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The Janus-Faced* Obama Phenomenon


Revolutions are born of hope, not despair
-Peter Kropotkin
 
Expectation calibration and expectation management is essential at home and internationally.
-Harvard Professor and Barack Obama Foreign Policy Advisor Samantha Power, “The Charlie Rose Show” (PBS, February 21, 2008)
 
To imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on…is to succumb to the grandest illusion of all.  The quadrennial ritual of electing (or reelecting) a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe.
- Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York, 2008, pp. 170-171).
 
 
As Barack Obama’s historic inauguration approaches, many progressives are reflecting on the possibilities and perils of the next American administration as viewed from the Left.
 
EIGHT UP
 
The positives of the Obama phenomenon and victory should not be doubted.  I’ll mention eight:
 
1. A black president. It is historic that a black family will take up top residence in the White House, something that is having a positive impact on black schoolchildren and many others across the country. (Even though I personally predicted Obama’s victory in late 2006 and have disliked the President-Elect since the first time I met him [in 2002], I still had to pinch myself on election night).
 
2. The defeat of the Republicans, an extremist party of arch-plutocracy, white patriarchal nationalism, and messianic militarism. 
 
3. Brains. The incoming president and administration are smarter than the folks who would have come in with John McCain. Among other things, this means they may be less likely than their Republican opponents would have been to blow up the world. A President McCain might well have been a dangerously loose cannon on the world stage
 
4. Real-life experience outside the aristocracy. Obama has a reasonably recent history of purchasing his own groceries and pumping his own gas (I saw him do both when I lived in his Chicago neighborhood [Hyde Park] between 2001 and 2005).  He only recently paid off his last (law school) student loans. He represented a significantly impoverished inner-city legislative district between 1996 and 2004.  He has lived much of his life as a middle-class black man. His comparatively high (unusual for a president) closeness to economic realities experienced by ordinary Americans might add a dose of egalitarian empathy to his domestic policymaking.
 
5. Global South experience. Life experience (Indonesia) and relatives (Kenya) in the global South could have a similar impact on his foreign policy. Maybe a president who has kin and personal history in the global South would be more reluctant to starve, slaughter, and otherwise oppress its residents than a president without such connections and background.
 
6. Newly politicized people. The Obama phenomenon expanded the electorate, recruiting new and especially younger people to vote and to care about politics and government. Given the widespread apathy and atomization that has for so long crippled democracy in the U.S., that is something that many progressives can be expected to welcome.
 
7. Skill-transfer. A lot of the skills that people develop participating in a candidate-centered top-down political campaign – e.g., making and keep detailed records of citizen contacts and honing one’s skills of tactful persuasion – are eminently transferable to the building of grassroots social movements.
 
8. Hope. The mass outpouring for Obama indicates that large numbers of people want change and think it can happen.  “Revolutions,” the 19th century Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin once said, “are born of hope, not despair.” As a progressive economist told the journalist David Moberg last March, “the fact that he’s raising hope, that’s tremendously important.  Bill Clinton’s genius was lowering expectations.  But revolutions, historian Barrington Moore argued, come when there are rising expectations.” (David Moberg, “Obamanomics,” In These Time, s April 2008)
 
Left progressives might productively think of “the Obama phenomenon” as a sort of (very) watered-down bourgeois revolution in one key sense: it will fail to deliver on democratic promises made to a populace it had to mobilize to some degree in order to defeat an old regime (the Republican hegemony of the last eight years). There is radical potential in that failure.  The energy and hopes lifted will need new and better, more genuinely egalitarian, liberating, and anti-authoritarian outlets than an Obama presidency could ever provide. As the Marxist commentator Doug Henwood noted last April:
 
“There’s no doubt that Obamalust does embody some phantasmic longing for a better world -more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane. He’ll deliver little of that – but there’s evidence of some admirable popular desires behind the crush. And they will inevitably be disappointed.”
 
