Tag Archives: rhetoric

Dragging Down Obama

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.


First the ‘Surge,’ then the ‘Reboot’

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freaks flickr

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freak's flickr

I love the recent electronic/electric metaphors flying around US foreign policy these days – first the Bush “Surge” metaphor used to describe the war, now the Obama “reboot” metaphor for his approach to the ‘Muslim world’ (btw, what is the ‘Muslim world’? This term probably needs some unpacking too…).

The ‘Surge’ was such a great metaphor – it invoked a jolting, devestating pulse of energy that was simultaneously momentary and fleeting – a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak.  It reduced a complex military operation to a word (more condensed than the played ‘Desert Storm’ type names), and got the ball rolling for making the escalation happen.

The ‘reboot’ metaphor does other equally interesting things – it isolates the problem in US-Muslim diplomacy as a glitch or virus that can be wiped away with the flip of a switch, it invokes the technology that will be a prime medium for the policy shift (and echoes Obama’s tech cred),  and its inward-focused, almost repentant sound.

The real question is what a properly-operating US foreign policy OS would look like – Obama seems to think there is something inherent that the ‘Muslim world’ should see in the US, and I’m interested to know what his ‘Safety mode’ boot would look like.

The Risks and Rewards of Thompson’s New Site


Bill Thompson just opened a new website designed by Blue State Digital, which also designed Barack Obama’s campaign site.

First of all, I’m increasingly inclined to give my qualified support Thompson for mayor – I don’t know if it was pure election-grandstanding, but it seems like every time he  makes a public announcement of some kind, like his workaround of the MTA fare-hike, it’s generally sensible, effective, and conscious of class dynamics in the city (for instance, as Comptroller he got city pension funds to remove their money from companies that privatise formerly public housing in the city).

But that’s beside the point – I think this will be a test case in how well folks other than Obama can use his organizing model in their campaign strategy.  While I trust that Blue State won’t apply the Obama model whole-cloth, many of the central elements of the Obama campaign revolved around him specifically, and might not translate well into other campaigns.  When someone wins, it always makes their system look better than it probably is, and thevalidity of the organizing model will be need to be tested in a vareity of contexts.

Here are some of the risks I see in adopting the Obama model:

-Looking like an Obama hanger-on: to stick in people’s minds, you need to develop a distinctive personality.  The individualist tendancy in American politics asks that politicians be in a way self-made.  Trying to ride the coattails too overtly undermines credibility and might hurt the campaign.

-Social Media can hurt too: trying to mobilize folks via twitter/Facebook/etc. can become a conspicuous display of a lack of support as well.  Having 50 people on a Facebook group demonstrates weakness in a citywide or statewide campaign.  Thompson should be  sure that embracing new media will build support among his target constituencies before over embracing the technology.

-You need a good story: Obama mobilized a series of glittering generalities based on his personal story.  Thompson needs to develop a central story that reduces to a short-worded theme and three key policy proposals to organize people behind the campaign.  One of the clear differences between Obama and Thompson’s site is the lofty quote Obama put on the top of every page.  Thompson doesn’t have the same type of cred, or story to get people together.

The Issue is Issues

but first end torture. from jezobeljones flickr

but first end torture. from jezobeljones' flickr

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.’

‘Debate’ About Torture

I’m not particularly happy with the idea of Brennan as the head of the CIA – but then again, I’m not particularly OK with the CIA in the first place.  Anyways, there’s also a problem with the idiotic rhetoric of ‘opening a debate‘ about the use of torture.  I definiately don’t take issue with debates – I’m pleased with the defeat of a challenge to NYU’s Coke ban in a debate, to cite the most recent example – but I’m fairly sure that any ‘national debate’ about torture will look nothing like a productive discussion about torture, or state violence.  The terms of the debate will be left up entirely to people like Brennan – not only will he choose what people talk about, but also the forum in which they do it, and the terms in which it is described.  The cacaphony of a truely national debate will be reduced to the talking points of a hoarde of ‘national security experts’ and other apologists for the exercise of US military power.

Here’s the point: I don’t think debate is a problem, but in the narrow, imagistic environment that constitutes public discourse, the idea of a ‘debate’ all too often only serves as a fig-leaf to media campaigns meant to justify some pretty fucked up stuff, and I’m not buying it.

Dreadful Genius

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?