3 November 2008

Election 2008: Presidency

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:59 am

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention? To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?” To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

– David Sedaris, “Undecided”

A few months ago I decided to vote Socialist Party USA, even though I keep forgetting the name of the candidate. I had a chat with my father yesterday and he’s voting for Nader again, just like he did eight years ago in Florida and four years later after he moved to South Carolina. My dad thinks there’s not much substantive difference between McCain and Obama, that Obama will say anything at all just to get elected. Of course my father might be right. Like a lot of people, I tend to think that Obama is really more left than he’s letting on, that he is shifting rightward in order to grab up what passes in the US for moderate voters. But maybe he’s been this way all along, invoking semi-left rhetoric mostly to hold onto that wing of the Party. Maybe Obama is being held hostage by a Party apparatus that won’t let him be the change agent he wants to be. All this psychologizing isn’t going to get me anywhere: after all, I’ve never even met the man.

I’m not sure I understand the objections to deciding among political candidates based on ideology, but I presume this is part of it: talk is cheap; people will say just anything. So then along with ideology I have to add morality to the decision matrix: is he a man of his word? I have judged the Democratic majority in Congress to be corrupt for not shutting off the Iraq war funding after ascending to power on the 2006 wave of antiwar sentiment. Even Obama, whose earliest claim of distinction in the primaries was his vote against the War Powers Act, has made peace with the pro-war faction of the Democratic Party. In making a case for himself as Commander in Chief Obama emphasizes his personal credentials as cool-headed decision-maker and competent manager — like an applicant for a CEO position. I keep wanting him to take a firm ideological stance against the wars, but then I remember that according to the Constitution the President is supposed to be an administrator rather than a leader, that the Congress is supposed to decide these things, that as elected officials the members of Congress are supposed to act on behalf of the electorate. As a Senator Obama has consistently voted to continue funding the wars rather than pulling the plug. It would seem that, other than the original vote to authorize Bush to invade, Obama’s war voting record hasn’t been substantively different from Hillary’s or from Biden’s, or even from McCain’s. Does that make Obama a liar? No: he’s consistently stated that, while he disagreed with the launching of the wars, once war was underway he felt it important that the military intervention be managed and funded adequately and that the American troops be supported. I’ve been prepared to discount Obama’s rationale, believing that he’s being a good Party player, making tactical concessions in order to achieve a larger strategic antiwar victory. Why would I have believed that when I had no evidence to support it? Because I wanted to believe it. On the other hand, why do I believe that if Nader had been in the Congress he’d have voted against the wars and their continued funding? Because that’s what he says he would do, and I perceive him as a man of his word. Rhetoric, ideology, personal morality.

I suspect that Nader would make at least as good a President as either McCain or Obama. As best I can recall, on every political position where Nader differs from Obama I agree with Nader. I was of the same mind about Nader vis-a-vis Kerry, and I felt like I’d betrayed my conscience voting for Kerry, a feeling that was certainly exacerbated by Kerry’s defeat. At the same time, I’m kind of like the guy who, when asked if he’d rather have the chicken or the pile of shit, says he’ll have the fish. Though Nader is on the menu, I understand that I can’t have my own personal Nader for president. I can insist on ordering the fish just to remain true to my own convictions, as well as to erect a tiny spectacle of dissent for others possibly to observe out of the corners of their eyes as they’re eating what the majority selected from the menu, a little reminder that we could all be eating fish right now if enough of us said we wanted it. But I have to face it: at the end of tomorrow I’m going to be served chicken or shit.

Comparing Nader with Obama point by point I’d pick Nader. But in comparing Nader with my own personal political ideas I’d find points of disagreement. Comparing Obama with McCain point by point? While they’re similar to one another in so many ways, there are differences. On every difference that I know of I agree with Obama. Can I operate within the pragmatic binary, deciding which of the only two possible winners I prefer? Or by occupying the larger political-ideological field do I choose the one I like best but who surely will lose? If I flip the binary toggle while still floating in the vaster space of all conceivable presidential politics, then I have to pick the lesser of two evils. But if I consciously constrain my electoral horizon to just these two candidates, Obama and McCain, maybe I can persuade myself that I’m actually picking the one I like better, whom I agree with more, whom I think will be a better President for the country. Voting for President is just one among any number of political acts I can take from within the larger space, each of which is constrained by the real circumstances in which it plays out.

