September 9, 2008

Adolph Reed Jr. on Obama

In this week's Black Agenda Report, Adolph Reed puts Barack Obama's politics into some perspective. The article, "Where Obamaism Seems to be Going," began with a brief yet sanguine criticism of both Glenn Greenwald and Katrina vanden Heuvel who recently debated just how audacious Obama is becoming with his recent turns to the right. In other words, is he selling out? What I found most compelling in the piece however was Reed's take on the "progressive" indicant given the tendency of so many well-meaning, and even thoughtful, people to deny the elephant in the room. And goddamn! He pulls no punches.

Reed writes:

"Obama represents a class politics, one that promises to cement an alliance anchored in the professional-managerial class (including, perhaps especially, the interchangeable elements of which now increasingly set the policy agendas for what remains of the women's, environmentalist, public interest, civil rights and even labor movements) and the 'progressive' wing of the investor class. (See, for example, Tom Geoghagen, All the Young Bankers, The American Prospect, June 23, 2008.) From this perspective, it is ironic in the short term -- i.e., considering that he pushed HRC out of the way -- that Obama would be the one to complete Clintonism's redefinition of liberalism as conservatism. So there's no way I'm going to ratify this bullshit with my participation, and I'm ready to tell all those liberals who will hector me about the importance of voting that it's the weakest, most passive and least consequential form of political participation, and I'm no longer going to pretend it's any more than that, or that the differences between the Dem and GOP candidates are greater than they are, just to help them feel good about not doing anything more demanding and perhaps more consequential....

To be clear, I'm not arguing that it's wrong to vote for Obama, though I do say it's wrong-headed to vote for him with any lofty expectations. I would also suggest that it's not an open and shut case that - all things considered - he's that much better than McCain. In some ways Obama would be better for us in the short run, just as Clinton was better than the elder Bush. In some ways his presidency could be much worse in the longer term, again like Clinton…."

Reed adds,

"But here's the catch-22: The left version of the lesser evilist argument stresses that it's unrealistic and maybe unfair to expect anything of the Dems in the absence of a movement that could push them, and no such movement exists. True enough, but where is such a movement to come from if we accept the premise that the horizon of our political expectation has to be whatever the Dems are willing to do because demanding more will only put/keep the other guys in power, and they're worse? I remember Paul Wellstone saying already in the early ‘90s that they'd gotten into a horrible situation in Congress, where the Republicans would propose a really, really hideous bill, and the Dems would respond with a slightly less hideous one and mobilize feverishly around it. If it passed, they and all their interest-group allies would hold press conferences to celebrate the victory, when what had passed actually made things worse than they were before. That's also an element of the logic we've been trapped in for 30 years, and it's one reason that things have gotten progressively worse, and that the bar of liberal expectations has been progressively lowered...

Frankly, I've begun to suspect that the election year version of the 'now is not the time' argument and its sibling, the 'get him elected first then hold him accountable' line, as well as their first cousin, 'Well, that's what they all have to do to get elected,' reflect nothing better than denial of the grim reality that we can't expect anything from them or make any demands of them. After all, how can we hold them accountable once they're in office if we can't do it when they're running, when we technically have something we can withhold or deliver?"

And in the next to last paragraph offers these closing remarks:

"The fact is that they know we don't have the power to make them do or not do anything and treat us accordingly, and they will until we develop the capacity to force them to do otherwise. I know this is a difficult message for those who like to believe that politics is about good people and bad people, or that writing really smart position papers that demonstrate the formal plausibility of a win/win agenda that satisfies everyone's concerns should be enough to counter the influence of those $30,000 per head corporate and hedge fund contributors, but that's just not the way the deal goes down."

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