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Complex social and economic changes in the structure of modern capitalism, of which globalization is the most prominent, have amplified a sense of insecurity and risk and moved a wide range of public issues beyond the review and control of national and popular political processes.  In turn, states and political actors — particularly those on the right — have responded by making security, or the attempt at security, a central motif of their political programs.  This emphasis on security is antipolitical for a variety of reasons: (1) It criminalizes social problems at both the domestic and transnational level, thereby obscuring the underlying relations of power and conflict that underpin a range of social phenomenon; (2) It promotes, under the guise of border control, a hghly exclusionary form of citizenship; and (3) It relocates power away from deliberative and representative assemblies in a wide range of social and economic areas. (139)

The other day I was at Bulldog with my Irish friend, I will call him Mick, and we are talking about Obama’s rightward shift in foreign policy and how it mirrors other Democratic administrations.  This guy sitting with his back to us was clearly eavesdropping and he joined in at this point to dispel our optimism.  The three of us spent hours talking and drinking when Mick and I finally deicded to leave.  The conversation circled around, circled because Mick and I were drinking and the new guy was only marginally exposed to the concepts, the first result of Security as defined by Jayasuriya.  In the end we all agreed that we are disappointed with Obama for selling out some of the leftist portions of his campaign.  But, we are also understanding that Obama never represented a truly liberating potential.

It is telling that the passage was probably written before September 11 (despite the title of the essay and the volume), but the passage is still relevant if only through a widening of ‘the right’ to incorporate what had been the right’s opposition.  Obama may have represented a change in some of our foreign policies but so too did McCain.  The differences between them were not at all about jetisonning the security pre-occupation but instead about changing tactics within the larger strategy of security.  This is the White House’s message of justification as Obama waffles on Guatanamo and military commissions.  Why then are these flip flops occuring?

The easy solution is that Obama learned things being President that he did not know as a candidate, hence his decisions reflect those changes.  This theory is unsatisfactory because it justifies the very occlusion Jayasuriya warns about.  If true then we, as citizens and even legislators, should never question the administration because they have access to information we do not have.  The administration’s impulse would then be to widen the scope of classification and then hide behind that very cloak as justification.  This is exactly Dick Cheney’s message to the world on his current media blitz.

The better theory is one that accounts for political maneuvering and hence casts security concerns as part of a bargaining chip.  Sadly, these are actual lives being horse-traded away as bombings buy political capital.  Some old words, but if you replace ‘Soviet’ with ‘Islamic/terrorist/radical/etc.’ then entirely descriptive:

a new president, generally a Democrat, assumes office.  During this time, the right wing organizes itself around the notion of a Soviet threat, a politically safe issue for them since they are out of power and need not concern themselves with putting new policies into effect.  Pressure from the right makes the newly installed president vulnerable.  If there was equally strong pressure from the left, in favor of programs oriented toward greater equality and a foreign policy permitting smaller defense budgets, the new president would not be forced to lean rightwards.  But without a strong left, Democratic presidents invariably adopt a more aggressive foreign policy as a way of protecting their political base.  This also gives them the appearance of being bold and decisive, which cuts down some of the need to adopt aggressive domestic programs — ones that would antagonize big business and conservative interest groups.  For all these reasons, the structure of domestic political alignments and coalitions comes to have as much to do with an increase in hostile perceptions of Soviet power as any actions taken by the Soviet Union. (Wolfe 1979, 33)

This makes so much sense given the world to-day.  New administration.  Check.  Democrat.  Check.  More aggressive foreign policy.  Check.  Anti big-business Domestic policies.  Possible.  Maybe to earn enough credit to pull off health care reform Obama just needs to go destroy a couple more weddings in the Afghanistan countryside.  I’d say screw the GOP for forcing that kill-to-save calculus but it’s our own damn fault for not building capacity and a true Left.

Jayasuriya, Kanishka.  (2002).  September 11, security, and the new postliberal politics of fear.  In Hershberg & Moore, eds. (2002).  Critical views of September 11.