I’ll have the chicken, thank you.



  1. “Voting for President is just one among any number of political acts I can take from within the larger space, each of which is constrained by the real circumstances in which it plays out.”

    Yes, and they are constrained too. Although, the winner is supremely positioned to change things.

    I’m very pleased that Obama has won. Don’t worry, he will disappoint, probably irritate … and maybe even aggravate. Yet, things will change.

    I’m actually more pleased at Obama’s win than I was when Tony Blair won in 1997 after 18 years of Tory rule. I was already getting my disappointment in early in ’97 because New Labour had said that they would not divert from Conservative economic plans for at least the next five years. This was particularly true in the tax sector. Labour said it would not raise the highest rate of income tax, primarily because they felt, rightly or wrongly, that a promise to do so lost Neil Kinnock the election in 1992. Since ’97 Gordon Brown has had to fill government coffers through what the Tory press call “stealth taxes” because he can’t be seen to be supporting “socialistic” redistribution like progressive direct taxes. Labour have showed themselves to be (with a couple of exceptions such as the introduction of the minimum wage) to be no different from the Tories. Tony Blair, in particular, became a lapdog to the neocons. By April 2001 I didn’t vote because I was already disgusted by New Labour – this was before 9/11, Iraq and everything else. Blair’s grotesquely narcissistic, pantomine statesman character had already emerged with Kosovo.

    So, in brief, I was very disappointed even before the end of Labour’s first term. Now we have David “soundbite” Cameron running the Tories like a Tony Blair clone but without even Blair’s (fucked up) morality. Where’s the opposition?

    Yet, as I said above, I’m still pleased about Obama and I do believe things will change. Why? Because, as a radio report commented today, Obama “embodies change – now he has to deliver”. He won’t deliver much, I bet. But even if he turns out to be as bad or worse than McCain or even Bush (which is very unlikely) he will change America. Obama embodies change because he is black. If he turns out to be totally shit then, at the very least, people will ask themselves if there is any difference between a black Democrat and a white Republican. That sounds cynical but actually I don’t mean it to be. Change (and difference) will not be about embodiment – it will not be about race – so much anymore but more about policy. Maybe then we’ll have some fish.

    Is that called progress?


    Comment by NB — 5 November 2008 @ 8:11 am

  2. Apparently practically every country in the world was hoping for an Obama victory (Israel being one of the very few exceptions). I suspect it is hard for Europeans to imagine people like Bush, McCain, and Palin being taken seriously as national political leaders anywhere but in the US.

    It was odd how Obama’s being African-American became the focus of the televised coverage of the election results, after having downplayed the “race card” throughout the campaign. There were interviews with a number of old-timers, black and white alike, saying how they never thought they’d live to see the day. It is remarkable really, considering that Obama is the only black member of the Senate and that there is only one state governor who is black. The pundits also commended Obama’s intensive grassroots organizational apparatus for getting out the vote, especially among the young and the minorities who voted heavily for Obama. They also mentioned briefly how much more money Obama was able to spend on the campaign than was McCain. As I recall Obama won majorities among the poor and the rich, while McCain did best in the middle-income bloc. The televised celebration in Chicago was huge and emotionally charged, but even here in Boulder there were lots of people out in the streets whooping it up after the winner was declared, Like most other university towns, Boulder went heavily Obama, but it had previously given Gore and Kerry strong majorities as well. If either of those guys had won I doubt he would have generated such a spontaneous exuberance. Partly it’s the great relief after 8 long years, partly the harder straits America finds itself in now. But it’s also this particular person who, without descending into populist demagoguery, has tapped into an immanent good vibe. Who knows, maybe even I will get infected by it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2008 @ 11:15 am

  3. Well, this post explains who you are, at long last, as you give your rationale, much like some of the ladies in the blogosphere, how you refine your voting choice to a faretheewell so that it goes up into the astral subtleties and becomes an artwork all its own, like Archibald MacLeish’s poem that doesn’t mean but ‘bes.’

