“In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, and city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope,” he said.
“As I’ve said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn’t just about new programs and policies. It’s about a new attitude. It’s about new politics — a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another.”
In Canton Ohio it was a burst of the old Obama, not seen since the primary days, passion and energy — and clearly calculated, probably round about 2006, that this would be exactly the moment when the beast was let off the leash again. The speech was directed to one group and one group only — organisers and volunteers, part-timers and occasionals, the intent to keep them working, working, working until the last second, to never let that temptation to ease up, to not test yourself to destruction in the pursuit of a goal, take over.
That temptation runs deep in American liberalism, for the simple reason that people on the left tend to be more interested in the full variety of the world than professional right-wing operatives. They’re interested in what Marx called “the sensuous particularity” of existence, the endless possibilities of life. That often makes them silly — your average urban left-liberal is a (non-Arab) keffiyah-wearing Sezuan-cuisine cooking yoga attendee, busy carbon-neutralising their retrostyled Altona brick veneer, ahead of that big Latin American hiking trip — but they tend to have better lives than the Right, who eat steak and go home to bare walls and have no alternative to victory but gut cancer.
That however is the problem, or has been for the past dozen years or so — politics in this era, was, for left-liberals, a sort of add-on. What has given the Obama campaign an edge is its almost limitless command to get people out, to get couch potato voters out of the house, to get people who got out of the house to donate, to get donors to volunteer, to get volunteers to take five years accumulated vacation (i.e. four and a half days in the US) and spend it on campaigning.
Though it’s true that there would be a few extra per cent for the Democrats had Hillary, or any white person, been the candidate, the extra effect of sheer lassitude at having to campaign for Clinton royalty would have undercut it. For many, it would have been a hardcore, leaden-feet effort, acknowledging that the best option was to have American ruled by two powerful families for a generation.
Truth is, the Obama movement is not only a revolution within the Democratic party, it is something that has dwarfed that party by spreading beyond it, to the vast networks of progressive groups — even when a “group” is nothing more than a bunch of consumers linked online — which have taken the place of party politics in the DisUnited States of Dissocia. Though Democratic professionals attached themselves after the primaries, and were responsible for much of the candidate’s disastrous missteps in August and September, a few of them then disappeared, and there seemed to be some sort of revolution within the revolution.
That has been dismaying to sections to the left, as it has been to the right. Barack Obama is a centre-right figure, at least in his current rhetoric, especially around foreign affairs, and Ralph Nader is right to say it. But no-one can deny that he has created the first mainstream movement willing to pony up actual money — often from very straitened wages — in huge numbers to actually see this candidate elected. This is not a liberal funded by Hollywood, unions and service industries, passively assented to. In America, where twenty per cent of people regularly choose between food, medicine, heating and latterly, gas, many have unbelievably added a fifth demand, that of making a donation to ‘change we can believe in’.
For the Obama campaign, the problem now is to keep a lid on hubris and bad craziness. In Florida, Joe Biden faced a dumb interview in which a Xanax-blonde anchor quoted a line from the Communist Manifesto and asked whether Obama’s philosophy was Marxist. Biden responded temperately, beginning with “is that a serious question?” and then going on to distinguish a mild progressive taxation system from communism. Even Bill O’Reilly on FOX news had to distance himself from the attack.
The Republican attack on Obama’s stray comments on “income redistribution” and “sharing the wealth” have been so entirely misplaced, such an utter misunderstanding of where America is at the moment, that it is a wonder to behold. For 25 years, but particularly in the past eight, average Americans have been subject to such a relentless battering in the terms of their everyday life that, for many people, any residual notion of Americanism as residing in free enterprise blah blah, has been blooded out of them.
A whole generation of Americans now live with the memory that their parents lives were better than theirs, and that they worked less for it. In Detroit, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania it was possible, until the 1970s to raise a family on a single income. To come home after an eight hour day — not a 12-hour day, not a two-job day — and be able to help your kids with their homework, to play with them in the street, to not be exhausted, cash-strapped, consumed with worry.
Under Ronald Reagan, that fatuous waxwork, quality of life for average Americans declined year by year, while building up a record deficit. Under Clinton some of them were brought back to a point they’d been in 1980 — and then the debauchery began. The worst president in the country’s history was twinned with a cabal of political operatives and financial shysters, neither of whom had a skerrick of patriotism, as measured by their actual effect on the place.
So many people here now live week to week, their lives rocked by a big bill, their existence destroyed by their car being out of action, so many people’s lives are so precarious, that any residual attachment to easily sold loyalties don’t work no more. Marxism, socialism, whaaaaat … these are titles of Billy Bragg songs. When every fast food chain in the country has made permanent its “dollar value menu”, you know the place is in trouble.
What McCain needed to win — elaborating on a theme I alluded to yesterday — was a good old burst of right wing populism. Had he gone for protectionism and anti-NAFTA, as well as anti-gay marriage, tax breaks and killing Roe vs Wade he’d been 10 points ahead in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But let’s face it, John McCain through most of his life has been a conformist, an organisation man and a coward.
He was a failed, privileged navy pilot, saved by the Vietcong from being beaten to death by the people he was bombing with liquid petroleum, confessed — against orders — to being an admiral’s son, and once released by America’s surrender to North Vietnam, slid into a privileged life as a military lobbyist before dumping his injured wife for a young blonde.
The one challenge of this election was the bailout, which he should have opposed, but he didn’t — why? Because he’s a company man, because he was genuinely scared of what might happen to capitalism. In the bitter end he agreed with Karl Marx’s argument that the state is in the last analysis “the board of directors of the bourgeoisie, managing its affairs”. Had he hung his hat on the bailout, he might have had a chance. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It wasn’t country first, it was property first.
In the shrieking wreckage of the McCain campaign there were so many items that some you forget for days on end. The Palin clothes horse crap was all over the place, McCain’s senior moment addressing a West Pennsylvania audience saying “John Murtha thinks you’re racists … and I couldn’t agree with him more … I disagree I couldn’t he’s the disagree with him” etc has been publicised and then Joe McCain — Joe the Brother — a man who friends tell me is a decent guy, but who had his Billy Carter moment, calling 911 to complain about traffic on a Virginia bridge, and then telling the unmistakeably Af-Am 911 operator “f-ck you”.
Joe, like Carly Fiorina, like countless others, will now disappear. As unless the entire science of opinion polling is wrong, will the GOP from power, in a week or so — unless they steal the election, which is very possible. But a grand slam is looking not only possible, but something Americans want — a clear mandate to sort out the mess. Godknows what FOX will do in the interim.
History sometimes speaks, even in Canton Ohio, and it will not be denied. How’s that for a closing argument, f-cked in the head a-sehole right bloggers etc?