The Cult of Hope

It appears Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucus (38%), followed by Edwards (30%) and Clinton (29%). This is bad news for Clinton, who would have preferred to lose to Edwards and beaten Obama. I am quite surprised by the margin with which Obama has won, and despite being very very pleased that Clinton finished third, I am a little worried.

Obama’s message of “hope” has resonated among independents, and even women (Obama beat Hillary among women overall). The Democrats in Iowa voted for a message and philosophy. Obama’s is one of reconciliation, hope, and optimism. To this I say “Bah Humbug.”

I don’t want a candidate who “hopes” that change will occur. Many “independents” seem to have made a last minute decision to vote for Obama in hopes that he will “bring the country together” and transcend “old politics.” Obama’s Reaganesque tone of American pride and idealism uncomfortably smacks of a Reaganism that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Obama believes that hope can defeat all—or at least win elections. As America, we can come together, bring all parties to the table, and solve the nation’s problems.

Right, just about the time that the wolves lie down with the sheep and Lee Scott has an overnight epiphany and sees the value of unions. It is indeed true that America faces many ominous issues: economic inequality, climate change, world hunger, emergent diseases, and US legitimacy in a global context.

This is precisely why I want the most cynical bastard in the race. Let me explain: If my arm gets chopped off, I could sit in a room with some pain relievers and Miracle Grow and “hope” it grows back. Chances are that’s not going to happen. I don’t want a candidate to react to the aforementioned issues by saying “With a little hard work and hope, we can bring in every party and come to a consensus.” I want a candidate that will say, “Holy shit! We better do something about this or we’re toast!”

For example, take climate change. The Bush Administration’s policy has been one of “hope.” We have hoped that humans don’t contribute, and that it is not as big of a deal as the scientists say. We should bring in every party, include Exxon-Mobil and the think tank they fund to stall the issue long enough to prevent action.

This is Obama’s attitude problem. He speaks of optimism, but I’d rather have someone with a pessimistic view of climate change. In the latter case, the president would be more compelled to action. Maybe the president would stop pretending that there isn’t a real economic crisis looming, or that health insurance companies have the best interests of their clients at heart. Obama can hope that health insurance companies will accept everyone and provide adequate care without a mandate, but seeing as they have a profit-motive in denying care, that is no more than a crazy delusion.

Take the economy. Sure, one can be optimistic that the US’s GDP is growing and the stock market seems to be getting along. One can focus on those statistics and hope that the wealth trickles down onto the little guy (like forgetting that excluding pension funds, the bottom 80% of the US owns 7.9% of stock, whereas the top 1% owns 40 %.). The economy seems to be doing good for some parties (that is, the percentage of the population with a weekend home in the Hamptons and a house resident named Jeeves), but what about the 57 million Americans (with households including 1 in 4 children) who do not receive welfare, but are an injury or layoff away from falling below the poverty line? How about the 35 million who went hungry? How about the 200 that will freeze to death in 2008 because they have no shelter?

Let us not forget what rose-colored glasses did in our excursion in the Middle East. Let us not forget that someone can hope so much that problems go away that one forgets about them. It is one thing to have hoped that people had evacuation plans in New Orleans, and another to have buses on the ground ready to get them the hell out if the worst happened. How about hoping that the wealthy developers will include lower income housing to generously cut the value of the other real estate they are building in New Orleans?

Obama is willing to save a seat at the table for the large corporate interests and fellow Republicans for the issues he will hope to address. Edwards recognizes that if it were that simple, it would have been done by now. Let’s not forget how many times I have heard Bush claim that he listened to the other side.

I want somebody who recognizes that organizations have different interests. In some cases, that means one will have to fight to get what is better for the other 80% of us. Edwards spent his life as a lawyer fighting corporations who would not pay victims of their crimes. He knows they won’t be constructive. I don’t want a candidate that will tell me that he will sit down with other Republicans; I want a candidate that will tell me which group of Republicans he can work with on which issues to split the party to his advantage.

This is why I refuse to drink the Kool Aid that solutions are as simple as hope and optimism. Barack Obama speaks in terms of broad feelings of hope and uniting the country, but he has yet to step up with specific policy proposals. This is why I want the crazy son of a bitch ready to box it out for the other 80%; this is why I want John Edwards to get the nomination.

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  1. It has nothing to do with “faith” in the Democratic Party. It has to do with acknowledging that with the way the electoral rules are set up in this country leftists have little choice but to run as Democrats if they want to have even a shot at winning a major election (Congressional office, let alone president).

