So do we now refer to ourselves as the United States of Anti-America? The United States of Arugula? For eight years I patiently waited for my moment of schadenfreude as the right-wingers who talked about mandates and country first would simply have to face up to a demographic "pwning." Like with the losers at the end of Revenge of the Nerds, it becomes apparent ultimately that there are more of us than there are of you.
Obama's name is the sign under which popular sentiment has crystallized, and in exercising agencies we must use these signs as they come to us. Long planning to vote for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, stumping for McKinney to numerous friends and acquaintances, I nevertheless wavered near the end. I admit with some reluctance that I am not a robot, I bend and change. I do not believe Obama is our political messiah. Yet, the energy and sense of community around his candidacy were there in addition to the regular establishment partisanship I can't stomach. I ended up casting my vote for Obama/Biden on the Working Families line because I realized that during the day, it would be around Obama that speculation and aspiration would cohere. People were talking about him in the bodega where I got coffee before voting. (Queens went 75% Obama, last I looked, which actually made it the most McCain-friendly borough after Staten Island.) The point is not him, he is the focal point projected by us. But in recognizing this fact it is vital that we do not establish a program of mere narcissism, which is what Palin offered her base. ("She's like us, she's normal like us!") Obama could offer something very similar to his supporters, and this we must avoid. We have to acknowledge the nature of our symbolic actions and movements. Obama will be a respectable president only if we ensure that he is one. I think his election is one step, an important landmark step of significant symbolic value and potentially significant policy value. But we must ensure our direction. Obama will almost definitely be a miserable president if we continue to cede him, ever more profoundly, to the owners of capital and the disseminators of images. He's already within their clutches. The only reason Americans do, and can, feel like we exercise any efficacy at all is simply because his ascendant star (so to speak) had not been completely preordained and overdetermined before even arriving on the scene. The fact that people worry about his inexperience is precisely why we can extend a measure of hope.
And I do not use that last word liberally.
I always enjoy reading Ran Prieur, who frequently comes up with angles I hadn't quite considered. Still, he's lamenting what he interprets as the "dodged bullet" nature of the election, which should have been a progressive landslide but wasn't. I, on the other hand, wonder if Prieur is being untrue to some of his more deeply-held principles—such as that change is best when it comes gradually. We should not invest too much in the feel-good symbolic value of this election, not unless we're just party hacks. Which is why we should not be too disappointed if the landslide (including more of that sweet, sweet schadenfreude) didn't come. If we're being serious, this should be the first part of a long-haul sort of move, and Obama will be succeeded by more progressive candidates, and federal government will find as a competitor more and more serious popular/grassroots threats to its power insofar as it is aligned with national and transnational corporate interests.
Let it break! We will figure out where to house the refugees of George W. Bush.
According to Thomas Friedman, the breaking of the modern Republican Party is more along the lines of being the long end to the Civil War. I know, I know—picking on Friedman is like shooting fish in a barrel. No serious person takes him seriously. He thinks that the election of Barack Obama is proof that, finally, "the American Civil War [has] ended." Unable to conceive of history outside of these sixth-grade storybook terms, Friedman dutifully hews to the liberal-capitalist party line, where the Civil War was "about" slavery, and the march of progress and the Union. But because the Southern states have dragged their feet with regard to Union "progress," with Jim Crow, segregation, and all that, the Civil War (i.e., "racism") has still had hot embers up until 11pm EST last night. What's offensive is that he says this: "the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president." Come on, Friedman! Give it a few more generations, and America's white majority may no longer even exist. We wouldn't be so incredibly central to the project of his beloved white liberal history. Do you all hear this? White folks did this, they ended the War Between the States, they finally put a closing chapter on the long novel of racial strife that has divided our great nation. Sojourner Truth didn't do it. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't do it. Malcolm X surely didn't do it. It didn't take black people. It didn't take Barack Obama, even, really. It took white people electing a black man to let us know that the (trumpets please!) Civil War is finally over.
Stellar. We white folks ultimately elected a black person, even though the majority of us voted for his white opponent. I would be happier, and more surprised, if the news stories about Obama's historic victory were not explained in terms of what it means for white people and what great things we've finally done. If there is a job for the intellectual class over the next few years, it will be in exposing, correcting, and focusing the way our history is being written and peddled to us before our very eyes. How we understand popular or progressive history, especially, is how we understand our own history. This is too important to let textbooks, newspapers, movies tell it to us first. Their way. We will insist on ours.
At any rate ... now another stage begins. The other party's back is broken, and we the electorate should make the Democrats aware that we could do the same to them if they do not heed us. Now should be when the gloves come off.