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Election 2012: Eyes Wide Shut

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I dread the prospect of hundreds of  panels on the same topics:  “Will we ever again have a Black President?” or “Are we now PRE-racial?”, as if the problem were with the racial identity of a neoliberal President and not with his neoliberalism.

To those of you who insist that you will be the ones to hold Obama's feet to the fire: you are as deluded as those who marry alcoholics vowing to change them, and I have no interest in coddling your delusion.  When he winsand I suspect he will, even if by a very slim marginthe only feet I plan on holding to the fire are yours.



I've posted and written a number of articles critical of Obama's last four years, my own and that of others, in the last few weeks, here and on Facebook. As we approach November 6, opinions on all sides are going to get stronger, and Hurricane Sandy is intensifying emotions.


There have been some concerns and disagreements amongst my friends and colleagues and I. Many of us feel the same way as I do about Obama, that he is hardly different from Romney and that an Obama administration has been, in several areasforeign policy, immigration, women's rights, and education among themthe same as the President that Romney insists he will be. As I've pointed out in my pieces on Obama's shell game and on the Mourdock abortion controversy, there is little to distinguish Obama from Romney (remember their jousting over who could say “crippling sanctions” often enough?) and not much to distinguish Republicans from Democrats.


At the same time, a lot of what I've written or said has resulted in some anger and demands to know why I can't see that the end of the world is nigh with a Romney election. Let me clarify that I'm less concerned about whom you vote for than that you vote with your eyes open.


I dislike the fake populism of the American Presidential election and I think that it's time we moved out of a two-party system.  I also think that voting for a third party, writing in your own candidates, or not voting at all are all valid actions. I always find it more than ironic that the most industrialised country in the world has the lowest voter turnout.  The U.S also disenfranchises voters, whether because they are incarcerated, ex-felons, “sex offenders”, too poor, too old, or too young, or for reasons that polling booths will simply make up on the spur of the moment.  Yet, come election time and public discoursewhich is to say, media attention, sadly almost the same thing nowadaysreaches a crescendo of panic and passion. The most common argument hurled at anyone who dares to question the logic of voting goes something like this, “If you don't vote, you can't complain.” Besides the problems with deciding that those who don't vote don't deserve, for instance, clean air and water, housing, and healthcarewhich is the implicit message herethis statement ignores the fact that millions are prevented from voting in the first place, and that even those who are judged eligible to vote often find it difficult to do so for any number of reasons.


In a stunning and detailed piece for Salon, Matt Stoler makes the case that progressives ought not to vote for Obama. Again, whom you vote for or not is not my concern here, but the article is necessary reading for anyone who insists that Obama is simply a good man caught in bad times, or for anyone who wants desperately to believe that his last four years have been an example of excellent government and high ideals. An excerpt:



It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush...most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.  


Economic inequality is not simply a sad by-product of the last four years; this administration actually has a vested interest in it. Remember Katrina, and how werightlyblamed Bush for his inadequate response and realised that his administration was engaging in what Naomi Klein has famously termed “disaster capitalism” in order to raze older, poorer neighbourhoods in New Orleans and bring in the forces of privatisation?

Well, we have long been comfortable with the idea that all of this is the result of the meanie Republicans, and we have ignored the fact that Obama has encouraged the very same neoliberal politics.  For instance, he ignored the Chicago Teachers' Union strike despite having publicly stated, in 2007, that he would support a teachers' strike.


Over this past weekend, came the revelation that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is carrying out and justifying the principles made infamous in the wake of Katrina (and remember that charter schools are the the canary birds in the mine of larger, more systemic privatisation). Duncan said:


I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but I’m going to be really honest. The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.   



All of this is to simply state that I don't care whether or not people vote for Obama, but I would like us all to collectively dispense with the idea that an Obama administration is any less neoliberal from the last one or from a prospective Romney Presidency.   In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, liberals and progressives are pointing out that Romney would have gutted the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  But we forget that while the neoliberalism of Romney dictates that people simply not receive assistance in the first place, the neoliberalism of Obama requires that the structure providing that assistance work efficiently in the interest of furthering neoliberalism afterwards.  As I write this, New York City, ruled by a billionaire Mayor, is undergoing profound and unforeseen changes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and we should have no doubt that this natural disaster will prove to be the breeding ground for even more privatisation of education, transportation, and other essential services.   


But let me also state some quick and dirty reasons, in no particular order, why I would not be averse to a second Obama term:

  • I don't want to spend the next four years with a wounded and angry Obama on the side, suddenly and hypocritically deciding that he's anti-war, pro-women, and the great saviour of the left just so that he can be voted back in 2016. I have disliked the man since his first run for the Senatemy first thought was, “I don't trust this guy,” and I was right. We might also remember that he didn't win that race on experience, but because his first opponent was embroiled in a sexual scandal (Seven of Nine, remember?) and the man who replaced Ryan was, um, Alan Keyes. In a recent interview, Obama said that he would win because Latinos are angry with Romney: “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”  Once again, his best hope is that voters dislike the other guy more than they dislike him.  


  • I dread the prospect of hundreds of  panels on the same topics:  “Will we ever again have a Black President?” or “Are we now PRE-racial?”, as if the problem were with the racial identity of a neoliberal President rather than his neoliberalism. We've finally come to some kind of a breaking point in public discourse, I think, where we're able to gently or sharply nudge liberals and progressives into having to confront the realities of what this President's politics really are (think: drone attacks), and I fear losing momentum on that. Perhaps four more years of Obama are what we need to finally see the problems with everything that “the left” has embraced: affective immigration politics that emphasises issues like “broken families”, the DREAM Act and “good immigrants” over economic reform, the end of women's rights unless the women are wealthy members of boardrooms, and so on.


  •  I cannot endure any drum circles for peace by people who remained silent about Obama's drone attacks but will undoubtedly have much to say about Romney's militarism. That's not to say I don't want anti-war marchesI do, and I want Obama to stay in office so he can finally see the left has a backbone and will march against his policies. I hope.


  • I dread the end of anything resembling genuine wit in public discourse and the grasping for straws as liberals and progressives read and sound like Beavis and Butthead on their worst days. Honestly, I think this is what I want the most: the sharpening of political satire which now falls on the fragile shoulders of The Onion while Lib-Dem-Progs are left making fun of Michelle Bachmann's hair and Ann Romney's pearls. One is a Tea Partier, and the other is a conservative Mormon. What were you expecting? Yeah, wit. I want the return of genuine wit, not this asinine trotting out of, "OMG, CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT [insert rabid-right-winger's name] said?" 


Wit, my friends. It will be the rapierthe bayonet, if you willwith which we can finally begin to defeat a neoliberalism which snows us with the notion of choice. The end of wit in political discourse in this election season is symptomatic of the end of the left. May we be witty again, and may that be just one sign of a re-invigorated radical politics that demands change, not mere hope. To those of you who insist that you will be the ones to hold Obama's feet to the fire: you are as deluded as those who marry alcoholics vowing to change them, and I have no interest in coddling your delusion.  When he winsand I suspect he will, even if by a very slim marginthe only feet I plan on holding to the fire are yours.


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