Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Naomi Klein's column in the latest Nation, "A Lexicon of Disappointment," indicates that satire isn't one of her strengths. As the title suggests, it's basically a list of terms based on the root of "hope": hopeover, hopesick, etc. Not one of her better efforts.

To add to the fun, Klein's piece gave Katha Pollitt an opening for a blog post in defense / support of her guy. "All is not well in Obamafanland," Klein wrote. A "growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard." I think Pollitt strategically misread Klein:
I have a lot of respect for Naomi Klein, but I think her own hopes for a mass radical movement are getting in the way here. According to polls, after all, Obama is wildly popular. A Harris Interactive poll released on April 7 found that 68% of Americans have a good opinion of him. That doesn't necessarily mean they approve of everything he's doing, but it means that a heck of a lot of people who didn't vote for him like him now. Is there any evidence that "a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard"? And by the way, did anyone over the age of 21 ever really believe this? That hope, an emotion, was going to "save the world," the way children clapping their hands saves Tinkerbell? Are Americans really such idiots? Hmmm, better not answer that.
It seems Pollitt realizes she wrote herself into a corner here. Did anyone over the age of 21 believe that faith in Obama would save the world? Well, yeah, though I'll concede that that belief seems to have been concentrated among the younger voters, the ones who got their first taste of electoral politics working for Barack. Like the student I quoted here, who said "For me, I think it's the idea of change ...", though maybe she doesn't actually expect real change to happen. Or the people in this video with their wishlists that Santa Obama was supposed to consult when he filled their stockings. Or the student who, confronted with Obama's actual positions during the campaign, told me that that he needed to have hope, and if he couldn’t have faith in Obama he might as well not vote at all.

Naomi and I must talk to different people. For example, I don't know anyone as stupid as the hopefiendish "Joe" who "actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions." Think what you're saying, Joe! Had Obama intentionally put in someone he knew would fail, he would not only be a clairvoyant and a psychopath-- callously indifferent to the ruin of possibly millions of people-- he'd also be risking political suicide. Because had he first chosen a course he knew would fail he would not have the political capital to "what he really wants."
One commenter, beingalam at 04/20/2009 @ 8:18pm, responded neatly:
Note that hypothetical "Joe"'s reasoning is really not all that different from the "Obama is appointing establishment moderates to cabinet positions so that he can, under cover of establishment authority, really pursue an aggressively progressive agenda" line that was pushed by many liberal commentators when Obama was announcing his cabinet nominees. So I'm not sure that Klein is really all that off in terms of the characterization of Joe.
I agree, although "moderates" doesn't really describe Geithner, Summers, Gates, or Clinton. Maybe Klein's rather hamhanded attempt at satire failed to register on Pollitt's irony meter, or maybe being an Obama supporter has turned her irony meter off. She went on to finger the real culprits:
The only people I've found who've given up on him, who feel betrayed, misled, and foolish, are those leftists who didn't like him in the first place and voted for him in a weak moment as the lesser evil. They, predictably, went back to their cabins on Mt. Disdain before Obama had even been inaugurated.
This may be true among the people Pollitt knows, but it isn't always true. I voted for Obama as the lesser evil, but I don't feel betrayed, misled, or foolish; I knew exactly what I was voting for, but did so anyway so that Obama fans couldn't attack me as a Republican or a vote-waster when I criticized him. (And maybe we were right about Obama to begin with, unlike so many Obama fans?) Perhaps Pollitt is thinking of someone like Glenn Greenwald, who's become increasingly critical of Obama's embrace of Bush administration rationales for executive secrecy and arrogation of powers:
It is becoming increasingly difficult for honest Obama supporters to dismiss away or even minimize these criticisms and, especially, to malign the motives of critics. After all, the Obama DOJ's embrace of many (though by no means all) of the most radical and extremist Bush/Cheney positions -- and the contradictions between Obama's campaign claims and his actions as President -- are now so glaring and severe that the harshest denunciations of Obama's actions are coming from those who, during the Bush years, were held up by liberals and by Obama supporters as the most trustworthy and praiseworthy authorities on these matters.
As examples, Greenwald goes on to list the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Keith Olbermann, Senator Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi, and libblogger Digby, among others. No doubt Pollitt will manage to malign their motives; but maybe she just needs to get out more.
Pollitt protests:
Like everyone, I'm worried about the bailout, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm appalled that he envisions no prosecution of those who set up the legal framework of torture and those who carried it out. And what about Bagram? On the plus side: he's been terrific on women's rights and reproductive rights here and abroad, made some excellent appointments (Hilda Solis at Labor), reached out to the Muslim world, opened communications with Cuba and Iran, said he'll close Guantanamo, declared an end to torture, and, with the stimulus, successfully challenged the notion that government spending (except on the military) is bad. He's made it less embarrassing to be an American. I think he'll make good judicial appointments. If another Katrina happened tomorrow, I think he'd handle it well.
I couldn't help noticing that the only "excellent appointment" Pollitt could name was Hilda Solis, who was indeed an excellent choice, but who stands out like a sore thumb in his Cabinet among the Bush holdovers and Democratic Leadership Council hacks. And it appears that Obama's support for labor ends with having appointed Solis; he seems to have lost interest in the Employee Free Choice Act, for example. Yes, Obama has done well on women's rights and reproductive rights here and abroad, though I think "terrific" is a slight overstatement. But Pollitt's other points aren't terribly convincing: they are mostly symbolic gestures ("said he'll close Guantanamo"and "declared an end to torture" while leaving other torture sites intact; "reached out to the Muslim world" while continuing to kill Muslim civilians; his openings to Cuba and Iran have been half-hearted at best, still laden with his predecessors' propaganda. As Mike Whitney wrote at Counterpunch yesterday:
Foreign leaders are clearly relieved to see the last of George W. Bush, and they appear to be willing to give Obama every opportunity to mend fences and break with the past. But Obama has made little effort to reciprocate or show that he's serious about real change. The emphasis seems to be more on public relations than policy; more on glitzy photo ops, grandiose speeches and gadding about from one capital to another, than ending the chronic US meddling and militarism. Where's the beef or is it all just empty posturing?
Dude! Barack totally shook hands with Hugo Chávez! Is that change, or what? ... "Less embarrassing to be an American" is still embarrassing. I remember the early 90s, when Pollitt laid into liberals who were excited by Bill Clinton's every burp; but if she was a Clinton partisan, she managed to hide it better then. Pointing to Obama's great poll numbers, fixating on the single token liberal in his cabinet, celebrating his symbolic send-a-message reach-out-and-touch-someone gestures -- these are not strong responses to Klein, especially granting how easy Klein made it for her.

Last summer Pollitt wrote hopefully, "An Obama victory could have big positive repercussions for progressive politics." Now she's reduced to insisting that he was the lesser evil, and scolding those on the left who aren't satisfied by him: "FDR didn't satisfy the left either," she sniffs. Be glad for what you have, Glenn and Digby and Russ and Noam! Surely, comrades, you do not want Bush back?