“There’s great political potential in popular disillusionment with Democrats. The phenomenon was first diagnosed by Garry Wills in Nixon Agonistes. As Wills explained it, throughout the 1950s, left-liberals intellectuals thought that the national malaise was the fault of Eisenhower, and a Democrat would cure it. Well, they got JFK and everything still pretty much sucked, which is what gave rise to the rebellions of the 1960s (and all that excess that Obama wants to junk any remnant of). You could argue that the movements of the 1990s that culminated in Seattle were a minor rerun of this. The sense of malaise and alienation is probably stronger now than it was 50 years ago, and includes a lot more of the working class, [who are] …really pissed off about the cost of living and the way the rich .are lording it over the rest of us.”
 
“Never did the possibility of disappointment offer so much hope. That’s not what the candidate means by that word, but history can be a great ironist.” (Doug Henwood, “Would You like Change With That?” Left Business Observer, No. 117, March 2008)
 
 
EIGHT DOWN
 
Now for potential hazards – the other sides of these eight hopeful coins. These also deserve mention:
 
1. Racial Paralysis. Obama’s ascendancy adds further fuel to the already widespread white notion that racism no longer poses meaningful barriers to black advancement and equality in the U.S. Obama feeds the “we have transcended race/racism” trope in ways that could prove dangerous for the struggle for black equality. Naturally enough given his desire to win white votes, Obama has been willing to accommodate white racism-denial, making sure to downplay existing steep racial disparities and to avoid honest discussions of the many underlying racist social and institutional structures and practices that produce racial inequality. At the same time, Obama’s ascendancy feeds white nationalist paranoid fantasies of black control and related potential sharpening of toxic racial prejudice in the nation’s rural “heartland.” Real and/or perceived failures by the Obama administration – a White House that is inheriting remarkable economic and foreign policy problems – can be expected to fuel lurid white-racist narratives about black “inferiority.” At the same time, Obama’s race threatens to inhibit popular resistance to U.S. policy by helping make that policy seem more progressive than it actually is and by creating reluctance to protest the White House among many progressives, who could feel an inordinate need to defend the nation’s first black president.
 
2. Cloaking the Democrats’ Conservatism. Excitement over the defeat of the Republicans can obscure the fact that the Democrats are also deeply invested in and captive to corporate power, militarism, and imperialism.  The “deeply conservative” Obama (Larissa MacFarquhar’s description in The New Yorker last year) is no exception.  He has made his deference to reigning domestic and imperial structures and doctrines clear to those willing to look beneath his more progressive campaign imagery and rhetoric.
 
3. The “Best and Brightest” Fetish. Excitement over the incoming administration’s braininess can obscure our understanding of its dangerous commitment to existing power structures.  Popular intelligence and activism is the real foundation of democracy.  The people don’t need to be coordinated from above by their supposed natural “superiors.” “The best and the brightest” (the late David Halberstam’s ironic phrase) are fully capable of brilliantly screwing up policy and the world when they are not adequately checked by the empowered intelligence of the citizenry.
 
4. Beware the Newly Rich and Powerful. Obama is rich and powerful now and has shown that he knows that embracing dominant ruling class and imperial doctrines (e.g. the supposed inherent superiority of “free market capitalism” and the “American Exceptionalist” notion of the U.S as a positive and liberating force in the world) and expressing deference to existing hierarchies is a critical part of his remarkable and rapid ascendancy. Bill Clinton learned the same thing during his rise from “lower” socioeconomic and cultural circumstances than those into which Obama was born. Nobody internalizes reigning ideologies more passionately and obsequiously than those who have recently and quickly risen into the power elite. Obama was indoctrinated in those ideologies and socialized in ruling class sentiments at leading private educational institutions, including the ultimate ruling class finishing school Harvard Law (the formerly working class Bill Clinton received his aristocratic minting at Georgetown and Yale Law).
 
(Obama’s renting of a $9 million vacation home in Hawaii in the last week of 2008 ought to raise some alarms about the extent of his closeness to ordinary people, billions of whom are suffering through hard times while the First Family frolicked in the waves and sands of Superpower’s island paradise.)
 
