This Tuesday evening, I was planning to do some cheap advertising and politicking around campus for the generic progressive causes with which Im involved, as my kind often does. A fellow member of the generic progressive group to which I belong had stopped by the Students for Obama Kickoff meeting, and I had planned to meet up with him to do some chalking and poster hanging afterward. I managed to catch the last part of this unique event and it was, lamentably, exactly what I had expected.
Much has been made of the attraction that certain groups especially youth have for Barack Obama. His candidacy is unique in the hysterics of jubilation surrounding it, even inciting fainting spells and tears of devotion. That he is able to get people so enthused in what is otherwise a dull, predictable and artificial political process is a testament to his charisma, probably unmatched by any other contemporary establishment figure.
His movement Obama-mania seems to be the best term for it is far more motivated than the campaigns of his two Democratic predecessors, even if their policies are mostly indistinguishable. Unlike the movements to end wars and achieve civil rights, Obama-mania is not about social progress; its about Barack Obama, namely getting him into the White House.
Like all religions, what Obama-mania lacks in substance it makes up in mysticism and fervor. The meeting Tuesday, my first Democratic gathering, confirmed this. Large pictures of Barack (yes, speakers referred to him on a first-name basis) adorned the walls everywhere. There was a lot of clapping, shouting, laughing all in unison, lest one be deemed a heretic. The speakers did their best to rile up the audience to ensure it doesnt stray from the flock, and from what I gathered, they had nothing to worry about. Near the end of the service, Ami El-Shareif asked the crowd if they were fired up, and they collectively responded, Ready to go!
I hope I dont sound condescending when I say had I not been expecting this, I would have been a bit creeped out.
Lacking a progressive agenda, the Democrats have no choice but to appeal to the superficial, namely the personality, of their candidate. In this sense, Obama is ideal for their purposes. He offers little to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the anti-imperialist or any other progressive constituency, so his booming voice and intriguing life story will have to do. For the majority in 3650 Humanities on Tuesday night, it did just fine.
I have discussed more than once how Barack Obama is no progressive, just as I have had countless conversations making the same point. The facts are as plain as Ralph Nader is cynical, but this makes no difference to the true believer. Explaining to an Obama follower that his withdrawal plan from Iraq includes the establishment of permanent military bases is like telling an evangelical Christian that St. Paul distorted Jesus original intentions beyond recognition it just isnt going to matter.
Amid the Tuesday night hysterics, I considered the possibilities if all this well-intentioned energy was better directed. If these hundreds of students were willing to devote themselves to more than fluff, progressive change would probably be inevitable. On this campus, groups like the Campus Anti-War Network, Student-Labor Action Coalition and no bias on my part Progressive Dane all aim to advance social justice the only way possible through the grassroots. Perhaps the biggest impediment to their progress is the competition they face from glittery, corporate candidates like the one celebrated Tuesday.
I suppose the most anyone can do at this point is continue scratching away at the thick, concrete walls surrounding Obamas banal, power-serving policy proposals. Or you can just do your best to ignore the spectacle altogether and get back to the type of politics that actually make a difference. Its fucked up, but the blasphemers can at least find some consolation in the fact that all messiahs are eventually exposed. The sooner, the better.