Friday, February 15, 2008


The 2008 Election run-up has been an exciting one so far, in terms of mainstream journalistic indeterminacy. Who's gonna get it? The Democratic primaries, in particular, have shown us a remarkable jumbling of image-concepts for whom we are supposed to voice our approval. All of the sudden we have a potential first female president and a potential first black president. And for a while we had a white Southern man, too, who strangely enough was perhaps the most progressive of the three--indeed, if he was, it was because our racist, sexist system permitted him to be. Obama has to walk the tightrope to prove he's neither a sellout nor a "danger." Clinton has to be strong enough to prove she could, well, castratingly lay the smack down on whomever "deserves it" (i.e., Iraqis, Iranians, etc.) yet not so overpowering as to make poor little male Democrats and independents feel the threat of that castration extend to them and theirs. It's a vicious system, and I do feel a twinge of sympathy for Obama and Clinton for having to do what they do, and face the obstacles they face in our political process.

But the fact remains that none of them are progressive, none of them will come close to the "transformative change" we actually need to "heal this country."

Obama, in addition to gaining momentum by the day, has been cast as the progressive candidate. Clinton is the establishment candidate for the Democrats. I am still scratching my head over what is so progressive about Obama and his policy proposals. I can believe he has private, progressive ideals--Clinton probably has some of those, too. But publicly he's nothing but feel good maxims, a chain of well-delivered aphorisms and affirmations and promises. He's got the celebrities in his corner--Will.I.Am and Scarlett Johansson, for starters, not to mention the hot "crush on Obama" woman. But everyone who's getting behind him, all the young, well-educated, pro-change people who make up my peer group ... don't ever give me any insight into what is precisely appealing about his candidacy in terms of the changes they want to see happen. I know: "Obama is the future, the new, the change, the shit, the hope, the audacity of that very hope cuz he sticks it to The Man, and to top it off, perhaps he's even the messiah [thanks Tram]." The problem is that The Man, an image, a metaphor, is actually very real, whereas Obama's assault on the same social powers that people sometimes group (really or jokingly) as The Man is purely or almost purely symbolic.

What I am curious about, and have not yet tried to find out about, is how the Latino (esp. Mexican/Chicano) communities feel about Obama--who isn't getting the Latino vote, as commentators dutifully inform us--using "Yes, we can!"/"Sí, se puede" as a slogan. The hard work of organizing and demonstrating that Latinos and other immigrant groups have put into the struggle against "illegal alien" crackdowns is now appropriated by a candidate whose first point in his plan for immigration is to secure the borders.

* * *

Provided she is on the ballot in November, I plan on voting for a black, Southern woman--Cynthia McKinney. I am not trying to play the card of authenticity, as though she's "realer" than Obama, than Clinton, more black, more feminist. I am not trying to facilitate a rupture between these communities, so that I or people like myself can spew codedly racist or misogynist criticisms against the mainstream candidates and defensively console ourselves because we support a black woman politician ("so we can't be racist!"). My goal in this case is not to help divide & conquer disempowered groups on the illusory basis of supporting their less mainstream elements in a bid for appropriated authenticity.

It is not that the Green Party is my ideal of ideals, either, but insofar as my third-party protest vote will mean anything, I want it to mean that I endorse a shift leftward towards the equitable, more ecologically sound, anti-racist, anti-sexist, queer-embracing limits of the system I'm voting in. One doesn't "vote" for revolution, changes in the mode of production, or revolutionary wealth distribution parties, right? But one can cast a vote for social democracy, environmentalism, certain checks on corporate power, certain policies for urban renewal and reform--reform, and life, not murder--for immigration. I do not think our system can be reformed, but this does not mean I oppose the limited but real, and helpful, reforms that are sometimes offered by the system.

The system will kill us, and it is dying itself in its slow destructive symbiosis with the thing we call industrial civilization. But while it approaches its destructive obsolescence, some of its tools are still worth using, and some of those tools--political and electoral tools--may still reap benefits for the communities it is harming most deeply, and the generations to come who will pay for our and our parents' mistakes.

This is why I'll be voting for McKinney, and why I urge people to do the same.

* * *

I cannot express how viscerally frustrating it is to me to see so many people I know and respect, allies and comrades, who are taking the kool-aid and jumping on Obama's bandwagon.

I am not referring to people who will vote for Obama. I am not referring to people who would compaign for Obama. If I were living in a swing state, I'd think long and hard and might end up doing both, myself. My issue is not with casting a vote, even casting some optimism, Obama's way. My issue is with the wholesale buying of the image, casting even pragmatism itself aside and pretending that this is the ideal candidate, whose actions will deliver us from the nightmare that liberals delude themselves into thinking is purely the result of Reagan and the two Bushes. (This all applies to Clinton-supporters too, but since Obama is the "progressive" one, the "youth" one, I think it applies more comprehensively to him and his side.) Obama, the man with a trigger-finger on Pakistan (Clinton has Iran) is going to be our savior? And speaking of the savior to our national nightmares, one pithy essay from Qlipoth makes for fascinating reading and expresses some of what I wanted to say better than I'm able to.

