Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Can We?: A deep feeling of squick

So, I cast my vote today... and was ashamed to wear my "I voted" sticker. Because I voted for Obama.

Let me explain, kind of.

Given the discourse in the US, it seemed to me that simply no one would listen to me or take me seriously, or not no one, but few people on the left, including my friends, would listen if I voted instead for McKinney or Nader. Apparently it's still Nader's fault that, among other things, Gore didn't challenge the vote in the entire state of Florida, which consensus now says he would've won.

So I essentially voted for Obama in order to not be marginalized. It seems too-clever-by-half, but it also seems to me that the thought process of people I know would be "If you can't see that it was vital to vote for Obama, I can't even possibly understand what you're thinking." With this peer-pressure vote, I get the feeling that the internal narrative will be "Well, I'm skeptical of what he's saying, he's crazy, but at least he voted for Obama, so I'll humor him." And of course, once you humor someone by listening to them, you end up actually listening to them eventually. Usually.

Look, here's my deal. I just spent 15 minutes with my sister explaining myself -- which makes me feel all kinds of squick because hope is important, and I don't to crush hope, nor do I want to be viewed as "living in a dreamworld" as my sister and J-friend MZ and J-friend Becky have accused me of (and will no doubt continue to accuse me of). (Which, by the by, drives me crazy -- I ask people to sit down and analyze the arguments, I don't tell them their idea is fanciful and la-la-land; at least, I don't say that to my good friends, typically.) But let's set aside my problems with Obama*, I think the real source of my squick is the excitement for Obama. For two reasons: 1) sure, it's symbolic, but substance matters to me more than symbols, and while it will be amazing to have a black president, what will be more important is the 2nd black president, the 3rd... because a symbol without follow-up stands for little, and a symbol by itself doesn't mean that reality has changed; we've seen how many opposed to a black president there are, and we've (I've) talked about the much subtler and quite prevalent problems of institututional racism, and 2) he's a politician. Despite claims to the contrary, I can't see how one can argue that he represents a new kind of politics; he's an extraordinary and inspiring orator, who didn't perhaps stoop so low as the lowest lows in negative campaigning. But he has distorted, probably lied, and spun as much as any good politician, as I implied in an earlier post:
The other bit for today, to cut the other way, are two articles critiquing Obama -- or really, the important one is the one in the Houston Press News (that I found via this article) about what the reporter sees as Obama's long-established careerism and political aspirations keeping him from doing as much as he could to help his own district in Chicago, as a community organizer and as a politician, and it's the first actually somewhat concrete proof of what I've heard several times: that he rose in no small part (as anyone in that climate would have to) through the Illinois' political machine's machinations. Interestingly, the reporter still finds him inspiring, even after being chewed out and fair-weather-unfriended by Obama. Of course, I guess I should be understanding -- I think Obama's going to be/is as much of a politician as anyone, and I still find him inspiring. I may even vote for him yet -- McCain is growing scarier by the day, and it would be nice to have someone in the White House that says the things I believe in, even if -- and this is my basic analysis of Democrats -- they continue to DO all the things I don't believe in. At least they can make it sound good. [emphasis added]

Why do I bring this up? Because I just can't get into the excitement about Obama. I had, I want to, but driving to vote, I remembered: the FISA bill, no gay marriage (yes civil unions), no single payer health care (yes a complicated alternative), and a bunch of stuff below at the *. And it's not that this doesn't still leave him better than McCain -- it's that people swallowed this stuff and forgot and forgave and moved on. It's important to be excited, to be pumped, to be mobilized, but we musn't forget, this isn't about Obama. Even he's said, it's us. We're the change we've been looking for -- meaning that voting for him isn't the end. It's not even the middle -- it's the middle of the beginning. If people don't stay mobilized, Obama will be as ineffectual and disappointing as the majority-Dem Congress he's coming from. If people don't get over their love affair with him, people on the Left, in order to criticize him as harshly or more harshly than we would anyone else when he strays from his agenda, he will not amount to much. My Mom, following his campaign more closely, has said he admitted that -- that he wouldn't do anything we didn't make him to, so we have to make him to. I can't imagine he was that stark, but I believe and understand and agree with the sentiment.