    I would hardly call Edwards a real leftist but he’s the only major candidate openly attacking corporate power; a win for him would be seen as a clear win for the left and provide a great opportunity for building a real left in the U.S.

  2. Good luck in NH Bhaskar! I tried to make a point similar to Jason’s in an earlier post:

    if John Edwards gets picked (or becomes President), he will owe his victory to progressive bloggers and economic justice voters. In short, it will be interpreted as a victory for the left and a popular mandate for health care reform, anti-poverty programs and a multilateral foreign policy. I have no illusions that Edwards will necessarily deliver on his promises but he will certainly make millions of people angry if he does not. The responsibility for realizing the Edwards platform ultimately rests on those disgruntled masses.

  3. Let’s shove the rhetoric aside and look at Obama’s actual platform here:

    -swift passage and support for EFCA. He wrote about this in his book, and he’s been talking about the importance of unions the whole campaign. His record going back to his days in Illinois says he’s backed them all the way. He doesn’t, to be brutally frank, kiss the ass of unions the way Edwards has by courting them so hard, and I think that has some people thinking he’s somehow less liking of unions. He has the endorsements of the major unions in his home state (UAW, SEIU), as they know what he’s done in the past.
    -an actual civil rights plank: . There was a lot of talk when he got into the race as to whether or not Obama would carry this banner or just go for middle America. Most people missed his speech in Selma, Alabama last year, alongside John Lewis and other vets of the movement, where he admitted that, yes, his family wasn’t affected by the US segregation. However, they were a part of the global struggle. His family lived under British colonial rule in Kenya, and his research into his family’s past to better understand it has tied him to the greater global struggle for equality. It’s this narrative of soul searching that has brought not only Jesse Jackson, John Conyers, and John Lewis to his side, but also brought DSA’s own Cornell West to introduce and speak out in his favor at a rally in Harlem.
    -Investing in jobs for the poor, among other programs. In his book, he talks about a great reverence towards the New Deal. Yes, he’s just trying to save capitalism from itself, but all the candidates are doing that. Moving towards a more egalitarian society won’t happen overnight. We need the compass in the right direction first. These programs tend to turn the compass towards the left. It happened from the 30s to the Reagan era, when our perpetually right of center political compass moved a little further left. It’s a move like that that the left needs to really start to get things going towards what we want. To be fair to Edwards, he’d do the same thing.
    -A definite cap on farm subsidies. this is an issue that many don’t understand or care about. It’s not a flashpoint issue like Iraq or poverty. What a cap on subsidies to each farmer means is this: big agribusinesses get fewer subsidies to crowd out small farms and farmers in the developing world. This is a major boost for the poorer farmers in this country and abroad. It has far reaching consequences for fairness and equality in the domestic and global farm industry.

    Look, I could go on and on. Basically, what Obama has proposed and what Edwards has proposed is nearly identical in many ways. The difference is the candidate rhetoric. We all love to see big business get bashed, to see supply-side policies get set on fire with words. Obama hasn’t done this. He has, honestly, pandered to the center. He promises this new brand of politics where supposedly he’ll be able to convince the center and right to go along with his progressive policies. I think it’s a bit foolish, but I doubt he has concession in mind for this. If he did, why write up such an extensive, far-reaching plan instead of outlining basic goals and promising more pragmatism? Nothing in his past voting history says he’ll be a DLC Democrat, or a man beholden to corporate interests. To say that Obama is not worth supporting at this point is unfair to him as a progressive. It makes me feel like we’ve decided to stick him with the Oprah, College Democrats, got-donations-from-banks (Edwards got them from Fortress, a hedge fund), liberal crowd and refuse to even take a look at him beyond the rhetoric and superficial media junk. Is he my ideal candidate? Hell no. Do I think he’ll set us going in the right direction, removing these corporate writers of policies from the democratic system and making progressive proposals? I think he will. I’ve been an Edwards supporter so far and I still am. I prefer his health care plan, his Iraq proposal, and the fact that he knows what it’s like to come from the working class. I would still vote for Obama in a general election, however. No matter which Democrat any of us votes for, it’s likely a strategic vote to, as I said previously, point the compass the right way. I doubt any of us believes any of these guys are perfect, but they’re many many times greater than option 2: Huckabee overturning Roe v. Wade or Romney bringing in Neutron Jack Welch to slash what little bit of a civil society and welfare state we have in half like he’s said he will, or McCain or Romney attacking Iran.

    Of course, in a perfect world, we’d have proportional representation and multiparty democracy, and I’d just vote for the Labor Party or Working Families Party and be done with it and feel great.