But to question the Obama machine sometimes invokes fierce retorts from his supporters, as though the very idea that asking for anything more progressive might be desirable is unfathomable. Or as though the idea of anything more progressive in existence could be unfathomable. I've been dressed down before for it, and I've stomached enough of the mainstream, tunnel vision Democrat blogs to know how things operate in those communities, where huffing & puffing about "effecting change" is best put into action when US policy sees bombing Afghanistan and Iraq as a form of "humanitarian" and "feminist" liberation.

Barack Obama's an inspiring orator, true. But even his 2004 Democratic National Convention address was not, if you ask me, the highlight of that event. That was Al Sharpton--and I don't care if he's supposed to be "crooked" or "shady," when it comes to policies and pragmatic change within the system, Sharpton's realism is up there with Kucinich's hard work as one of the few--very few--buoyant aspects of the Democratic Party en toto. About "the black vote," which has favored Obama so mightly in '08, Sharpton said this:

Mr. President, as I close, Mr. President, I heard you say Friday that you had questions for voters, particularly African-American voters. And you asked the question: Did the Democratic Party take us for granted? Well, I have raised questions. But let me answer your question.

You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule.

That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres.

We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us.

Insofar as we can constitute 'the black vote' as a demographic monolith, black voters will end up choosing whoever they think is right for them, for America, for any number of things. Just like any other discernible voting bloc. But it is imperative that we talk to each other about the ways in which are asked not only to hedge our bets for pragmatic reasons, but are encouraged to rip out the hedges for wholly idealist illusions. Not everyone sees, has seen, Obama as the one worth supporting for change. And not all of us will float along in the course of this election in a subdued manner.

However faintly visible the struggle may be in the media (broadly defined), we still have the option to pass over one type of candidate ...

... for another ...

(H/t to the folks at Qlipoth, again, for the McKinney video. Forty minutes long, but worth it.)


Anonymous said...

A vote for McKinney is a vote for Hillary.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in the long run, a vote for McKinney is a vote for McCain. I'm one of those who voted for Nader in 2000, believing that there was no difference between Gore and Bush, and I was dead wrong.

Say what you will about Obama's skill in mobilizing images that evoke progressivism without actually promising it (or establishing a specific progressive content, perhaps), but an Obama presidency looks, to me, a lot different than a McCain presidency or even a Clinton III presidency.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Thanks for the links Zach...

This is very meaty and thought provoking; and here's Glen Ford arguing with Michael Eric Dyson about Obama w/amy goodman.

Field Negro has been writing often hilariously of "Obamaholics".

The most positive thing, though, about the Obama campaign - I really hate the ersatz quality, the commodity-movement - is that there is a kind of revival of the idea in principle, if not yet the fact, that the public can exert pressure in even the most corrupt electoral democracy and push a candidate leftward.

I agree with you about Sharpton; at the dem convention he devoted his speech to voting rights. Unfortunately, this is the one issue Obama, with his strategy of "we're all in this together" (slaves and abolitionists, patients and insurance companies, society without intrinsic conflict, this disturbing very between-the-wars rhetoric, which one can only stand because one knows how insincere it is) and operating under the menace of a wildly racist media looking for any excuse to effuse, can't touch. And yet this, the corruption of the elections, the rigging, is something that "affects us all" - it is only the concern about re-election, after all, in a corrupt oligarchic democracy, that keeps the congress and the white house from doing anything they want; the election rigging (long with the abolition of journalism) has cut the last little threadbade leash which public opinion had over policy, it's really important, its one of the few things a president could really take the lead in fixing. But Obama can't even hint at this, because of the chain of associations, vote rights...civil rights movement...disenfranchisement of mostly black voters..."black issue"...disenfranchisement of felons...

ZC said...

My vote for McKinney is going to be a vote for McKinney. Period. I don't see why this is always so hard for Democrat apologists. Chuck, in what state were you voting for Nader in 2000? If it was solid red or blue, you don't need to wring your hands, OK? I was in Virginia, and voted for Nader with a clear conscience. In New York I will vote for McKinney, and you better believe I won't be trembling that maybe my vote will be the one that gives the state to McCain over Obama. Because we all know it won't. A third party protest vote is not wasted, nor is it "for" the opposition--god I hate that tired rhetorical ploy--if you are doing it in a secure state. (And if it's a swing state, well, I mean, I already addressed the fact that that's a gray area in my actual post.) I mean, how else does someone who believes in electoral politics hope to change anything if we don't cast protest votes, fringe votes? All the money is balanced on one side, folks, and if we allow ourselves to pretend we're "just being realistic" and always vote for the "less right-wing corporate" candidate, what leverage do we have to elect REAL and GOOD political leaders? None. Protest votes and third party votes--the insistence of an unappeased minority--are a necessity insofar as we, progressives, want to use electoral politics in our broader strategy. I firmly believe that.

