Bird that Sings

March 11, 2010

The Little Putz

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 2:54 am

I was thinking about Rahm Emanuel last Saturday morning and how he’s spreading the word that he’s not responsible for the policy debacles of the Obama Administration (because the White House hasn’t been listening to his tough minded advice).

Then on Sunday morning, I started thinking about Rahm again when I read that the Dead Zones in the Ocean, especially the Pacific and especially the Pacific Northwest, are spreading rapidly, alarming scientists who don’t know why. And then, when I read that Rahm apparently referred to Liberals pushing Obama from the Left—especially on health care— as “fucking retards,” I thought that we needed to find Rahm an appropriate diminutive as well. Let me suggest here, “The Little Putz.”


            You can see the reason of course, behind the Little Putz’s off handed dismissal of Move-on/Daily Kos/MSNBC types. For anyone to have believed that Barack Obama was something more than a symbolic change candidate, implies for me at least, a level of credulity one generally attributes to pre-schoolers.

            The Little Putz was never taken in; he understood Obama. He also understood—or thought he understood—what it took to pass a tough-minded package of reforms through a dysfunctional Congress.

The big problem with the Little Putz is that he’s fighting the last war.

For the past generation Democrats could argue that in the words of Reggae poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson, “all we’re doing is defending.”

            Starting with the election of Ronald Reagan and running all through the Clinton and Bush years, the Republican free market fundamentalist argument has been in ascendance. Democrats have had to defend every inch of the gains of the New Deal and the Great Society; of what used to be called the American Way. While economically, culturally, socially, and environmentally the period has been one long unmitigated disaster—which the Democrats have largely acceded and bought in to—politically they’ve held their own surprisingly well. As a Democratic attack dog par excellence, the Little Putz was well suited for duty in this period.

            Now, with the collapse of the market fundamentalist model, everything has changed and Obama was supposed to represent that change. That he doesn’t is actually a larger tale in which the Little Putz plays a . . . smaller role.


In retrospect, even if people had understood that Obama’s was an impossible candidacy it wouldn’t have mattered. Who would have been elected in his place?

            No, we deserved Obama, just like we deserve the “magical and revolutionary” Apple I-pad and now we’ve got them.

However the principal flaw in Obamaism is its structural inability to incorporate the politics of class. This is not because President Obama and his advisors are stupid, it’s because the Obama campaign was not, and could not be about Class and still win an election.

A black candidate who campaigned on the basis of uniting the white and non-white working class against a failing system that rests, Atlas like, on its’ stooped shoulders, would seem a frightening, angry candidate to almost everyone else.

Nonetheless, the inability of Obama to talk about class in an authentic way means the Administration is ceding the terms of the conversation to others and in that spirit, I am put in mind of a long ago conversation with my late grandparents in their apartment in Northeast Philadelphia.

Both of them had been working class radicals when they were young but over the years their politics had evolved into a cranky, slightly paranoid, cold war liberalism. It was in this latter incarnation that I experienced them.

On this particular occasion I found them both insisting—surprisingly—that if I wanted to understand the Russian Revolution, I had to read Maxim Gorky’s “Mother.”

They became quite adamant about it, which made it difficult to understand my grandfather, whose accent was more or less impenetrable in the best of circumstances. But now they were on either side of me, shouting and gesturing in my face, “Read “Mother!” they insisted, “it’s the Truth!”

 And so I did.

I have to admit, given the build-up, at first “Mother—the book” was disappointing. “Mother” appeared to be a standard agit-prop recounting of the horrible lives of Russian workers and peasants in the run-up to the failed Revolution of 1905. The “Mother,” an illiterate, habitually battered widow of a drunken worker at first listens in with trepidation to the political meetings her worker-activist son conducts at their modest cottage.

But then she has her epiphany. The Mother is not sure about all the political jargon the young people use, but now she tells them fervently that yes, they have to tell the people “the truth.”           

What the Mother means by this is the big truth of the powerlessness of the people in the face of the grinding poverty that rules their lives, and the political-social autocracy that enforces its rule.

I think this is also “the truth” my grandparents were talking about and the Mother’s epiphany inevitably led me to my own.

The revolt against the inchoate sense of one’s own powerlessness is the true source of populism, whether of the right or the left. However this populist impulse to “the big truth” can lead to 9/11 conspiracy theories just as easily as it can lead to the insistence of the Tea Parties that the government has been taken over by Banker loving Socialists.

In this political environment, attacking the Republicans for their obstructionism is almost useless and an attack dog like Rahm Emanuel is as well. People do not want politics as usual; they want the truth.

The big failure of Obamaism is not the failure of The Little Putz to enact a modest package of reforms through Congress, nor the let down for liberals who wanted something more. It is the bigger, and almost inevitable— given the fairy tale nature of their campaign—failure of the Obamaites to construct an honest political narrative—the truth— that speaks to the powerlessness of people over a world gone horribly wrong.



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