Sunday, December 21, 2008

Musings: Surrender Politics

The sky was all soft lavender and rose, turning the clouds a smoky pink, when Koko and I went walking this morning, bathed in the rays of the sun, which lately has gone missing.

It’s the solstice, and while it’s the longest night of the year, it’s also the point where the shortening stops and the days soon begin to lengthen again, that transitional time between autumn and spring.

I’ve been watching Barack Obama prepare for his transition into the White House, and his Cabinet picks keep bringing to mind a comment made by GOP Presidential contender Mike Huckabee:

“My guess is that Barack Obama will more disappoint his supporters on the far left than he will enrage his critics on the far right.”

His choice of so many Clintonites; indeed, Hillary herself — since when is “star power” an important attribute for Secretary of State? — caused me some discomfort, as did his pick for Treasury secretary: Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and one of the architects of the big $700 billion public money giveaway.

Even worse was former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a supporter of factory farms, genetically engineered foods and ethanol subsidies, as Secretary of Agriculture.

While Obama’s other picks may be recycled middle of the road types from within the existing political circle, Vilsack and Geithner in particular represent the kind of unconscious “grow/spend our way out of this” mentality that is at the root of so many of our present difficulties.

As The Washington Post observed:

But many of Obama's other picks reflect his apparent preference for practical-minded centrists who have straddled big policy debates rather than staking out the strongest pro-reform positions.

To the most aggressive advocates for change in the course of government, Obama's preference for centrists such as Vilsack who are amenable to rival camps is a discouraging sign that the status quo will prevail.

I’ve shared my concerns with friends who are decidedly left of center, and while they are uneasy, too, the discussion keeps coming back to “well, at least he won’t be condoning torture,” and “hey, we have a chance to get universal health care, and that’s not a small thing.”

Most of them, like me, never did expect that Obama would usher in a whole new era of progressive change. It was more like he was viewed as someone who might at least halt the creeping, craven darkness of the Bush era.

My sentiments were best expressed in a New Yorker article that was published right after Obama won the election. Reporter David Remnick went to New Orleans, where he interviewed Jerome Smith, “a veteran of the Freedom Rides in Alabama and Mississippi” who now runs youth programs.

Obama winning the Presidency breaks a historical rhythm, but it does not mean everything,” Smith said. “His minister did not lie when he said that the controlling power in this country was rich white men. Rich white men were responsible for slavery. They are responsible for unbreakable levels of poverty for African-Americans. Look at this bailout today, which is all about us bailing out rich white men. And there are thousands of children from this city who have gone missing from New Orleans. Who will speak for them? Obama?

“Obama is the recipient of something, but he did not stand in the Senate after he was elected and say that there is a significant absence in this chamber, that he was the only African-American and this is wrong. He is no Martin Luther King, he is no Fannie Lou Hamer”—who helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, in 1964.

“He is a man who can be accommodated by America, but he is not my hero, because a politician, by nature, has to surrender. Where the problems that afflict African-Americans are concerned, Obama can’t go for broke. And the white people—good, decent white people—who voted for him just can’t understand. They don’t have to walk through the same misery as our children do.”

Smith was angry but, as an activist contemplating a mainstream leader, not entirely misguided. It’s inevitable that euphoria will fade. The commemorations will fade. And what will remain is a cresting worldwide recession, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crumbling infrastructure, a rickety, unjust health-care system, melting polar ice caps—to say nothing of the crisis that comes from out of nowhere.

The dramatic transitions that we as a world must make — especially America, with its immense power and wealth — are not going to be implemented by politicians, either right or left of center. Instead, they must be rooted in individual citizens waking up, speaking up and acting up to make the kind of radical shifts in their own thoughts and actions that will spill over and affect the world around them, one neighborhood, one community at a time.

It's a time to surrender fear, disempowerment and most especially, faith in the transcending powers of politicians and politics.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

you will also note he has a lot of lee hamilton people around him, which speaks volumes

Anonymous said...

"surrender fear", etc...

I believe it is highly unlikely that this will happen. It has a non-zero probability of happening, but is extremely unlikely.

Ed Coll said...

The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue. - Emma Goldman

Anonymous said...

You guys remind me so much of Woody Allen's Bananas. I can just see you nutcases getting some political power:

"From this day on, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check."

Anonymous said...

Obama did choose Steven Chu as his energy secretary, Hilda Solis as his labor secretary, John Holdren as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Jane Lubchenco as the Administrator of NOAA. After eight years of gutting and ignoring environmental and labor laws (and pretty much every other law), there will be a difference. If not, we're f---ed.

Anonymous said...

Anon wrote ""From this day on, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check."

Is Madonna running for office?