  4. Ok, that was way too long. I should just write an actual article on this.

  5. Bhaskar — you’re amalgamating two different things. LBJ would not have passed Civil Rights legislation if not for the hard, dangerous, extra-parliamentary work of the Civil Rights Movement. Of course. But there was no “third party” threat against LBJ in 1964, i.e. the year the Civil Rights Act was passed.

    I’m not convinced that the Green Party accomplished anything in 2000. The GP is no more relevant to US politics now than it was then. And the restrictive nature of the US electoral system ensures that the GP will never be able to displace the Democratic Party as the “party of the left.” It simply doesn’t have the resources. It isn’t even on the ballot in every state.

    No, the DP is not the “party of the people” — it’s not really a party at all in the usual sense. The US effectively has 435 separate parties, corresponding to each electoral district, loosely affiliated, but with no party discipline. While it may be true that Republican and Democratic Party clubs, wards, etc., can throw people out, the “members” they toss out can still run in Party primaries for Party positions. The state, not the parties, controls who can join (anyone who registers); the parties have no control over who registers, runs in their primaries, or holds office under their name. The national parties may help but they are usually do not contribute a significant portion of any candidate’s funding. No one writes checks to “the Democratic Party”; they write them, usually, for individual politicians. This is why Hilary Clinton is up to her ears in corporate cash while Dennis Kucinich is — to put it mildly — not.

    The nature of the American electoral system is what it is, and not to be overcome by an act of will. The reason that third parties haven’t become major parties once the ballot access rules were changed in the 1890s is not a failure to try. It’s been tried, and tried, and tried again. Under the present rules of the game — rules that the left does not have the power to change — it does not work at the national level.

    I am all for massive social unrest as a means of forcing concessions from the ruling class. I’m all for running real leftists in Democratic primaries at all levels — including against incumbent corporate-asshole Democrats. But I think that Green Party-style third parties are ultimately doomed to impotency.

  6. I think Andrew made some good points and I’m starting to think a defeat for Obama would be a disappointing and anticlimactic event for many young progressives that have become politically active through his campaign.

    If, by the time I vote in the Illinois primary, it’s an Obama/Hillary race. I will vote for Obama. If Obama has a comfortable lead I will vote for Edwards. If the candidate has already been determined I will vote for Dennis kucinich (who I expect will officially stay in the race through all 50 states).

  7. My primary is in May, and unless the race is tight and Edwards or Obama are still in, I will cast my vote, without any sense of guilt, for the only candidate to oppose the WTO and the Washington Consensus, favor labor, oppose the war, support true UHC, and promise fairer trade: Dennis Kucinich.

    If Hillary gets the nomination, I would like to see him retire from congress (turnover is good for democracy, you know) and run a 3rd party campaign, drawing from the smaller left parties and disenfranchised anti-corporate, anti-Hillary folks, but only if we can promise that a group will form on the right or center to do the same thing, preventing a repeat of 2000. I’d still vote for any Democrat to keep out an enfranchised opponent of labor and liberty.

  8. I basically agree with the conventional wisdom that Hillary’s victory in New Hampshire had a lot to do with a last minute mobilization of women who were fed up by the media’s ruthless misogyny in the days following Iowa. I think it’s important for the left, especially for left-wing men, to recognize that the sexism got very ugly. John Edwards made some very unacceptable remarks about HRC’s so-called “emotional moment.” Chris Matthews, the Fred Willard of cable news, was totally deranged.

    I happily admit to being a Clinton-hater and I took deep and malicious pleasure in seeing the heartbroken faces of the Clinton campaign on that Iowa stage. I delight at the prospect of sending Terry McAuliffe, Mark Penn, Robert Rubin, the DLC and the rest of the gang straight to the rubbish bin of history. I also take a dim view of those persons and institutions in feminist officialdom that considered it a matter of course to endorse the senator – Gloria Steinem’s recent NY Times op-ed was especially lame.

    That being said, If Hillary goes down in 2008, it has to be for the right reasons. If her defeat in these primaries is the result of a retrograde misogynistic media pogrom, we will have a much better Democratic nominee, but I will be cheated of my Schadenfreude. Please Chris Matthews, let me have my Schadenfreude.

  9. Steinem is embarrassing. And Chris Matthews…lord, how totally off the wall is that guy…I wonder how Keith Olbermann puts up with it…

  10. I think the response to Hilary’s “emotional moment” was as much about race as gender.  I mean, her white husband defending her from the “attacks” of a black man?  Like we haven’t heard that before.

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