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The Obama Conundrum: Progress and Protest in the Face of Reality

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The Bush Administration has nearly passed into the annals of apologetic history. One might imagine that these last hours of despot rule are akin to the tedious torture of water boarding, wherein the perpetrator promises the end is nigh but the anguished prisoner will not believe it until the torment stops and they are returned to the relative comfort of their urine-soaked bed mat.

As King George secures the stratagem for the chosen elite, President-elect Barack Obama gears up for what may be either a pivotal resuscitation of our failing Nation or the final liquidation of a country that has choked to death on the constant torrent of its own hypocrisy.

Waiting in the wings, like oh-so-many children anticipating the elves’ declaration of Santa’s arrival, the pundits, protestors, and progressives stand with baited breath, scrolls of hopeful wish-lists dangling to the ground. Obama and his developing staff most assuredly are fortifying their flanks, readying their resolve for the inevitable onslaught of subterfuge that will attempt to render this new Executive impotent within days of the Inauguration. However, it may be those lingering in the wings, invited guests and welcomed constituents, who present the greater distraction to Obama over the first year of his Presidency.

The neo-cons, whatever form in which they choose to appear, are fundamentally predictable—this is the price of the dogmatic design: all roads must lead to the nonnegotiable objective, thus all roads can be traced back from that objective. Obama is surrounding himself with plenty of ruthless people who can attend to that front. Progressives are not immune to the rigid doctrine, but by nature they tend to be more flexible, reassessing and reflecting as reality dictates. However, for the last eight years, along with all of the other more visible transgressions, the Bush Administration has managed to sew a more subtle seed of democratic impairment. When an extreme of ideology remains unmoved before the public for such an unreasonable period of time, it serves as an absolving alibi for every failed progressive effort known to man. There is no greater equalizer of ideas than an authoritarian regime that summarily dismisses all ideas except for their own.

Overtime, progressives have found themselves plotting in a vacuum, ideas and platforms never coming into fruition in the face of such obstinate rejection, the social laboratory having no opportunity to test out the theories fermenting in their inspired minds. Thus, these ideas grow and fester in their own imaginations, at odds with a time period in which exponential change marks every aspect of our external lives. Many of these ideas become religions unto themselves, falling prey to the eternal trap of isolated ego, because the inevitable outcome of repressed beliefs is that they morph into new religion, while the testing and trial of beliefs leads to new reason.

Obama soon will take the bully pulpit while millions of frustrated people wait for “change”, somehow missing the overt silliness of the overuse of a term intentionally ambivalent as to outcome. This may have been a clever and concise mantra for the campaign process, speaking broadly and simply to a diverse population, but now a definition for this vague idea must be shaped within the context of reality, and herein lies the rub.


Whether in our hearts or in our minds, the vast majority of us know this to be true: Change isn’t coming because Barack Obama is going to be President. Barack Obama is going to be President because Change is coming. While I understand the need for the exhausted electorate to believe it so, Obama was not a proactive choice—if we, the people, really were proactive, Bush and Cheney would be in jail, Iraq would be healing its wounds in peace, the Palestinians would be feeding instead of burying their children, and the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs and his cronies would not be bathing in a kiddy pool full of ill-gotten money.

No, Obama was a reactive choice, because people were suddenly terrified of the change that was upon them, not because they were wishing for change to occur. The change that shook them was not about morality or dignity or global leadership or civil rights; it was simply about money and the absolute certainty that the Bush architects were doing nothing on their behalf. All of the sudden, effect had once again engaged in a solemn reunion with cause, and the populace, their critical thinking skills worn to a nub, found their selves lost.

Electing Obama was the option that presented itself and, indisputably, the choice did represent great progress. We cannot afford such remedial impediments as racial divides when all of us are in the same boat and that evolution in the social mores of our Nation is deserving of celebration. Perhaps we merely graduated from racism to mere prejudice, the former borne of arrogance, the latter of ignorance, but it is a welcomed movement forward, nonetheless.

