The Obama Conundrum: Progress and Protest in the Face of Reality by John Caelan

Dandelion Salad

Sent to DS from the author, thanks, John.

by John Caelan
Whiskey and Wine

Nov. 15, 2008

The Bush Administration has nearly passed into the annals of apologetic history. One might imagine that these last hours of despot rule are akin to the tedious torture of water boarding, wherein the perpetrator promises the end is nigh but the anguished prisoner will not believe it until the torment stops and they are returned to the relative comfort of their urine-soaked bed mat.

As King George secures the stratagem for the chosen elite, President-elect Barack Obama gears up for what may be either a pivotal resuscitation of our failing Nation or the final liquidation of a country that has choked to death on the constant torrent of its own hypocrisy.

Waiting in the wings, like oh-so-many children anticipating the elves’ declaration of Santa’s arrival, the pundits, protestors, and progressives stand with baited breath, scrolls of hopeful wish-lists dangling to the ground. Obama and his developing staff most assuredly are fortifying their flanks, readying their resolve for the inevitable onslaught of subterfuge that will attempt to render this new Executive impotent within days of the Inauguration. However, it may be those lingering in the wings, invited guests and welcomed constituents, who present the greater distraction to Obama over the first year of his Presidency.

The neo-cons, whatever form in which they choose to appear, are fundamentally predictable—this is the price of the dogmatic design: all roads must lead to the nonnegotiable objective, thus all roads can be traced back from that objective. Obama is surrounding himself with plenty of ruthless people who can attend to that front. Progressives are not immune to the rigid doctrine, but by nature they tend to be more flexible, reassessing and reflecting as reality dictates. However, for the last eight years, along with all of the other more visible transgressions, the Bush Administration has managed to sew a more subtle seed of democratic impairment. When an extreme of ideology remains unmoved before the public for such an unreasonable period of time, it serves as an absolving alibi for every failed progressive effort known to man. There is no greater equalizer of ideas than an authoritarian regime that summarily dismisses all ideas except for their own.

Overtime, progressives have found themselves plotting in a vacuum, ideas and platforms never coming into fruition in the face of such obstinate rejection, the social laboratory having no opportunity to test out the theories fermenting in their inspired minds. Thus, these ideas grow and fester in their own imaginations, at odds with a time period in which exponential change marks every aspect of our external lives. Many of these ideas become religions unto themselves, falling prey to the eternal trap of isolated ego, because the inevitable outcome of repressed beliefs is that they morph into new religion, while the testing and trial of beliefs leads to new reason.

Obama soon will take the bully pulpit while millions of frustrated people wait for “change”, somehow missing the overt silliness of the overuse of a term intentionally ambivalent as to outcome. This may have been a clever and concise mantra for the campaign process, speaking broadly and simply to a diverse population, but now a definition for this vague idea must be shaped within the context of reality, and herein lies the rub.

Whether in our hearts or in our minds, the vast majority of us know this to be true: Change isn’t coming because Barack Obama is going to be President. Barack Obama is going to be President because Change is coming. While I understand the need for the exhausted electorate to believe it so, Obama was not a proactive choice—if we, the people, really were proactive, Bush and Cheney would be in jail, Iraq would be healing its wounds in peace, the Palestinians would be feeding instead of burying their children, and the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs and his cronies would not be bathing in a kiddy pool full of ill-gotten money.

No, Obama was a reactive choice, because people were suddenly terrified of the change that was upon them, not because they were wishing for change to occur. The change that shook them was not about morality or dignity or global leadership or civil rights; it was simply about money and the absolute certainty that the Bush architects were doing nothing on their behalf. All of the sudden, effect had once again engaged in a solemn reunion with cause, and the populace, their critical thinking skills worn to a nub, found their selves lost.

Electing Obama was the option that presented itself and, indisputably, the choice did represent great progress. We cannot afford such remedial impediments as racial divides when all of us are in the same boat and that evolution in the social mores of our Nation is deserving of celebration. Perhaps we merely graduated from racism to mere prejudice, the former borne of arrogance, the latter of ignorance, but it is a welcomed movement forward, nonetheless.

That, however, is the extent of change initiated by merely electing Barack Obama. The rest of the change was coming anyway. What we would and will do with it remains in question.

