A small treatise on original sin

9:37 AM Posted by James Owens

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
--The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

I would love to see a presidential inauguration preformed with The Who’s anthem to political realism blasting in the background – because, of course, we get fooled every stinking time. It would be right up there with that reference on The Simpsons to “an early draft of the Constitution that included the word ‘suckers’.”

Yeah, I know, it’s not fair to say that Barack Obama will be the same as George Bush, when he hasn’t even been tested yet and the differences seem so obvious, and when his first few days have seemed to augur good things to come. The election of the first African-American to the presidency is an index of tremendous social change blah blah blah

(A friend says I’d better take out that last sentence, but I’m leaving it in. There was “tremendous social change” in the ‘60s --- but Obama’s election, as African-American, is cosmetic, a weak echo of the Civil Rights Movement, no real shift in attitudes that will affect the lives of ordinary people in minority communities. Think of self-congratulating, middle class liberals, plotting their daily commute from jobs in the high-rises back to their beds in the suburbs and making sure they don’t drive through the slums….)

On the other hand, while I do assume that all politicians are de facto lying, thieving pimp-weasels, I can’t help approaching the prospect of Obama’s presidency with guarded and provisional optimism. I voted for him (but I would have voted for Donald Duck instead of the opposition). I really believe his intentions are good. A welcome relief from the openly malefic trolls of the Bush administration, Obama would like to straighten things that are crooked, not take advantage of the wrong for personal and political gain.

Conditions really can change – I know that, and maybe they will change – at least locally and until the political pendulum swings back in the other direction. That is the problem, in America, at least – the pendulum swings, and no one’s good intentions (or bad intentions, even) slow it down much or alter its course for very long. Nevertheless, Obama may do some good, and those who are helped by his efforts will be grateful.

He may do some good, and it is certainly better to do some good than none – but how deeply will that good penetrate into the underlying structure of American society? Not very deeply. There is no revolution on the horizon -- and, besides, revolutionaries always transform themselves into caricatures of the power-figures they started out hating. It is inevitable, because of the force they must exert....

I am attracted to the analysis of Late Capitalism (especially the US kind) that sees the “liberal” and the “conservative” as successive states of being that covertly support, even require, each other. Bush and Obama may seem to be in antithetical opposition, but they are really two poles that generate the alternating current that runs the big iron machine grinding human potential into raw commodity for the pleasure of a small wealthy class. The machine roars on, irrespective of anybody’s intent, and soon enough the regulating pendulum will swing in the other direction.

I sound like a disappointed, sour old Communist. Maybe that’s because I’m a disappointed, sour old Communist. Not in the sense of the apparatchik, never that – something closer to José Miranda’s Marx and the Bible. (I guess that book is looking worn these days, but it has been important to me.) The Communism of the Sermon on the Mount.

Obama is a smart guy, and seems to have some potential as an intellectual-statesman on the Western European model. Maybe he would even see what I’m getting at here, and, judging from his books and speeches, agree to some extent. We’ll see. I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong about every word in this post.



Sorlil said...

He's a spin-doctor's dream, that's for sure. I think that makes me more wary of him than bumbling Bush. I guess this must be the cynics corner :)
Interesting sounding book by Jose Miranda, I don't remember ever coming across it, not even in the days when I was obsessed with trying to marry Marxism and Christianity.

James Owens said...

Miranda's Marx and the Bible is an important book for liberation Theology in Latin America. Miranda was a Jesuit (of course), and I think it is about as close as one can get to marrying Marxism and Christianity (though not without some screeching, petition-for-an-order-of-protection matrimonial squabbles).

I agree: Obama's potential for good is, perhaps, exceeded by his potential for disaster, if his charisma falls under the wrong sort of control. Heaven preserve us from the beneficient intentions of the do-gooders.

Ruth said...

You don't have a year on your post date, but from your comment at washed stones, it must have been just after the election (rather obvious from your text).

I'm with you, comrade ;) and I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, although I did not at the time feel as cynical as I do today, four years later. Having a two party system is deeply flawed in itself! If anything, Obama is a symbol of some of the change we want, as you say: a man of color, who supports women, minorities, and others considered the weak side of society. That's worth something, quite a lot. But what could he actually do when he walked through the White House doors? I think most presidents just have to leave their platform on the lawn and recognize that big change just ain't gonna happen.

Even as much as some of us currently fear Romney becoming president, I doubt that everything will go as completely differently as he would like and boasts that he will do.