That Thing With Feathers
"Don't tell me! I don't want to hear it! I'm feelin' too good right now!"
Greg, a white liberal acquaintance, greeted me last week, trying to pre-empt any criticism of The Anointed One.
"I wasn't gonna say anything," I replied. "I'd rather talk about football."
"I know what you think. Why don't you give Obama a chance before you condemn him?"
"If you know what I think, then there's nothing to say. Besides, what power do I have? You're part of a winning team. Why not enjoy it?"
Greg smiled. "Yeah. He's gonna win, isn't he?"
"I think he has it nailed."
"Then why can't you enjoy it, too? Even for a day?"
"Dunno. Maybe if I was younger, or a lot older."
I've been getting that a lot lately -- "Can't you find anything positive in an Obama victory?" -- and it's all from white liberals, who increasingly feel history's weight pushing them toward the inevitable act. It's not enough that they avoid any serious discussion of the facts, content in their glazed stupors. They must insist that others, in the immediate case, me, share their pious enthusiasm. I guess I'm simply fucked in the skull, 'cause I can't do it.
I know all of the arguments and apologia. I see the cultural angle. I recognize the historical element. Still, none of this has swayed me to vote for or otherwise support Obama. For one thing, he's gonna win Michigan easily, so my vote is superfluous. But more to the point, I've actually read his proposals, listened to his statements, and separated all that from the soaring rhetoric that sends white libs to the ground, trembling with the holy spirit. Obama promises to be a competent manager of empire, expanding the Terror Wars abroad while fortifying the police state at home. He wants to give tax breaks to those making under $250K? Super. That seems a fair trade-off with shredding more constitutional protections while killing and starving more poor people overseas. Recall his supposed "surrender" on FISA? That was when his presidency was anything but certain, and he sided with the privatized state. What do you think he'll "surrender" next, once he's ensconced in the Oval Office?
I'll give Obama this much -- his campaign has been one of the most brilliantly conceived and cynically executed appeals I've ever seen. His propaganda team has ably exploited people's desire for HOPE and CHANGE, offering them empty platitudes which they can fill with any fantasy they choose. Even when Obama baldly states whose interests he actually serves, his followers either don't care or pretend not to hear. Besides, they bleat when pushed, Obama will be pressured to do the right thing should he stray too far from liberal concerns. The fact that he already has done this shows that claim to be as empty as Obama's speeches. The idea that libs are going to shift from genuflection to lighting fires under Obama's feet is preposterous, but fully in line with the general fantasia.
President Obama will be vigorously defended by liberals, who'll devote more energy to attacking and mocking right wingers than clogging the machine until Obama moves "left," or wherever he's supposed to go. I've repeatedly asked those few libs who bother to debate the issues what they will do when Obama sells them out, further strengthening the authoritarian legacy of Bush/Cheney. Will they demonstrate? Commit civil disobedience? Call for impeachment and criminal indictments? I've yet to get any firm answers to these questions, but the answers are already known. Besides, we gotta get Obama re-elected in '12, or it's President Palin/Romney/Monster Yet To Emerge. But once he snags that second term . . .
Some "independent-minded" friends of mine have predictably crawled back under the Dem tent in time to vote Obama. I saw this in 2000 with Gore, but it's happening at a much faster pace this time around. Again, why should the Dems change when they know such crawling will always happen? That they are all white progressives is no surprise, especially this year, when voting for Obama is an emblem of anti-racism. If for nothing else, I've been told, I should back Obama to show how much I care about black people. Which black people? I respond. I didn't know that African-Americans shared the same brain. One normally astute friend, who recently accepted Obama as his personal savior, actually told me privately that he cannot hope to sort out an impossibly corrupt system and then explain it to powerless people in a way that they can understand, so he's forced to go along with the Obama vibe as it's officially understood. This friend gave me permission to use his name, in order to "make an example" of him for my "strident" readership, but I wouldn't think of openly linking him to such asinine, condescending statements like the above. He's done too much good work, and I trust he'll return to his senses in due course.
The other night, I had a friendly but intense conversation with a young African-American acquaintance about the racial aspect of the election. Shane's fully behind Obama, sports a large Obama button, and is nervously excited about having a black president. I confessed straight away that I'm not voting for Obama, and find the man to be a smooth, studied hustler. Shane said he appreciated my honesty, given how his white liberal co-workers were stumbling over each other to prove their anti-racist credentials. Still, he asked if I understood the symbolism of an Obama victory. I answered that I did, but from a limited perspective. Being white, I couldn't fully grasp what this means to many African-Americans, nor would I pretend to. White Americans have a long way to go to get past our racist assumptions, no matter how minor or seemingly casual these assumptions may be. Electing Obama does little to advance that -- hell, if anything, it hinders that. As Ted Koppel told Charlie Rose, electing Obama would be a boon to US propaganda overseas, since nothing structurally will change once Obama's in power. That's how white elites see Obama. For them, the symbolism of his presidency lends a fine polish to their criminal operations. Obama understands this, and accepts his institutional role. That millions of powerless people see something else, something positive, in Obama's ascension merely confirms their passive state. Like I said, one of the most cynical displays I've ever seen.
Shane laughed, but conceded some of my points. At the end of our discussion, he asked, "So, who you gonna vote for?" I said that politically, I'm closest to Nader, but his candidacy is a fading echo of an earlier, more vibrant time. Voting for him would only deepen my depression. Later, alone, I came to the conclusion that if all we have are fantasy options, especially in states that Obama has won, then why not get creative? That's when I decided to write-in Eugene Victor Debs for president. Any candidate who would tell his followers this:
"I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition."
Gets my vote. Even though he's long dead, Debs' ideas remain timely, and further exposes Obama for the corporate shill he clearly is. Note, however, that this is a vote for Debs, not against Obama. In an election of phantoms, I choose the better spirit.