« Desiring desire | Main | Krugman: It Seems Like Washington Wants Another Financial Disaster | | AlterNet »

December 15, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


"Exploiting people's hope is key to the damage Obama has done and continues to do."

I give you an A+.


I just lost a long, thoughtful response to your very insightful summary of American Politics 2009.
And of course I can't possibly remember most of it but I have to ask you if you really believe most of the democrats in Congress (House and Senate) "are getting precisely what they want?" This is where I just do not agree with you. Whether Obama is a charlatan or not seems beside the point - I suspect he would sign anything put in front of him regarding climate change or health care.

While I agree with you for the most part, it seems to me that your analysis often hinges on neoliberalism being treated as the Big Other. Every capitulation in Congress, or every failure of government is explained by the devotion of those in power to neoliberal ideology. I just don't think this is how things work - which doesn't mean that money hasn't largely captured our politics. I just think it is more complicated than this - that the American political system is inherently conservative and that individuals (particularly in the Senate) have inordinate power over legislation. I notice you do not criticize Ben Nelson, Joe Liebershit, etc.. because you suspect they are being used as an excuse - the dems should use reconciliation or whatever parlamentary device that is available.

I have no inside knowledge into the process but it just seems that part of the problem is what elsewhere you have analyzed quite presciently - the Republicans take an antagonistic stance over every political issue. they do not attempt to be reasonable, to compromise or even make legislation more to their liking. They want power and use it to impose their view of the world, take no prisoners. Liberals simply do not look at the world or politics in this way. I suspect you think this is making more excuses but I would suggest this is closer to the truth.

As always, thanks.


Thanks, pds.

And thanks to you, too, Alain. I value our exchanges and disagreements. On the Democrats: yes, I think they are getting what they want. If that were not the case, then having a majority, having 60! would mean they would stop compromising unnecessarily. Since they are compromising unnecessarily, it must mean that they don't want the sorts of things that those of us who favor a public option (not to mention single payer) want. This is consistent with the behavior of Democrats for nearly 20 years (at least)--think Patriot Act, confirmation of Alberto Gonzales et al, war in Iraq vote, etc. It cannot be blamed exclusively on Republicans.

And I do think that you are letting liberals off the hook with the attempt to be reasonable and compromise business. When Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, it was not in a spirit of compromise but with full knowledge that this would cost the Democrats the south for decades to come. Roosevelt was so not a compromiser that he attempted to pack the Court. So I think it is a complete cop out to excuse liberals for failing to have convictions worth fighting for (John Locke defended revolution for chrissake). I think it is more accurate to say that those in the Senate now have convictions, like Clinton and Gore did, they value the free market, they think the success of the economy hinges on the stock market, they think the business of America is finance, they think the US needs to fight a global war on terror. My point, then, is that we don't need to blame Republicans to account for the collapse of the American Republic.

On Obama as a charlatan: I'm glad you are pushing me on this because I don't think he's a charlatan. I think he was always this way and we didn't want to believe it because we hated Bush so much. The language was something like he had to run to the center to win the general election, but he was never the one progressives longed for (and the Daily Show was right to mock the projection of this longing onto Obama).


Hi Jodi - thanks for the response. I just received your new book in the mail and I can't wait to read it.:)

I am not necessarily letting liberals off the hook - I just believe that compromise and reasonable disagreement is in their political DNA. I completely agree with you that LBJ and FDR knew when and how to fight for principles. But that doen't necessarily lead to the conclusion that all or even most democrats of today are neoliberals. I would argue most in fact are not - but the democrats made a political decision to recruit so called "moderates" in red states. This was done in order to win elections but this decision now has political consequences. And keep in mind that the dems do not really have 60 votes in the Senate - they have Joe Liebershit, Ben Nelson, Evan Bye, Landrieu and Lincoln who basically have a veto over any legislation because the Republicans have no reason to play nice. This doesn't mean Obama couldn't be fighting for what is right or trying to go directly to the public in order to build support for more progressive policies - he clearly is not. And you are also correct that he has always been a moderate or centrist. I read his Audacity of Hope when it first came out and was very unimpressed precisely because appeared to timid in its prescriptions and also under estimated the visciousness of the right.

