gunfighter Myth.

The Obama movement taps into our other alter ego, which might be called the Collective Settler. The feel of it is still very much present in parts of the New England states. It's reflexively cooperative, and believes in the Happiness of the Commons.

One part of me knows that the Obama movement will eventually overextend itself, so I'm very glad that it hasn't even defined itself yet. Smarter not to. If there is one encapsulating phrase for it, it might be "We Don't Have To Govern Dumbly."

This is our last chance, the odds and the precipice are scary-steep. But there are signs of recognition all through government of the new sheriff riding in--the FDA is cracking down on drug approvals, the unassailable Ted Stevens is indicted, Justice officials will be disciplined, and the Church Committee will be reincarnated. There will probably even be a remake of Blazing Saddles.

The American Paradox is the exceptionalism which is down so deep in our national DNA and is forever intertwined with our enormous promise, so it has a way of going overboard and turning nasty. I started working on a post awhile back about a genetic basis for American exceptionalism, or mania, so you've inspired me to go dig that back up.

Thanks again!
"Goldwater's movement tapped into something very deep in the collective psyche, what Robert Reich calls the Gunfighter Myth."

That's ironic. Have you heard John Fogerty's Revival with the track "Gunslinger"? That's what he thinks we need in Washington. :)

On American exceptionalism. Yes, Americans are supposed to have it all, shoot for the moon, live large, never rest, blaze new trails. Which is good, but we tend to get out of balance.

Right now we are scarily tilted. We've got such an insular, dumb in every sense of the word political movement in charge that you are so right, we just want government that is less dumb. That has to be our immediate goal.
You make some excellent points, Bruce. At first, I too, had my hopes kindled by Obama. As the days painfully progress however, it is becoming glaringly apparent that he is but another pandering politician. He'll most probably get my vote, but it won't be a vote of confidence, it will be a vote against McCain.

I am so sick of this political system. Two sides to the same counterfeit coin. It's 'change' alright.......small change. Viable third party? Fuggedaboutit. The two main parties we now have will work in concert to make sure that never happens.

The Repugs had their time at the swill, now the Dems will get their turn at the raping and pillaging of the Treasury. All the while, both parties will continue pointing the finger and assigning the blame to each other for the catastrophe this government has become.

As my Grandpappy always said: There is no honor amongst thieves.

How can a nation progress and blossom, when there is no honor in it's leadership?
at least the Dems aren't quite as bad!

I don't know what else to say. As you say, they've got a lock on the two-party system. I've seen it said increasingly often (notice I say "seen" and not heard, 'cause of my voracious internet reading) that we'll have to sink a good bit lower before people become active enough to make a third party happen. A lot of people agitating as in the 60s. Nader points out (in the msnbc video below) that third parties help lead this activism that does lead to change, so they have influence even if they never reach office.
I fear that the old ways of getting pissed off enough to act aren't valid anymore, that there is something essentially different about the effects technology and globalization wreak versus the old-style bread and circuses, and that the difference is somehow structural and staying the hands of the masses.

Then there's the third party deficit. It's too easy to buy up both sides with influence, and candidates have no choice but to become what the elites want.

Maybe a third party isn't impossible. It would be interesting to read up (note to self) about how the Greens became an official, powerful party in Germany.
I agree with the letter writer at We're still quite comfortable, still have boatloads of material wealth throughout the middle, lower middle and upper poor classes. Of course people suffer economic calamaties, but much of the "woe is us" stuff is just media hype (it's what they do, nothing more compelling than someone who is about to go under).

You're right, it would be good to learn more about third-party dynamics. But that would require work rather than surfing!

But technology, beginning with TV, has definitely turned us into passive consumers of the spectacle. It opens up new thoughts and ideas and alternatives, or it can, and also paralyzes us in feeling everything is too large and out of our control. Think globally, act locally is a great slogan, but it's hard to see the progress it creates. We have to practice blind faith these days. Be the change. Or at least blog it!
Well reasoned Bruce. I can't say I com,pletely agree with you about Nader - I think there's a strong element of his ego involved there, nevertheless I agree with you on everything else.

What the grassroots and netroots need to do is get Obama in then really turn up the heat on those Dems who are really GOP in sheeps clothing. Work hard to defeat them in their nomination races by supporting real progressive candidates. The more of those that get elected and that don't succumb to beltway politics, the better the Democratic Party will be and the better your once fine country will be.
Yeah, that would be nice.

The Nader ego thing is overblown. I give it as much credit at the Gore losing because of Nader myth.
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