I'm fine, I guess, with the love affair with Obama for today. It will be exciting when he wins, and to hear someone cogent as president. But we must must must by ready and waiting to cajole, complain, pressure, and pursue a President Obama on the change we want to see, because, as my mom says, he may be close to the best a politician can be, but he's still a politician and she doesn't expect him to do anything positive we don't force him to do. So I will join you all in celebrating for tonight, if you will join me in amping not just our cheer and applause but also our eyes and ears, and knives if the need may be -- to cut Obama up in our opinions and speeches and conversations when necessary to keep him on track for change, to howl much, much more loudly if Obama the President signs into law something like the FISA bill Obama the Senator helped pass, to get to the streets and protest if Obama the President rattles the sabers at Iran, to knock on doors and send letters if we end up sending troops to Afghanistan and it causes more destruction, not less. Do these things, and I will gladly cheer when he comes into office, and when he lives up to the change I believe in. His record during this race, where he rapidly moved from a different kind of politician to a rampant centrist, and, to me, less cogent debater than Kerry (who has a horrible presence, but made better points in his debates in 2004 I thought) leads me to believe we will need more of the former than latter. May time prove me wrong, and may we celebrate the end of a horrible era, and move into an era of hope -- but an era of hope that will require as much activism, as much anger and passion, both laudatory and critical, as the past 8 years. Without it, my vote for him is a lost vote, as bad if not worse as you may think a vote for Nader may have been. Stay mobilized, stay active, and push each other, push me, challenge me and yourself and your family and friends and Obama as much we have been pushing during the Bush years -- and more! -- and we will have been audacious enough to deserve the hope.



*(achem, voting for FISA bill i.e. continued broad spectrum dubious-to-warrantless wiretapping with telecommunications companies shielded from prosectution for violating the rights of their clients; achem, saying he believes in civil unions but not gay marriage, which is completely politically understandable and expedient but not consistent with "change", "audacity," or intellectual honesty if you presume the US is not a theocracy; achem, saying we would invade and bomb Pakistan if necessary, speaking of unfortunate miltarism and a certain familiar unilateralism; achem, saying we should intensify our troops in Afghanistan by taking the from Iraq, even though it appears the primary outcome of that could be to turn Afghanistan into some place as bloody as Iraq; achem, saying we might have to attack Iran and that if they have a nuclear weapon they pose an existential threat, despite the fact that of Pakistan, India, the US, Russia, probably North Korea, Israel and several other countries, only the US has used nuclear weapons, AND Israel continues to have nuclear weapons in complete violation of international treaties and the US, including Obama, says nothing about it; achem, supporting Israel -- all well and good -- but not spending much time pointing out that the Palestinian terrorities are the poorest in the world and 3 times as many Palestinians are dying in the conflict with Israel than Israelis; achem, saying we should put child rapists to death and disagreeing with the Supreme Court that it's not constitutional; achem, opposing the DC handgun ban)

2 comments:

Daktari said...

I remembered: the FISA bill, no gay marriage (yes civil unions), no single payer health care (yes a complicated alternative), and a bunch of stuff below at the *.

I was reminded when I read this of the sinking feeling in my stomach when Clinton flip-flopped on gays in the military with that whole "don't ask-don't tell" policy that was a total cop out.

We're the change we've been looking for -- meaning that voting for him isn't the end. It's not even the middle -- it's the middle of the beginning. If people don't stay mobilized, Obama will be as ineffectual and disappointing as the majority-Dem Congress he's coming from. If people don't get over their love affair with him, people on the Left, in order to criticize him as harshly or more harshly than we would anyone else when he strays from his agenda, he will not amount to much.

To this I can say that virtually everyone I have spoken who is actually INVOLVED in the Obama campaign (more than just giving lip service and a vote) is not thinking of taking of a few months off. These folks now seem to have the attitude of: if we can do THIS, what else might we be capable of?

