I paste in (below) a recent exchange I had with a smart young left-liberal U.S. college student who occcasionally writes me to share perspectives on the Obama phenomenon/presidency and U.S. political history. I’ve decided to and put this up on the blog system because I think it helps clarify some key issue from a Left perspective. My correspondendent made me think some things out. As you can see at the end I think he may care too much about what Obama thinks. but that’s okay…I also sense a good movement beyond such irrelevant concerns. if I get some time later I’ll add some links. Here’s the exchange:
YOUNG SMART LEFT-LIBERAL: Dear Paul, You often write about Obama’s many failures to put progressive prose and rhetoric into action, but I wonder if you think there are any areas at all — public policy, mostly — in which this center-left president actually, genuinely cares about a left-of-center issue and wants it to happen? It can’t be all doom and gloom, is it?
STREET [MODERATELY BRIGHT MIDDLE-AGED LIBERTARIAN SOCIALIST]: As is often the case, I don’t share core precepts. See below.
You say: "You often write about Obama’s many failures to put progressive prose and rhetoric into action…" Hold on! This is completely wrong in my opinion. I talk about his SUCCESS (consistent with the long history of the Democrats) in using deceptive progressive campaign rhetoric to attain higher office and then governing in accord with the corporate and imperial incentives of the dominant narrow business and empire-ruled political order —- incentives Obama has completely internalized based on a conservative world view he has thoroughly absorbed and with which he eagerly agrees!
You say: "but I wonder if you think there are any areas at all — public policy, mostly — in which this center-left president actually, genuinely cares about a left-of-center issue and wants it to happen? It can’t be all doom and gloom, is it?" Wait a minute. if you read my recent "first 100 days" essay (on ZNet and based on a television lecture I gave in Urbana, IL) you can see where I acknowledge some positive things done by the early Obama W.H., contrary to your "all doom and gloom" statement. I don’t know why you put "left" in a description of Obama unless you have a very elitist/right-leaning concept of the political spectrum. To me its very odd to link Obama to "left." Obama’s never really been anything other than a corporate-imperial centrist and he has been fairly open about that to those with the time, skill, energy, and or inclination to seriously investigate. For me "doom and gloom" would have nothing to with the president and his policies…it would be about whether or not popular forces are going to mobilize for progressive change. I simply don’t put progressive expectations on presidents and politicians of either party. I get no gloom and doom if they behave as dominant institutional arrageements indicate and perhaps mandate they behave in the absence of significant popular rebellion. I get gloomy if I sense that nobody in the citizenry is going to work toward the rebellion. And in that sense, I’m actually NOT gloomy. I’m hopeful. Have you read my book on the Obama phenomenon? Apparently not is my sense. Let me quote the prolific left social critic Charles Derber‘s comment on the hardcover dustjacket of the book (on the back cover): "Street punctures widely held myths in this unflinching and unsentimental account of Obama’s centrist, corporate-friendly policies. But Street offers some saving grace here: a new Obama administration may oxygenate the grassroots movements that are the true architexts of change, opening up space for hope."
YOUNG LEFT-LIBERAL (writes back to say): Didn’t intend to antagonize. My bad. I have read (not all the way through yet) your book on Obama. And yes, when I think of it now, you do in fact acknowledge the bright as well as the darkness. One thing that keeps me going is that even Obama himself acknowledged — though as you’d know he doesn’t say this anymore — that change "doesn’t happen from the top down."
STREET RESPONSE (writes back to say): I’m not antagonized. Your question(s) helped clarify key interpretive matters. I think you may care too much about what Obama thinks. Change doesn’t happen from the top down, it happens from the bottom — yes, and it does so regardless of the Dali Obama’s opinion!
Yes you are right we don’t hear that from Obama since he won the election. For what it’s worth See the latest Newsweek where the’re a piece by some Newsweek editor titled "Getting to Know Obama" or something like that and in which the editor (whose writer the self-described "establishment" journalist Jon Meacham just did a big interview with "Obama on Obama") talks about how Obama just "relishes [holding and wielding] power" and "making the world in his image" and so on….Gee great. Pretty disgusting.