Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Obama Revolution

I realized how this is going to work while not making it through 10 minutes of Sunday CNN in Lyon and flipping to a cable channel called Demain.TV, and finding a show whose French title means "Desperately seeking a French Obama." One of its guests was a woman called Khédidja Bencherif, la Présidente du comité de soutien parisien à Barack Obama, a group in Paris that supports Obama. The host asked her why, since you can't vote for him. She said because he represents the possiblity of a society without exclusion. And she said if this happened in many societies it would change the world.

Mme Bencherif is right. The Obama revolution is the end of the politics of casting out that has dominated US political discourse for a generation. It was designed to keep inclusion from getting any farther than it had in the 60s and 70s. And it worked.

The media versions were Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, among many others. The idea was not to have a debate but to throw the other side(s) of the debate out before it got started. Liberalism was treason, criticism was weakness, government was an attack on working Americans, etc etc. The responses were banished in advance. This was the point of the culture wars - to eliminate the cultural and psychological sources of resistance to the grossly elitist economic and social policies that have formed the Washington Consensus since 1980.

Not to up the ante, but I do like quoting Jean-Francois Lyotard defining the act of casting the opponent out of the language game as a strategy of terror. But that's pretty much what we've had. And that's what Obama's success will end.

Let's be clear. The Obama revolution isn't in his policies, obviously. On the French scale his politics are closest to that of the country's dominant conservative, President Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy is in fact somewhat to the left of Obama in proposing new unemployement protectoins as a repsonse to the crisis and in accepting France's single-payer health care, which is causing popular anger with its new American-style, Obama-endorsed, proliferation of extra uncovered fees. Obama wouldn't be a socialist in a country whose largest non-conservative party is the Socialist Party, which is in turn not so radical that it can't be regularly taken to task by the weekly magazine Marianne for having swallowed neoliberalism's faith in the power of self-regulating markets to govern economies and societies, which Marianne does from its left Gaullist position (de Gaulle having been a conservative nationalist who put the social fabric first).

The Obama revolution is that he would not simply advocate, or represent, but, in the White House, getting off Air Force 1 instead of Bush in Moscow, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Paris, Tokyo, Cairo, accompanied by the real sista - as Rev. Wright reminded us - Michelle Obama as First Lady - wow, it's amazing even to write those words, an African American First Lady of the United States - Obama would incarnate the end of the triumph of exclusion and discrimination.

Not the end, obviously, but the end of exclusion as the governing principle.

And then we'll have to do the rest. for example . . .

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