I saw Obama as a certain type of cynical politician from the very beginning, and was always puzzled that no one else seemed to agree. (Particularly other bloggers, mostly male.) My years as a journalist, covering a corrupt political machine, gave me too keen a nose for that sort of thing. There were always idealistic Democrats, sure, but they weren’t cynical, only naive. I never thought Obama was naive. There were too many classic clues leading me to think otherwise. The well-placed political job for his wife, the magical acquisition of part of a historic property while Michelle Obama sat on the board in charge of their zoning subdivision – little things like that. His relationship with Tony Rezko. The complaints from fellow state senators that he was the protege of the majority leader, who handed over the legislation they’d worked on as the minority and once they were in charge, he gave it to the young, unseasoned Obama to carry across the finish line and get the glory.
He was clearly being groomed for larger things. (This is Chicago we’re talking about, after all.) But why? Because an inspirational black Democrat (however nominal a Democrat) is a useful tool for all kinds of people. Well, there you have it.
Those speeches: Well, I’m a writer. I pay attention to that sort of thing. I always thought his speeches were more about him than anything outside himself. You can trust me, they always seemed to say. I didn’t. They didn’t reach me. It wasn’t as if I’m not susceptible to inspiring oratory – the first time I heard Howard Dean give his “I want my country back!” speech on C-SPAN, I called my best friend and held up the phone to the teevee so she could listen, because I was so excited. But with Obama, it was like hearing a bell ring as a “clunk” instead of a clang. I dunno, that’s just what it felt like. “Maybe I’m just wrong,” I thought to myself. I hoped so. But I wasn’t.
But I don’t blame Obama for the whole mess. Our system is so obviously corrupted from top to bottom, he’s nothing more than a figurehead used to keep the masses calm as we are herded into our new Third World economy.
Anyway, similar thoughts from Matt Stoller:
This alternative narrative is a hard truth to hear, because it carries with it an implicit rejection of American exceptionalism. Yes, American institutions are no better, and in many ways are more malignant, than those of many other countries. Yes, our political leaders, our press, our military leadership, operate in service to sociopathic aims. Yes, our freedoms are often an illusion, unless you fit a very narrow criteria. Yes, our banks are run to rob us, yes, our CIA spies on us, and yes, our government is fundamentally anti-democratic. Yes, our President is a con artist, and yes, nearly every reporter who writes about him participates in this set of lies, because of careerism, social financial reasons, or a simple lack of competence or imagination.
But, the idea that the king is always good, which is where the hope and change narrative draws its deep strength, is something we do not have to accept. We as people can break this spell, and speak to our own dignity, as citizens. We can learn our own power, if in no other manner than in saying at the voting booth and in public, “I do not accept your lies, and though you might take it by force, I will not grant you my consent willingly.” We can choose not to address our political officials by their titles. We can work to organize ourselves, and our lives, with those of us who understand that power is something that must be taken, with money, organization, but most of all, with moral courage. It is not something that politicians have except through our consent, consent we have been giving for decades, to a rotten political class. This is what they truly fear. This is why they spend tens of billions on propaganda, on advertising, on symbols and personalities and celebrity. This is why they hide the workings of our government and banks and institutions of power in the language of boring bureaucrat-ese. This is ultimately why they are weak. Because in order for them to do their work quietly, we must go about our day, and believe either the hope and change narrative, or the Kenyan socialist narrative, scoffing at the opposing “team” who thinks what we do not. Instead, we can choose an alternative narrative, that power and consent come from us, come from the choices that we make, as people, and as citizens. And we will no longer believe that Barack Obama, that cool, brilliant, self-aware con artist is anything but what he has revealed himself to be.
I do believe in symbolic gestures, and stopped addressing most people by titles back in high school. (It drove my principal nuts that my friends and I addressed him as “Arthur,” and not Father Nugent.) The one time I had to give testimony, I refused to swear on the Bible and instead affirmed that I was telling the truth. This was actually started by the Quakers, and it was one of the reasons they were seen as so subversive, they eventually fled England. They addressed everyone as “Friend”, and it infuriated the powers that be.
I’m not suggesting that everyone become Quakers. (I couldn’t; I couldn’t sit still long enough through their meetings.) I’m suggesting that we look carefully at the symbolism, the language of power, and deconstruct it. Use your language thoughtfully so your words count.