That, however, is the extent of change initiated by merely electing Barack Obama. The rest of the change was coming anyway. What we would and will do with it remains in question.
Change is always occurring—in fact, totalitarianism, all nuance aside, is simply the process of attempting to neuter change and maintain a static environment, one that reflects the world view of whoever manages to wrestle control of the autocracy. The rigid home life where Dad wields the mighty stick while Mom smothers the children in a protective swathe of rules and limitations is just a scaled-down version of totalitarianism, stemming from the exact flaws and fears that render such domination on a national scale time and time again. Whether one assigns such oppression to the plots of cabals, aliens, or zealots is ultimately unnecessary—we have plenty of evidence as to how this could occur around us in our daily lives, without the involvement of ethereal beings. What matters is how this resistance to change manifests in our reality.

Natural change was suspended over the last few decades, at the same time as monumental and contrived change was being orchestrated behind the scenes. The aforementioned cause and effect was suspended in our lives, replaced with surrogates of entertainment and easy loans. From this illusion of wealth, businesses came to be that never should have been, fed by a fraudulent flow of unbalanced and exploitive credit. Products sold that never had any relevance, but were purchased to placate our excesses of vanity. Houses became automatic teller machines, though history provided no precedent. We stopped working and making things. At the end of the day, we could not hold in our hands the sum of our time. We simply did each other’s laundry, seemingly satisfied with the vacuous toil of the daily grind, the empty waste of our precious and finite days, as long as we could get PlayStation XXIV, or whatever it is up to now, with next year’s check, via this year’s credit line.

Corrections to our economic model were suspended ad infinitum, after the S&L crisis of the late eighties, after the LCTM crisis of the nineties, after the dot-com collapse in 2000, and after the jolting shock of 9-11. Interest rates were collapsed and fiscal responsibility gave way to a new goal—maintaining the illusion of wealth for the American people so that a few could gain control of the real wealth unopposed.

Everyone bought into the grand illusion to some degree, no matter how sanctimonious we may have seemed in our decrees of condemnation. Unless you lived on a co-op in the middle of the Sierras, weaving your clothes from wool and eating cucumbers from your own garden, you bought into it. We took the loans, we took the moronic jobs that should not have existed, and we invested in the companies that had no relevance. We bought big cars and rewarded ourselves for the great job by moving farther away from it. We saved little and we turned a blind eye to a growing and now insurmountable debt. While the productive vocations slipped out the backdoor, we cheerfully entered the front door of Wal-Mart, happy to receive our dividend delivered in the form of cheap crap made overseas by people one footstep away from slavery. Even the contrarian bloggers who managed to eke out a living online have lived off Google ads facilitated by an orgy of consumerism. Everybody got their cut, their trickle down.
All the while, a war raged on for which no one could provide a single righteous, moral, or even pragmatic justification, other than “we have to win”, a war replete with torture and atrocities, mercenaries, and madmen. A war as anti-American as any action we have ever taken as a body politic in our brief and diminishing history.

The anti-war effort highlights this Achilles heel of the progressive movement and forewarns as to the problems ahead. All but suspended for the last four months of the campaign, members of the protest movement clung to whispers of Obama’s as-yet unrevealed intent to bring this war to a close without delay, as if they were all in on a big secret that no one else was privy to. Cringing as Obama laid out fiery rhetoric directed towards Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia, we muttered repeatedly, “Well, he has to say that to get in. But, once he’s in…” If I had a dime for every utterance of that defense…well, I could finance the new health care system that we can’t afford.

Over time, all of these abated attempts at stopping the war demoralized the movement, as well as other progressive and worthy conservative causes that fell victim to the same frustrations. A hundred thousand marchers, a million emails, a new Congress in ’06—nothing seemed to work. Bush/Cheney and the suspiciously ineffective Legislature seemed nearly oblivious to the outcry of the Nation. At some point, those issues became like white noise—people are almost surprised when you bring up the Iraq War now, as if the subject is passé.

Now, with the new Administration measuring the drapes, the progressives are ready to leap forward into action, except many of their ideas have become anachronisms, having remained in suspended animation for way too long. They’re chomping at the bit, but are often dangerously myopic in both vision and expectations. These stances will have a hard time effecting useful change within the confines of the reality of our situation.

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http://www.johncaelan.net

John Caelan is a writer and singer/songwriter based in Venice Beach, California.

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Thank you John, for this candid look at where exac... by Mike Baldwin on Thursday, Nov 20, 2008 at 11:07:25 PM
Thank you for the kind words, Mike..it's hardl... by John Caelan on Friday, Nov 21, 2008 at 1:04:00 AM