    However, this being a Stalinist-saturated site (Stalin and Nader have a lot in common), I’ll stop here.

    Of course you’d choose chicken. Obama’s probably younger than you are. McCain was not ‘shit’ so much as he was going to be the darling of the Gothic Chic Crowd, what with his ‘Ready for my embalming, Mistah DeMille’ Look and his wife, whose chic shrivelled into a stick-woman in a matter of 6 weeks. Ms. Palin was vaguely sympathetic, because she had been used and then spat out about a week ago, but that was good for her. She’s very gifted, even if only a junior high school education, and seeming like an Oral Roberts University dropout, and needed a good big dose of shock therapy–not because we want to see her in the political arena on a large scale again, but because she should go back and be forced to be a governor instead of a kind of real-estate speculator, buying up residential property as investment and never living in any of them. She wouldn’t even live in the official governor’s residence, and made everybody pay through the nose for all the accessories she was getting a big new taste of.

    Your definition of corruption, for the record, is sadly lacking in Big Picture terms. But you’ve explained it very clearly now why such would exist and how it is probably irreversible. A lot of people are still perceiving like this, but most of them are students.


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 5 November 2008 @ 11:29 am

  4. “an artwork all its own” — why Jonquille, how sweet of you to say so.

    “sadly lacking” — well it is just a blog post after all: try thinking about what it has, not what it lacks. Yes we can!


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2008 @ 11:49 am

  5. I’m not averse to positive thinking,when it takes the form of having a goal in mind that one works toward, keeping that image in mind. Wishful thinking is another story, and it dovetails with ‘looking on the brighter side of things’.

    Anyway, it’s obviously that you’re from a Nader family that explains everything, in case that wasn’t obvious enough. I wouldn’t have bothered arguing with you about Biden before had you been clear on this.


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 5 November 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  6. While in Munich, I was chatting with two Spaniards and a Frenchman, all of whom were working in Munich. Nice fellows. We were talking politics–seemed like everyone I chatted with was interested in talking about the election–and they contended that in the eyes of the world, both McCain and Obama are both on the right. Their thinking kind of resonates to me with some of what you are saying here.

    I think that perhaps what resonates with Europeans is Obama’s general sense of openness and desire to cooperate with the rest of the world.

    Politically, Obama has benefited from being able to portray himself both as a centrist who pretends to lean left to get the votes of his base AND as a leftist who caters to the center to get the centrist vote. I’m afraid we’ll have to let Obama’s actions define his term, eh?


    Comment by Erdman — 8 November 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  7. “I think that perhaps what resonates with Europeans is Obama’s general sense of openness and desire to cooperate with the rest of the world.”

    I agree with this assessment, Erdman. During the runup to the Iraq invasion there were massive antiwar demonstrations worldwide. If anything, world opinion seemed to accelerate Bush’s rush to war — only America has the balls to stand up to the terrorists, etc. There was a US dismissal of continental Europe even though places like Spain and France are much more frequently targeted by terrorist organizations and so are extremely concerned and active in their own antiterror efforts. There was also the sense that by going around the UN and building his own coalition Bush intended to disempower the UN more generally.

    “I’m afraid we’ll have to let Obama’s actions define his term, eh?”

    Hopefully so. This mastery of self-portrayal is what worries a lot of people on both the right and the left about Obama: he got elected by creating a very successful ad campaign promoting his “Change and Hope” brand. I don’t believe that’s the only reason he won; however, all too often the administration’s ability to orchestrate public opinion has proven more important than the substance of what they actually do. I think you’re attuned to this image-versus-reality confusion in your own blogging.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 November 2008 @ 10:51 am

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