Chicago Reader Article part deux

Link to Obama Article.

This one on the challenges and shadow sides to the vision. The relevant quotation:

“Three major doubts have been raised,” he said. The first is whether in today’s political environment–with its emphasis on media and money–a grass-roots movement can even be created. Will people still answer the call of participatory politics?

“Second,” Obama said, “many believe that the country is too racially polarized to build the kind of multiracial coalitions necessary to bring about massive economic change.

“Third, is it possible for those of us working through the Democratic Party to figure out ways to use the political process to create jobs for our communities?”

Number one seems sufficiently answered (for the primary) by his huge fundraising base, the excitement he has created in the electorate, and so forth. Whether that would last beyond an election is a different question, but overall that’s answered.

#2 racial polarization. That obviously has exploded in the primary. His race speech emphasized cross-color economic bonding, so again for me very interesting that this flows right from his ideas in 1995.

Number two is still unclear relative to a general election. In the primary it’s clear that Hispanics and poorer whites have favored Hillary. What’s not clear is whether they would favor Obama or McCain in a general. [With a joint Obama-Hillary ticket that could change pretty quickly.]

Number 3 is also now hugely relevant given the massive job loss numbers. I have no clue frankly and tend on this to favor more the Bill Clinton approach of create opportunity. But we’ll see.

Now a deeper question fundamentally is how does this attempt work.

This idea:

What makes Obama different from other progressive politicians is that he doesn’t just want to create and support progressive programs; to mobilize the people to create their own. He wants to stand politics on its head, empowering citizens by bringing together the churches and businesses and banks, scornful grandmothers and angry young. Mostly he’s running to fill a political and moral vacuum.

How does this not become simply another politician. Another patrician liberal doling out progressive policies to the masses (who consume not produce them) thereby returning the favor via the vote.

What I’m impressed by in this vision is the notion of de-centralization, network creation, and superempowerment of individuals. This is if you like the libertarian side of his left-libertarianism (so-called).

But Obama of course (and here’s the left part) seeks to deploy those strategies to a progressive end.

In this sense, his slogan “Change We Can Believe In” and “We are the Ones We Seek” actually are not New Age fluff per se but accurately represent his political views. You might (correctly or not TBD) think it is still fluff, totally unworkable, naive, etc. politically but it is not some slogan he is using. It might fail, might not work, and so forth, but it’s not something he’s just picked up recently as a trendy talking point.

But there of course is where the potential land mine(s) is situated. If such a forced were unleashed why it would it necessarily move in the direction he would like to see it evolve? Recall that Obama has professorial background and talks in the article about the politician as a paedagogue. Can such be educated and guided?

McCain and Cilnton represent totally modernist political assumptions, worldview, and methodology. McCain wants to build a post-Christian secular conservatism built around “national greatness.” He plays the unity theme relative to a martial ethos but denigrates and shames anyone who dares criticize or question his view. Clinton is the quintessential patrician liberal in the mold of LBJ, Mondale doling out favors to the masses (as consumers) who return the favor with the vote. But both of them want bigger government and legislated ethics/values, standing as they do as the last of the mohicans of the 60s Cultural Bifurcation which surfaced again in the 90s as a replay of the 60s. McCain and Clinton both weirdly re-running the scripts circa 1998-1999, when Clinton started her run for Senate and McCain his first run for the presidency.

But both generally want the electorate to remain passive and have the government father (McCain) or mother (Clinton) them. Both may want increased participation in the military (McCain) or national service/volunteer (Clinton) but again not at any point aiming their eye/analysis on the halls of power.

Obama generationally, politically, strategically, personality is so so so different than all of that. He represents a beginning shift to postmodernity (polycentricism): with his information age economic base and outreach, multi-racial mutli-country & cultural upbringing-identity, and his post-Boomer clarion call.

Whatever does or doesn’t happen with the election, he represents (on those fronts not necessarily his particular political views though many of those as well I believe) the future. He is a US (and I daresay world) explorer of a new terrain, planting flags, bound to create maps that a decade or two from now will look horribly out of date, but already he has opened a door that will not be closed or forgotten, that will itself exert influence in the years ahead.

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Published in: on April 6, 2008 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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