Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I didn’t post the Mystery Alexander Cockburn Quote yesterday just to point out that Cockburn is still doing his shtick of parroting right-wing talking points about leading Democrats and then turning around and asking progressives how they feel about being “on the same side as Alan Dershowitz, Colin Powell and Christopher Hitchens.” (Yes, that’s really how the column ends.) That’s bad enough as it is, and it suggests that Cockburn may be even more of a drag on The Nation’s circulation than Sarah Palin is on the GOP’s popularity among independents, but there are a few other things at stake here.
The first is that The Nation really would be a dreary place if all its writers lined up under the Obama flag. There’s no reason for such a contentious (famously contentious!) leftist journal to be so party-unified. Let many left-of-Obama positions flourish in The Nation . . . but let the advocates of those positions come up with arguments better than “Obama’s candidacy has always been about his blackness.” And let those positions flourish also in In These Times, The Progressive, Mother Jones, and, if you order now, many many more.
The second is a bit broader—a question not of the representation of left-of-Obamaness in left periodicals but of the representation of left-of-Obama positions in American political culture more generally. If this politically talented center-liberal Barack Obama fellow really does win the Presidency next week, and if he governs as the politically talented center-liberal kind of fellow I think he is rather than as the secret radical Muslim gay socialist of wingnuts’ fever dreams, I imagine that we (and by “we” I mean people to the left of Obama, to whatever degree we are to the left of him) will not want Obamacracy to become the leftward boundary of the thinkable.
When Clinton took office in 1993, many liberals and progressives thought they had found a home after more than a decade in the wilderness (even though Clinton was a DLC creature from start to finish); but one consequence of the flocking-to-Clinton phenomenon was that positions to Clinton’s left found themselves marginalized pretty quickly, and Clinton himself kept moving the leftward boundary of the thinkable rightward. By 1996 we were talking about “welfare” “reform” and the “defense” of “marriage” (thanks in part to polls conducted by Dick Morris and a campaign advised by this world-class consultant), and by 2000 this triangulating rightward creep produced a crisis that . . . well, you remember that crisis. Let’s not relive what happened when the Democrats drifted so far to the right that . . . no, let’s not. Let’s really not. This should be a happy time.
But perhaps the left blogosphere could be of some use in this regard, no? It needn’t be consolidated fully into Obama Enterprises Inc.; it could serve instead as a forum for writers dedicated to things like “hope” and “change” and “arguing that Obama was wrong to cave on FISA and better not do that kind of thing as President.” Of course, it could also serve as a forum for charting and mocking all manner of Ace-of-Confederate-Red-State-Yankeespade wingnuts as they venture into new realms of sheer barking lunacy that even the world’s sheerest barkingest lunatics have hitherto been unable to imagine. That might be fun. And it could do “shorters” and cat blogging and Theory Tuesdays and Friday Random Tens too. It’s a blogosphere. It’s a big place, with many many tubes.
The third has to do with why a left-of-Obama person might be left of Obama. If you’re left-of-Obama because you believe that the next U.S. President should close all U.S. military bases around the world, cut off all aid to Israel, and nationalize the means of production, you’re probably out of luck. (Aside: this is why it’s so important that people like Cockburn are passing over or minimizing Obama’s opposition to war in Iraq, and claiming instead that “Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance.” [Yes, that’s a real quote.] Remember, back in 2004 people like Cockburn argued that (a) Iraq was the most important issue on the table, (b) Democrats had nominated someone who voted for the war, and therefore (c) Democrats offered no credible alternative to Republicans on the most important issue of the day. Now they argue that even Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and commitment to a timetable for withdrawal is not enough to demonstrate that Democrats offer a credible alternative to Republicans. The point, of course, is that Democrats will never, ever nominate someone good enough for a certain kind of leftist, because a certain kind of leftist is dedicated above all to differentiating him (or her!)self from Democrats. Democrats who voted for the war, Democrats who voted against it—not a dime’s worth of difference between ‘em.) But if you’re left-of-Obama because you support universal health care and oppose warrantless wiretapping, you might just have some chance of persuading the democratic wing of the Democratic Party that you’re part of a sizeable constituency to which Democratic elected officials need to answer.
Is that too little to ask? Isn’t it more radical and revolutionary to say be reasonable, demand the impossible? Well, sure. But it all depends on whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see significant structural and political change in the Democratic Party, or whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see the Democratic Party crushed so that the People’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Non-Party can take its rightful place in American political life—a place it has been denied only because of the existence of those powerful corporate Democrats and their allies in the corporate media, who have prevented hundreds of millions of people from recognizing their true interests.
In the next installment: why I wound up supporting Obama, despite my various reservations. Teaser (because you never could have guessed): it has to do with wanting to see significant structural and political changes in the Democratic Party.