In his January column at rabble.ca, Duncan Cameron postulated about Barack Obama's invoking of nationalism, prompting my friend to chide, âeoeAh ha! I told you he was a right-wing candidate running on a policy of unity and hope [period].âe As if the deployment of nationalistic rhetoric is a barometer of ideology and not a deliberate tactic âe" in this case, an astute one.
Except as part of the anti-terrorism agenda, concepts of unity and hope have been absent from western political discourse. We are proudly partisan people as of late, polarized and embittered, gnashing for a fight. Myself included. And for good reason.
Yet I find impressive the revival of unity language during this critical U.S. presidential nomination campaign. Obama truly believes in unity, which makes the rest of us feel good about believing in it, too. Inciting people with that language to capture their attention enough to then start defining (reclaiming?) it in progressive terms? Well that's one smart plan.
The anti-Obama bandwagon bent on challenging the authenticity of his progressivism appears to favour two nit-picks: style without substance, and perceived hypocrisy in terms of corporate support. Critiques like these have me steamed. Show me a candidate whose books are void of corporate influence and I'll show you a quaint but hopeless campaign. From Left to Right, they all enjoy some level of large donor involvement.
The question is what kind, for what promise? Pounce on the grey zones all day long, but Obama's tough stance on electoral finance reform and K Street influence has been steady. In 1998, Obama co-sponsored the Illinois Gift Ban, prohibiting legislators and state officials from soliciting or receiving gifts from a person or entity with interests affected by government. Passed. Then last year, he co-sponsored a bill dubbed the "Gold Standard" ethics reform package that includes a full ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists and other restrictions to close the revolving door between public service and lobbying. Passed.
As for the claim that Obama is light on policy: um, no he's not. If you can't see the content, squint. I'm as much a stickler for detailed bullet points as anyone. But any political operative knows how few voters scour the fine print. And since when is it a bad thing to arouse voter anatomy beyond the analytical brain?
Millions of frenzied supporters are lining up for a sip of Obama kool-aid, few of whom have read every word of his every position. But I don't think that makes them stupid, just thirsty (for some, in a way they didn't even know they'd been).
Strategically, the NDP would do well to borrow from this approach. NDP-ers here in Canada are so busy tripping over ourselves to say the perfect thing and appease every strand of our imperfect base, we hardly say it perfectly. We are strategically stunted, stumped, on how to convey, package, or inspirationalize our position that is, in essence, a vision âe" far simpler than a policy book. The NDP still hasn't figured out how to sell our politics, in part because we insist on abhorring that brand of sales.
The age-old tension seems to be amplified now: remain entrenched in ideology and/or appeal broadly enough to be elected to govern. Some worry Obama's is a watered-down progressivism, designed for palatability. True, he is garnering mass appeal among independents. Shouldn't we revel when middle-of-the-roaders are persuaded to look anew at progressive viewpoints? Obama has what some call the "gall" to self-identify as a "post-partisan" politician. For shame! Why would we bulldogged ideologues ever want to loosen anything from our jaws, even if it could lead to advancement of our political objectives?
Obama is igniting imaginations, rousing latent electors, and exceeding expectations. He makes some so nervous that in order to discredit him, they will grasp at anything to do so. The answer to why eludes me.
An orator does not a leader make? Nonsense. Since when does having superior communication skills diminish a candidate's credibility?
Dubious political past? Hardly. Obama's achievements demonstrate sharp political instincts and navigation skills. And anyone who has read beyond one headline knows of his decision to dirty up his ivy league law degree in Chicagoâe(TM)s inner city as an effective community organizer, worthy street cred for those of us down here in the grassroots.
Because he's black, or not black enough? Ok, sure, there's no denying the shades of racism weaving through the antagonism. It's relevant, but worthy of separate analysis.
The over-arching "problem" with Obama is that he challenges the status quo and conventional wisdom. His candidacy flies in the face of the very establishment that insists it's Hillary Clinton's "turn." And he's doing it with flare. Even the most progressive social democrats don't always appreciate an upstart, just as a good portion of every candidate's platform will disappoint âe" even piss off âe" progressives.
Like it or not, in these final hours of a damaging, odious Bush II presidency, the real question should be this: Who can mount the most promising opposition to the Republicans in the U.S., and to the conservative agenda in general? To back Obama is to understand that the best Democratic presidential candidate is the one least encumbered, whose political baggage is light but durable; that the swelling grassroots involvement ignited by his candidacy is worthy of deference; and that there is value in shoring up broad enough support to pursue strategic and sustainable governance. Elected progressives will need to survive long enough to heal and reverse the toxic tumors that metastasized during the bitter partisanship of the Bush-Rove years. Obama has the best chance.
I, for one, am relieved to get behind a candidate who shakes the best cocktail of ideological compatibility, electricity, and electability âe" that's as much the Bush era hater as the communications specialist in me. And the election worker in desperate search of a Canadian politician with even half as much potential.
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