But we must must must by ready and waiting to cajole, complain, pressure, and pursue a President Obama on the change we want to see...

I have NEVER let a politician off the hook. And I don't think that many are not going to hold his feet to the fire. It's not in our nature to maintain this love affair for long. But just like any love affair, those first few weeks that seem sprinkled in fairy dust sure are fun.

Stay mobilized, stay active, and push each other, push me, challenge me and yourself and your family and friends and Obama as much we have been pushing during the Bush years -- and more! -- and we will have been audacious enough to deserve the hope.

See ya on the front lines. I've already begun my efforts to reform voter registration.

What issue you putting in your bag?

D

J said...

To this I can say that virtually everyone I have spoken who is actually INVOLVED in the Obama campaign (more than just giving lip service and a vote) is not thinking of taking of a few months off. These folks now seem to have the attitude of: if we can do THIS, what else might we be capable of?
That's fantastic -- I can't wait to see what happens. Perhaps people inspired by hope will be substantially different than those by outrage -- i.e. the lackluster maintenance of mobilization against the Afghanistan & Iraq Wars. It is much harder, however, to organize without a charismatic leader -- and Obama simply cannot be the leader of a mass movement and president simultaneously. A mass movement needs to be daring, even a touch uncompromising, whereas a president needs to compromise, and the contemporary approach shown by both McCain & Obama was to avoid being daring at most costs when there is a possibility there will be a cost. Not to mention, few if any presidents are more radical as prez than as candidate (with a notable exception: HELLLLLLO, GWB!) I don't, however, see Obama as being -- pushing issues-wise -- the GWB of the left. (I know it's a horrible association, but I think it actually would be nice if Obama were as daring as the Bush admin in pushing his policies; less dictatorial, yes, but the part where you're willing to go out on a limb and make your case and make your case even as when your case is not the popular one, when used for good, a good thing.)

I have NEVER let a politician off the hook. And I don't think that many are not going to hold his feet to the fire. It's not in our nature to maintain this love affair for long. But just like any love affair, those first few weeks that seem sprinkled in fairy dust sure are fun.
Hmm... yeah, those weeks of fairy dust have been relatively rare for me.

As far as our nature & love affairs, well... you may be right about the love, but not about the affair. That is, I believe NOW! specifically told supporters not to criticize Clinton while he was haggling around welfare reform because he was on "our side," and we essentially got the Republican welfare bill. NAFTA opposition was there, but not coordinated it seems to me. Operation Desert Fox -- hardly the mobilization against it that Desert Storm I had (much less Desert Storm II). Meanwhile, our love affair with Obama continued such that the amount of love he got was in no way proportional to how much he earned it on a policy basis (see: my laundry list of complaints, and let me snark a bit more -- Obama wasn't even ballsy when he was running against Alan Keyes in Illinois, who couldn't have won the election if he was challenging his own pants for the office). Love affairs go away, but like battered spouses or staying together for the kids, often we get into a sitch with the president where people on the left say "We can't attack him! He has to win another term!" and then "We can't attack him! The Dems need to be strong in 2016!" Then rinse, and repeat.

What issue you putting in your bag?
I rather imagine I'll keep pushing several. My biggest goal if I get the chance is to push 3rd parties on the ground in local elections; in a place like Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, with a bunch of safe safe Dem seats, it makes zero sense not to run Greens or such, such they/we can build a constituency without the problems of "spoiling" everyone else's fun in voting for lesser evilism. Plus, Greens seem to tend to be white and upper-middle class, or at least, upper-to-middle class (i.e. me) of various colors. The natural constituency for the Greens are the poor who don't believe things can change and the minorities who have been marginalized. Yet in the poor and the minority neighborhoods of Ypsi and Ann Arbor, I've yet to see the Greens reach out deeply and try to cross over from sons-and-daughters-of-yuppies to true grassroots movement-workers among the actually politically underrepresented.

So that's a big one. IRV and proportional voting would be nice. And education is a big 'un -- plus the environment and food.

My plan -- to work on all of them, and focus on the ones that heat up whens they heat up.