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Existential Politics 2008

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Existential Politics 2008 -- We are seeing a fascinating episode of existential politics playing out with Barack Obama. People on all sides of the issues agree that what is happening with Obama is a phenomenon. Many who oppose Obama see the phenomenon as a kind of hysteria with people attaching to something that is superficial and unreal, that Obama is able to ignite people's hopes without having anything to really deliver. Those arguments are not without substance, but there is something going on that is larger than Obama or any other player in this drama.

When I say existential politics, I refer to a quality of becoming, of transformation. Norman Mailer described it well. He said an existential political act "is existential precisely because its end is unknown." An existential political act is one that creates a new reality.

I've seen a number of articles and e-mails lately that have referred to Obama's record, some in favorable terms, some not. Paul Street in Z Magazine points out a litany of Obama votes and comments that put him way too close to George Bush for my comfort. He's talking change, but his votes give the corporate titans who are raping the country and the world little to fear. On the other hand, a blog by someone signed as "Grassroots Mom" at dailykos.com compared the legislation introduced by Obama and Clinton and Obama's record looked impressively progressive. Some say the Republican crossovers in the primaries are trying to eliminate Clinton to set up a weaker candidate that they can beat in the general election. Some say that Obama is entirely false and manipulative with his appeals to people's desire for change and is really only a corporate stooge. It's hard to know what the reality is, but my point is that there is no hard reality. These are transformational processes. The future is in the making, it is not pre-determined. Whatever Obama is now, is not what he will be six months from now. He could be better or worse, but he will be different.

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Howard Zinn finds the point of resolution in all these views. Neither of the Democratic candidates offer a radical change from the status quo. It's clear from their voting records and their public statements. But even Roosevelt, Zinn says, would probably not have instituted the reforms he did if he and others had not perceived that it would be dangerous to do otherwise because the country was in the grip of a huge crisis that included "economic destitution and rebellion."

No matter who wins, the system will not offer reform unless the people force it to. There are only three possible candidates left to vote for, four if you count Nader. But no matter which of them wins, if the people do not keep the pressure on after the new president takes office, very little of what needs to happen will happen to correct the disaster course we are now on.

Davd Lindorff at commondreams.org makes this point quite well. "It must be acknowledged that the Obama phenomenon is a real thing," he says. "That is to say, whatever his personal politics, his candidacy is genuinely igniting a wave of passionate support across the nation among people‹particularly the young, and more recently African Americans-who had for years been ignored by, and consequently disinterested in the political process. It might be that this is all the result of the magic of charisma, a winning smile and a good turn of phrase. But even so, it would be a mistake for the jaded left, myself included, to dismiss this phenomenon as meaningless, and to ignore it or its potential. Indeed, I want to suggest here that Obama may at this point have the proverbial tiger by the tail, in that his clarion calls for 'hope' and for 'change' may be stirring up hopes and expectations for those very things in a way that will not easily be denied should he succeed."

It's up to us, "we the people".

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