5. Empire’s New Clothes. Obama’s distinctive “global” life experience, ethno-cultural nomenclature, and color have made him attractive to U.S. foreign policy elites seeking to give the American Empire Project a public relations makeover. Obama has made his embrace of that dead project – in both its hard military and softer cultural aspects – clear in numerous speeches, writings, and comments (for key sources and details, see my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, Chapter 4: “How ‘Antiwar’? Barack Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”).  It is with no small reason that “Brand Obama” is being heralded by U.S. elites for helping “re-brand” the United States at home and abroad (see my recent article “There is No Peace Dividend: Reflections on Empire, Inequality, and ‘Brand Obama,’” Z Magazine, January 2008: 24-28, available online at http://www.zcomm.org/zmag/viewArticle/20129)
 
 
A considerable segment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment knows that Obama’s race, name (technically Islamic), experience living (Muslim Indonesia, as a child) in and visiting (chiefly his father’s homeland Kenya) poor nations overseas and nominally anti Iraq War history will help them repackage and advance the imperial project in a softer and more politically correct way. John Kerry, who ran for the presidency four years earlier largely on the claim that he would be a more effective manager of empire (and the Iraq War) than George W. Bush, was certainly thinking of these critical imperial “soft power” assets when he praised Obama as someone who could “reinvent America’s image abroad.” 
 
Obama’s distinctive ethno-cultural and geographic biography is one of his great attractions to the foreign policy elite in a majority non-white world that has been deeply alienated by U.S. behavior (and truthfully before) the post-9/11 era. Call it “the identity politics of foreign policy.” The Empire wants new legitimizing clothes on the global stage and Obama is a good man to wear them (for details and sources, see Paul Street, “Barack Obama: The Empire’s New Clothes,” Black Agenda Report, November 12, 2008, read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=879&Itemid=1) and “ ‘ Brand Obama,’ ‘Brand USA,’ and ‘The Audacity of Marketing:’ Some Candid Reflections at Advertising Age,’ ZNet, November 19, 2008, read at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/19692)
 
It is by no means clear that restoration of U.S. legitimacy is a good thing for a world that has been suffering for many decades under U.S. dominance and oppression.
 
6. The Risk of Citizen Abdication. The remarkably high level of media- and money-driven popular excitement over Obama the Man and President threatens to cloud the citizenry’s understanding of its ultimate responsibility for bringing about significant democratic change. The historian Andrew Bacevich has recently offered a useful warning in relation to Obama’s highly advertised promises to break the power of lobbyists, end the war in Iraq, provide affordable health care, roll back climate change, reduce poverty, and the like: 
 
“The agenda is an admirable one.  Yet to imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest illusion of all.  The quadrennial ritual of electing (or reelecting) a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define Washington.  The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency.  They want to share in exercising those powers.  The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don’t want to dismantle the national security state.  They want to preserve and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled at courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions…”
 
“…the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reins as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo.  Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation’s predicament” (Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism [New York: Metropolitan, 2008], pp. 170-171).
 
To be sure, this is a longstanding problem with the United States’ narrow-spectrum candidate-centered political culture.  Still, the democracy-disabling problem of presidential hero-worship threatens to be bigger than usual with the remarkable “Obama phenomenon.” (I find the Obama team’s post-election claim that people should not expect too much from Obama himself to be more than a little disingenuous: Obama’s handlers quite logically and brilliantly constructed a spectacular, quasi-millennial, and personality-centered cargo cult around their “transformative” candidate, consistent with the longstanding incentives and perversities of U.S. political culture) 
 
In any event, what we really need now as always is to expand, cultivate, and empower is not an electorate but “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” (President Dwight Eisenhower’s concept of what was required to check the power of what he called “the military-industrial complex”) ready to wage a many-sided struggle for democracy in numerous and interrelated areas of social and political life beneath and beyond elections. 
 
As Sheldon Wolin has recently reminded us, the modern U.S. “electorate” is a passive object for elite manipulation, management, and mass-marketing (the Obama campaign took the art and science of electorate-crafting to new levels in fact). It is molded and coordinated from the top down (See Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated; Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism [Princeton, 2008], pp. 59, 64, 239, 284-286).  
 
An informed, mobilized, and participatory citizenry is something very different altogether. It is the source of whatever claim a polity may legitimately claim to democratic power. It forces the hands of elites from below and engages issues, structures, and policies that go far beyond the fleeting and periodic dramas over which pre-approved members of the power elite (including both old and new members) are going to hold elected offices.
 
