post i’ve been waiting to post

Been waiting to post this post since jimmy sent me a link last week. unfortunately, i had just imposed a ban on myself re: presidential ranting. Well, it’s a new week, and we’re going to do a bit more ranting before the old year is through.

In an articulate argument in the most recent issue of the atlantic, andrew sullivan lays out a compelling, earnest rationale for the Obama candidacy. It gets exultant, at times:

Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile. But so do others, not least his formidably polished and practiced opponent Senator Hillary Clinton.

Obama, moreover, is no saint. He has flaws and tics: Often tired, sometimes crabby, intermittently solipsistic, he’s a surprisingly uneven campaigner.

A soaring rhetorical flourish one day is undercut by a lackluster debate performance the next. He is certainly not without self-regard. He has more experience in public life than his opponents want to acknowledge, but he has not spent much time in Washington and has never run a business. His lean physique, close-cropped hair, and stick-out ears can give the impression of a slightly pushy undergraduate. You can see why many of his friends and admirers have urged him to wait his turn. He could be president in five or nine years’ time—why the rush? But he knows, and privately acknowledges, that the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now.

More than the leader of a people or a program, Obama is “an idea whose time has come?” Is that enough, leftists?

Maybe.  I don’t think I’m experienced enough to answer that question. But I can tell you that I am also optimistic, if more cautiously so.   Let me explain why, though; and simultaneously question my explanation; and end up asking you a question.

I like that Obama is a non-Boomer, for all sorts of seemingly “apolitical,” or maybe even “cultural” reasons. I appreciate his background in community organizing, and I respect his ability to speak to (not for) class/race identities and issues that are usually barred from mainstream political discourse. Oh and as I’ve said, his very Habermasian willingness to engage in aggressive diplomacy and to communicate with our enemies is really satisfying. It smacks of the organizing model, to me.

But, of course, a lot of things are pretty mainstream and/or frustrating about Obama’s cv. The whole Constitutional Law, University of Chicago bit is pretty rarified, if in a good way. More troublingly, there’s the issue of his prolonged plan for getting us out of Iraq. And there’s more documentable Obama weirdness re: gay marriage, social security, NAFTA, teachers’ unions, etc.

Nevertheless, so many of us self-styled brainiacs – particularly those of us coming out of the ivory tower – have received Obama with almost-totally-open-arms….why? I’ve outlined the reasons I’m optimistic, but…why am I willing… no, why are we willing to take a leap of faith for this guy?

Is it just that he’s young, he’s not Hillary and he maybe has a chance of winning? What is it? Somebody explain myself to me? Why, when his rhetoric falls so short of the (genuine and/or disingenuous) lefty hectoring of Kucinich and Edwards? Why do we expect him to be better than his rhetoric? Are we falling victim to this old trick, again:

A friend of mine characterizes this as the “we’ll come back for you” politics, the claim that they can’t champion anything you want because they have to conciliate your enemies right now to get elected, but that, once they win, they’ll be able to attend to the progressive agenda they have to reject now in order to win. This worked out so well with the Clinton Presidency, didn’t it? Remember his argument that he had to sign the hideous 1996 welfare reform bill to be able to come back and “fix” it later? Or NAFTA? Or two repressive and racist crime bills that flooded the prisons? Or the privatizing of Sallie Mae, which set the stage for the student debt crisis? Or ending the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of housing for the poor?

I’m not really asking if we’re falling for this so much as asking why we’re falling for it so willingly.


8 Responses to “post i’ve been waiting to post”

  1. jen Says:

    I wasn’t aware that academics were favoring Obama. Really. I guess I don’t talk to many academics but I thought they favored Kucinich and then Edwards.
    I thought one of the better points of the article, a point that is not PC b/c we’re not allowed to talk openly about race in a postracial U.S. (ha ha ha ha) is this:
    “Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.”

  2. nuge Says:

    You pose a good question. I guess some of it is that many people want to believe in something different. People want to believe that non-partisanship really is possible. Obama charts a pretty even middle path. But that’s what scares me about him hence your comments bout the worry concerning unfulfilled promises in addition to the fear that that’s exactly what we don’t need right now. I mean we’re maybe entering crisis mode on a number of different fronts, and this middle path stuff sort of scares the shit out of me. Bottom line I think most people want to believe that we can be non partisan. This is truly a philosophical debate along the line of moral realism/relativism tip. I most definitely fall in the realism camp (read skepticism). I think the American people by and large want to continue to sleep a little more. What they don’t understand is the swift kick in the ass will come whether we like it or not. There’s a part of me which hopes that it comes before the election.

  3. lexdexter Says:


    of course i agree. i’ve been thinking about that quotation for days now. it makes me think that, yes, the argument for obama is that he would be as radical an improvement for our foreign policy as edwards’d be for our domestic policy. not that either one would suck for the opposite front; and not that foreign/domestic is a real distinction in empire, etc. yadda yadda.

    the info re: academics is coming from national polls i’ve seen. not to sound to self-congratulatory, but i think its only THE KIND OF ACADEMICS WE HANG OUT WITH that’d support kucinich/edwards. and i’d submit to you that that’s because our crowd thinks a lot more about the economic justice/redistribiution aspects of our racist and sexist society than your average Humanities prof at Bowdoin. but maybe that’s just cuz i’m convinced that we run with the coolest clique of brains in the universe.

  4. lexdexter Says:


    i could write a long essay in response to your response but i wanna get outta the office.

    in short, yeah, i believe ideologies of unity/homogeneity /universality like nationalism or just “we, the people” avoid, obscure, and enforce the existence of less-than-human, undeserving “others.”

    the social formation called capitalism describes itself as a universal, natural unfolding of market forces; but in reality it relies upon, elaborates upon and strictly enforces distinctions around gender, class, race, sexuality, etcetera.

    following ernesto laclau, i would contend that organizing around the antagonisms capitalism engenders is the first step towards a more inclusive democracy. although whether an entirely inclusive society could ever exist is at this point a merely hypothetical question.

  5. obama encore « The PrisonShip Says:

    […] January 2, 2008 — lexdexter in the time it’s taken me to respond to two very savvy responses to my obama query, both “Big Labor” and the “Netroots” have backed away from […]

  6. nuge Says:


    BTW, I’ve been applying/thinking about new lines of work. I made it to the second tier of applications to work for PIRG in Colorado, I am hoping to get a fellowship to work on campaign finance reform/corporate lobbying. We’ll see if that happens. If not my next move will be in the direction of mediation (and probably initial work as a paralegal with law school possibly in my future) I’m thinking local land use or labor relations, kind of starting to feel it out.

    Also, I was in Morrison, CO (of red rocks fame) hanging with a buddy of mine and he’s been offered a position with King Soopers (grocers) as labor relations manager for the region. I really think he would benefit from a short chat with you before he jumps into it and I would definitely benefit from a little chatski as well, as its been waaaay too long. Anyways, all I have is your cell, can you email me your home. or myspace would be great.

  7. jen Says:

    I came back to see about this discussion because I’m changing my mind about the philosophies in the quote I cited above. I just watched most of the debates and I’m asking myself, “how important are identity politics?” I can tell you that when I was watching, I was not thinking, “hey, she’s a woman! hey! He’s black, etc.” But I did afterwards. In the messiness of everyday life, and especially when it comes to economics, it matters whether you’re black or a woman, so shouldn’t it matter for the pres? Back to watching a great doc on Shirley Chisholm…cheers.

  8. jen Says:

    Oh, and p.s. we do run with the coolest, no doubt.

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