Wolfe, Alan.  (1979).  The rise and fall of the “Soviet Threat”: Domestic sources of the Cold War consensus.

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Pundits in the Democratic Party are a type of teratologist, everything is a defect, another reason for panic mode.  It has been a (fun) season of discounting everything Mitt Romney says, but suddenly he bows out of the race and those same pundits now believe what he has to say: that his departure allows a national McCampaign and an increased chance to retain the White House.  Let us not panic just yet, things have not changed and as usual Romney is wrong.

The biggest spin for ending the forestalling of a national campaign is that the GOP can now get to work.  Yes there is an increased amount of directed work against Obama and Clinton that can now be done than if the GOP contest continues, but there are reasons why this increased effort will not yield increased results.  First, the GOP contest does continue.  Huckabee has not bowed out (I contend Romney drew from Huckabee and he will now be a resurgent foe for McCain’s machine) and Paul still presses issues, still somewhat distracting McCain.  McCain is also distracted by having to now unite the party.  The unity messages are the very messages that do not attract and even repulse moderates.  This supposed increased time for a national campaign is not that much additional effort at all, and arguably it helps us as McCain’s message until the convention will be more conservative than it would have been had he still been trying to distinguish himself from Romney.  Secondly, the GOP dirt machine is already hard at work on Clinton and Obama.  They have already been through the process and will continue to go through the process even by Democratic opponents.  This ‘lag time’ will not yield any results that would not otherwise be rendered.  There are too many talented political assassins to think they were not already at work and that they need these few Romney-free months to actually uncover what there is to uncover.

Another reason why McCain’s imminent nomination is good for us is because competition brings out the best in the candidates.  Clinton and Obama, whomever secures the nomination, will have more of the road and the lessons learned under his/her belt than McCain will.  There is time for McCain and his advisers to lose touch with the road and the people.  Messages that did stick in February will become anachronistic and our side will be up on those nuances.

But the best reason we win with Romney’s abdication is the news coverage.  We all know that the message is less important than the exposure.  Without a challenger McCain’s coverage will pale in comparison to the coverage the Democratic candidate will have earned.  Face time will be lost, news coverage will be lost, sound bites will be lost.  Silent candidates are losing candidates and the media cycle will now be forced to give voice to the Democratic candidates.  By the time November comes around the public will have 3 additional months of Democratic policy discussions and slogans.  While the fight may seem scary it means exposure.  The more people are forced to imagine a President Clinton or a President Obama the more appetizing the prospect becomes.

Not the usual pro-Clinton piece here, but there is too much self-defeating panic going on about now.  A good example is Doug Kendall’s piece to-day in The Huffington Post.  His argument is that the fight to the convention is going to be bad, but he provides only proof that there will be a fight.  Even a nasty fight will earn coverage and expose people to the messages informing the fight.  Train wreck?  Nah.  But it is a train and Romney’s withdrawal just means this train will only pick up steam.

My unwavering support for Clinton is wavering.  The new development that makes me pause is McCain’s now immanent nomination: his ability to steal independents scares me and the knee-jerk reaction is to put him in contention with Obama because Obama can better motivate the normally apathetic than Clinton can.  However, this is still not a winning argument.

First, distinctions can still be drawn between Clinton and McCain that will allow Clinton to capture independents.  The easy sell is their difference on Iraq.  McCain has said that he would be comfortable with a 100 year occupation of Iraq, whereas Clinton wants a drawdown.  Some will say the war is not the issue facing voters.  One: it may become the main issue again.  Two: I also suspect that Obama is not any stronger than Clinton is on the other issues of more (possible) importance to the voters in the general election.

Second, the independent draw is a temporary fear.  McCain will have to choose as his VP someone that does not draw independents.  He will need to solidify the GOP base and this is done by turning off some of his independent draw with a candidate supported by evangelicals.  Because of McCain’s age and his health record (cancer and torture survivor, his 98 year old mother is not a torture survivor) the VP candidate will be scrutinized in new and unprecedented ways.  This scrutiny will allow the independents McCain might otherwise win to be persuaded back into the Clinton camp.