Change is always occurring—in fact, totalitarianism, all nuance aside, is simply the process of attempting to neuter change and maintain a static environment, one that reflects the world view of whoever manages to wrestle control of the autocracy. The rigid home life where Dad wields the mighty stick while Mom smothers the children in a protective swathe of rules and limitations is just a scaled-down version of totalitarianism, stemming from the exact flaws and fears that render such domination on a national scale time and time again. Whether one assigns such oppression to the plots of cabals, aliens, or zealots is ultimately unnecessary—we have plenty of evidence as to how this could occur around us in our daily lives, without the involvement of ethereal beings. What matters is how this resistance to change manifests in our reality.

Natural change was suspended over the last few decades, at the same time as monumental and contrived change was being orchestrated behind the scenes. The aforementioned cause and effect was suspended in our lives, replaced with surrogates of entertainment and easy loans. From this illusion of wealth, businesses came to be that never should have been, fed by a fraudulent flow of unbalanced and exploitive credit. Products sold that never had any relevance, but were purchased to placate our excesses of vanity. Houses became automatic teller machines, though history provided no precedent. We stopped working and making things. At the end of the day, we could not hold in our hands the sum of our time. We simply did each other’s laundry, seemingly satisfied with the vacuous toil of the daily grind, the empty waste of our precious and finite days, as long as we could get PlayStation XXIV, or whatever it is up to now, with next year’s check, via this year’s credit line.

Corrections to our economic model were suspended ad infinitum, after the S&L crisis of the late eighties, after the LCTM crisis of the nineties, after the dot-com collapse in 2000, and after the jolting shock of 9-11. Interest rates were collapsed and fiscal responsibility gave way to a new goal—maintaining the illusion of wealth for the American people so that a few could gain control of the real wealth unopposed.

Everyone bought into the grand illusion to some degree, no matter how sanctimonious we may have seemed in our decrees of condemnation. Unless you lived on a co-op in the middle of the Sierras, weaving your clothes from wool and eating cucumbers from your own garden, you bought into it. We took the loans, we took the moronic jobs that should not have existed, and we invested in the companies that had no relevance. We bought big cars and rewarded ourselves for the great job by moving farther away from it. We saved little and we turned a blind eye to a growing and now insurmountable debt. While the productive vocations slipped out the backdoor, we cheerfully entered the front door of Wal-Mart, happy to receive our dividend delivered in the form of cheap crap made overseas by people one footstep away from slavery. Even the contrarian bloggers who managed to eke out a living online have lived off Google ads facilitated by an orgy of consumerism. Everybody got their cut, their trickle down.

All the while, a war raged on for which no one could provide a single righteous, moral, or even pragmatic justification, other than “we have to win”, a war replete with torture and atrocities, mercenaries, and madmen. A war as anti-American as any action we have ever taken as a body politic in our brief and diminishing history.

The anti-war effort highlights this Achilles heel of the progressive movement and forewarns as to the problems ahead. All but suspended for the last four months of the campaign, members of the protest movement clung to whispers of Obama’s as-yet unrevealed intent to bring this war to a close without delay, as if they were all in on a big secret that no one else was privy to. Cringing as Obama laid out fiery rhetoric directed towards Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia, we muttered repeatedly, “Well, he has to say that to get in. But, once he’s in…” If I had a dime for every utterance of that defense…well, I could finance the new health care system that we can’t afford.

Over time, all of these abated attempts at stopping the war demoralized the movement, as well as other progressive and worthy conservative causes that fell victim to the same frustrations. A hundred thousand marchers, a million emails, a new Congress in ’06—nothing seemed to work. Bush/Cheney and the suspiciously ineffective Legislature seemed nearly oblivious to the outcry of the Nation. At some point, those issues became like white noise—people are almost surprised when you bring up the Iraq War now, as if the subject is passé.

Now, with the new Administration measuring the drapes, the progressives are ready to leap forward into action, except many of their ideas have become anachronisms, having remained in suspended animation for way too long. They’re chomping at the bit, but are often dangerously myopic in both vision and expectations. These stances will have a hard time effecting useful change within the confines of the reality of our situation.

That reality is that we are bankrupt—that is a euphemism in this instance—we are deeply in the red, so much so that the usual mechanisms for creating debt-facilitated growth have failed. We are facing a systemic collapse of our economy, not because a single crack in the dam compromised the entire edifice, but because of dozens of cracks that formed over the years, cracks that we merely patched lightly and painted over in lieu of repairing and ensuring the underlying soundness of the dam. Our national infrastructure is a disaster, our debt overwhelming, our currency questionable. Our factories are shuttered and our military has been relegated as a security apparatus for a handful of corporate interests.

The waters are now rising, the dam could collapse fully at any moment, the outgoing Administration is looting whatever it can, and Barack Obama is posed in front, a formidable and handsome figure casting a long shadow, no doubt, with a can of putty and a mop. It’s picturesque, without question, but it is not a picture of change in the making. It’s a picture of unstoppable change coming.