7. Manipulating the Citizenry versus Empowering It. The skills activists get in U.S. elections are built largely around manipulating, not engaging – much less empowering – ordinary people. People coming over from the Obama campaign (or other electoral campaigns) into social movements should be encouraged to employ old skills and develop new ones in more egalitarian and participatory ways.  Their aim should be to spark power-disruptive citizen capacities and to articulate a more radical and alternative societal vision beneath and beyond quadrennial, candidate-centered and narrow-spectrum electoral extravaganzas. Their goals include helping people become politicized about (much) more than elections.
 
8. Hope Control: Expectation Management and the Danger of Cooptation. If not critically interrogated and pressured from the bottom up, Obama’s brand of Hope can become a dangerous form of change-containment and top-down “expectation management.” The President Elect has achieved record-setting corporate sponsorship and stunning corporate media approval because he promises to wrap establishment corporate politics and the related Americas Empire Project (which he has arch-enthusiastically embraced) in deceptive rebel’s clothing. Once he was vetted by the establishment (beginning in late 2003) and found to be “reasonable” (see Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harper’s, November 2006) ––  someone who would not fundamentally question core underlying power structures and doctrines ––  Obama’s multicultural background, race, youth, charisma, and even his early mild opposition to the planned Iraq War became useful to corporate and imperial interests in the wake of the “polarizing” Bush-Cheney regime. His outwardly revolutionary image and “change” persona promised to divert, capture and safely control current and coming popular rebellions; to stealthily prick and smoothly drain the alternating boils of mass disgust and mass elation (at the impending passing of the Bush regime); to simultaneously surf, de-fang, and “manage” the citizenry’s hopes for democratic transformation.
 
This is part of how and why many in the ruling class came to see Obama as what Henwood called “the man to do their work.” “What is Obama’s attraction to big business?” asks left author and filmmaker John Pilger. “Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy’s [in 1968].  By offering a ‘new,’ young and apparently progressive face of Democratic Party – with the bonus of being a member of the black elite – he can blunt and divert real opposition. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US antiwar and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults.” (John Pilger, “After Bobby Kennedy There Was Barack Obama,” Common Dreams, May 31, 2008, read at www.commondreams.org/archive/ 2008/05/ 31/9327/)
 
If the liberal-progressive Washington-watcher David Sirota is right, Obama’s threat to the left could be more than merely collateral or inadvertent. “With Obama considering converting his campaign e-mail list into something of a state-directed advocacy apparatus,” Sirota recently wrote in In These Times, “he may have a grassroots machine specifically designed to thwart independent progressive pressure against his government.  That’s not as far-fetched a possibility as it sounds,” Sirota ads, “considering congressional democrats’ explicit declaration of war against ‘the Left.’” (D. Sirota, In these Times, January 2009, p. 19).
 
By conscious design or not, Obama is winning mainstream approval for implement what former Clinton administration official David Rothkopf calls “the violin model: Hold power with the left hand, and play the music with your right” (New York Times, November 22, 2008, p. A1).
 
A big part of succeeding in that timeworn bourgeois-political power game is what Obama’s former and excessively candid foreign policy advisor Samantha Power called (on PBS’s power-worshipping “Charlie Rose Show” last February) “expectation management.” Obama’s elite sponsors and the U.S. business and political class more broadly are counting on The One to cleverly downsize the citizenry’s grandiose hopes for progressive change. Grasping the Barrington Moore thesis (of revolutions arising from aroused and then disappointed popular expectations) in their own sinister way, the power elite needs Obama to dampen the rabble’s “unrealistic” desires for a White House that will raise wages, roll back war and militarism, provide universal and adequate health care, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, produce high-paying jobs, fix the environmental crisis, reduce inequality, guarantee economic security, and generally make daily life more livable. Along with the intimately related task of national and imperial “re-branding,” the job for which Obama has been hired includes no small measure of what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive desublimation,” whereby “a hope, a need that has been buried and denied by an oppressive system, is,” in Juan Santos’ words last year, “allowed some room to breathe, then co-opted and redirected back into a form that ultimately reinforces the oppressive system that denied and suppressed out hopes and needs in the first place.” (Juan Santos, “Barack Obama and the End of Racism,” Dissident Voice, February 13, 2008).
 
