obama, politics

Obama and the Nature of Democracy


Nelson Mandela makes the candid admission in his popular autobiography Long Walk to Freedom that, post-Robben Island, he preferred dealing with the straightforward racism of P.W. Botha than the two-faced diplomacy of F.W. de Klerk, whose forked tongue caused the first black South African president many-a-headache.

Botha was 11 years the head of the rightwing National Party, rejected the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and refused to testify. De Klerk ended up sharing the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela.

The arc of history is littered with figures whose popular reputation shields a hidden past of sins.

Many of them, like de Klerk, are generally viewed today as champions of “liberal” values and cool, centrist “objectivity”: Woodrow Wilson (who supported a new world order of peaceful nations states!), Winston Churchill (who led the free world against Hitler! And Won!), John F. Kennedy (who faced down Khrushchev and Castro, and slept with Marilyn Monroe!), Bill Clinton (who delivered a rare surplus, and slept with…many people!!), etc.

A few decades from now, Barack Obama will be added to that list. In fact, there’s really no reason why we can’t throw him on top of the heap right this moment.

Obamabot Deception V. 2012

People more or less acknowledge that Obama couldn’t deliver much of what he “promised,” which, for those of us with a working memory, wasn’t very much.

Obama will not stop dealing in the dark with those who hold real power: corporation and Wallstreet. For starters, his “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans will see Medicare, Medicaid, and social security cut in exchange for modest tax hikes on the rich. Did America vote for this? Probably not. Does Obama care? No.

But my real point is this:

Those who supported him pre-2009 were told time and time again by acutely critical observers that Obama’s deeds as President won’t really match his rhetoric. The warnings were passed off as pessimistic and judgmental. Today, those same supporters, without shame, turn to the cameras and tell the rest of us almost exactly what we told them from the very beginning: that (1) Obama’s rhetoric is hollow, that (2) real politics is about pushing Obama to do the right thing, and that (3) despite what kind of person Obama is, he will experience serious structural constraints as President.


Now shameless Obamabots want to play it cool by stressing point (3) in order to say, “Hey, Obama’s only human, don’t be so harsh, he’s just another politician and we need to push him.” It’s the most shameless about-face in American political history.

Obama’s minions use this technique to shield him from further criticism. Now that Obama has won, the one thing he’s going to need from skeptics and supporters alike is pressure. He needs it because (1) mass criticism in institutionalized form will push him to do the right thing, and (2) the best way to guarantee your irrelevance is to back a politician unconditionally: your concerns will not be taken seriously by that candidate since you’re going to vote for him/her anyway.

One interesting-if-trivial case in point too good to not point out is the actor Olivia Wilde.

There’s really nothing in the world more reprehensible than a celebrity being passed off as some sort of figure who selflessly juggles his/her busy schedule to care for the world. All the while, those who do the real work: those who organize the rallies, who put up the posters, sends out the mail, and campaigns out in the cold, remain faceless. Their names will never be recorded in history books.

Obama thanked Wilde personally on the phone in 2007 for travelling Iowa in support of his first presidential campaign.  She gushed in an interview saying how she was “squealing” for 15 seconds out of sheer star-struck excitement, while thinking she had hung up.

Then, a few months ago, on The Hour, Wilde, with a straight face, explained that although she’s disappointed, Obama is still a smart guy, so instead of criticizing him, everyone should just focus on changing the political circumstances instead. This conveniently asserts the obvious while shielding Obama and his blindest supporters from accountability. Celebrity culture, as vapid as it is, can be an accurate reflection of the decayed nature of our public conciousness.

Those who were smart enough not to be emotionally and intellectually manipulated by Obamamania have every right to recall the profoundly stupid political discourse pedaled by the ‘bots leading up to 2009. It’s to remind everyone that staying critical and asserting pressure are virtues when it comes to making change. The opposite: handing a politician what he or she wants, unconditionally, is nothing but a variant of whoring.