Soon-to-be President Obama may well be the placater-de-jour, handpicked by the supposed oligarchy to steer us through the unimaginable. One might reasonably argue so, especially with the bizarre level of self-sabotage undertaken by the Republicans and the in-flows of corporate cash to Obama’s campaign. However, all those obvious flaws aside, what do we really think we are looking for in the chief executive of our Nation? Who do we think we are, as individuals, when we ascribe to these leaders such holy mantles of perfection? Unreasonable expectations will kill this Administration and we will become the victims of change, instead of the navigators of change–so far, few have adjusted to the idea that we are entering a Greater Depression, where the entire game changes. You’re worried about sending your kids to college when you should be worried about three squares and a pot to piss in. If you can’t accept that, then we are doomed as a nation. If the entire country chooses at this point to adopt the role of victim, without any sense of personal responsibility and self-reflection, there is absolutely nothing Obama can do except take us into a greater war, the last mechanism of the failed state, the ever faithful dance partner to the economic melee.

Health care, education, environment…these are things we should have attended to when the money was flowing like honey. I imagine Obama et al bailing water and building small dams, while an earnest pundit complains that the noise of the surge pumps is disturbing the endangered cockatoo. No one is saying the cockatoo isn’t important; we just can’t do much for the critter under water. Meanwhile, as a few people attempt scattered rescues in make-shift dinghies, too many bob around flaccidly in the water, complaining that no one has brought them a towel. I know it’s a somewhat inane metaphor, but I know a lot of people and it’s not a stretch to envision them bobbing aimlessly out there. They are good people, but they have become horribly dependent on tools they do not understand.

When tough times come upon a Nation, it becomes necessary for the people to discern clearly between those instances in life where they have been truly clever and those instances where they have been merely lucky. Dealing with people from day to day, I worry that many have lost that distinction, the excesses of the last eight years rendering them somewhat narcissistic, aggrandizing their sense of control over their environment, and exaggerating their own accomplishments. I’ve had young friends come to me recently in complete frustration, saying, “I don’t understand. I’ve always been able to leave and find a job whenever I wanted.” It’s funny because they really do, in the moment, think that it is a personal affront to them—it seems difficult for them to accept the station of being one of many, or to count their blessings in recognition of those who suffer more. As I talk them down from the tree of martyrdom, I am surprised at the resistance to the idea that they need to adapt, change the way they perceive and function in the world. They are too use to slipping in a different disc and changing the world to fit them. It’s hard to consider that mindset as being functional within a harsh recession where resources are limited and innovation is the key to survival.

When we emerge from this passage, it will be in an altogether different place then where we have been before. Obama cannot change that, but he can lead the nation through change, by informing us, being candid about the problems, and empowering the people to stand as strong communities in times of crisis. No one can change this future—no one has ever seen it before, there is no precedent, there is no model, just a scattering of myths, prose and poetry that hint to disasters past. All we have are a lot of unproven ideas and very little resources to test them out. We cannot “change back” to the comfortable levels of sustainable illusion provided during the Clinton administration, or the generic Rockwellian image of the perfect and sanitized 1950’s American experience. This is a new frontier before us, and like our forefathers who came here in search of the unknown, we have to embrace the same spirit of the frontier. Progressives and protestors have to hold firm to the obvious litmus of social integrity: stop the war, stop the blatant financial fraud in Congress, dissolve the unitary executive and reestablish the strength of our three-branch Republic. Then, and only then, can we begin forming relevant solutions to the myriad of other problems that beset us. The economy is the economy, probably the only truly democratic expression of the people at large. Villains and bad guys abound, and we’ll get them, but humility demands that we take our share of the responsibility and open ourselves to changing the way we live. The change is coming regardless. Most importantly, wisdom dictates that we in the progressive movement become champions of reason and reality, our individual visions of utopia set aside in favor of sustainable solutions for all.

Heaven knows, if we thought that the only effort we needed to make in regards to change was electing Obama and giving him our laundry list, his failure is already secured and our Nation will mourn its demise alone. We didn’t elect change. We merely elected to change. It’s not Obama’s job to change our Nation, only to manage the change we bring about. Now let’s see if we’ve really got the collective fortitude to bring that change on without assaulting the rest of the planet or our next door neighbor.


Barack Obama — a wolf in sheep’s clothing or just the shepherd? By William Bowles

Beware The Obama Hype What “Change” In America Really Means By John Pilger