Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE END OF POLITICS

In a remarkable essay in Counterpunch, an anonymous political consultant gets to the heart of what's happening in this election campaign: we're not choosing a politician but a product, one that makes us feel good about ourselves - and Obama is the iPod while Hillary Clinton was the cell phone. Writes the consultant: "In the world of toys it is the one that stands out the most [that] is the most marketable," which helps to explain why a black, inexperienced, atypical pol like Obama did so well against Clinton. And why McCain, who still, metaphorically at least, is using a dial phone, is having such a hard time.

The author also notes:

"The two primary features of the post political age are a politics completely drained of all its contents and ability or willingness to be used as an agent of change in social or economic policy, and its full integration into the world of American popular, consumer and entertainment culture. To such an extent that there exists today a seamless web between our political, economic, media and consumer cultures wherein the modes and values of one are completely integrated and compatible with the others."

One of the effects of this phenomenon is that apparently contradictory policies thrive. For example, with a political market being driven by upscale and comfortable middle class whites, "the same forces that make it possible for the rapid acceptance of ideas such as gay marriage are the same which can create a society that will accept massive social inequalities."

Thus the failure of those who tried to bring economic issues into the primary debate and the ability of the selected candidate to do a massive pop concert tour in places that can't even vote in an American election, while totally ignoring the worst financial crisis this country has seen in decades.

The point is further brought home by news that the Obama veep vetting team is considering a Republican conservative, pro-ethanol, agro-business lawyer and NAFTA negotiator, Ann Veneman. You might excuse Obama for thinking about selecting his rightwing buddy Chuck Hagel as merely friendship gone astray, but to even consider Veneman is to declare that politics, the Democratic party and issues don't matter. Only Obama does.

He's not the first to try this. After all, Bill and Hillary Clinton - albeit lacking the appeal of a new iPod - got things going as the first postmodern couple to occupy the White House. They also revealed the fatal flaw in the scam, as I noted at the time:

"Of course, in the postmodern society that Clinton proposes -- one that rises above the false teachings of ideology -- we find ourselves with little to steer us save the opinions of whatever non-ideologue happens to be in power. In this case, we may really only have progressed from the ideology of the many to the ideology of the one or, some might say, from democracy to authoritarianism.

"Among equals, indifference to shared meaning might produce nothing worse than lengthy argument. But when the postmodernist is President of the United States, the impulse becomes a 500-pound gorilla to be fed, as they say, anything it wants."

Jody Kantor, in the NY Times, nicely captured Obama's similar post-modernism:

"Friends say he did not want anyone to assume they knew his mind; and because of that, even those close to him did not always know exactly where he stood. . . Charles J. Ogletree Jr., another Harvard law professor and a mentor of Mr. Obama, said, 'He can enter your space and organize your thoughts without necessarily revealing his own concerns and conflicts'. . .

"People had a way of hearing what they wanted in Mr. Obama's words. . . Mr. Obama stayed away from the extremes of campus debate, often choosing safe topics for his speeches. . . In dozens of interviews, his friends said they could not remember his specific views from that era, beyond a general emphasis on diversity and social and economic justice."

If you turn away from the pop concert we still call a campaign, you can find some interesting examples. In 2001, while still a state senator, Obama said:

"As I said before, if [Bush] brought before us a nominee who didn't agree with me on affirmative action and yet said that, you know, I do think that and showed a history for showing regard and concern for racial justice, if he came before us and said I oppose a woman's right to choose, or I oppose abortion, I find it religiously offensive, and yet I do respect, for example, the notion that we shouldn't be solving these things with violence, historically, if that had been what was said, then I don't think I would object. And I think that's a fair position to take.' "

He also defended Bush's new appointee for Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld:

“The proof in the pudding is looking at the treatment of the other Bush nominees. I mean for the most part, I for example do not agree with a missile defense system, but I don't think that soon-to-be-Secretary Rumsfeld is in any way out of the mainstream of American political life. And I would argue that the same would be true for the vast majority of the Bush nominees, and I give him credit for that."

This is the man that liberal America is treating as a savior because they see themselves buying a hybrid instead of a political program and because, when you come down to it, hybrids make you feel better about yourself than thinking about politics and policies.

Of course, the fiscal crises may put a damper on politics as just another a product. Reality may rear its ugly head but for the time being but right now it's enough to say you've got your Obama, whoever the hell he is.

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal