Thursday, January 22, 2009

'It seems like Obama is saying: I will only be as good a president as the people who will organize to move me'

By Ben Trott

A friend of mine, Dont Rhine from the sound art collective Ultra Red and who is based in LA, yesterday sent me an email with his thoughts on the inauguration. I found them insightful and he agreed to letting me post them here:
'First, best parts of the inauguration: Aretha's hat and Lowery's benediction. Worse part: Warren's prayer and its insufferable surfer dude platitudes and that wretched poem.

'About Obama's speech. One could mistake his call to responsibility, self-determination, and independence from Government as more of the same Reagan libertarianism; but for the fact that he always frames this with a denunciation of the failures of the state, the failures of the market, the failures of greed, and the failures of poor stewardship. I've begun to notice an implicit but, to my ears, very clear rhetorical style Obama uses in his speeches. It seems like Obama is saying: I will only be as good a president as the people who will organize to move me.

'Recently, Robert from Ultra-red reminded me that Abraham Lincoln waited a very long time to sign the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the U.S. Lincoln's delays made the abolitionists furious. At one point, they met with him and asked why he hadn't done ratified the Amendment. He said the time wasn't right. The abolitionists took this as a signal to increase their efforts, to raise the pitch on the masses demanding abolition. Hearing Obama list all the crises that we face (about which no one doing social justice work needs to be reminded), the kind of change actually needed to address those crises are so monumental that they can only happen with mass support. The demand for change on the scale of the New Deal requires such pressure from below that any opposition would lose legitimacy. I hear in Obama's speech an attempt to lay out 1) the depth of the problem such that it really does put fear in our hearts, 2) that people began to demand something be done, 3) that people begin to imagine and demand huge changes and not the usual standard of change offered by the democrats.

'As for Obama surrounding himself with hawks, conservatives and imperialists there are two ways to read this. First, we can say that Obama is weak and will succumb to Washington consensus politics. Nothing will change because of all these conservatives close to him. This has become the standard charge on the left - one I have made myself, particularly in relation to Clinton. The second is riskier, but also more political. We can say that Obama knows that the best place to keep your enemy is close by your side. Very very close. This was a strategy taken by Lincoln as well who surrounded himself with people ideologically opposite from himself. If Obama can persuade and win the support of the hawks and the pro-imperialist democrats of his own party (who will either follow him or undermine him) then the strength of the opposition will be diminished. I know this is a far-fetched reading. In the same way that it's an very risky strategy. But perhaps it's less useful to think of this being the truth (or not) than being an opening.

'Anyway, Bush and Co. are gone. The euphoria over this fact has intoxicated the country.'

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