|||||The Cure: "Faith"||]|
All that can be said with some certainty is that an arithmetical majority on the Left at the ballot-box and, with it, constitutional legitimacy is no guarantee of either the power or the 'right' to govern--as the murder of Chile yesterday, the agony of Nicaragua today, bear witness.
--Gregory Elliot, Althusser: The Detour of Theory
Obama's response to critics after a recent spate of conservative kow-towing has been interesting: “Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center. The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.” Of course, Obama follows up truth with half-truth, adding, “I am someone who is no doubt progressive.” The quote comes from a speech intended to defend his 'progressive' status--which reminds me of something Terry Eagleton once wrote about Stanley Fish: "It is one of the minor symptoms of the mental decline of the United States that Stanley Fish [or Barack Obama--or the Democrat party, for that matter] is thought to be on the Left....In a nation so politically addled that 'liberal' can mean 'state-interventionist' and 'libertarianism' letting the poor die on the streets, this is perhaps not wholly unpredictable." Which is to say: Obama is exactly right when he says that anyone who thinks he's "suddenly shifting to the Center" hasn't been listening to him. But it's not--as he himself suggests--because he's still fighting the good, progressive fight. Rather, it's because he's still as progressive as he's ever been; that is to say, he's been in the Center all along.
Certainly though, it's been a hard week or two for Obama's faithful--or at least those among his faithful who harbor dreams of "change," "hope," etc. His support of FISA--which passed in what can only be called a landslide vote in the Democratically-controlled Senate--is hard to defend as anything but a complete volte face. And his positive comments on the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning the DC gun ban, coupled with his public disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling against executing child rapists, both certainly smack of playing to the reactionary Right. (In fairness, however, Obama guards his position on capital punishment with essentially the correct caveat: "At the same time," the above-cited Caucus blog notes, "he said the system of death penalty justice was so flawed that the nation should declare a moratorium on executions, such as that imposed in Illinois by Republican Gov. George Ryan.") So those who feel, in Joan Walsh's words, "betrayed by Obama" are not entirely wrong or naive.
If there is an up-side to this betrayal, however, it might be the beginning of an end to the "Democrat-as-progressive" fantasy that has driven the Democrat-Left electoral alliance since the late 40s. In large part, this fantasy has been strengthened through hypotheticals and missed-encounters: "If only JFK hadn't been assasinated..." "If only Robert Kennedy hadn't been assasinated..." "If only George McGovern hadn't lost to Nixon..." Like Zizek's assessment of the Soviet Invasion and the end of the Hungarian Spring, in each case an outside intervention can be used to sustain the fantasy. I would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you snooping kids... Already in the Obama disillusionment-fallout, one can sense the sneaking suspicion that Emma Goldman was right: "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal." (Or, who was it who put it this way: "No matter who wins, the government gets elected.") An Obama presidency--and the full-scale demonstration of what "Change" really means to the Democrat party--might be exactly what Leftist politics needs...
...That said, there is another fantasy that we ought to be on the lookout for: Ron Paul (who, I note, didn't vote on FISA...). The neo-con "outside intervention" here may serve to preserve the Ron Paul fantasy as an option for disillusioned Obama supporters; already, there have been moves in this direction as part of the Pelosi-disillusionment fallout. And Libertarians like Lew Rockwell are playing right to this crowd: "If only the prophetic and courageous Ron Paul were running as an independent. People are ready for real change. As Tweedledee and Tweedldum struggle for power, with almost exactly the same program, Ron could be making History. It wasn't right for him, he felt, and given his political skills, that has to be determinative. And yet, if only..." Libertarians are slowly positioning themselves as "a not-so-lunatic fringe." My gut feeling here is that the best Leftist strategy over the next few years may amount to the election of Barack Obama, coupled with the engaged struggle against Libertarianism as a viable option for disillusioned progressives as the Obama White House makes one "compromise" after another.