And I'm not saying an Obama presidency doesn't "look" a lot different than a McCain or Clinton presidency. (Hey, it might even be different! Let's hope!) But the fact of the matter is, he isn't good enough, and every single candidate is in a race that starts at the center-right and pushes further rightward. They've all got blood on their hands, and they'll all continue in this vein. Let's not forget that.

I made it very obvious that the issue isn't that Obama is/would be better than Bush (we all agree on this), and probably better than the other big candidates. But. He isn't the savior, at best he is a conduit for progressive elements in society to use to make some real change, not just the image and concept of change. We have to stand up and be loud and hold his feet to the fire.

... Chabert, thanks for those links, I'll read 'em. Yeah, I'd like to see a presidential candidate tackle voter disenfranchisement, and wish Obama could mention it himself ...

Andy Rector said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Rector said...

a vote for Obama is a vote for Zbigniew Brzenzinski, and that's not an abstract comment. Obama has chosen Zbigniew Brzezinski as his foreign policy advisor. Proof that Obama plans to change nothing, same old racist imperialist intents.

Brezinski was the architect and main propogandist (political elite wise) for laying the "trap" of USSR's invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s. His book THE GRAND CHESSBOARD is notorious for its imperialist language. You know the rest of the story and it couldn't be clearer in the photo of Brezinski with Bin Laden that is easily available in a google search (there you are Michael Moore).
Here's a choice quote from Zbigniew's book, about the blockades to his desired imperial ambitions:
"It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties, even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization." (p.35)

Anonymous said...

hey zach-

great post, although that Obama video made me nauseous. It's comforting to read someone else's disapproval of all the misguided hype and empty pomp surrounding this election, at the risk of sounding like an angry radical.

I'm not going to feign ample knowledge of the candidates and their issues, although I can assert that the rampant image-pimping on behalf of their campaigns and followers is doing nothing to lessen my ignorance, at a time when I'm actually interested (for once) in what the candidates have to say. I used to find the awestruck comparisons of Obama with JFK particularly irritating, but now I'm starting to wonder if that's what the democratic "American public" (or at least the democratic fraction of voting Americans) really want- another JFK. It's a spacey thought, I know, but considering the widespread lack of politically informed voters (myself included),the superficial parallel between Obama and Kennedy proves to be substantial enough when you start to think about what the average voter looks for in a president. Like JFK, Obama is an effective public speaker with flawed policies who likes to play it safe. sorry for the generalizations.

So far I find the prospect of an Obama presidency only mildly comforting and marginally preferable to McCain, but I still have more research to do. I also agree with your defense of the "protest vote," especially now that Americans are so fascinated with (albeit inaccurate) opinion polls and statistics, while various celebrities and public figures keep encouraging us (in a patronizing manner) that our vote counts. We should pointedly cast our votes "away" from the democratic nominee if he or she disappoints us, to make our "voices" heard in an appeal for future change, just like Wil.I.Am tells us to. I should end my misinformed grumping here..

ZC said...

Hi Andy, yeah, and ZB is not the only problematic guy on Obama's staff--look at all his neoliberal Chicago school economists (profiled by Louis Proyect not too long ago I believe).

Margaret, thanks for commenting. It can be really frustrating. All things considered, sure, Obama isn't as bad as he could be. He may even be the best we can expect from the system right now, especially because if he's capitalizing on the theme of "change" there is a chance that the millions who would vote for him can be mobilized, continually, to make that change. (Which would entail paying less attention to Obama the Messiah, and more attention to the issues that need changing.) He's far from what we need, though. Like I said, I'm not ranting against putting a vote or even some optimism his way. To be clear, though, the optimism isn't for him, but for the potential of collective spirit that might find one of its manifestations in voting him into office. But it's strange how some people really just love him, often people you think would be able to see through this. I can't believe how often commentators have talked about how Obama (and his wife) don't spew cant and rhetorical mumbo jumbo--they talk "straight" on the issues. They bring "hope," they are going to "get things done in Washington." They bring integrity. Have we really been so brainwashed!? Bush got a lot of votes (enough to viably steal the election) in 2000 for the exact same rhetoric. You have to actually HUNT to find Obama (or his wife) saying meaningful and specific things. I'm willing to have people direct me to a ton of examples, but yes, I want EXAMPLES, not Obamaphiles directing me to a campaign ad or a speech where Obama just repeats the words "change," "get things done," "unite the people," "abandon old politics," "I look forward to having that debate," "those are the politics of old," etc.

And yes, that "Yes We Can" video is awful. Honestly, how can it inspire anyone? It takes the substance-free maxims of a terrific orator and then lays a boooooring Top 40 track over it. Big deal. There's no passion, no urgency to it. How do the people who get energized by this video feel when they see REAL mobilization, REAL "yes we can" spirit, like in the anti-war and pro-immigrant marches of recent years?