Published online 16 November 2010.
Politics is not about President Obama. Politics is not about President Obama picture diaries; it’s not about complaining that Obama is “out of touch“; it’s not about feeling betrayed, or supporting Obama despite feeling betrayed, or being tough and gritty and “realistic” and dismissing complainers for not getting their ponies.
Politics is about us, about what we do and about what’s happening to us. Politics is about you and me or whatever manifestation of “us” is authentically collective. The desperation of the moment is reflected in the fact that much of what we call “organization” is not, in fact, collective at all.
Most of the piefights around here are about one of three things. 1) “Praise Obama and his glorious resume,” 2) “I feel so betrayed!” and 3) various combinations of 1) and 2). All sides in the ongoing flingfest appear to have made a fetish of the Presidency, whether straight-up or inverted.
There are bad things to say about all these perspectives, so an attitude of humility is in order. Obama’s primary flaw, the one conditioning his other flaws, is that he supports the capitalist system at the least appropriate time in history. “What did you expect?” doesn’t count as a winning argument in this regard. And feeling betrayed by the neoliberal groups playing tag-team with our government is fine, as long as you can account for why you didn’t feel betrayed by the other tag-teams contending for power in previous decades. Obama bothers you for doing what Dukakis, Clinton, Gore or Kerry were going to do anyway?
Sure, we can praise the President for all he’s done that’s good, if that’s what we feel like doing. Or we can complain about feeling betrayed, if that’s what we feel. Plead with Obama to do X, Y, and Z — “pressure” Obama, if that’s what we feel we’re actually doing. Cheer for him to get off his duff and onto the playing field, if the spirit calls us.
So what about BigAlinWashSt’s recommended diary, “Come On Man!“? Did any of that stuff impact us? How about this of what he said:
Everybody’s talking and there’s no action. It’s like betting two bucks at the table in Vegas. No action. It’s all waiting until what’s next.
Are we going to spend the next two (or six) years pleading with Obama to do X, Y, and Z, while supporting him no matter what? How do we see such a posture as being effective?
If you like Obama, work for his re-election. If you don’t like Obama, try to get someone to primary him. Yeah, I said it. If you don’t like the political class in DC, elect a new one. If you don’t like political classes, work to create a new system altogether. If you’ve been whipped by thirty years of the revolution of lowered expectations, aspire to something more.
In real life, Obama will do what Obama wants to do. We will have very little input into the process, if any at all. Same goes for his cabinet. I dunno. Do you have a special connection to the Prez? I don’t.
Let’s shift to proactive mode here. We should want whatever power we have to be unalienated power, power which is ours and which we can direct to our ends. We will be effective in politics to the extent to which we focus upon creating authentic collectives in which our power goes toward ends which we specify. ActivistGuy’s diary of Sunday, long as it was, pivots upon an important point: you may vote or you might abstain from voting altogether, but odds are you feel alienated from the system, generally unable to affect its outcomes.
ActivistGuy’s solution is apposite as well: form activist communities which exist to defend their own interests. Electoral organizing is fine — but the point is to create a politics which is about its participants, not a politics which can just be given away to the next charismatic political figure who flies in.
At this point I don’t care if you love or hate her, but Jane Hamsher’s concept of the Veal Pen counts for something here. The key question to ask in this regard is one of whether an organization is controlled by its members, or by its financial donors? Organizations in the Veal Pen can’t be for us, because they’re for the big donors and for those who control the purse strings of their foundation money.
Insofar as it aspires to efficacy, politics is not about Obama. Politics is about us, poor, unglamorous us. It’s about what we’re doing, and what it accomplishes or doesn’t accomplish. Paulo Freire said something rather profound in this regard before his death in 1997. “The future does not make us. We make ourselves in the struggle to make it.” Politics, then, is about our struggles to create a future, and to make something of ourselves. Not being focused on this task is how we became so powerless in the first place.
Now look around. To be sure, America in the last century became a society of shopping malls and suburbs, a perfect place for bowling alone but not much of a location for contesting established power. Thinking and observing carefully, we can see that shopping malls are centers of commodification, and suburbs were originally a product of the attempt to avoid “racial mingling” in the world before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Add neoliberalism, an economic movement to jettison the “real” economy piece by piece to feed the ravenous hunger of corporations for profit. In an America which aspired to sanity, creating organizations to counter the isolation and commodification of 20th-century suburbia would be the first and last order of business.
Imagine how thoroughly, then, politics could actually be about us in the post-Presidential-fetish world.