Monday, June 23, 2008

the political situation

Gary Younge repeats in The Nation (sub) what surely by now encapsulates the only true responsible leftist position and fundamental rallying cry. It's also something I've been saying for months now:
There are symbols, and there is substance–the way things look, and the way things are. But in between there is the way things might be: a sense of possibility that image might precede content or even provide space for it to emerge...such is the tension in the American left's response to Obama's candidacy. There are some–let's call them dreamers–who believe his nomination marks a paradigm shift in progressive politics in this country. And there are others–let's call them materialists–who dismiss the excitement surrounding his nomination as little more than an emotional distraction from what really matters...Obama [in his actions thus far] is little more than a mainstream Democrat offering sops that are better than the Republicans' but inadequate to the needs of working-class Americans and the world at large [...] ...the materialist arguments have their merits, as far as they go. The trouble is they don't go that far because they are crippled by a lack of imagination.

Materialists do not deny the energy and expectations Obama's candidacy has unleashed. They simply refuse to engage with either the reasons underlying it or the potential it might hold. In a country where 80 percent of the people feel things are heading in the wrong direction, a huge number feel they have found a liberal change agent. Materialists have the option of insisting that all these people are deluded or finding out why they believe what they do. [...]

Between them, the young and the black increased their share of the Democratic primary electorate by roughly 25 percent compared with 2004–two constituencies that can now assert their place in the Democratic coalition as never before. If the materialists have an alternative project that could engage this number of people in progressive politics, they are keeping it very quiet. In the meantime, you do not have to binge-drink the Obama-Kool-Aid to see the possibilities here. We can try to engage the direct this energy toward a more progressive agenda or abandon it in favor of a more reactionary one. We can pressure his campaign to meet expectations or abandon them to disappointment and cynicism.

While symbols should never be mistaken for substance, they are not insubstantial either.

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