I realize the above are merely answers to the latest theory for supporting Obama, they are defensive supports for Clinton and not reasons to prefer Obama.  Again I will return to my most important reason: success of a progressive agenda.  Maybe Obama has more progressive ambitions, but he is less proven to be able to accomplish these tasks.  The supposedly Democratically united DC is not a reason to ignore this concern.  Historically whenever the Presidency and Congressional control are united the legislative branch has a moderating effect by restraining the President.  Obama is not going to be able to accomplish his more ambitious goals and Clinton is the safest bet to accomplish any progressive reforms.  The argument that Clinton is not progressive enough, if correct, is actually a reason to prefer her to Obama.

As the coverage of Iowa events intensifies so too does my distaste for themes I am seeing.  Edwards and Obama have crossed the line and joined the ranks of Republican candidates in their lament for the loss of some American ideal.  Their speeches consistently rail against corporations and a loss of values.  This is easily seen in the health care discussions (are they really discussions?) but is more disconcerting in the debate about experience they are having with Clinton.  Their response to Clinton’s claim of being experienced is not to mitigate her experience (leave that to Republicans) but instead to criticize the value of experience.

Obama and Edwards claim their lack of experience is good, because it pits them as radicals opposed to Clinton’s reformism.  Their lack of experience means they are not indebted to the system and can thus rail against it.  Further evidence of this tactic is seen by Edwards’ and Obama’s scramble to out-radical the other, as seen in Edwards’ attack on Obama’s claim to negotiate with insurance companies.  This tiff is eerily reminiscent of 1980 Republican squabbles about how to best handle and defeat the evil Soviet Union.  I have to pause when Presidential candidates are bickering over how to best fight other Americans.  That is the definition of populism.

Interestingly enough, Renata Salecl (1998) has a discussion about communism and post-communism which is also eerily similar to the rhetorical moves described above:

So it is for those who are nostalgic about communism: since it belongs irretrievably in the past, they do not need to act to improve their current situation.  That is why the vast majority of such people do not engage in serious political struggle ….  Instead, they persist in the comfortable role of lamenting victim.  The paradox is that in the past, they wished for the end of communism, but they did not truly believe that their wish could be fulfilled.  And today they act in a similar fashion when they dream about returning to the safe shelter of communist institutions, while knowing that this cannot happen.  In their attitude toward the unattainable past, these nostalgic men and women greatly resemble …disenchanted lovers … who mourn for lost love and at the same time do everything to prevent the realization of their desire. (p. 80)

The lament is easy to see in Edwards and Obama.  They will call it the American Dream, but I will call it a myth, a story to guide and not an actual historical moment.  Obama should be more understanding of this nuance, given his identity and from where he hails.  I am not too surprised to see Edwards make this same lament of the southern white man: life was good before X, so I shall fight X.  But does fighting ever actually get us back home?  Probably not, and definitely not in politics.

Things have changed; let us make our current system the most humane one we can instead of trying to buck it.  This is all, of course, without begging the question of how much bucking can the President of the United States actually do.  As they are busy positioning themselves as the uber-radical they forget how caught up in the system they already are, instead arguing their opponent is the one caught up.

Many of the politicians in Iowa to-day are singing the same tune, which is an un-sophisticated view of politics and their role within it.  I like this message in my entertainment, see the Kasier Chiefs’ “Modern Way”, but from my potential leaders and policy-makers I want more sophistication.  I want someone who says, “I have experience improving lives.  I will continue to strive for that goal and I will work with those that have differing conceptions of how to do so.”  Of the current choices that quotation most resembles Senator Clinton.  I am not especially happy with that evaluation, but the stakes are too high.

Works Cited

Salecl, Renata.  (1998).  (per)versions of love and hate.  London: Verso Books.