Check this: Karl Rove is trying to lead a challenge to Eric Holder’s nomination as AG of the US. I don’t think Rove or any other part of the GOP cares particularly about Eric Holder per se, they care about Holder’s connections to Clintons, who they would like to tie to Obama. It’s an effort to re-inscribe the partisan frame around Obama and his Administration – and points out the risks O took in bringing so many Clinton-types into the fold when building his Administration.
Tag Archives: obama
I’m totally fascinated by this too-quick New York Times article on the decline of the New York City power-centers.
The article shows one problem with eliminating term limits – it creates an inability to pick hard political battles like really saving the MTA when constantly in the running for a third or fourth term. Regardless of the high re-election rate for incumbents, the media attention on a candidate for re-election means they shy away from real battles.
The main point of the article is more interesting. It shows the dearth of symbolic resources for politicians in the city- Robert Caro’s point at the end that the issue is also one of ‘vision’ points out that no one really has a clear sense of what the city should or does look like. Obama harnessed the decline of machine politics on a national level by latching on to a fundamental set of American Myths that propelled him to prominence. In New York, the myths may be just as powerful, but they certainly don’t unite in the same way – glam NYC clashes withcorrupt or mafia New York, intersects with multicultural diverse New York.
The decline of hard-and-fast power centers, and the lack of real and easy symbolic center puts a particular emphasis on grassroots organizing. Groups like the Working Families Party and sites like ChangeNYC will be the key to shaping the future of the city. With no quick paths to power or easy levers to pull, the emphasis returns on creating coalitions and organizing disorganized groups with potentially converging interests against the developing rapid changes overtaking the city.
I have no doubt in my mind that this NYT article on Rahm Emanuel would have been much different were it written about a Republican. Seriously: for the past few years ‘industry ties’ has been a kind of buzzword for ‘corruption’ under the Bush administration, and I don’t see why that should change under Obama. I don’t think that this provides evidence of a left media bias because Emanuel isn’t that left, which is really the point – the obsequious media coverage of the Obama campaign/administration, forecasting change and lauding the team of experts starts from some fairly shaky assumptions. Mainly it rides a partisan/Manichean frame that associates the “last 8 years” with failure, and any ‘change’ with ‘hope.’ The other implicit assumption is that Obama-as-is is the only change we could ever really see, when in reality there could be many different Obama Administrations, depending on how much critical pressure the media and an organized opposition places on him.
Welcome to the technocracy: Obama is looking to govern for the sake of government as a technocrat in the center, rather than the left-wing ideologue that both the GOP and Democratic bases mistook him for.
Instead, he’s appointing Democrats and Republicans including old political rivals. History says that non-partisan apointments get the job of government done best – which should return attention to questions about what government should be doing, if anything at all.
In many regards, left criticism has been hamstrung by George Bush in the Oval Office. Folks got very confortable with lambasting every policy failure as a failure of incompetence or stupidity. No doubt things will continue to go wrong under an Obama Presidency, but we don’t yet have the language to describe any impending failure in a particularly useful way. For instance – while the current Bush-created budget problems will no doubt make Obama’s policy agenda difficult to implement, the focus on that issue alone sets us up for another 4 years of blaming Bush, rather than making forward-thinking criticisms of Obama (who, as the inheritor of the Bush Imperial Presidency and a unified government, will be the most powerful president in modern history).
Hopefully cutting off the head of the Bush-king will encourage people to think about the role of government on the whole, and reflect on whether it needs to do as much as we think. I am encouraged by people who would like to see police officers reduced to basic first-aid responders and directors of traffic, and I think we need to do more of this type of reflection during an Obama Presidency.
This excellent cross post to ACLU’s blog by Glen Greenwald shows just how effective Obama was in framing his candidacy as one about ‘issues’ without really stating what those issues are, or where he stands on a great number of them. Greenwald points out the host of questions that remain about just civil liberties even after Obama’s fairly extensive 60 Minutes interview – I think it’s particularly important to note that ‘closing Guantanamo’ could mean a wide variety of things, including some that would be much worse than whatever it is now. The camp provides a visible symbol that you can visit and monitor, but if prisoners are moved to black sites around the world, then everyone will have a much harder time keeping tabs on them. Obama somehow made an end run around actually discussing any of these things, but still managed to berate McCain for avoiding ‘the issues.’