Consistent with this task of popular hope control and “expectation calibration,” one of the regular themes in “mainstream” (dominant corporate) coverage of and commentary on the Obama transition has been to praise the President Elect’s militantly centrist, corporate-neoliberal, and militarist cabinet appointments and policy pronouncements as wonderful expressions of a “pragmatic” spirit that values “getting things done” over the supposedly inherently evil and dysfunctional spirit of “ideology.”  The Obama team, “mainstream” wisdom holds, has no ideology itself – even as plays “the violin” with “the right hand.”   Anyone left of militant imperialists and corporatists like Rahm Emmanuel, Hillary Clinton, Lawrence Summers, and Timothy Geithner and anyone who wants to  Obama to actually live up to some of his more populist campaign promises is tarred as a dangerous, obsolete, ineffective, and risible “ideologue.”
 
8A – (A semi-Buddhist footnote): Pie in the Sky and the Limits of Happy Talk. Likes its opposite Fear, Hope can encourage a disabling focus on the future that diverts thoughts and feelings from the often difficult reality of the present. As such, it can easily become an excuse for failing to take action on things that matter now and indeed for failing to even acknowledge difficult circumstances and injustices in currently lived experience. People who are overly focused on “pie in the sky in the bye and bye” do not make very good activists to fight war and injustice in the here and now. There is a tension between Obama’s repeated invoking of Dr. King’s phrase “the fierce urgency of now” and his campaign’s obsession with future-oriented HOPE and dreams. When it comes to the issue of livable ecology, for example, we are running of out time for HOPE.  We need drastic action – action far more radical than anything in the Obama playbook – NOW (please immediately read Herve Kempf’s important book How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth [White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007]).
 
Finally, with all due respect for Kropotkin and a nod to Lenin, revolutions draw heavily on despair, anger, and even hatred – hatred of inequality and the rampant waste and death that is imposed on social healthy and human existence by the rich and powerful Few.  
 
 
“UNLESS THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE ASSERTS ITSELF…”
 
Okay, so the Obama phenomenon is double-edged, Janus-faced,* and, if you like, “dialectical.” Where does this leave us? In the realm of contingency and citizen choice and agency. We can try to read the presidential tea leaves and debate the likely trajectory of the Obama administration all we want. But it’s not about the crystal ball or even about Obama. The future is not primarily “Obama’s Challenge,” to mention the title of liberal economist Robert Kuttner’s recent book (dedicated to presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and to the notion that Obama has the special right “transformative” stuff of an Abe Lincoln or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt) on the President Elect and his economic policy options.
 
No, it’s our challenge. Change, as Obama and John Edwards said on the campaign trail more than once, “doesn’t happen from the top down.  Change happens from the bottom up” (expect to hear this less from Obama now that he is at the apex of power).
 
In the absence of a new wave of dedicated and highly organized citizen activism, we can be fairly sure that Obama will not move very far off center. He is no magical exception to the rule observed last spring by Howard Zinn: “even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore….. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.” (Howard Zinn, “Election Madness,” The Progressive, March 2008).
 
Those who want progressive change “from Obama” must understand that they will have to force it from below, consistent with Bacevich’s call for citizens to take responsibility for the nation’s fate. As Adolph J. Reed Jr. noted in The Progressive in the fall of 2007, “elected officials are only as good or as bad as the forces they feel they must respond to.  It’s a mistake,” Reed observed, “to expect any more of them than to be vectors of the political pressures they feel working on them.” Instead of railing against Democratic politicians’ eminently predictable (under the plutocratic circumstances of U.S. political culture) failure to act in accord with the peace and justice legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., progressive activists would serve their cause better by organizing effective citizen pressure for policy outcomes they seek.
 
Underlying many progressives’ sense of demoralization and defeat, Reed observed, is a terrible misunderstanding about leading Democrats politicians: “the belief that they just don’t know what we want and how important these things are to us.”
 
“They know;” Reed noted, “they just have different priorities.” (Adolph J. Reed Jr., “Sitting This One Out,” The Progressive, November 2007).
 
Obama is no special exception to this harsh reality, which does not change, in accord with what Reed called a “partly racial shorthand,” simply because he happens to be African-American.
 