I think it was Paul Wellstone who said something like "Politics isn't about money or power; it's about the improvement of people's lives.” I still think there are alot of dems that still believe that but they are not necessarily the ones calling the shots.

As always, thanks. I hope to get you some feedback after I have had a chance to read your book.


Did the left really believe that Obama was hiding an alternative to global capitalism in his back pocket? Is he our 'subject supposed to know'?


Hey, a facebook friend posted a link to this post and I don't know you... but I agree with everything you've said! When I really look deeply at anything that is fucked up in today's current affairs, the underlying source is always corporations.

I wonder what you make of the strange case of Howard Dean's stance on HCR. In interviews of the last few years and in his own "Prescription For Health Care reform" he insisted that the only worthwhile plan would HAVE to include a public option. Then last week he was saying that the no-public-option-but-expand-Medicare bullshit option was non-ideal, but would still be a major step forward, so we should pass it anyway, and ow he's saying we should dump the bill and try for reconciliation and start over. To what degree is he being genuine? The lack of consistency behind his principles makes me suspect another influence like corporate ones, but it's kind of baffling.

Matt Langer

Thank you for this, Jodi. Thank you.

Jocelyn Atkins

This is a great post! I think it really echoes everything that is on people's minds this last week, at least everyone I talk to.

I think maybe you are more hopeful than me, J. (persevering, etc.)-in which case i hope you are right about this all being a wake up call for the Left.

I suppose we can all speculate about whether obama is really a centrist (I think he is and always was) and whether or not he is doing all he can to win something back for the people ( i don't think he is) but it remains that the Left is really unable to challenge the run of things; I think the solution still lies in something more fundamental, something very base: and this also gets at jodi's earlier post on sacrifice--that being that we need new coordinates to map or articulate a new system entirely--or maybe that isn't what j. meant but that is what i thought of when i read it. as i recall, this was the lesson of the piano teacher--and that "traversing the fantasy" and realizing that the big other does not exist or the other proper, for that matter. in this sense mike is right on--the subject supposed to know. How can the Left proceed or any of us for that matter, in the face of this dilemma? i don't know the answer but still think it will require a fundamental shift in the so called "coordinates". yes, thanks again for the post.


What would "the left" look like if it in fact existed? How would you define it? Would we be able to recognize a leftist if we saw one?

Jocelyn Atkins

excellent point Alain. i completely agree with this sentiment.


Thanks Jocelyn. These sorts of questions have been on my mind alot the last couple of months, particularly as the "blogging left" becomes increasingly critical of Obama.

I just started Jodi's last book and in the introduction she immediately dives in to the same issues as this post.

I apologize for refering to you in the third person on your own blog. What jumps out at me intially is your attack on the left for not taking to the streets in response to the Florida recount fiasco. This in fact goes to the heart of my questions above - who exactly should have taken to the streets after the Supreme Courts decision? You mention academic/typing leftist but how many of you could there be, especially in 2000? It just seems you are positing a left that doesn't really exist - and has not existed in the United States since the early 1970's.

So my first question to you is the following: are you trying to create a new new left or are you identifying a group of people (academics, bloggers, whoever) that actually constitute some sort of leftist movement already? It seems to me that this is an important question to address for I think that is the place to start. You mention the Ralf Nader voters (your self included presumably) - but not even all of them could be described as leftist - I know some libertarians even voted for him because they were disgusted with the other choices.

As regards to the left not "taking responsibility" for both its success and its failure, again I am not clear as to who you are describing. Clearly, as you summarize with great prescience, the Republicans take social construction quite seriously, being the true imbodiment of postmodernism. But is/was postmodernism as a cultural or philosophical movement really all that leftist? And, outside of ad agencies and cultural studies departments, what real activist ever took that stuff seriously? I do not mean to sound condescending but this seems more about culture war in the academy than it does about any so called left.

I will leave it here because I do not want to hi-jack this thread. I am really enjoying it so far. Thanks again.