Obama’s ‘O’ logo is one of the most impressive elements of his political identity – it functions as a condensation of Obama’s message, a badge for supporters, a lucrative branding tool, etc. I love this interview with the designer at the NYT, because it shows a more or less face of the campaign, and reveals so much about how electoral politics works these days -
First, it shows the deliberate, calculating side the the campaign, rather than the exuberent, movement-building face. Axelrod and Plouffe deliberate about what logo serves them best, debate the advantages of different ‘O’s and make a calculated decision. No doubt this is why the interview is happening only after the election.
The logo works because it condenses so much meaning. The ‘O’ itself refers to his name, which signifies him as something different, a ‘change’ – Obama has a ‘funny’ name that sets him apart from other candidates and past presidents. The ‘rising sun’ image also connotes change, the lines imply the open feilds and rural areas that supposedly define America. it implies unity (a full circle), and an accessible simplicity that can be molded to fit any number of messages.
The multi-valent iconicity of the ‘O’, and it’s basis in Obama’s biography (both of which the designers read before going to work) reveals the imagistic and narrativized foundations of contemporary politics.
First of all: a shoutout to techPresident for being a great resource for thinking about the relationship between technology and politics. Full of consistently engaging and challenging work, and just generally pretty dope.
Anyways – the much-ado about Obama’s plan to use the internet to govern needs some fleshing out. The key remains changing the internet from a tool of access and transparency into a tool for people (writ-large) to make decisions. Questions remain about how to transform feedback and criticism into decision-making authority, and transparency into power for the people viewing. As it stands, the folks in government being monitored by internet-tools often still have the authority to act as they please, even if hundreds of thousands of voices dissent.
At the very least, internet tools put into more explicit terms the incongruencies of power and time that define the modern bureaucracy. In the same way that I think that Obama’s Presidency throws into better contrast certain types of exploitation (and makes certain new stridant critiques more sayable), internet transparency movements do the work of making critiques of state power more visible and potent.
Another recommendation: “The Dreadful Genius of the Obama Moment“
A pretty jarring analysis of the numerous problems left unsolved, and the problems created by the Obama election. I’m worried that my own focus on the symbolic/rhetorical elements of politics sometimes distracts from the real material facts of US exceptionalism. We really do have a war on most of the world, with terrifying implications.
I feel very conflicted. On the one hand, I know that no matter how right you are, you have to be able to effectively communicate and organize people for your voice to matter. In the current political environment, trying to take ‘hope’ head-on and out and out deny that people should enjoy Obama’s election feels like political suicide. On the other hand, I know that arguments about ‘effectiveness’ can straight-jacket real dissent, and prevent people from saying what needs to be said about Obama and the violence of the US government.
I guess my real feelings go something like this: I agree with the commenter on the article above that the real alternative is to ask people to hope further. What did we hope for? Was it Rahm Emanuel and a return to the Clinton foreign policy? Or are we really hoping for an end to racism (white supremacy), and something more fundamentally just in the world?
One of my favorite stories about American politics (besides Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72) is about JFK, and his popularity bounce after getting elected, then assasinated. in 1960 Kennedy won a very close election, by about 100,000 votes. But, magically, by the time he was inaugerated as President, 60% or so of Americans told pollsters that they voted for him. Then, after his assasination in 1963, about 80% of people polled said they voted for him. Somone was lying.
Obama won fairly decisively this year, but the same thing is happening: a low to mid 50′s percent win in the popular vote magically turned into a 65% approval rating (acknowledging that people polled is a different group than voters). It shows just how successful Obama was in posturing himself as ‘historic’ in the post-election aftermath, and the popular utility of his personal narrative in winning himself political capital.
The bump demonstrates the very different rhetorical posture Obama must adopt as President, rather than Candidate, and also forecasts the difficulties he might have in re-mobilizing his 3 million or so subscribers. I think Obama’s need to make general, more cautious appeals once in power suggests that his ‘online army’ will perhaps go rogue and begin leading their own campaigns, rather than continuing to rally behind the more pragmatic rhetoric of President Obama.
