The near total incompetence of the Obama administration reached its apex this week with the dismissal of Shirley Sherrod after a barrage from the right-wing smear machine, spearheaded by Fox News and propagandist Andrew Breitbart. As most people now know, a video was leaked of Mrs. Sherrod claiming that she did not want to give aid to a white farmer, especially considering the pain of black farmers who were being systemically ignored by the US government. As this trickled through the echo-chamber, everyone denounced her as a ‘reverse-racist’; so much so that even the NAACP wrote a communique denouncing her statements. Of course, this video was edited, and with even the White House jumping to conclusions, Mrs. Sherrod was fired. Why? One of the reasons, according to Mrs. Sherrod, was that Glenn Beck would ramp the story up. Thus, the POTUS was essentially bullied by Glenn Beck! She was told to pull over to the side of the road by the White House, and to resign right there.
Eventually, the whole video came out, and the moral of her story was the exact opposite of what the overreaction was premised on. Later on, she argued that she helped the white farmer, because this was not an issue of race, but one of inequality that transcends race, viz. class. Of course, this was de-emphasized even in the aftermath by all sides. Mrs. Sherrod was offered her job back by the spineless Obama administration, and was offered an apology for having her name dragged through the mud.
Now we know that the Obama administration does not look kindly on the left-wing of the Democratic Party, with Rahm Emanuel calling them and their policies ‘fucking retarded’; and he is right, the progressive wing of the party are ‘retarded’. Their continued adherence to an obvious corporatist shill, who cowers at the feet of Glenn Beck and Fox News is awe inspiring. The whole list of ersatz reform packages that he has championed, be it health-care, financial-reform, climate-change, etc., has amounted to a give away for corporate America in terms of subsidies, perpetual bail-outs, weak regulatory reform and the lack of any substantive ‘public options’ to create some sense of competition with monopoly capital. So why hasn’t the left been rising up against Obama en masse? N.B. this is not to say that some elements of the left aren't riled up against Obama, a cursory look at the blogs and MSNBC's head commentators suggest a contradictory relationship with Obama.
One reason, so I figure, is the post-modern, post-class, identity-politics fascination with a mixed president in the office, representing the realization of MLK’s dream; but the reality is that MLK’s dream is only half fulfilled by Obama. Obama is still very much within the ‘modernist’ mould of class politics, he still caters to the rich and their interests. In a sense, he has to, if he did not do so, Democrats and his re-election would face a barrage of corporate financed opposition. Again, we are witnessing the total failure of liberal-democracy, a hole that I fear it has no chance of resurrecting itself from.
Like Mrs.Sherrod, MLK’s dream is only half spoken about, the other half is obfuscated and ignored. Both argued that the country has to see a radical reduction in inequality, redistribution of wealth and income to make the principles of liberalism: equality, freedom, egalitarianism, and mobility, a reality. The right will not engage in such a programme, its reason d’etre is to solidify and expand hierarchal inequality, and to expand as much as possible the process of reification throughout society, subordinating everything to the logic of the impersonal market system. The left’s alternative has to be the expansion of the state in order to safeguard more and more into a democratic mechanism to distribute goods and services; but, this alternative has all but died among the contemporary left with Clinton’s abandonment of this project with ‘triangulation’, or the ‘Third Way’ in the UK. We are in a serious crisis and the left has to fearlessly signal an enemy to rile up populist forces in a positive manner, because if the masses are not articulated in a positive, progressive manner they will be, and are, being articulated in a reactionary mode.
The reality is that populist rage is growing in the United States, more and more demands are currently being unmet by the state or civil society--principal among them: employment. The Obama team has totally failed to transform these into a progressive base, like FDR did. Therefore, these normally ‘democratic demands’ are beginning to transform into ‘populist demands’ that can no longer easily be institutionally absorbed into the current hegemonic symbolic order. We see this manifested in the ‘Tea Party’ movement, and its increasing antagonistic view of its relation to the state.
A good example is Sharon Angle’s so-called ‘Second Amendment remedies’, or Sarah Palin’s references to ‘pro and anti America’--it is interesting to note that the post-modern fascination with ‘identity’ goes both ways, since the superstars of the right are now women. This is a purely populist operation, cf. Ernesto Laclau.
What may be occurring in the United States is that there is a serious bifurcation of what Althusser would call the ISA’s (Ideological State Apparatuses), with Fox News, and the blog-sphere spearheading a new set of ISA’s that is interpellating subjects in a way that is increasingly radically counter-hegemonic/populist. Indeed, the constant references to ‘real America’ suggests just that.
Of course, these people are being interpellated by dominant capital to fight for the deregulation of the markets, to cut taxes, and a whole slew of other policies that would make millions of lives, including their own, materially worse, deepen inequality, and strangle social mobility. Interestingly, the deeper the inequality grows, these individual’s will continue to blame the state as the portent of their discontent--a feedback loop--, instead of channeling their energies against capital and its total capture of the state ideologically and materially.
The left is so used to fight its political battles through the courts and other mechanisms, since the presumption is that the American public is inalterably conservative. This naturalization of American subjectivity is essentially a cop-out on the side of the left, a left that is unwilling to engage in a ‘war of position’ against the ‘nodal points’ that the right has successfully planted in the American body politic. It is a remnant of empiricism, by assuming what is seen today was and always will be. Therefore, anytime you hear a reference to God, human nature, or other forms of abstraction as a basis of argument for inaction/action, you should immediately remember Althusser’s words: “The function of the concept of origin, as in original sin, is to summarize in one word what has not to be thought in order to be able to think what one wants to think.” Hence, the left can change the political terrain in the United States to be more congenial to its interests, especially during a time of systemic crisis; however, one of the problem the left faces is its inability, or unwillingness, to signify a clear enemy who stands against the unity of ‘the people’, and thus help change the ‘frames’ that people interpret the world with.
So what does the left, whatever is left of it, to do? It has to begin to agitate for a new left party--my preferred option--, or a strong coup within the Democratic party to use the party as a means to change the political landscape, if that all fails, more drastic action may have to be taken. This battle is one that the left could very well lose, but it is not a time to be timid. As Gramsci notes, one of the most important ‘organic intellectuals’ are party members, and the institution of the party is the best way to get the message across. Do not forget, about 50-40 percent of the American population does not vote, therefore, the left has to bring these people into politics. However, this will necessitate populism, and antagonism, things that the left has foolishly forsaken. Indeed, so debased has the notion of revolution become that now Glenn Beck describes himself as one!