Sunday, November 04, 2012

Obama: The Best Of The Worst

Four years ago today, I was convinced that Barack Obama had to win the US presidency and was ecstatic when he did. As a Canadian, my main concerns were US foreign policy and international law. Obama had pledged to shut Guantanamo, seek dialogue with old adversaries, roll back the perpetual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and address climate change. His victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago was the culminating moment of a long struggle to reclaim the American project back from the dark forces represented by that two-headed hellpanda, McCain/Palin.

New possibilities and new intensities were being revealed that evening. It was a celebration of Kant's "true enthusiasm...directed exclusively towards the ideal, particularly towards that which is purely moral." Out of Obama's victory emerged a preview of what was to come during the Arab Spring and Occupy movements and what Alain Badiou refers to in The Rebirth of History as the "inexistent of the world":
"The inexistent has risen. That is why we refer to uprising: people were lying down, submissive; they are getting up, picking themselves up, rising up. This rising is the rising of existence itself: the poor have not become rich; people who were unarmed are not now armed, and so forth. Basically, nothing has changed. What has occurred is restitution of the existence of the inexistent, conditional upon what I call an event."
Such events open up new possibilities and contain elements of "prescriptive universalities" in which the entire world can recognize itself.

Then change turned rancid. Obama took his mandate and elided it with what had come before. He not only reneged on the core pledges I care about, he forged a bipartisan normalization and legitimization on issues related to war and national security. The long list involves prosecuting whistle-blowers, criminalizing WikiLeaks, extending the Patriot Act and conducting an illegal war in Libya and very likely Yemen. Obama's victory also silenced the critics that had been vociferous under Bush-Cheney. As Matt Stoller argues in "The Progressive Case Against Obama":
"Under Obama, because there is now no one making the anti-torture argument, Americans have become more tolerant of torture, drones, war and authoritarianism in general. The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama. As a candidate, Obama promised a whole slew of civil liberties protections, lying the whole time. Obama has successfully organized the left part of the Democratic Party into a force that had rhetorically opposed war and civil liberties violations, but now cheerleads a weakened America too frightened to put Osama bin Laden on trial. We must fight this thuggish political culture Bush popularized, and Obama solidified in place."
If that's the best US democracy can deliver, then something has to change. The best of the worst still stinks.

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