Buried in Glen Greenwald’s latest post about Obama Presidency prosecutions of Bush Administration war crimes (he’s in favor of them, I agree) is this comment about the notion of ‘bipartisanship’:
But our political establishment venerates “centrism” and “bi-partisanship” as the highest religious concepts. Those terms are, in reality, nothing more than vehicles to insulate government officials and the political establishment generally from any accountability. Their only real meaning is that cooperation within the political establishment is paramount, regardless of political principles and the rule of law.
‘Bipartisanship’ means agreement between the party-elites who on the one hand pitch themselves as the defense against the greater of two evils, but simultaneously expect co-operation from those evils when the time comes. In our two party system, we should openly recognize the difference between being elected and representing the real interests of voters; we should acknowledge this inherent failure of democracy when we talk about ‘bipartisanship’ as a political good.
Even if you don’t see ‘bipartisanship’ as the product of our decadent, mutually gratifying political system, the appeal for it now is particularly frustrating. The Republicans are being totally disingenuous – we just came off of 8 years of the 50%+1 political machine that railroaded legislation without even a hint of real debate or consensus, conceding to a call for bipartisanship now would only cement the horrifying legislative changes of the past two administrations.
Look, I know Obama is all about the transcendence and what not, but it’s time to play hardball. The ‘transcendence’ was not just over ‘partisanship,’ but rather a specific brand of partisanship that fed the Bush-GOP machine. Failure to push back with equal fervor would be the final victory of the Bush Administration.
In the last week, there’s been a creeping transformation… of a man changed from a movement to a governing body, someone becoming very solid, very fast.
He appears in public, among mere mortals, against a backdrop of plain blue, rather than rising above and through adoring crowds, as he did in the past 20 months.
He floats policy positions, rather than floating on air.
He commits himself to partisan battles in the Senate.
He hobnobs with the icons of evil that we supposedly purged from our Great Nation not so long ago.
A gradual deflation of expectations, rather than a pop of frustration. Welcome to the movement transformed.
This post from Pop Matters forecasts some difficulties for the re-emergence of culture jamming as a prime thread of political speech in the new Obama age. The jamming of the 80s and 90s occurred in a time of economic ‘irrational exuberance’ where folks could and would spend big on consumer items. Now, with the downturn, we see a shift back to a utility focus when people purchase goods, where bang for your buck has made a resurgence.
Which is exactly what happened during the election. Obama won on the idea of issues, as much as the issues in particular. Despite never quite talking in depth about what his positions were, Obama hammered McCain for talking about things that weren’t the issues – O maintained the image of dealing with issues without ever really doing the nitty-gritty work of talking about them. (This New Yorker article summarized the campaign operation pretty well, gives you an idea of what I mean)
Generic brands, like Obama, project the image of being image-free, skirting the over the top image-politics of late 90s branding and counter-branding by pretending to be about substance. The trouble folks have with making fun of Obama demonstrates the same principle, where the idea of substance trumps the substance itself.
I don’t know if anyone was paying attention, but back in the late 90s, huge and powerful movements emerged in this country to protest the practices of corporate power in a variety of forms. We had anti-Nike folks, a stronger animal rights front, and oh yeah, Seattle. After Bush got elected, and particularly after 9/11, that all changed – people returned the bread and butter issues of war and government power; the frame shifted off of corporations and went back on to the state.
Now that Obama has been elected, I can hope that folks get back to some of the anti-corporate struggles that existed before the Bush takeover which disarmed anyone who thought they had agency over their government. It’s not like all the problems with the federal government have been resolved – far from it – but it feels less like the overbearing symbol of total power. Of course, it never was total power – Bush acted largely of the behest of corporate powers that could have been the focus of activism from the get-go.
Arujn Appadurai gets at some really interesting stuff regarding the language of Obama’s election, and its revolutionary potential.
Appadurai calls the feeling of November 4th ‘magic.’ While the language people used to describe Obama on election night was nearly religious, it wasn’t exactly devotional – the hype about Obama-as-Jesus was just that, hype – but his election did represent something special, something a little bit transcendent, beyond what has gone before. Magic implies a sense of the unknown, openness, play and potential.
