The April Meeting of the 17 Group on Wednesday the 1st of April at 7pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End will be addressed by Merv Partridge, who is not long back from the United States where he closely observed and recorded on videotape the recent election campaign of Barack Obama.
His talk, illustrated by original video footage, will centre on political dilemmas facing the Obama administration.
Tasting: Obama Koolaid 2008
I made two trips to the United States during 2008 to take care of animals and to observe the primaries and the election. I had contact with the Obama campaign as well as third party and alternative groups.
Dan has asked me to lead a discussion on the 2008 election and its implications. Oral (as in video) history is one of my pastimes and I have material that I have just begun processing.
During this session I would like to show some excerpts from Obama’s last speech before the election. He made the speech at the Fair Grounds in Manassas, Virginia – a site chosen for its historic echoes and because Virginia was considered a litmus test for the election. A southern slave State in the civil war Virginia has been Republican for decades. It has been moving Democrat in the last few years and it was widely said that if Obama could carry Virginia he was likely to win the country. His campaign did both. The recording is of good quality from a prime location and gives a fair sense of the quantum step the Obama campaign has taken in attention to the audience experience. The CSPAN camera man next to me said it was one of the best events of the campaign. Estimates of numbers ranged from 80 to 100,000 and it was more like a rock concert than traditional politics. In spite of incredibly tight security the mood of the audience was ecstatic (almost literally).
If there is time I may show some interview material – e.g. audience members and an Arab journalist on election day and post election stuff (with democrats, third party and non-party people).
There are several themes I would like to raise and open for discussion. Principally I am interested in trying to get a sense of Obama’s preferred priorities versus what he believes can be achieved politically while accumulating rather than depleting political capital. The truly interesting Obama would be a second term President with increased popularity and surrounded by a team weighted towards experienced ”Obama people” rather than the experienced “mainstream credibles” he has favoured for the rehearsal. There is no shortage of critics to the left who say America is business as usual; Obama is nothing more than a new marketing face already completely captured by establishment power (a leftish Bob Roberts).
If you think they are right you might call them the critical realists. If you think they are wrong or if, as I do, you think there is enough evidence to say the question is at least open then this position might be described as left cynicism.
I think one of the key political variables over the next decade will be how the left critique of Obama politics plays out. It is one of the few major variables over which non-mainstream politics can exercise influential discretion. To take one example, Obama claims an ambition to fundamentally alter the political economy of energy. If he is deadly serious about this, his long term policy moves will threaten to erode the near monopoly of one of the world’s dominant aggregates of power. It can be expected that he will face a vast (if often disguised) reaction. He is likely to accommodate some of that reaction by backing off, at least temporarily.
A left cynic may interpret this as evidence of cowardice or insincerity (it was never more than empty talk) and use it to attack Obama’s credibility and so tend to erode the political capital he is able to bring to bear in future (more strategic?) moments. If this sort of left cynical position gains traction there is a prospect of Obama being stranded with diminishing influence between a cynical public and a delighted establishment. If he is in fact from the start insincere about his declared intentions then Obama may deserve such isolation. The argument sometimes runs that the path is thus cleared more quickly for public attention to refocus on a REAL alternative (Our The Real Good Guys Party). If, however Obama is genuine and attacks on his tactical retreats sell him short and contribute to his failure a rare opportunity may be lost.
I think now is the time to consider what might follow a failed Obama administration in the US. In my view, a new more overtly progressive administration is far less likely than an authoritarian administration of the right. Given the instability of the Middle East, economic malaise and potential environmental threats, that administration could be more radical and aggressive than that of Bush-Cheney.
While expectations should be restrained I think it is important that Obama be extended a considerable benefit of the doubt. I am certainly not arguing there should be no critique when policy is inadequate; rather that critiques should be carefully targeted at the credibility and influence of groups whose interests are advanced by status quo policies. Examination of how the Obama campaign was structured early on and how it is evolving post-election warrants this benefit of the doubt.
Trotsky’s excuse this time is that it may be an April Fool’s day trick, and after his experience in Mexico he is erring on the side of caution, even though his combative instincts tell him that he would find much in this talk with which he would most enjoyably disagree. Don’t take his example. Trust us that this will be a good one, and totally ridgydidge. See you and your mum next to the cheese and biscuits.