 
CALL FOR REVOLUTION
 
Along the way of trying to force progressive priorities on politicians and office-holders (from the president on down), we should not be afraid of demanding something along the lines of revolution.  The “radical reconstruction of society itself” (what Dr. King called in 1968 “the real issue” to be faced beneath “superficial” questions) and the related drastic reordering of national and global priorities is increasingly a matter of survival for the democratic ideal and indeed for human existence. Reformism is a dead end since reforms will not suffice in the end, given the depth and degree of the conflict between dominant institutions and livable ecology and human equality.
 
To be sure, certain reforms – universal national health insurance and the Employee Free Choice Act (which could re-legalize unions in this country), for example – are highly desirable and necessary in the short term. But they are not generally won unless and until governing classes and power elites are convinced that the price of not bending the system is greater than the cost of change. Big and meaningful reform comes when the power elite believes that popular forces are ready, willing, and able to create serious disruption and move society to the left.
 
 
TENETS TO KEEP IN MIND
 
In seeking to encourage “rebellion from below” – the recent workplace occupation at the Republic Window and Door plant in Chicago is a wonderful example of some of what is required – I suggest that leftists keep the following elementary principles in mind at the dawn of the Obama era:
 
Racism is about much more than the color of who sits in higher elected office.
 
The White House was made to be marched on whatever the color and life experience of its residents.
 
The Democratic Party, while preferable to the proto-fascistic Republicans, is not a progressive entity.
 
Elites (both smart and dumb) need to be educated from the bottom up by the intelligence and activism of citizens.
 
The ideology of the power elite is commonly and dangerously embraced by people not born into the power elite (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are prime examples).
 
Democracy is about the active, regular, and many-sided engagement of mobilized citizens fighting concentrated power, not the top-down reduction of the citizenry to the passive status of a corporate-managed electorate mobilized only around periodic and transitory business-crafted and personality-centered elections.
 
Such elections are not the sum total of “politics” or even the politics that matter most. As Noam Chomsky wrote on the eve of the 2004 elections: “In the election, sensible choices have to be made.  But,” Chomsky added, those choices “are secondary to serious political action.  The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.” (Noam Chomsky, Interventions, San Francisco: City Lights, 2007)
 
To believe that “installing a particular individual in the Oval Office” (Bacevich) will fix deep social problems and produce decisive progressive action is to abdicate citizen responsibility and to succumb to a great authoritarian illusion. Change, to repeat, comes from the bottom up.
 
Progressive “hope” for the future is empty when it is not grounded in dedicated activism on real issues and real pain in the present. The rich are destroying a livable earth at an ever-escalating pace right now and have been assaulting democracy and livable ecology for many decades – for centuries indeed. Action to challenge and undo the wealthy Few’s unchecked privilege is required in the face of global warming and other ecological and social disasters NOW, not in the HOPEd-for future. 
 
Big reforms – necessary but insufficient for decent and democratic life – are more likely when citizens demand radical change.
 
Keeping these and other tenets in mind, I think and, well, hope  that lefties can survive Obama, ride the Obama wave and work creatively with the radical potential suggested by Kropotkin and Moore. 
            
The Democrats, I might add, for what its worth, find it more difficult to credibly pose as a left or progressive party – a party in line with majority opinion on numerous key issues – when they are in power and the rubber of their often progressive-sounding campaign rhetoric hits the road of corporate-imperial governance.
 
Bring on the Obama administration. May We the People be as capable and effective in fighting a many-sided struggle for peace, justice, demcoracy, and sound ecology as the Obama team was in seizing the electoral moment and climbing the plutocratic pyramids of U.S. and global power. 
 
* According to the renowned British etymologist Michael Quinion: “The name of the Roman god Janus comes from Latin ianua, an entrance gate. He was the god of doorways and gateways; as doors can be passed in either direction, he came to represent both the past and the future. Because of that, his image was of a man with two faces, looking both forwards and backwards. The Romans always put Janus first in prayers, because in particular he symbolised beginnings. But he could also represent success or failure, especially in war. He was the god of January, whose name comes from him (in Latin Januarius [mensis], the month of Janus), which had become the first month of the Roman calendar probably some time in the second century BCE. A person who is Janus-faced has two contrasting aspects and in particular is two-faced or deceitful.” See http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-jan1.htm
 

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