It is precisely this sense of embracing uncertainty and creative potential that now President-Elect Obama has tried to eliminate since his election. Gone is the euphoric devotion to the man-as-symbol that represents radical change, replaced by the calculating Rahm Emanuel, and the mundanity of press conferences. He needs to pre-emptively tone down the sense of radical change that he developed during the campaign as to avoid any more commitments to leaps of faith on the part of his supporters – he needs them to become disciplined, calculating types that embrace him wholeheartedly as the lesser of many evils, and no longer as a transcendent force.
But that sense of magic he fostered for however many months might be precisely the energy that could be harnessed for other types of radical change.
I think there are a limited number of important things a President can do. One is be a symbol – which Obama does nicely, at least until his President-Elect-Hopey-Shine wears off. The other is manage the bureaucracy.
It looks like Obama has jumped on the bureaucracy issue – at least according to his propaganda, he has a list of 200 or so Bush Executive Orders he wants to overturn. I’m totally down with most – particularly listing CO2 as an air pollutant, which will empower the EPA to significantly reduce carbon emissions without new legislation.
It shows that Obama’s election isn’t shaping up to be a total disappointment – although notably absent from reports on the EO action was any mention of Bush’s claims for the authority to torture, wiretap and attack whatever he pleases. It seems that while Obama will wipe away some of the Bush legacy, unilateral executive authority remains “on the table“.
…would be all that hope rushing out of the room. Rahm Emanuel is a good pick for many reasons, but he’s also a neocon who shepherded NAFTA through congress back in ’93. You remember NAFTA right? It was the first great betrayal of the Clinton Administration, the free trade bill that made moving jobs to Mexico a national past time. He also engineered the bait-and-switch 2006 midterm campaign for the Democrats, where millions voted for an end to the war, only to see Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid capitulate to Bush and keep the war going.
Now Obama will put him at the head of his legislative machine, showing that he wants to have the type of free reign to do as he pleases, promises be damned, that Clinton had way back in 92. (not that he made that many promises) He represents the return of the New World Order with a happy face that Clinton tried to pull over in his two terms, and forecasts an unhappy relationship with the aspirational left that brought Obama to power.
Perhaps the most heartening local item regarding the Obama win was the pretty decent sized street protests that arose after the win. Obama’s victory speech kicked off a night of celebration, and in New York, that means a night of dealing with the NYPD. A bunch of folks got arrested in Williamsburg, St. Marks and (I suspect) uptown.
At Union Square folks were climbing statues and lightpoles waving flags and cheering, bullhorns were broken out, but nothing wildly violent or interesting happened to justify the fairly substantial police presence hanging around.
Still, the cops came – and it wasn’t just in the name of ‘law and order.’ A friend got arrested at St. Marks around three a.m. after an officer snatched a flag-bandanna he was wearing off his face, and he chose to walk away from what amounted to an illegal stop (legal stops require reasonable suspicion, which there was none). As he left, an officer tackled him from behind, cuffed him, and stuffed him in the car.
For all that’s uncool, it gets better. He was booked at the station by an officer proudly wearing a McCain-Palin T-Shirt, and later standing in line to see the judge to receive his charges, an officer leadig him and several other folks around told everyone that “Next time you should just vote for McCain.”
I’ve already written about the police stuff I saw right after the election, but this took things to another level – and it’s why we need to keep calling bullshit on the NYPD when stuff like this happens.
I love the rush to get newspapers today. It’s like no one feels like it happened until they have something in their hands that proves it really occurred. History seems to have disappeared from our lifetimes – even September 11th disappeared into a bureaucratic squabble and the discredited political movement led by George Bush. The last time ‘something happened’ was the fall of the Soviet Union. Until today, it seems.
Obama ran an ephemeral campaign, one of airy aspirations and digital connections. I think there’s still a sense that it might all disappear, until we take pictures, record video, and grab mementos. The newspaper is a classic trope in what we know is history – think Dewey Defeats Truman – and folks need to grab on to something to feel like history happened. History happens in black and white.