March 11, 2008

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Can the people speak? We all likely recall Bill Clinton's quip after the 2000 election, "the people have spoken; we just don't know what they said." The strange thing is that today's pundits have forgotten that split election. They seem also to have forgotten how close the 2004 election was. Why, then, are they consistently surprised that the Democratic primaries have resulted in a dead heat or, if you prefer, deadlock? What appears in the Democratic primaries is the fact of division. Rhetorics of widespread discontent with the war, the direction of the country, the economy, the President, erase antagonism as they attempt to produce a single direction or tendency. Left laments of the loss of the political, conservative hegemony, and the triumph of hegemony do the same thing, they mask antagonism. The two US parties don't represent division, but division manifests itself, nonetheless. It makes itself felt in the failure of the parties to represent it. The Republican primaries were actual choices: each candidate was insufficient, wrong. The field was weak. Perhaps paradoxically division best appears under compulsion to choose when there are no grounds for choice. Clinton and Obama have similar plans, programs, voting records. What appears in the contest between them is the fact of division, just like in the past two elections, elections that nearly perfectly captured divide because there were no differences that mattered. The media seems to want to force the people to speak, to tell us (the people) what we are saying, have said, and will said....
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Zizek on Democracy Now Link: Democracy Now! | "Everybody in the World Except US Citizens Should Be Allowed to Vote and Elect the American Government" - Leading Intellectual Slavoj Žižek. SLAVOJ ZIZEK: It’s like, by chance, I was very young at that point. I was in Prague. But OK, so that we don’t lose time—there is something really tragic about Prague ’68, namely—let’s be very frank, and it’s something very hard to swallow for a leftist. What if the Soviet intervention was a blessing in disguise? It saved the myth that if the Soviets were not to intervene, there would have been some flowering authentic democratic socialism and so on. I’m a little bit more of a pessimist there. I think that the Soviets—it’s a very sad lesson—by their intervention, saved the myth. Imagine no Soviet intervention. In that ideological constellation, it would have been either, sooner or later, just joining the West or, nonetheless, at a certain point, the government is still in power, would have to put the brakes. It’s always the same story. It’s the same in—now you see my conservative, skeptical leftist side. It’s the same in China, Tiananmen. I will tell you something horrible. Imagine the Communists in power giving way to the demonstrators. I claim—it’s very sad things to say, but if Tiananmen demonstrations were to succeed, like the Communist Party allowing for true democratic reforms and so on, it would have been probably a chaos in China. No, I’m not saying now that we should opt for...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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