Joe Clement

This was one of the more striking political pieces I've read in a long time. Might you consider submitting it to Alter-Net?

I think there are more and more readers there (commenters, anyway) who are unhappy with Obama and their leaders in general, but are unsure about how to speak/write critically of Obama, because they worry coming across as another whiny leftist. This piece strikes a balance between those competing affects, all the while closing the gap between theory and the concerns of our /actual/ everyday life in concrete language.


Alain reminds us that the Senate requires a certain amount of votes that the public option simply didn't have. It's a great accomplishment to get health care reform, and we should see this as a starting point and not an endpoint for changes to be made. But incremental change is not going to happen if we don't have realistic analysis of what is possible at any given moment in American politics. The President is not the king, and to pretend that the Democratic senators are monolithically sellouts is extremely unfair to at least 80% of them. The Republicans are committing political suicide right now by letting the wingnut Teabaggers have disproportionate influence -- see the House race in upstate NY for an example of how Democrats can practically back their way into office right now. This is great news for progressive politics -- let's not screw it up by regressing to the sort of conspiracy theory talk that pretends that the Democrats are "the bad guys." Some are, some aren't, but you're not going to find too many offices in the country in which the Republican would be better than the Democrat for progressive ideals.


Hey Alain--thanks for your comments and questions. I might have to break up my answer, in part because of current time constraints.

First, on the left: I use the term in primarily to refer to those who identify themselves as leftists. Yet, I also use it to refer to those who support themes associated with the left--anti-war, multiculturalist, feminist, etc. And, I sometimes just use it to refer to those who position themselves against a specific right wing/Republican position/person. To this extent, the term is context dependent; it's not an absolute and does not designate an essence.

With regard to the 2000 election and Bush v. Gore: since a majority of the country voted for Gore, it's astounding that there were not mobs in the streets. In that context, those who opposed Bush were certainly a enough percent of the population to suggest some kind of outrage. The key point: Bush did not win the vote. The majority of the country was not conservative at that time--somehow this has been totally lost.

It's possible that the 'left' I describe is too centered in the academy. Yet, when I've been in contexts that included more activists (particularly in new media hactivist/tactical media contexts) the basis assumptions of anti-essentialism, constructivism, and non-foundationalism have been shared assumptions. The movements that link themselves with Seattle, the WSF, and anti-globalization, for example, tend to share a whole variety of assumptions loosely affiliated with postmodernism. So, my sense is that real activists definitely take these matters seriously--much of the battle between old and new left was on precisely this front.


Joe--thanks so much. I've tried submitting it. We'll see if it takes--I wonder if my tone is a bit too strident, though.

Adam--I fully disagree. First, follow the money. Second, there is a real ideological disagreement between progressives and neoliberals. The Clinton legacy was the neoliberalization of the Democratic party. This isn't Ted Kennedy's party anymore. Third, I'm not saying anything about a conspiracy. This is totally open--the vast majority of Democrats support free markets and reject public programs. They are more concerned with local industry than climate change. They supported the war in Iraq and support a new surge in Afghanistan. I disagree with all this--so why in the world would I support a party that does?

Bob Allen

'obesity may be our best current resistance' is perfect....


While I am sympathetic with your assessment Jodi of the democratic party, I think you overstate their univocity. The majority of democrats in the house and 21 dems in the Senate voted against the Iraq war. And a majority of dems in both houses voted against NAFTA in the 1990's. There are at least two if not more democratic parties - one question any left leaning person needs to answer is whether they are beyond redemption. Your answer is clear but I am not as certain.


This piece was right on. I love your use of "the financial-military complex" to describe the American system.

My initial reaction was to think, 'This needs to get on HuffingtonPost.'

I encountered another fun post from Dimitri Orlov's blog. Dark subject but great writing. Great sense of humor.



Jodi, thanks for giving words to my own speechless confusion and anger. Well done! I don't want to interrupt the thread, but there is an eerie silence in the US that needs to be addressed along with all these terribly important issues. I am bothered by the lack of response to current government doings and to Obama, himself, by American blacks. Also note that the question "What have you done for blacks?" has not been addressed to Obama. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo