Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Two Obamas

Obama One: Policy Obama.

This is the Obama of the often muddled and mediocre policy choices, as on health care.

This is the Obama of the boring new "change" website and the strong tendency to follow Bill Clinton into "too little too late" - like his wee stimulus package.

This is the Obama who may pick Larry Summers or some other Clintonista who conspired with the right-wing deregulators of the late 1990s to cause the problems he is now supposed to solve.

This is the Obama who did pick a central Clinton figure Rahm Emmanuel to be White House Chief of Staff, thus putting hard-line pro-Israeli positions and hard-line pro-Wall Street neoliberalism in the guardhouse to the Oval Office.

This is the Obama who has taken up positions in foreign policy much like those of Bush and Condi Rice.

This is the Obama who favors same-sex civil unions while opposing gay marriage, and who was used by the YES on 8 campaign in California against gay marriage, even as he said he was opposed to Proposition 8.

This is the Obama who can be pushed to the "center" by right-wing spin about how the people voted massively on November 4 for low taxes and small government. This is the Obama that, like Clinton before him, the Right can roll.

Obama Two: Movement Obama

This is popular Obama, mass Obama, the Obama of the 7 hour lineup to vote, the Obama that belongs entirely to the global public because this "Obama" is created by their hopes and dreams. This could be called the Multitude Obama. This is the Obama of November 5, of the Obama Revolution. This is the Obama that inspired Le Monde to follow its gloomy editorial about Obama's conventional realism in foreign policy with several pages of articles about the electrifying effect on France's racial awareness in general and the demands of its people of color more specifically.

Some commentators were invoking Obama Two as soon as the election was finished. Here's a statement I especially like from Columbia professor Mahmood Mamdani
There is that remarkable primary debate with Hillary and Edwards, where a reporter asked the three of them who would Martin Luther King support on this day, and Hillary and Edwards responded by convincing the audience why King would have supported them. And Obama responded by saying King would not have supported anybody, that King would have organized his movement to push the winning candidate to pursue the objectives. Well, that’s the real question now in the US today.

There was a movement, a youth movement, to elect Obama. Will that movement dissolve itself? Will that movement build itself now around the objectives for which it organized? Will America recognize, as I believe South Africa has after the election of Mandela, that the election of Mandela was not change, but an opportunity to change? And whether that opportunity is realized and transformed into a program of social justice within the country and peace abroad will depend on the movement that pushes Obama and gives him the opportunity to respond to it. . . .
Has the movement been absorbed into the state? Look, there’s a remarkable difference between the youth movement of the ’60s, which mainly organized outside the system, and the youth movement which has brought Obama to power, because this movement has organized within the system to reform the system. Obama keeps on saying that this movement must not go away, that change hasn’t come, that this is the beginning of change. Now, will the candidate be able to tame the movement, or will the movement be able to stamp itself to some extent in the coming days.
See Robert Kuttner and Arun Gupta saying very similar things about the financial front: Obama One will need his better half if he is to do the right (and effective) thing, and that better half comes from social movements under the pressure of events.

We regular folks can't do a damn thing about Obama One. But we created Obama Two and can send him into battle any time we need to. He is neither of those guys at the top:

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