Reflections on a Historic and Disappointing Day

November 5th, 2008 by Phil Leave a reply »

When it finally became clear some months ago that Barack Obama was going to win the Democratic nomination, I felt that it was all but inevitable that he would win a convincing victory in November. If any aspect of the final results surprises me, it’s that the election was seemingly so close.

Landslides, of course, are rare, not because the candidates are perpetually evenly matched, but because the design of the system is such that in the aggregate there is a faux polarization. It’s not sensible to beat up on the millions of people who voted for McCain, or who voted for Bush previously, because they exist within a paradigm that makes those votes exist. It’s not the voters to dump on. It’s the paradigm.

That the paradigm has evolved to the point where a black man could be elected President of the United States is no small thing. But don’t be deluded into thinking that this represents a fundamental shift in the machinations of the paradigm. Racial division is simply no longer as useful a tool as it once was in perpetuating the paradigm; in its place, other tools have come to the forefront. It is a testament to the American people that racial division has been replaced. But the American people have still failed to confront the core realities of the paradigm, and have simply allowed themselves to be duped by the glitziness of what has replaced race.

The centerpiece of that paradigm is of course the two-party system, but even the two-party system is itself a particular expression of something deeper: the idea of a societal polarity, where one is expected to take one side or another. This polarity represents itself not only in politics but in so many other aspects of our culture. It’s divide and conquer, on the most sophisticated of levels, and the conquering is perpetually done by the moneyed interests in a society.

From my perspective, the day was deeply disappointing because the depth of the paradigmatic control so clearly expressed itself. I’m not really talking about mere coattails here, though I think it’s reasonable to say that Obama ran ahead of his party in more ways than one and dragged much of the party along for the ride.

See: a candidate so charismatic, so seemingly visionary, so indisputably timely as Obama should never fail to win 60% in a national election if all things are equal. All things, of course, are not equal. And the relative closeness of the race, far from stripping Obama of whatever mandate he might now have, is instead something for the Democrats to celebrate, something that helps them maintain what they wish to maintain. It allows for the perpetuation of the faux polarization vis-a-vis the Republicans, and a return to the early Clinton mode of allowing conservatives to flip their wigs about supposedly liberal solutions while perpetuating undemocratic bullshit like expanding the American occupation of Afghanistan, or finding new ways to give handouts to insurance companies.

I’m not uplifted by yesterday’s results. When worthless pawns like Debbie Halvorson commandingly win races, that’s not a good thing for America. When sellout scum like Luis Gutierrez can operate with complete impunity, to the point of not even bothering to show up for elections, and still win 80% of the vote from an electorate who they truly do not represent, then it’s not time to celebrate.

Our work is cut out for us. Barack Obama’s victory is important and meaningful in many ways, but it does not profoundly alter the core of the status quo paradigm. For those of you who wish to embrace the deep symbolic importance of Obama’s victory, I understand, and I think that that importance is very real. But what is also very real is that so much of the Hope that has been promised by this Obama victory is undermined by that same victory and the way in which it played out. Celebrate today. Tomorrow we need you back to work, fighting to subvert the dominant paradigm.


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